published on October 28, 2016 - 5:55 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
While filling seats at Chukchansi Park proved to be a challenge this past season in the wake of recent downtown construction, for the third consecutive year the Grizzlies once again broke merchandise records and are on pace to hit $700,000 by year’s end.


At Grizzlies, $700,000 figure substantially exceeds last year’s record-setting $500,000 in merchandise sales.

Grizzlies General Manager Derek Franks said he attributes the success to promotions like the team’s increasingly popular Fresno Tacos line and the Growlifornia line, both of which promote regional pride in addition to Grizzlies fandom.

“Promotions are a huge part of this business,” Franks said. “Our marketing team has done a great job making the merchandise work together with the theme nights and that has been key to our growth.”

Grizzlies Marketing Director Sam Hansen said the Tacos line in particular has grown in 2016 with the addition of shirts declaring Team Carne Asada or Team Carnitas and so on, and Hansen said greater expansion for the line is ahead.

“There is so much room for growth with the Tacos brand and we have positioned Fresno as the taco capital,” Hansen said. “There was an article recently about Fresno possibly being the taco capital of the United States, and we really are trying to push not just the Grizzlies, but Fresno being a destination for tacos. We ultimately want to grow our Taco Truck Throwdown night into a Gilroy garlic festival for tacos. I’d say 60 percent of our growth [in merchandise sales] is from the Tacos line.”

Franks said rebranding for special events, as the Grizzlies have done with the Tacos, has been a game-changer.
“Our goal is to be the best team in MiLB period,” Franks said. “When you look around the league and see how many teams changed their name and rebranded for a game, like we did with Tacos, it’s pretty clear that promotion changed the game.”

The Growlifornia brand is also essential to Grizzlies marketing.

“Growlifornia emphasizes regional pride and that Fresno state of mind and being unapologetically Central California,” Hansen said.

Paul Braverman, the Grizzlies media relations and baseball operations coordinator, said the Growlifornia promotion is something that couldn’t be done when the Grizzlies were the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants since a hyper-local promotion would seem counter to being the affiliated with the Bay Area’s team. A local approach, however, works very well with the Astros affiliation, he said.

“There is synergy with the Astros affiliation,” Braverman said. “This is the red part of the state. It’s not the Bay Area or Los Angeles. If you were to characterize this part of California it would be kind of like Texas. Texas is fiercely independent and that is the direction we went in and it translates well to merchandise sales.”

Hansen agreed that the Astros affiliation has opened up doors for local merchandising.

“Fresno has this spirit of autonomy, and when we switched over to the Astros, we obviously didn’t attach ourselves to them like we did with the Giants. But there was this common denominator,” Hansen said. “The Texas attitude toward Washington D.C. is very similar to the Fresno attitude toward Sacramento, and I feel there is this great sense of pride Fresno is hungry for and we couldn’t promote that when we were with the Giants. As cliché as it is to say, by losing the Giants, we found ourselves as the Fresno Grizzlies.”

The Astros affiliation has also propelled the team to two winning seasons in a row, with 2015 being the first championship year in Grizzlies history. That too has helped the Grizzlies merchandising efforts with sales of championship gear. Winning, Braverman said, also legitimizes the Grizzlies special promotions, making special games like the Three Amigos and Good Burger games more than just a gimmick.

“I think if we weren’t esteemed within the league, the outlandish uniforms and merchandise items would make people roll their eyes. But the fact we’ve been able to win and have fun at the same time gives us a lot of equity to push the envelope,” Braverman said. “Our team may have been dressed like hamburgers, but they won that game 14-0 and we won the Three Amigos game too with a walk off homer, so with two of our craziest uniforms, we won — one a blowout and one a close game.”

Responding to current events has also contributed to the Grizzlies merchandising success. For example, when a Trump supporter made a comment about “a taco truck on every corner” on national television, Hansen said the team’s marketing department couldn’t help but take advantage and incorporate the saying into the Tacos line with the creation of a very simple red hat.

“That literally just fell in our laps,” Hansen said. “Those hats did really well. We’ve sold between 500 and 600 and had pre-orders.”

“The Tacos brand has been so strong as an alter ego for the Grizzlies that it would have been more bizarre if we didn’t respond to the taco trucks on every corner comment,” Braverman added. “The minute he said that, people were tweeting us asking what we were going to do. As marketers, I think it is the ultimate win when it becomes more of a surprise if you don’t do something than if you do.”

Hansen said he only sees Grizzlies merchandise growing in popularity. A possible pop-up store in River Park is in the works for November and December, but Hansen said he would eventually like to see Grizzlies gear in national retail chains in the Central Valley, right next to Fresno State Bulldog gear.

“What excites me is there is so much room to grow here,” Hansen said. “In other markets, team hats and shirts are in the local Walgreens and other retail stores. That is that city’s brand and obviously Fresno State is that here… If we can share some of the shelves that Fresno State is on in your Rite Aids and your Walgreens and your local stores, that is where a lot of other teams are making their profit and there is a lot of potential for growth there.”

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