This one's for the guys who dream of being Mr. September.
With minor-league seasons winding up, and big-league clubs looking to expand their playoff rosters with September callups, this is a big time for the farm teams. Who will follow in Jacoby Ellsbury's 2007 footsteps, joining a contender at just the right time?
With over 240 teams in markets of every size, minor league baseball is, for many fans, the most accessible choice for live professional baseball. Creative marketing is often the key to bringing back repeat customers as rosters and affiliations change from season to season.
Tina Gust is the Director of Licensing for Minor League Baseball. She has seen merchandise sales grow along with record-setting ballpark attendance over the past four years, as teams and retailers have paid close attention to what customers want. "Baseball fans and card collectors enjoy following young stars, hoping to catch a game or pick up the card of the next all-star shortstop or Cy Young award-winner." she says
"Team operators are becoming more attuned to their fans' merchandise needs—expanding the product selection to satisfy both casual and die-hard fans." Minor league gear has shown up in on film, in music videos, and even on high-end retail shelves at Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue.
This past spring, CNBC's Darren Rovell got in on the act, running an NCAA-tournament-style bracket for minor league logos. Readers of the Sports Biz blog cast over 165,000 online ballots, with the Southern Illinois Miners edging out the Wichita Wingnuts with 55% of the overall votes. Despite that hearty show of support, the non-MLB-affiliated Miners and Wingnuts were not eligible for MiLB's list of top-selling teams. Peep the most appealing gear from the teams that did make it below.
Top teams from MiLB's list of best-sellers:
Got Crabs? T-shirt: If you don't think this pun is funny in English, the Lakewood BlueClaws trot it out in Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, and Pig Latin as well. For more sophisticated fans, there are also some classic logos.
Dayton Dragons batting gloves: Cincinnati Reds prospects come up through the AA Dragons, who claim to have sold out their seats for every game since 2000. Whether that's true or not, Dayton has a well-earned reputation as one of the best-run franchises in the minors.
Brooklyn Cyclones Kelly Green throwback cap: Watching the Cyclones is just one of the many things to do at Coney Island. Brooklyn partisan Will Georgantas says hearts were broken when the Dodgers left for L.A., and nostalgic fans are turning to the Cyclones to fill the void. "The Cyclones have a 50-year backlog of merchandise orders" he says "People are having an emotional response to the logo. It's time to play catch-up".
Lake Elsinore Storm Cap: Much like David Hasselhoff, they're huge in Germany. Gust says the Storm caught lightning in a bottle with this logo, which has proven popular with non-baseball fans in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
Personalized Durham Bulls Jersey: Go all-out next Halloween. Your choice if you want to go with "Nuke" or the more proper "LaLoosh". This AAA Rays affiliate is likely getting a huge bump from fans of the film.
Toledo Mudhens: In a similar vein, how many of us would know a thing about the Toledo Mud Hens (AAA Detroit) if Jamie Farr's cross-dressing Corporal Klinger hadn't mentioned them in every third episode of M*A*S*H? The show aired its last original episode in Februrary of 1983, but the Mud Hens are firmly entrenched in pop culture to this day.
Tucson Sidewinders Fleece: A fleece in the desert? What are you, a lizard? Believe it or not, once the sun goes down, this item can still come in very handy. Besides, the Diamondbacks affiliate's snake logo is tres dope.
While the MiLB list is based entirely on sales figures, Auction Block has some favorites that didn't make the list. These teams are all way west of the Mississippi, so maybe there's an inherent population-based bump for some of the east coast teams that hasn't made its way to these outposts.
Albuquerque Isotopes: Playing off of our love for the Simpsons should guarantee better sales, wouldn't you think? The Marlins affiliate pulled their team name and logo directly from an episode of Matt Groening's animated masterpiece.
Everett Aquasox Softy Ball: Future Mariners start their minor-league journey just 32 miles north of Safeco Field in Everett, WA. There's something delightfully psychedelic about this tie-dyed frog thing they have going on.
Las Vegas 51s Tee: The truth is out there, Scully. The Dodgers' triple-A squad plays off of the alien invasion conspiracy theories that surround Nevada's famous Area 51. Whether you're into that or not, the alien-head gear is pretty sweet.
Modesto Nuts … Nuts: We won't lie, these flavored almonds sound kind of disgusting, but the logo, paying tribute to the main industry in this California town, is pretty cool. These Class A Nuts end up in Rockies purple and black if they're lucky.
Montgomery Biscuits: Possibly the only minor-league mascot that makes us hungry every time we see it. The biscuit is tempting enough, but his tongue is a pat of delicious butter. No wonder the Rays' minor-league system is loaded.
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