Dressing for sucess on, off field Baseball goods designed to sell

August 22, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Terry Minich lives near Harisrburg, Pa. He was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan before the club failed to re-sign such stars as Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Doug Drabek.

The Philadelphia Phillies are having a good season, but, Minich, a 48-year-old mechanic at a can-making factory, can't cheer for them either. "I'm anti-Philidelphia," he says.

So a recent Sunday found Minich at a Baltimore Orioles game wearing...a Florida Marlins cap.

"I like the Miami area. I like the color. It's a new team, something fresh," he explains.

Minich is just the kind of fan baseball's leaders had in mind when they designed the teal and black Marlins hat: fashion conscious, not affiliated emotionally to any particular team, and willing to pay up to $15 for a hat.

There apparently are plenty of Minichs out there. After less than a season in the major leagues, the Marlins have seen their caps, shirts and other goods become one of the hottest items in sports. Even hotter: baseball's other expansion team, the Colorado Rockies, who have supplanted the Chicago White Sox's long run as the best-selling team in baseball merchandising.

The success of these teams' goods is no accident.

Consumers will plunk down about $2.75 billion this year for goods bearing licensed baseball names and images, making it one of the fastest growing segments of the sports business.

And baseball officials are not shy about cashing in, even when it means taking a leading role in designing and redesigning a teams products.

This January, baseball will announce more design changes than ever before in it's history. From a meaner-looking bear on the Cubs shoulders to an overhaul of the Houston Astros poorly selling uniform and caps, 26 of baseball's 28 teams will see some sort of change, including both expansion teams.

"Our business is one that combines the affinity for sports with fashion," said Richard E. White, president of Major League Baseball Properties, the sport's marketing arm responsible for licensed goods.

Baseball, like most major sports leagues, splits between teams the proceeds of licensed goods sales, giving each team about $4 million a year. Of the $15 Minich paid for his cap, less than one dollar goes to MLB Properties as a licensing fee.

The White Sox became a phenomenon in sports marketing a few years ago, when the team redesigned its uniforms, incorporating a hip black-and white color scheme, and shot to the top of the charts. Their goods account for about $350 million a year in sales.

For sales through June 1, the Rockies accounted for 15 percent of baseball merchandise, the White Sox 13 percent and the Marlins about 12 percent. (The Orioles were No. 11 in the majors and close to breaking into the top 10 because of the success of All-Star merchandise.)

"I can't believe there are that many Rockies fans out there," White said.

He's being modest. Baseball was intimately involved in not only designing the logos and uniforms of the expansion teams, but in naming them.

The process took about a year, going back and forth with creative people and trademark lawyers, retailers, focus groups, and the teams themselves. Baseball even uses color forecasters to predict what will be hot. That -- and the "purple mountains majesty" allusion -- is the genisis of the Rockies purple-and-black logo and the dominance of teal in the Marlins uniforms.

Baseball began the process before even picking the two expansion cities. Six finalists selected names and filed for trademark protection. Football is following a similar course in Baltimore and the three other finalist cities competing for expansion franchises.

"The league's position was really benign. Anything that is in good taste," White said.

Both teams were advised to appeal to regional fan interest by naming the teams for their states, not cities.

The Marlins name was a hit with team owner Wayne Huizenga because he is a fisherman.

Miami has also been home to several minor league Marlins clubs over the years.

MLB Properties likes it, but had suggested a different name for the team: Tropica, a word with no real definition.

"We liked it because it had a latin appeal, had no trademark issue and rolled off the tongue," White said.

It would also have been one of only a handful of sports teams to have a name not ending in an "s" (the NBA's Jazz and Magic are others).

White's office gave the Denver team owners a list of 50 potential names, including the Grizzlies, Rapids, Mustangs, Mounties, and Rodeos. The team wondered about the Cowboys, but baseball advised against it, because of potential confusion over the Dallas NFL team.

The Rockies -- once the name of a Denver NHL team -- was easy to remember and say, distinctive and remarkably free of trademark complications, White said. The team is finishing its first season but is already on its second cap design; it was subtly refined last spring, to bring out the baseball better.

"They are doing well because they are new and there is a kind of honymoon," White said.

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