How New Era Stays on Top of Consumers' Minds and on Top of Players' Heads
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“Growing up, you always dream of wearing a New Era cap on the field in the big leagues -- that’s what you wear,” says Bryce Harper, all-star right fielder for the Washington Nationals and New Era brand ambassador. “I’ll always remember the first time I put one on when I was called up by the Nationals -- it was the greatest feeling in the world.”
Here’s a quick video of Harper temporarily losing his prized cap while making an epic catch during this summer’s MLB All-Star Game.
New Era is about to celebrate its 25th year as the official on-field cap of Major League Baseball. The company got in the game -- literally -- in 1934, making caps for the Cleveland Indians. By the mid-1970s, they were providing caps for 20 out of the 24 major league teams, and in 1993, was on the head of every baseball player in the MLB. “The heritage is really important and I think why our caps have continued to be culturally relevant over the decades,” says Tony DeSimone, category director of the Major League Baseball unit at New Era.
As the post season approaches, I spoke with DeSimone about how a brand can maintain its authenticity and sense of history, all the while continuing to innovate and keep customers excited. Here's what he had to say about the New Era's journey, and their heartbreaking lack of cap-based technology that could help out the Mets.
For the non-hat heads out there, can you explain how your caps have changed over the years?
The AC 59FIFTY Fitted cap is the official cap of Major League Baseball. It has been in the game for so long, and we’ve adapted it over time. For instance, in the '80s and '90s, the cap was wool. We decided that we wanted to keep that wool look, but wanted to adapt it to the field of play. So we developed a performance poly blend that still had the look and feel but was able to improve upon performance: UV protection, greater sweat wicking, etc.
What drives change at New Era?
We have two audiences to consider: the fans who want style and the players who want performance. Sometimes we test new designs in the retail market, and if we see a great reaction, we’ll then ask ourselves how to integrate those new elements into the field of play.
Do the teams and players tell you what they like and don’t like?
Yes, we have a very close relationship with Major League Baseball. It’s a constant dialogue about any changes. If we come up with something we think would be great for the sport of baseball, we’ll approach them with it. Other times, they’ll come to us with a need and we’ll research a solution. We will have a new cap for 2018 that will be used for batting practice. Without giving out too many details, there are different performance needs for a hat designed for the repetition of swinging a bat vs. a hat that is designed to be worn by a fielder who is out there with the sun beating down on them during a long inning.
What do you credit for New Era’s ability to maintain its stature with fans and even non-fans?
New Era is a brand that has been accepted by influencers and entertainers, particularly in the music industry. Sometimes [we] approach people to do collaborations, and a lot of times, people approach us. We find the AC cap has the most crossover appeal, and likely for a couple of factors: baseball logos tend to represent the city the team plays. So you might not be the world’s biggest Yankees fan, but your hat shows that you’re repping New York.
We want to encourage people to wear the hats however it fits your personality. And that’s quite frankly what the players do. You have some of these guys who go through routines to break their caps in and they never want to change it all year long. Come the post season, some will want a new hat with the post-season patch, and others just want us to heat seal it onto that dingy cap they’ve been wearing all season. Some guys keep the visor flat, others curve it significantly. So we encourage our consumers to follow suit and wear it how they like.
Do you have any performance hats that can stop Mets pitchers from getting injured every five minutes?
[Laughs] No, we don’t. I’m a diehard Yankees fans, so I do wish we could create hats that could help out certain teams!
From a business point of view, you must have dream scenarios for who makes it to the post-season.
Last year with the Cubs winning the World Series, it was a pretty banner year for us. One that’ll make it hard to top this year! But we have a lot of big market/ big fanbase teams that are contending for post-season spots. The Dodgers, the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Astros, the Nationals, to name a few. I’m not allowed to say who we’d love to see if the World Series, but there are certain ones we’d love to see for sure!