The licensing arm of this sporting goods manufacturer is stepping up its game to hit a broader audience. For Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., Inc., selling baseballs, gloves, and helmets each year leads to licensing deals, which often appear on clothing racks and sunglass kiosks.
The 123-year-old company has made a name for itself by outfitting players of all ranks—from Babe Ruth League diamonds and football fields to Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums. Rawlings manufactures the exclusive baseball and official helmet of MLB and many youth and amateur organizations.
Today, the organization aims to grow its business by putting its name on other types of products, thereby increasing its brand visibility. By doing so, the brand is not only reaching out to athletes, but also those who enjoy sports.
“This is the first time that people can see the Rawlings brand outside of the baseball field, off the basketball court, or away from the gridiron,” said Mark Kraemer, sports marketing and licensing manager for Rawlings.
Rawlings is a subsidiary of Jarden, an approximately $5.6 billion company whose brands include Coleman, K2, Crockpot, and Bicycle Playing Cards, among many others. Headquartered in St. Louis, Rawlings employs about 1,300 people and manufactures its core products, such as baseball gloves, at its inhouse facilities. The company also makes recognizable products such as football pads, basketballs, and uniforms.
This year, Rawlings seeks to leverage its well-known name by putting it on a wider range of products that bear a natural association with its core, sporting goods products. If successful, the strategy will breed commitment to the Rawlings brand among young children, as well as parents of youth athletes.
Success, Kraemer said, depends to a large degree on developing and maintaining well-structured licensing relationships. Every licensed product needs to be a good fit with the Rawlings brand and a complement to its core sporting goods products. What’s more, every licensee needs to be well suited to manufacture and distribute quality items at attractive price points. These licensee partners should also be able to position Rawlings-branded products in particular retail outlets that offer strong sales opportunities.
Identifying products and licensees that fit these criteria has become both a science and an art at Rawlings. The company has learned how to pick winners in these areas and doesn’t mind sharing insight into the process.
When deciding which types of products to license, Rawlings holds each option up to a set of standards. Among the questions used to narrow the field: is this item a good fit with Rawlings’ core products, or is it a poor match? For example, Rawlings wouldn’t put its name on novelty cigarette lighters, Kraemer said, because smoking and youth sports don’t mix.
But many other products do offer a natural fit. Bicycle helmets, Kraemer said, offer a good transition into licensed product because Rawlings is the leader in helmet protection, and young athletes are used to wearing Rawlings baseball helmets. Rawlings-branded leisure sportswear items such as basketball shorts, warm-up pants, and jackets can appeal to parents who’ve been putting their kids in Rawlings gear for years.
Even Rawlings-branded leather car seats have hit the marketplace because millions of people know the company’s leather through its baseball gloves. Why not, the logic goes, sport similar leather in the car?
“We don’t want to get ourselves into a situation where we’re slapping our name on things just to get our name out there,” Kraemer said. “We strategically view all potential licensed products to make sure they will continue to uphold the name we have made for ourselves over the past 123 years.”
Positioning a product in the marketplace requires a careful touch as well. Rawlings never puts its name on low-end items that are the cheapest in their category, Kraemer said. In some cases, offering a good value at a mid-range price point can be a formula for success.
This year’s rollout of Rawlings-branded sunglasses at Sports Authority stores, which were distributed through a licensing partnership, sold briskly this summer at $34.99 per pair, Kraemer said. Having tested the rollout this year and witnessed its success, Rawlings plans to work with the licensee to offer the sunglasses in more stores next year.
In other cases, the Rawlings brand is associated with high price points. Leather car seats, for instance, aim for a high-end look that one might associate with the company’s more expensive baseball gloves. Here, the idea is to equate the Rawlings brand with an emphasis on high-quality raw materials, which are also found in its core sports products.
Simply identifying the right products to license doesn’t ensure success, however. Rawlings has learned from experience to make sure that licensee partners have sufficient resources to deliver on their promises.
A cautionary tale came from Rawlings’ experience with leather bags. The products were of good quality and sold well, but the licensee who manufactured and distributed them was a family-owned business that fell on hard times during the recent recession. When the licensee could not deliver, Rawlings-branded leather bags disappeared from store shelves. As unfortunate as the situation was, Rawlings had to look for a new leather bags licensee to get the product back in stores, Kraemer said.
Vetting potential licensees involves a methodical process at Rawlings. The company solicits as many as 10 proposals from potential licensees that need to demonstrate both their vision and their financial wherewithal to execute it.
“There are lots of times when people can be very impressive with PowerPoint and presentations,” Kraemer said, “but at the end of the day, if they don’t have the capital resources to get them where they say they’re going to go or where they need to go, then you can run into a lot of shortfalls.”
At this point, Rawlings is executing its strategy by targeting a few key demographic groups. Through a licensing partnership with a California-based toy company, toddlers and other young children are getting exposed to the Rawlings brand when they play with items like miniature bats and t-ball sets. Another partnership under way features an apparel group from New York that reaches parents and youth athletes by putting Rawlings-branded leisurewear on their backs.
In these ventures and others, Rawlings is not only profiting from its reputation, but also building brand-consciousness among consumers who spend a lot of time at the field or near the court. As a result, when the time comes for them to purchase sports-related products—or any products for that matter—they are more likely to think of Rawlings.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an independent journalist based in Massachusetts. He can be reached at