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Minor League Baseball’s Merchandise Enjoys Major League Sales

Minor League Baseball announced record-setting merchandise sales for 2017, with licensed goods surpassing $70.8 million for the first time in history.

John Collins

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Earlier this summer, Minor League Baseball announced its record-setting merchandise sales for 2017, with licensed goods surpassing $70.8 million for the first time in history. This milestone marked a 3.6 percent rise over 2016 sales, which hit record-setting levels as well.

The tremendous popularity of MiLB merchandise is certainly understandable, given many of the unique names and creative logos you come across when canvassing teams around the league.

As MiLB Chief Operating Officer Brian Earle noted, “Minor League Baseball team names and logos continue to be among the most popular in all of professional sports and our teams have made promoting their brand a priority.”

He attributed much of the league’s record-setting merchandise sales success to the teams themselves, as they “have done a tremendous job of using their team marks and logos to build an identity that is appealing to fans not just locally, but in some cases, globally as well.”

If there’s one man qualified to speak about Minor League Baseball and its remarkably effective branding — which is what’s ultimately driving these record-setting merchandise sales — it would have to be Paul Caputo.

Not only is Caputo a regular contributor to the website SportsLogo.net, which covers a variety of leagues, teams, their logos, and branding, he’s also the author of an entire book devoted to sharing the stories surrounding the compelling identities of these Minor League Baseball teams.

Entitled “The Story Behind the Nickname: The Origins of 100 Classic, Contemporary, and Wacky Minor League Baseball Team Names,” Caputo’s book is basically a compendium outlining the success and effectiveness of Minor League Baseball’s branding and marketing that continues to drive fan interest and merchandise sales.

With unique names, fun logos, and an emphasis on creativity, teams throughout MiLB have been lauded over the years for their originality. Many times, as Caputo mentioned, fandom and merchandise purchases have absolutely nothing to do with any sort of team, franchise, or even location allegiance.

“By its nature, Minor League Baseball is less about the product on the field and more about the brand and fan experience. People are more likely to buy something fun and interesting without regard to the team affiliation or location.”

On a personal level, Caputo noted he owns “a handful of Las Vegas 51s gear, which I bought when they were a Dodgers affiliate and kept when they became a Mets farm club — even though I live in Colorado and root for the big-league Phillies.”

Yet, interestingly, it turns out the majority of these names and identities aren’t just concocted out of thin air. When Caputo first became interested in MiLB names and logos, he couldn’t help but think many of them were simply designed to be outrageous. As it turns out, when he started looking into it, the curious logo-hound discovered that he was “pleasantly surprised that not only did they have significance, they have a very particular meaning specific to the local community.”

Proving just how carefully conceived MiLB team identities are, Caputo explained the origins of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, pointing out that “the steel mills of eastern Pennsylvania forged pig iron and a team with a gritty, metallic logo is perfect for the area.”

Not only did the Lehigh Valley IronPigs capitalize on a clever name and cool logo, they made sure it had meaning and was designed with intention to really “forge” an effective identity.

Turns out other teams like the Akron RubberDucks and Binghamton Rumble Ponies have some interesting, compelling stories behind their branding and identity as well. The RubberDucks play in an area where the tire industry is prominent; the Rumble Ponies play in the Carousel Capital of the World. As Caputo pointed out, “every new Minor League name means something to the local community. For that reason, I do find them more interesting than MLB team names and logos.”

Each team’s identity and brand is designed with a very specific, deeply-rooted intention. It’s that strategy that makes the branding so effective, and merchandise so compelling. MiLB team names and logos really tap into fan passion and enthusiasm. Caputo recognized Jason Klein of Brandiose and Dan Simon of Studio Simon as the designers behind many of the league’s coolest logos.

Now, MiLB branding and marketing was obviously particularly salient and effective this year, driving a whopping total of merchandise sales across the league. Brian Earle credited much of that to Minor League Baseball’s licensing partners, such as New Era Cap, 47 Brand, Bimm Ridder, Majestic, Original Retro Brand, Nike, and others. As he stated, they’ve “continued to support the MiLB’s growth through innovative designs and a high-quality product that meets consumer demand, and has provided MiLB with a vehicle for current and future growth.”

In addition to that, 2017 saw an influx of what Caputo termed the “Whacky Era,” where teams are adopting temporary brands with food-based nicknames or connections to some sort of cultural heritage. Those temporary identities, like the Fresno Tacos, Staten Island Pizza Rats, and Trenton Pork Rolls, lend themselves to the creation of additional lines of merchandise enabling fans to express themselves.

There has also been the Spanish-language Copa initiative that saw many teams temporarily rebrand with a more Hispanic identity, like the Durham Bulls becoming the “Toros,” and Albuquerque Isotopes the “Mariachis.” These temporary rebrands and promotional uniforms create an additional sales stream for MiLB merchandise.

Looking at the list of the Top 25 teams leading the way in sales published by MiLB, there are some interesting notes to point out.

  • Six teams have made the list every year.
  • They seem to have been able to capitalize on team history, nostalgia, and established brand passion.
  • Eight teams made the 2017 list after not making it the previous year; many of which include rebrands like the creation of the Hartford Yard Goats and the Jacksonville Suns becoming the Jumbo Shrimp. 
  • Four major league teams had two affiliates reach the Top 25. No word yet on whether or not that success has any carryover to the minor league farm system. 

Below is the list in its entirety in alphabetical order, as MiLB does not provide order by rankings:

Top 25 MiLB Merchandise Sales

Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies, Triple-A)

Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays, Triple-A)

Charlotte Knights (White Sox, Triple-A)

Columbia Fireflies (Mets, Single-A)

Columbus Clippers (Indians, Triple-A)

Durham Bulls (Rays, Triple-A)

El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres, Triple-A)

Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres, Single-A)

Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers, Double-A)

Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies, Double-A)

Indianapolis Indians (Pirates, Triple-A)

Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins, Double-A)

Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies, Triple-A)

Nashville Sounds (Athletics, Triple-A)

New Orleans Baby Cakes (Marlins, Triple-A)

Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals, Triple-A)

Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox, Double-A)

Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies, Double-A)

Rochester Red Wings (Twins, Triple-A)

Sacramento River Cats (Giants, Triple-A)

Salt Lake Bees (Angels, Triple-A)

South Bend Cubs (Single-A)

Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners, Triple-A)

Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers, Triple-A)

Trenton Thunder (Yankees, Double-A)

A Communication major from the University of Southern California, with eclectic experience in the sports, business, and the entertainment industry, John Collins is the baseball writer at Front Office Sports. An avid sports fan and highly opinionated writer, John is of the firm belief that Bull Durham is far superior to Field of Dreams and looks forward to you telling him otherwise. Reach out: John@frntofficesport.com any time!

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Baron Davis and POINT 3 Want to Disrupt Basketball Apparel With Towel-Like Technology

With Baron Davis on board, POINT 3 hopes to grow its DRYV Moisture Control Technology, which is like a towel on your shorts or jersey.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo credit: Baron Davis

Walking around Charlotte in 1999, the locals saw an unfamiliar sight: Baron Davis and former North Carolina State Senator Marshall Rauch.

“I remember being a 20-year-old rookie and him sitting me down and asking me, ‘What do you know about finances?’” Davis says. “I told him I didn’t know a lot, but I knew enough and he taught me a lot. People would see an 80-year-old Jewish man and a young black dude with a durag on his head, sitting, having breakfast or lunch in Charlotte at one of these uppity, uptown places. It was just like, ‘How do those two know each other?’”

Davis was drafted by the Hornets in 1999 after two years at UCLA. He’d grown up in Los Angeles, and Charlotte was his first excursion outside of Hollywood. Davis was introduced to Rauch by Michael Holton, a UCLA assistant and friend of Rauch. Holton played for the Hornets from 1988-1990.

Fast-forward to 2019. It’s Friday of NBA All-Star Weekend and Davis is back in Charlotte. This time, he is hanging with Michael Luscher and Mikko Simon, CEO and COO, respectively, of Atlanta-based POINT 3 Basketball.

READ MORE: Overtime Brings Billboard and Investment News to NBA All-Star Weekend

Davis has recently committed an investment with POINT 3, finalized at the end of Q3 in 2018. He will also serve as creative director. Founded by Luscher in 2010, POINT 3 specializes in basketball attire and is best known for its DRYV Moisture Control Technology. DRYV is a towel-like material that can be incorporated into performance apparel such as basketball jerseys and shorts.

“I’d be in this hot gym in the summer of ‘09 in Atlanta and I would sweat so much, dripping down my arms and saturating my hands with moisture,” Luscher says of POINT 3’s origin. “I’d have trouble controlling the ball, so I would steal my wife’s kitchen towel and hang it over my waistband, like a quarterback does, so I could dry my hands off without leaving the court.”

Luscher also has a valuable asset to this material he can bring to investors. In 2014, POINT 3 was given a patent for its “moisture control garment.”

“I think the protectable IP was a big part of it,” Luscher says on Davis’ decision to partner with the brand. Luscher and Davis did not disclose the amount, but Luscher calls it “significant.”

Investing with Baron Davis is about more than him writing a check. When Davis got to Charlotte, he was not wired like most 20-year-old rookies. He interned at a law firm while in college, and in his first few years in the NBA, he would spend summers working for his agent. Just a few seasons into his career, Davis started his own sports agency, negotiating marketing deals and investing in brands.

Davis’ mentor, Rauch, was also once displaced in North Carolina. Rauch was born and raised in New York City before going to Duke in 1940 to play basketball. He never left, serving in the state senate from 1967-1990. Outside of politics, the World War II veteran was a successful businessman running Rauch Industries Inc., a national Christmas ornament manufacturer from 1954-1998. Rauch is considered to have been the “largest Christmas ornament maker in the world” at one point.

“He was an entrepreneur, he was self-made and he just showed me how to take care of myself, how to take care of my family and the future,” Davis explains. “He taught me what money means, what possessions mean, what things mean in life. It’s really about the opportunities that I get from taking advantage of them and about building a community of people that you can be in business with and where you have great relationships with.”

POINT 3 is far from Davis’ first investment and it will be far from his last. But it is a rare Davis investment into the basketball industry.

Davis has been in hundreds, if not thousands of pitches. At this point, he knows roughly what he is looking for.

“What are they doing? What is their mission? What does the brand look like?” Davis says about analyzing a company. “It’s the law of attraction. After that, it’s about, what do the operations look like? What is the vision of the entrepreneur? Where does this sell? What does the trajectory look like? And then for me, once I start to see that, I start to see where I could help and assist. Me, being a creative person and a visionary, are our visions aligned? Or, maybe they have the vision and I can jump in and support and accelerate it.”

Like any good relationship, potential investors with Davis need to play the long game. It was a process getting pen to paper between POINT 3 and Davis. Luscher and Davis were originally introduced by Josh Gotthelf, co-founder of Dime Magazine and former general manager of Baron Davis Enterprises. Gotthelf, an advisor and investor to POINT 3, connected Luscher and Davis. After all, Davis was constantly coming in to Atlanta for his work with Turner Sports, and he could use a friend.

Davis and Luscher would meet for meals or drinks. As they bounced ideas off each other, the meetings became more frequent.

“He found something that we could connect to,” Davis says. “Not just through basketball, it was more so fashion. I think over lunch, another lunch, we just kept building and talking about all forms of fashion, athleisure, sports performance, things like that. It took us a while to get to the deal, but when we looked up, we had built a friendship. And so it made the deal easy to get done because we were both wanting to make it happen. Sometimes things happen like that through building a relationship and having commonalities and likenesses.

“And then I thought, here’s a basketball brand that can be disruptive. They’re not trying to compete with the big boys, but there’s an understanding of where they are and understanding the community and the audience that they can serve.”

Disruption is a big word. And it means big-time. Shaking up an industry dominated by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour would send shockwaves through the basketball world.

“I think first and foremost was Baron’s desire to not accept the current paradigm and try and disrupt the industry,” Luscher says.

“His creative vision, his contacts, his ideas. That’s when the more we met and started talking about it, I was like, ‘This guy can really be a difference maker to our business.’”

According to Luscher, Davis’ partnership helped “leverage our reach in the team space to supercharge our direct-to-consumer growth strategy” in Q4 of last year. He says the brand saw a 300-percent year-over-year growth in direct-to-consumer online business during that time.

READ MORE: Bojangles’ Channels Its Inner LeBron James for NBA All-Star Weekend

Davis plans to work with POINT 3 to connect with AAU coaches and friends from the NBA world to help grow the brand, while also incorporating current brands he partners with. Under the Baron Davis Enterprises umbrella are four companies he founded: Sports and Lifestyle in Culture, The Black Santa Company, BIG and No Label. Davis was also recently announced as part of Overtime’s $23 million Series B round of funding.

“It’s been maybe decades since anybody made a meaningful innovation to basketball apparel,” Gotthelf says. “And this sweat-drying technology, being able to dry your hands on your basketball shorts, is the first true game-changer in the basketball apparel space in maybe 20 years. And the fact that it’s a protected patent, I know is a big part of what brings value to that investment.”

For Marshall Rauch, it was about ornaments. For Michael Luscher, it’s about towel material.

But above all for Baron Davis, it’s about connections. On Sunday before the All-Star Game, he hosted his “BIG Brunch & Convo” event. Luscher and Rauch (who is 96) were both in the room.

Maybe they can brainstorm a crossover ornament-DRYV idea.

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How Debbie Spander Embraced Change and Followed Her Dreams

Behind some of the top talent working in sports broadcasting today, you’ll notice a commonality: Many of them are represented by Debbie Spander.

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Photo credit: Wasserman

Behind some of the top talent working in sports broadcasting today, you’ll notice a commonality: Many of them are represented by Debbie Spander, senior vice president of broadcasting and coaching at Wasserman.

The daughter of a longtime sports columnist in the Bay Area, Spander had an early introduction to the media world. After college, Spander took the next step in her career by earning a law degree from UCLA.

After law school, Spander rose through the ranks of the sports law and agent world, including stints as a vice president at FOX Sports Net and MTV Entertainment. In 2012, she joined Wasserman as the vice president of broadcasting before being promoted to her SVP role in 2016.

Spander felt drawn to working with broadcasting talent after noticing a trend of people in the profession being treated unfairly by leagues and networks in the early 2000s.

READ MORE: Bleacher Report Is Focused on the Second Generation of Social Media

“I decided that at some point I wanted to work directly with talent because after September 11 and the recession, it seemed that the talent was always getting squeezed by the networks. So, I saw that happening and I wanted to help at that point. I had a couple friends who played in the NFL and at UCLA who were retiring, and I helped them get some small deals broadcasting and I thought, ‘I think I can do this.’”

Spander found clients almost immediately and was soon asked by Wasserman to launch its broadcast division. Her client base quickly multiplied significantly as she began representing coaches and athletes transitioning into broadcasting like Brian Scalabrine and Aaron Boone.

After all the changes that broadcasting has undergone in the last decade, Spander prides herself on embracing change and encouraging clients to achieve their dreams.

“There’s a number of sports broadcasting agencies out there and everyone does a good job in their own way. I think the thing that Wasserman does is we have very personalized service and we’re available 16 to 17 hours a day for a lot of former players who are used to being able to call or text their agents at all hours. If our clients need us, we do all we can.”

LISTEN: Timbers’ Kayla Knapp on Building a Social Voice from the Ground Up

For Wasserman clients, Spander and the group’s other agents often help professional athletes find broadcasting opportunities during their playing careers. In addition to being somewhat of a trailblazer herself as a woman in a male-dominated subsect of sport, Spander represents clients like Candace Parker and Meghan McPeak who are breaking down walls within broadcasting themselves. Parker recently became one of the first women to call both NBA and NCAA men’s basketball games while still playing in the WNBA.

“I didn’t specifically seek them out to have them break barriers, but we’re like-minded and we all embrace the opportunities that are there for them. This was a really exciting fall between what Candace and Meghan were able to accomplish.”

With all that she has accomplished in her career, Spander advises young women to be active networkers in order to get their careers in sport off of the ground.

“Get out there and meet as many people as you can. Get internships while you’re in college and law school and just start working in the industry. Don’t look at your gender as a barrier and follow your dreams.”

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TranSports Group Shows That Sports Business Can Happen Anywhere

This past weekend in Atlanta, the TranSports Group had a nearly 100-car fleet shuttling sports industry professionals from one place to the next.

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Photo credit: TranSports Group

The world of business is all about disruptions and, often, all it takes is a little luck and ingenuity.

This past weekend in Atlanta, the TranSports Group had a nearly 100-car fleet in the area shuttling sports industry professionals from one place to the next. The three-year old company worked tirelessly with eight NFL sponsors and several prominent brands on the ground in Atlanta.

A decade ago, Ryan Peck lamented to a colleague in the agency world why there wasn’t a one-stop shop for transportation at major sports and entertainment events across the country. Researching the best companies and ways to get VIPs from point A to point B on the ground at major events can take up a lot of time.

“You’re asked to do 100 things and you have time for 50, and this is one of the easiest things to outsource,” said Peck, the managing partner of TranSports. “For many events, transportation is 10 percent of a program, but takes up 40 percent of the time.”

He knew there was a better way.

Obsessed with finding a solution, Peck sought to become an industry innovator, with a commitment to customers and customer service, and a network of support. Tapping into his prior agency days, he and his team understand the needs of his agency, brand, and property clients.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player Andrew Hawkins Is Building a New Career Playbook

By creating a true one-stop solution for clients, TranSports provides peace of mind with complete program coordination, execution, and real-time tracking technology. TranSports connects all the chauffeurs for a client on the back end and gets them where they need to go via the most efficient vehicle, ranging from a luxury sedan to luxury coach bus. Client program managers are given a vehicle-tracking application customized to their program so they can see where their VIPs are at any given moment. The app provides critical information about their vehicles, chauffeurs, and timing that eliminates inefficient communications with dispatchers and vehicle operations managers.

Peck has always been an entrepreneur at heart. He hails from an Iowa farm and is driven beyond the corporate structure. Despite this, he worked at agencies for the first part of his career, before stumbling on this chauffeur solution.

Peck isn’t from the transportation industry. He had experience with a pain point and knew he could solve the problem. He partnered with George Jacobs and Tim Crockett, highly respected limousine and bus industry executives with more than a combined 60 years of experience, to create solutions for every size of need both domestically and internationally.

The success has in part been because Peck said he speaks the language of the users of the service, but also the delivery of an upscale product that hits when it’s needed.

“We do what we say we’re going to do,” Peck said. “We work hard on the customer service side. Price is price, we don’t compete on price. We compete on service, relationships, and being relentless in pursuing better ways of doing things.”

There are plenty of legacy chauffeur companies across the nation in major cities, but there’s no centralized system. Transportation ridesharing disruptors like Lyft and Uber haven’t broken into the VIP transportation world, but some companies have emerged focusing on the business community — leaving sports and entertainment relatively unserviced.

Unlike Ubers and Lyfts, chauffeurs must know the routes without maps, be sensitive to high-touch clientele, and leave the customer feeling like they had a true luxury service. This means getting to a city — like Atlanta — days in advance to work out detours and familiarize themselves with the traffic.

“The niche is a strength,” Peck said. “People pay for superior quality and service, so let’s be great in this space and let things fall where they will.”

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

Timing was in Peck’s favor. Hard work and brains can only do so much, he said. As TranSports launched, it had the luxury of a nearby Super Bowl in Minnesota. With the large fleet in an area Peck knew well, his initial major event launch was a success.

“If that Super Bowl is in L.A., and it’s my first year, we’re probably not at this same point,” he said.

The company has continued to grow with work at events in the U.S., such as the Super Bowl, NHL Winter Classic, the Masters, Final Four, and Sundance Film Festival. The group has recently made inroads into the PGA Tour too. The international business for TranSports has continued to grow, and it has recently done work at the Olympics in Brazil and Russian World Cup.

“We’re very fortunate. We continue to talk to more and more international events for opportunities,” Peck said. “The tracking technology is intriguing to clients and we are looking to employ it with the largest properties. It’s simple, scalable, and provides a unique value to our clients by adding much-needed transparency and accountability in our industry.”

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