It's a hit out of the park [Boston Herald]
(Boston Herald (MA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 08--Three years after breaking into baseball by signing Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia to its first Major League Baseball endorsement deal, New Balance is looking to expand its presence by taking a swing at younger players and professional leagues in Japan and South Korea.
The Boston athletic shoe and clothing company now has 450 MLB players wearing its cleats, with 260 under formal contracts, including C.J. Wilson, Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Evan Longoria, who turned to New Balance this year for a special cleat to accommodate his plantar fasciitis. Its baseball cleats and performance clothing also are sold by specialty baseball retailers such as Eastbay and at 160 Dick's Sporting Goods.
Revenue from baseball products still accounts for only a small percentage of New Balance's $2.39 billion in annual sales -- cleated footwear is the lowest-margin footwear in the business -- but the company banks on the "halo effect" that those sales will have in generating brand allegiance, according to Mark Cavanaugh, general manager of team sports and sports marketing.
New Balance's "Young Guns" campaign will target baseball players under the age of 25.
"Oftentimes, brands will wait to see if younger players become established in the game instead of taking a gamble on a kid who might be drafted or is in the minors," Cavanaugh said.
Its global attack will focus on Japanese and Korean MLB players -- it signed Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu this spring -- and Nippon Professional Baseball and Korean Professional Baseball players.
New Balance opted to break into professional baseball because of its low cost of entry compared to other pro sports, according to Cavanaugh. And the company, which was known as a running brand, recognized it had to get into endorsement deals to establish a meaningful presence on the field.
The brand prides itself on judging a player's character as a criteria for endorsement deals more than other brands, according to Cavanaugh.
"We literally say no to guys," he said, noting three undisclosed players were dropped for issues such as driving under the influence and domestic assault.
Giving back to charitable and community organizations also is a condition of the athletes' contracts. Given what's been happening in New England sports of late, "it's a unique angle," Cavanaugh said. "I think it's the path that more people are going to be telling their athletes that they have to take."
Pedroia typifies that largesse, according to Cavanaugh: "He's one of the best examples of someone who lets actions speak louder than words."
But New Balance entered the game at an inopportune time -- at least fashion-wise -- as the trend of players wearing long baggy pants on the field came into vogue. "We get on guys when you can't see (our cleats) and give them a warning," Cavanaugh said. "We say, 'Dude, you've got to pull the pants up.' "
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