Branding

To Sell Minor League Merchandise, Just Add Bacon


Never mind bacon-scented alarm clock apps. The hottest craze in bacon is baseball hats. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, introduced a bacon-themed alternate uniform for this season—and it’s selling fast. The team has already sold more than 3,000 bacon-strip hats to buyers in 50 states, according to ESPN. The IronPigs play home games in a stadium with a capacity of less than 10,000.

So how does a bacon sensation this hot get started? It begins with a couple of guys in San Diego.

In 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek wrote about Plan B Branding, a two-person consultancy that helps minor league baseball teams come up with better names, logos, and merchandise. Its founders, Jason Klein and Casey White, were the brains behind the renaming of a franchise that relocated from Ottawa to Allentown, Pa., in 2008. They came up with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a reference to pig iron (a term for raw iron ore) and the region’s history of steelmaking. The new merchandise was an instant hit.

In August, IronPigs management called Klein and Casey again. The rebranding specialists had since rebranded their own company as Brandiose, in part to avoid confusion with the birth control pill. Now the IronPigs wanted a new gimmick for a new season. In past years the minor league team has installed urinal video games and a PorkCenter social media room. “They called us up and said, ‘We want to expand the IronPigs story and develop some alternate uniforms that we can use on the weekend,’” says Klein.

He and Casey and a couple of other Brandiose staffers came up with three new uniforms, one each for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games. You can see them all at smellthechange.com, the team’s site for introducing new gear. Friday is a molten red IronPigs logo on a jet-black background, another tribute to the region’s steelmaking. Sunday is a powder blue and red homage to the Phillies. But the real action is on Saturday, when the IronPig concept goes in an entirely new direction—toward the breakfast plate.

“We just started throwing crazy ideas at the wall,” Klein says. “Somebody tossed out, ‘What if we did just, like, a bacon strip?’” They decided to hide the word “IronPigs” in the bacon’s marbling on the hat, put a bacon-strip tail under the “Pigs” lettering on the shirt, and use bacon stripes for the piping on the pants. “In our business,” says Klein, “there are no bad ideas.”

There are, however, great ones. The bacon-themed uniforms have received the most media attention of any of the company’s more than 50 minor league designs, according to Klein. And this is the company that came up with glow-in-the-dark hats for the Casper Ghosts in Wyoming and reversible “Al Tuna” caps for the Altoona Curve in Pennsylvania. “We had an idea that it was going to be a hit because it was so simple,” Klein says.

The Lehigh Valley bacon hat is off to such a hot start, he adds, it might even challenge California’s Lake Elsinore Storm and its “storm eyes” hat for minor league sales supremacy.

Boudway_190
Boudway is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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