The Perfect Gifts at Sports Fan and Minor League Stores

By Sara Karnish

Apparel is not the only way sports fans show their team loyalty. Fan store retailers interviewed for this article said gifts of all kinds are popular for both the fan or the fan in someone’s life.
Headwear and drinkware top the list of popular gifts.

A cash wrap area at a store for the Montgomery Biscuits in Montgomery, Ala. Adjustable hats and classic T-shirts sell well for the store.

“Adjustable hats and novelty items, like trading cards and logoed baseballs, are our top-selling gifts,” said Emma Reese, merchandise manager for the minor league baseball team Fort Wayne TinCaps’ Orchard Store in Fort Wayne, Ind. “They do well because they’re good gifts for anybody. People tend to come in and ask what other people are buying, and they’ll go off of that. I get people in here who wouldn’t necessarily come to a game, but they’re buying gifts for people who would come to a game. The adjustable hats are good because anybody can wear them. Kids can grow into an adult-sized hat. We have kids’ hats but they don’t sell as well. I think it’s the versatility of the items—that’s why they tend to be popular.”
Jennifer Crum, merchandise manager for the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team in Chattanooga, Tenn., said, “We have three different on-field hats which are very popular. Fans of all ages, and collectors, love minor league hats and always jump on the opportunity to buy one.”

Caps, T-shirts and balls on display at a Fort Wayne TinCaps store. The store has a new ornament for sale, and also has a teddy bear that is coming in after people asked for small stuffed animals for kids, the merchandise manager said.

Ted Tornow, general manager of the Clinton LumberKings minor league baseball team in Clinton, Iowa, said hats comprise about two-thirds of their sales. “Hats are versatile. They protect your head, show your allegiance to a team, or it may have been a gift from someone. They’re fairly universal. Our logo is very recognizable. Our caps have either the Louie logo, the ‘C’ crown, which we developed many years ago, or the Copa Clinton Elotes logo.” (Elote is a popular street food in Mexico, consisting of a grilled cob of corn, seasoned with chile powder, cheese, mayo, salt, and juices. In this logo, the elote, representing Iowa’s top agricultural crop, steps up to the plate with its bat.) Besides hats, Tornow said bobbleheads are also strong sellers.
Ashley Williams, retail manager for the Biscuit Basket, team store for the Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball team in Montgomery, Ala., said adjustable hats and classic tees are also their best-sellers: “They’re our best-selling item because they work for almost everyone and gives you just the right amount of taste into our team and organization”. For 2022, Williams will be featuring new items that players wear on the field: “For example, batting practice shorts and tops. Professional athletes are highly admired, and many individuals aspire to be one, or even just look like one. So, putting these items in the store for sale gives them that opportunity.”

Shoppers at a store for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Many store customers are buying gifts for fans, the merchandise manager said.

Heads and Tails in Tampa, Fla, a longtime local retailer, carries merchandise for professional and collegiate Florida sports teams. Drinkware is one of their biggest sellers in the gifts category. “It’s collegiate apparel for Florida and Florida State [in gifts]. In drinkware, we do a lot with Tervis, and another company called Gametime Sidekicks,” said Stephen Sherman, who recently became Heads and Tails’ new co-owner with business partner Adam Snyder. “Anything that has to do with retro team logos does well, too.”
Because of ongoing supply chain issues, it’s been challenging for some retailers to stock merchandise. Reese said she’s had to change some of her orders a bit. Looking ahead to 2022, she said fans can expect to find some new gift items in the team store, although their classic merchandise continues to sell best. “I’ve gotten a lot more variety as far as our novelty items. We’ve gotten in a new ornament. We have a teddy bear that’s coming in—people have asked for small stuffed animals for kids,” she said. “But in terms of new items, things in our store tend to stay the same. I try to look and get new items that would be trendy, but even then, a lot of that wouldn’t necessarily sell well in our market. It’s more with staying consistent with what we offer, although we do vary shirt designs.” Reese said she is always open to new items if she can get them in.

Ball caps on display at a store for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in Fort Wayne, Ind. Headware and drinkware top the list of popular gifts for the team.

The Lookouts team store carried several new hat and T-shirt designs, including an American Sign Language (ASL) T-shirt, during the holiday season. “This shirt was inspired by our Deaf Awareness Night and features ‘Lookouts’ in ASL script,” Crum explained.
Sherman said he and his team look for unique items to appeal to their customers. “We have decanter sets for the teams by a company called Heritage Pewter. They’re really nice products. Because the Bucs [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] won the Super Bowl and the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, the city’s been termed ‘Champa Bay’. Anything with that saying on it has been selling—barware to wallets to coffee mugs to mini trophies. We work with a local company called Bourbon and Bowties who came out with acrylic earrings that say ‘Champa Bay.’ They’re really cool,” he said.

Logo merchandise for the Chattanooga Lookouts. Fans of all ages, and collectors love minor league hats, the merchandise manager said.

As for gift trends during the holiday season and into 2022, Crum said, “People seem to be gravitating towards unique and personal gifts this holiday season. Our custom personalized on-field jerseys are very popular and have been flying off the shelf.” Sherman predicted stainless steel or metal drinkware will be big in the gift category, and the “athleisure environment” in apparel will continue. Williams said some of the gift trends she is seeing are “novelties for outside play such as bats, catching gloves, and even flyers and balls for dogs. Physical activity has increased within the past years, and I think that a lot of individuals value the time they get to spend with their loved ones outside having fun.”

Jennifer Crum, merchandise manager for the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team in Chattanooga, Tenn. The store stocks versions of the three different on-field hats.

Fan store operators rely on social media to spread the word about new items and promote events, specials, and other important happenings. Many take a cross-promotion approach to merchandising, focusing on the new items shared on social media when arranging displays within the store. Reese does this regularly. “We’ll highlight different items that we have in the store on our social media pages. We’ll get people who come in because they saw the items online. I also tend to change the layout of the store pretty frequently. Because of the nature of our industry, we have season ticket holders, so I’ll try to rearrange things a little bit so something catches your eye when you walk in. I could change something or move it, and people will think it’s a new item. Rearrange and post on social media—they’re the two things I do to make items stand out.” Tornow said, “With 500 square feet [of retail space] and crisscross merchandising, we have to get items in so people see things. We’ve reorganized our website, we run specials on social media. Clinton is a small city; we’re a community-owned team. If we come out with something new and our fans don’t have it, they want to get it. We came out with a bunch of Nike dri-fit tops with numbers on them. We’ve done well with them. We’ll use social media, put an ad in the newspaper, there are a couple of baseball card fanatics…we’ll put it on our pages.”
Williams said social media is a great way to stay in contact with fans from out of the area. “With many of our fans not being local, this is the best way for us to keep them up to date on all that we have to offer and special promotions and sales,” she explained.

Employee Chris Brown, with a glassware display, at Heads and Tails in Tampa, Fla. The store carries merchandise for professional and collegiate Florida sports teams.

At Heads and Tails, they use social media to catch fans’ attention and bring them into their store. “We have a really good team in the store. None of us have a retail background. We’re sports fans. We have a big ‘feature wall’ up front in the store. We didn’t change the layout of the store because there wasn’t much we could do with it. The feature wall is for hockey and pro football. Whatever we know will be a fast mover will be on that wall at all times,” Sherman said, “Merchandising for us more than ever has been done through social media. We have a social media intern—a 21-year-old from University of Tampa. We want the youthful approach to social media. People do come into the brick-and-mortar location in order to get the product they see on our social media pages. Our website allows for purchase online, pickup in store—we have a lot of folks who do that.”
Carrying a mix of classic and new gifts to appeal to longtime and brand-new fans, and utilizing social media to promote these offerings, ensures strong sales in the gift category for sports fan and minor league retailers.

A merchandise display at a Montgomery Biscuits store. Batting practice shorts and tops will be in the store’s inventory this year.

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