Orioles' rise carries over to merchandise

The Orioles' success -- and the return of the cartoon bird -- has been a boon to merchandise sales. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The Baltimore Orioles are not only hot on the field, they're hot off of it, too.

Sales of Orioles gear are skyrocketing, according to online retailer Fanatics.com, which says that only the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants have sold more gear that the Orioles in September. The team jumped from the 14th spot in August to No. 3, having sold 40 percent more merchandise in the first half of September than in the entire month of August.

It's not only the Orioles' performance that has jump-started sales. It's also the fact that, before the season, the team decided to wear retro all of the time. So they mixed the Oriole Bird from the 1970 championship team with the Oriole Bird from the 1983 championship team and came up with a more contemporary version.

"There was a desire by ownership to reconnect to the past and we knew from fan feedback that they desperately missed the cartoon bird," team spokesman Greg Bader said. "Then you have the fact that the retro feel is still very popular."

So, for the first time since 1988, the Oriole Bird appeared back on the cap again.

Sales of the authentic on-field Orioles New Era cap, which retails for $34.99, are up 102 percent. That makes it the seventh-most popular team in all of Major League Baseball. Last year at this time, in their 14th straight losing season, the Orioles cap was ranked 20th in sales.

Bader said so many people are now wearing the team's apparel that "you can't go a few feet in downtown without seeing Orioles gear."

That became a problem for a person filming a documentary in Ocean City, Md., about 120 miles from Baltimore. The movie had nothing to do with the Orioles, but there was so much Orioles signage that found its way into the shooting that he felt compelled to call Major League Baseball and ask for permission to use the trademark, Bader said.

And bird fever extends well beyond Maryland, too. Fanatics.com says that 67 percent of people who purchased Orioles gear from their website came from outside the state of Maryland.

"There is a perfect storm going on right now in Baltimore," Fanatics president Jamie Davis said. "The Orioles are making a charge for the playoffs for the first time since the late 1990s, they recently redesigned their logo creating new demand, and the broad assortment of merchandise that we offer online makes it easier than ever for Orioles fans, both in Maryland and across the country, to buy their favorite items."