Last week, Mike Birling discussed the importance and reach of the Durham Bulls brand. As if on cue, Minor League Baseball backed up his point yesterday by releasing the top 25 teams in licensed merchandise sales during the 2017 season.
The Bulls are the senior statesmen on that list, having made the cut in the 25 seasons since Minor League Baseball’s licensing program began in 1993. That puts Durham one year ahead of the Trenton Thunder, which debuted in 1994 and have ranked among the top 25 sellers in each years since. The four other teams to make the top 25 every year of their existence include: Columbia Fireflies (two years), El Paso Chihuahuas (four years), Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (11 years) and Sacramento River Cats (18 years).
“We’re fortunate that we get attention because of who we are,” Birling, the Bulls’ vice president, said in our conversation while referencing the team’s connection to the movie “Bull Durham.” “But with that I think there is a certain standard that we are expected to uphold, or at least we kind of force that upon ourselves. You know, we like doing crazy promotions just like all of the other minor league teams, but we’re not going to push it over a certain level. We just don’t feel like that is what this team is about. This team is an iconic brand. It’s a brand that, like I said, everybody is looking towards. We’re not going to be the ones that step out and do some of the things that minor league teams do to get attention.
“Now on the other side, we’re fortunate that we don’t have to do that, because we do get attention because of who we are. But I think there is a standard. We kind of look at ourselves as the 31st major league team. And we have a responsibility with that. That’s kind of how we guide things.”
The top 25 teams in licensed merchandise sales, listed alphabetically with major league affiliate in parenthesis, are:
Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies), Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays), Charlotte Knights (White Sox), Columbia Fireflies (Mets), Columbus Clippers (Indians), Durham Bulls (Rays), El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres), Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres), Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers), Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies), Indianapolis Indians (Pirates), Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins), Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies), Nashville Sounds (Athletics), New Orleans Baby Cakes (Marlins), Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals), Portland SeaDogs (Red Sox), Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies), Rochester Red Wings (Twins), Sacramento River Cats (Giants), Salt Lake Bees (Angels), South Bend Cubs, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners), Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) and Trenton Thunder (Yankees).
According to Minor League Baseball, the industry set a record with a total of $70.8 million in retail sales. The mark is a 3.6 percent increase over 2016’s total of $68.3 million.