'2020: Just Trash': Coming Off a Record Merch Sales Year, Minor League Baseball Teams Must Now Get Creative to Sell Branded Gear
The good news coming from Minor League Baseball: Last season merchandise sales hit a record high $85.7 million. Ballpark Digest reported that it was a 16 percent increase over 2018’s $73.9 million, and includes all licensed merchandise sales from the calendar year.
The bad news: There is no Minor League Baseball this year, so the teams that have been so successful with licensed merchandise sales will have to find new ways to recoup some of that revenue.
The unfortunate truth here is that with a pandemic and no baseball in the ballparks, that licensed merchandise number is going to drop for 2020. Even with the robust e-commerce platforms available to franchises, it’s just not going to fully beat in-person purchases at the park.
But if there's one thing we know about Minor League Baseball, it's that its marketing is creative as all get out. And teams are coming up with ways to move merchandise as best they can.
The Akron Rubber Ducks are letting fans come to the park for a fun promo event. As part of a socially distanced batting practice contest, fans can take 10 swings at hitting targets in the field. Prizes for the “Swing for Your Swag” event includes autographed memorabilia and other Rubber Ducks merchandise. If anyone manages to hit a homer, they get season tickets for the 2021 season.
Going the more traditional e-commerce route, everyone’s favorite new Minor League team—the Rocket City Trash Pandas—is going for more morbid humor for their postponed inaugural season. This was supposed to be the year that we finally saw in action the greatest mascot in a league full of exceptional team names. Instead, the Trash Pandas are releasing a line of T-shirts with a bit more tongue-in-cheek pessimism: “2020: Just Trash.”
This year has been
— Rocket City Trash Pandas (@trashpandas) July 23, 2020
The way Trash Pandas merchandise has flown off digital shelves far beyond its immediate geographic area indicates that these will go over just fine with the fanbase. And for those frustrated with the way 2020 is playing out (which is to say, everyone), this is a good way to commemorate a weird year on a T-shirt.
And hot dogs. What baseball season is complete without hot dogs? Our favorite Phillies games are dollar dog night promos. Did you know that the Reading Fightin Phils (the actual Phils’ AA team) sell the most hot dogs in all of the Minors? I did not, and I live in Pennsylvania. You’d think I’d know that.
Because hot dogs are baked (grilled?) into the R-Phils' identity, the plan this season was to rebrand as the Reading Hot Dogs for some Sunday games. Again, obviously, that’s going to need to sit on the back burner for a year, but R-Phils fans can still get in on the action in advance by buying Hot Dogs branded gear like New Era caps, T-shirts, face masks and more. To keep things very on-brand and promote purchases during an off-year, the team is giving away a pack of Berks hot dogs for free with the purchase of every cap.
— Reading Fightin Phils (@ReadingFightins) July 23, 2020
We’re sad that the Minor League Season isn’t happening, partially because that means we can't fill out our Fave 5 lists with stadium giveaways this year. But also because from the point of view of people who pay especially close to promotional product creativity and success, it’s a bummer to miss out on such a big part of that world.
But, it’ll be back. And for this year, the creativity we’ll have to pay attention to will be how franchises manage to give away and sell branded goods without a single pitch being thrown. The market is obviously there, as last year’s numbers indicated. Teams just have to get creative to reach it.