The fans visiting Five County Stadium sport hats and shirts adorned with myriad logos – colleges, fishing tournaments, professional sports teams, motorcycle makers, businesses – but the dominant theme is the home team, the Carolina Mudcats.
“Losing or winning, we’re still supporting the team,” said Blanca Forslund of Rocky Mount, who wore a pink baseball cap with a gray and white Mudcats logo while attending Monday’s game with husband Randy Forslund.
The local support, along with sales to fans and collectors nationwide, again makes the Class A Advanced Carolina League franchise one of Minor League Baseball’s Top 25 teams in merchandise sales. On the other side of the Triangle, the Durham Bulls of the Triple-A International League also remained among the Top 25 announced May 20, and farther west, the Greensboro Grasshoppers of the Class A South Atlantic League are also among the nation’s top merchandizing minor league clubs.
“We have great fans who love to support our team,” said Bryan Wilson, the Bulls’ director of merchandising. “They come in and show support for the team on the field and show it off the field by wearing our gear and our hats.”
The N.C. teams’ sales are part of a MiLB licensing program that generated an estimated $54 million in merchandise sales in 2012, the third-best year since the list began in 1991. Sales figures are not released for the 160 franchises in the U.S.-based leagues that charge admission for games. Mudcats General Manager Joe Kremer said by phone Sunday that the Mudcats’ sales exceed six figures but not seven. Wilson on Tuesday revealed no financial details but said the Bulls know they usually rank among the top five but are not given a specific place by MiLB.
In announcing the ranking, which was released alphabetically, MiLB Director of Licensing Sandie Hebert commended clubs and licensees “for continuing to produce logos and merchandise that appeal to our more than 41.2 million fans annually, as well as non-baseball fans.” The Mudcats and the Bulls maintain their Top 25 presences year after year with tried-and-true logos.
Sticking with what works
The Mudcats’ big “C” logo with the whiskered gray catfish face pushing through a red “C” and their script logo with whiskers descending from “Mudcats” continue to please baseball fans and collectors.
“We certainly hit a home run when we changed the name to Mudcats,” Kremer said, telling the story of how the former Columbus (Ga.) Astros becoming the Columbus Mudcats in 1989 and on opening night sold out a merchandise supply expected to last all season.
The Mudcats stay in the Top 25 with sales of their red-and-black hats, white Sunday hats and Big C shirts.
“We’ve had a few little alternate logos, but the sales really come from our Big C and our Mudcats script logo that’s really been the same from the beginning,” Kremer said. “You hit a home run, you don’t necessarily tinker with it. We change colors from time to time.”
A red, white and blue version of the Big C adorned the blue cap belonging to Davis Kennedy, 9, of Farmville. Davis said he also owns a Mudcats T-shirt, and brother Reed, 5, has a hat and a red-and-black Mudcats rope bracelet.
“Last year, we came to a Mudcats game for my birthday, and they (his family) bought it for me,” Davis said of his patriotic hat.
The Bulls have stayed with their “D” logo since the inception of the Top 25 in 1991.
“In 2006, we introduced an alternate logo,” Wilson said. “Basically, we took the head of the bull, which started off pretty well. We’ve kind of narrowed back down to just the ‘D.’ That’s what the fans like to see. The ‘D’ has had very few alterations since the movie.”
The movie, of course, is “Bull Durham,” the 1988 romantic comedy starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. Wilson said the film provides name recognition and an almost daily mail order, but 85 percent or more of sales are local. Favorite items sold at Durham Bulls Athletic Park include the plain royal blue T-shirt with the “D” logo on the front and the 59FIFTY hat, which is the players’ onfield hat. Vintage apparel from ’47 Brand sells well, and anything neon became a big seller in 2012, Wilson said.
Keeping up with the big boys
With a population of 4,453, Zebulon is by far the smallest hometown for Top 25 teams, although the team draws from Raleigh, Wilson, Rocky Mount and other cities in an area with a population exceeding 1 million, Kremer said. Durham, with a population of 233,352 and part of a similarly large metropolitan area, is home to the Bulls.
The 2012 figure shows a 3.3 percent increase from 2011 sales and ranks third among yearly totals since the program began in 1991, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based governing body said. Sales hit $60 million in 1994, when NBA superstar Michael Jordan, now owner of the newly renamed Charlotte Hornets, retired from the NBA for the first time and switched sports, playing for the Southern League’s Birmingham Barons. Sales reached $54.7 million in 2008.
Among the Top 25 clubs, 22 have stores on MiLB.com. The Mudcats are among them. Twenty of the Top 25 were on the 2011 list., MiLB said. The newcomers are the Albuquerque Isotopes, Columbus Clippers, Indianapolis Indians, Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Savannah Sand Gnats.
MiLB’s Merchandise Top 25
The Top 25 teams, listed alphabetically, in licensed merchandise sales in 2012 sold a combined $54 million in merchandise, the third best year since Minor League Baseball began keeping statistics in 1991. MiLB does not rank the teams in order, and teams do not release individual sales data.
|Team||Location||Population||League||Class||Attendance||Average||Rank in League|
|Albuquerque Isotopes||Albuquerque, N.M.||552,804||Pacific Coast||6,963||4 of 14|
|Carolina Mudcats||Zebulon, N.C.||4,433||Carolina||Class A Advanced||2,792||5 of 8|
|Columbus Clippers||Columbus, Ohio||797,434||International||Class AAA||7,816||2 of 14|
|Corpus Christi Hooks||Corpus Christi, Texas||307,953||Texas||Class AA||5,449||3 of 8|
|Durham Bulls||Durham, N.C.||233,252||International||Class AAA||6,365||6 of 14|
|Fort Wayne TinCaps||Fort Wayne, Ind.||255,824||Midwest||Class A||4,640||3 of 14|
|Greensboro Grasshoppers||Greensboro, N.C.||273,425||South Atlantic||Class A||5,569||1 of 14|
|Indianapolis Indians||Indianapolis, Ind.||836,924||International||Class AAA||6,495||4 of 14|
|Lake Elsinore Storm||Lake Elsinore, Calif.||53,417||California||Class A-Advanced||3,476||1 of 10|
|Lakewood BlueClaws||Lakewood Township, N.J.||60,352||South Atlantic||Class A||5,153||2 of 14|
|Lehigh Valley IronPigs||Allentown, Pa.||119,141||International||Class AA||8,390||1 of 14|
|Midland RockHounds||Midland, Texas||113,931||Texas||Class AA||4,394||7 of 8|
|Pawtucket Red Sox||Pawtucket, R.I.||71,148||International||Class AAA||6,018||8 of 14|
|Pensacola Blue Wahoos||Pensacola, Fla.||52,197||Southern||Class AA||4,466||4 of 10|
|Portland Sea Dogs||Portland, Maine||66,363||Eastern||Class AA||3,957||6 of 12|
|Reno Aces||Reno, Nev.||227,511||Pacific Coast||Class AAA||4,465||14 of 16|
|Richmond Flying Squirrels||Richmond, Va.||205,533||Eastern||Class AA||6,131||1 of 12|
|Rochester Red Wings||Rochester, N.Y.||210,855||International||Class AAA||4,001||12 of 14|
|Round Rock Express||Round Rock, Texas||104,664||Pacific Coast||Class AAA||7,340||2 of 16|
|Sacramento River Cats||West Sacramento, Calif.||49,045||Pacific Coast||Class AAA||7,775||1 of 16|
|Salt Lake Bees||Salt Lake City, Utah||189,899||Pacific Coast||Class AAA||5,325||9 of 16|
|Savannah Sand Gnats||Savannah, Ga.||139,491||South Atlantic||Class A||2,034||10 of 14|
|Toledo Mud Hens||Toledo, Ohio||286,038||International||Class AAA||6,424||5 of 14|
|Trenton Thunder||Trenton, N.J.||84,899||Eastern||Class AA||4,643||4 of 12|
|Wisconsin Timber Rattlers||Appleton, Wis.||73,243||Midwest||Class A||2,699||7 of 16|
|NOTE: Attendance figures through Sunday’s games|
SOURCES: Minor League Baseball; MiLB.com; U.S. Census Bureau 2010 census data
Compiled by correspondent Teri Boggess