Even before Mark McGwire whacked the home run that relegated Roger Marris to footnote status in baseball’s record books, Major League Baseball licensees were already experiencing a soaring sensation.
According to MLB spokesperson Carole Coleman, overall sales for licensed MLB merchandise are projected to rise more than 10% this year. Inquiries for new licenses are way up too, as are proposals for corporate sponsorships. A major cause for the upsurge in sales of licensed MLB merchandise is the game’s ability to entice the young fan once again.
Starter Merchandise, an athletic apparel and accessories manufacturer, has seen a 45% hike in sales of kids and youth team jerseys and caps this year, says Tony Peruso, VP of merchandising at the New Haven, Connecticut-based company. Sales of Starters’ on-field satin jackets and warm-up T-shirts for kids have also picked up considerably.
‘It’s been terrific. We haven’t seen these kinds of numbers since pre-strike 1994. We’re just now getting back to those levels of volume,’ says Peruso.
Retailers are reporting strong sales for MLB merchandise, as well. ‘We’ve seen very healthy, double-digit increases in apparel and hats,’ says Bill Loesch, buyer for boys branded and licensed apparel at Sears. According to Loesch, Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs), Mark McGwire (St. Louis Cardinals) and Ken Griffey Jr. (Seattle Mariners) name and number jerseys have sold the most. In terms of team jersey sales, adds Loesch, the Yankees rank number one, followed by the Indians and then the Cubs.
The sport’s rebound with consumers isn’t limited to one or two categories, though. ‘From our standpoint, retailers seem very excited about the game, and are wanting to stock up on a lot of our titles,’ says Ken Graffeo, senior VP of marketing at PolyGram Video, which is in year one of a five-year marketing and distribution home video agreement with Major League Baseball. As it enters into the holiday season, PolyGram is banking on pulling in huge numbers for the release of The Official 1998 World Series Video, due out this month, and Race for the Record (released on October 20), which recounts Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s season-long duel for the mantle of home run champion.
HarperEntertaiment, an imprint of HarperCollins, also got in on the home run craze, releasing an oversized paperback last month that provides bios and stories on McGwire, Sosa and other great sluggers of the game, past and present.
In the end, it’s the stories-the game’s positive subplots-that have brought adults and kids alike back to America’s pastime, says Mike Nichols, publisher and editor of Team Licensing Business, a publication that follows the sports licensing business. Whether it’s a team like the Yankees, in the largest U.S. media market, turning in a record-breaking season, or the absence of any sports-typical stories about overpaid, out-of-control athletes, consumers are more willing to spend their sports dollars on MLB product.
‘After the 1994 lockout, the market shrunk itself back, and only the hardcore fans were buying MLB merchandise. Now, we’re seeing the casual fans are back in mass. The farther you get away from the strike and the off-the-field antics of the players, the stronger the sport will be,’ says Nichols.