ajor League Baseball team stores always thrive with apparel and traditional souvenirs, but staying on top of trends and introducing new, different and interesting souvenirs and tailgating merchandise every year grows their business model tremendously.
Bobbleheads, for example, continue to be a major hit with fans around the nation, and MLB teams are not shy about introducing new ones every year.
New York Mets caps and All Star game T-shirts. Oyo sports toys were also hot selling during the 2012 season.
A surprisingly successful version of the bobblehead can be found at Progressive Field in Cleveland as the Indians sell 36-inch bobbleheads that sell for $425. The team offers the large-size bobbleheads for some of its players, and this year’s new edition was based on its mascot, Chief Wahoo.
“We have sold 36-inch bobbleheads for four years now and they continue to do very well for us,” said Kurt Schloss, senior director of merchandising for the Indians, which has one large 3,500-square-foot store at the ballpark as well as kiosks and four offsite stores. “Everything we sell in the store is licensed through Major League Baseball, and this is no exception.”
Bobbleheads also rule in Milwaukee, according to Brewers’ Senior Director of Merchandise Branding Jill Aronoff.
“We have a variety of player bobbleheads,” she said, noting the 10-inch Ryan Braun bobblehead was the best-selling bobblehead this year. “They never seem to go out of style. We have sold larger ones in the past, but we found that the smaller ones are more successful right now. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because we are at a ballpark and they just don’t want to carry the big ones around.”
Cleveland, which has a very middle-class fan base drawing about 55 percent men, also does well with its 19-inch plush Chief Wahoo that sells for about $20.
“I think part of the reason they do well is because of the price point,” Schloss said. “Price is important. What we sell at the ballpark parodies what we sell at our mall store and what our competitors offer. The pricing is accurate with the Dick’s of the world. And we had a dynamite year this year, the third best since 1995.”
Milwaukee Brewers women’s apparel in pink is highlighted in the front of this photo at The Meat Locker shop.
The Brewers, which has four stores in Miller Park, including a 4,500-square-foot flagship store, also sells a lot of plush.
“We have a program where we do a different plush animal every month for a few years now,” Aronoff said. “We have done pretty much any animal you can think of, and our fans just love plush, including ones modeled after our famous racing sausages.”
The Philadelphia Phillies may have the most ambitious bobblehead program in all of MLB. The team’s merchandising manager, a big bobblehead collector, focused on bobbleheads for 2012 and helped create 11 exclusive bobbleheads for the ballpark based on the team’s most popular players, as well as the Phillies Phanatic.
“The idea was to make them as authentic as possible,” said Kevin Bender, director of retail for Aramark at Citizens Bank Park, which features two main stores including a two-floor, 3,500-square-foot main store, two smaller stores and eight kiosks. “He even had the players get involved. So Shane Victorino got involved with his, and Hunter Pence wanted his socks pulled up high and dirt on his pants. And Vance Worley wanted his eyewear down so it was just right. They are the best ones we ever produced.”
The bobbleheads, which were priced at $24.99, were so successful that fans were buying all 11 at a time.
“We weren’t prepared for them to buy the whole set like that because we never thought they would buy all 11 at one time,” Bender said. “But we adjusted and then started discounting for those who bought all 11. So now (our merchandising manager) is working on a whole new line for 2013. There are two buyers when it comes to bobbleheads, the ones who are the little guys who say, ’I love Ryan Howard and have to have one’ and then the hardcore collectors who really recognized that we were doing something different and special that you can only get at the stadium. When you see people lining up outside footwear stores for Michael Jordan shoes, we have collectors lining up for bobbleheads.”
Mascot souvenirs are major revenue sources around MLB stadiums, but particularly in Philadelphia, where the sport’s top mascot, the Phillie Phanatic, has nearly every product designed after it.
The latest and greatest Phanatic souvenir is the Phanatic dangle hat, a furry hat shaped in the form of the Phanatic head with two dangles that can tie around a person’s head
“Without a doubt, that was our biggest new item that just took on a life of its own,” Bender said. “Some people say it’s a hat but it’s really a souvenir. And it was fantastic. We have the best mascot in all of baseball, and I knew it would be huge. It’s very much like a foam finger because it’s a true ballpark item. I don’t think many people are going to buy that kind of thing outside the stadium. We thought it was going to be a great winter item because it’s like a knit hat, but it became a stadium staple. We were selling those in 95-degree home games and people were wearing them the whole game.”
NYPD and FDNY Mets branded shirts. Exclusive products do well for the organization.
The $24.99 hat became such a phenomenon that the Phillies started a promotion offering people 10 percent off store purchases if they brought in a picture of them with the hat on somewhere else.
“So we ended up with pictures of people wearing the hat in places from the Eiffel Tower to the Great Wall of China to the BMW plant in Munich, Germany. It was one of those items that when people saw others wearing them at the ballpark, they had to have them.”
Steven Marinchak, senior retail division manager for Aramark and the New York Mets, took a chance on a product this summer that paid off well: the oyo sports toys.
Like Legos, oyos snap together and can be made into everything from specific players such as David Wright to generic uniformed players and more.
“We had five basic uniforms for our 50th anniversary, and in 2013 they are adding on a stadium and public places that you can add to the stadium playset,” said Marinchak, noting the player oyo models sold for about $15 at Citi Field, which has a more middle-class fan base than the New York Yankees and boasts nine stores inside Citi Field, including a 5,500-sqaure-foot main store plus five other kiosks. “It’s unique and you didn’t see it out at general retail; it’s only in stadiums at this point. And that exclusivity is important. Also, going forward, they are going to be able to actually personalize them for the customer if they pay a little extra. So it will be a drop/ship program where you order it at the store and they ship it to you. So we are going to do even more stuff tied to the All-Star Game, which we host this year.”
Standbys such as trading cards, foam fingers, embossed and novelty baseballs always sell well, particularly with the younger fans.
Another ballpark staple, collectible pins, is something Schloss takes seriously.
“There are pin collectors, whether they are collecting Disney pins, baseball pins, football pins or all of the above,” Schloss said. “A lot of people collect pins and commemorative ones especially, and they are one of the least expensive things fans can buy at $8 or $10, so we always have new pins to give people something different to buy every year.”
Milwaukee does well with its baseballs.
“We probably carry 30 different baseball designs at any given time,” Aronoff said. “The top seller is autographed by all the players on the team. But Rawlings is always coming up with great new ideas, including neon colors and one that glows in the dark. We have a variety of them that include player balls, our logos, the sausages, and some are softer for the younger kids.”
The Toronto Blue Jays received a bump in its souvenir sales thanks to a new logo launch in 2011 that is still having positive business ramifications a year later.
“The majority of our business is in apparel, and that is where our core business is,” said Anthony Partipilo, vice president of merchandising for the Jays. “But since we launched a new logo in 2011, our merchandise sales have been up dramatically. The bulk of it was apparel such as jerseys, caps, T-shirts and women’s apparel, but we also sold a ton of embossed baseballs and traditional souvenirs with the new logo.”
Partipilo said the logo change was definitely a boost for the team, but he would never do it just to sell more merchandise.
“I don’t think it’s wise for any team to do that,” he said. “The implications of a logo change go far beyond merchandise. The brand as to communicate what the values of the organization are. You don’t change that without a tremendous amount of thought. The end result is positive because I think it’s synonymous with what we are doing as an organization. The core essence is respect for the past and focus on the future. We straddle those two elements very well.”
The Mets received a boost in sales from items commemorating its 50th anniversary.
“We basically had the 50 on everything,” Marinchak said. “And the products exceeded our expectations. Mets have a lot of history and we did a good job of commemorating the anniversary. From hats to jerseys to blankets to keychains, people wanted whatever had that 50 on it.”
Some team stores do well with a new segment of merchandise: tailgating. But those items seem to only sell well if those stadiums have, and allow, large tailgating parties in their parking lots.
“We don’t have a lot of tailgating, but we do sell BBQ sets and things like that, but tailgating is not a core piece of our business,” Schloss said. “The hottest thing we are seeing right now is tumblers made by Tervis from Florida. They are guaranteed for life, so if one breaks, you ship it back and they’ll replace it.”
The tumblers, which vary in size from 15 to 25 ounces, are made out of double-layer plastic, are dishwaster safe and embroidered with team logos and other designs and start around $16.
The Blue Jays are another team with limited tailgating merchandise sales.
“Part of the problem is we don’t have the opportunity to tailgate in downtown Toronto,” Partipilo said. “So we mostly sell items like shotglasses and mugs, but even those don’t rise to the level of being hot items right now.”
Milwaukee is one of the best tailgating parks in the country, and the Brewers take advantage of it.
“I think our ballpark definitely stands out when it comes to tailgating,” Aronoff said. “People just don’t tailgate at games like they do here, so we sell a variety of products. We actually have a promotion during Sunday home games where we challenge fans to tailgate games and if they beat our staff, they get a $25 gift certificate. And if we beat them, they still get $5. So to tie into all of that, we sell grills, tailgate games, aprons, a BBQ pit, glassware, items for your car and more. Plus, we have very strong glassware sales such as mugs, shotglasses and large jars that people can bring their lemonade in. It’s a big part of our merchandising plan here.”
Philadelphia, known for its legendary tailgating, registers decent sales with licensed Phillies items such as tailgating games including a bean bag toss ($119.99), a folding table ($99), a whole line of glassware and plastic ware such as utensils, plates and drinking glasses, as well as shotglasses, beer mugs and more.
“We don’t have the tailgating scene like the Eagles do, but there are people who like to tailgate every game,” Bender said. “This year one of our most successful new items were shotglasses that we had made for each player with their number.”