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Hats On

Cap stores are making headway in the $208 million sports hat industry.

Next time you're at an amusement park, sporting event, parade or other outdoor event, take a look around and notice how many people are wearing baseball hats. If it looks to you like every man, woman and child as far as the eye can see is sporting such a cap, you're not far from the truth. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, in 1997, Americans spent $208 million on caps and hats emblazoned with sport logos, a16 percent increase over 1995 figures. And this number doesn't even include the untold millions spent on fashion and designer caps from nonsports-related clothing brands, such as Stussy, No Fear and Guess?; novelty caps such as those promoting a hobby like fishing; or machine-embroidered caps custom-made for company outings or birthdays.

While baseball-style caps have been around as long as the game itself, it's only been within the last decade or so that sports teams have really begun to market their brands via headwear. According to David Stewart, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles, the quality and variety of sports-branded caps not only provides people with an opportunity to express their loyalty to a team but appeals to their sense of taste as well. "Teams have gotten much more savvy with respect to design and fashion," says Stewart. "The days of having just white caps with a logo are gone. Now you have caps that are much more colorful and that make more of a statement."

Unlike many fashion trends, the popularity of caps seems to span all age groups and income brackets. "You have the older consumers who are identifying with the team, and you have the younger consumers who are just wearing it as a fashion statement; that it's associated with a certain team may be secondary or irrelevant," says Stewart.

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This article was originally published in the July 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hats On.

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