All across baseball, from the bowels of Dolphin Stadium to the unfinished (and possibly unsold) luxury suites of the new Yankee Stadium, everyone is worried about their bottom line.
These are certainly tough financial times, but the Chicago White Sox bucked the trend in one area, ending 2008 with a uniquely positive sales report.
"Our hat sales were up 25 percent in November and December," Sox Vice President of Communications Scott Reifert said proudly.
It's no coincidence. When the most famous guy in the world wears your hat every day in front of a phalanx of cameras, it tends to leave an impression. It's a sports marketer's dream.
President-elect Barack Obama, an avowed Sox fan who threw out a first pitch after his election to the Senate, wore his standard black Sox cap throughout his campaign and post-election transition. Even the most arch-conservative Sox fan had to like the publicity.
At one point, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who donated to Obama and John McCain, asked Reifert, a Hyde Park resident who knows Obama because his daughter is good friends with one of Obama's daughters, to deliver the new President a new hat during the election. It didn't take. The old hat stayed.
Since the fall, the White Sox have been brainstorming ideas on how to tie in the Sox brand with the Obama campaign, mostly borrowing ideas from the campaign's innovative networking strategy - from cell phone alerts to personalized e-mails to marketing. Earlier this month, the Sox unveiled a dedicated page on their Web site honoring the "First Fan," who will be formally invited to throw out the first pitch of the 2009 season once he takes office*.
"We've reached out with the concept of coming up with a hat that has the Obama logo from the campaign, maybe the Obama name on it," Reifert said. "Maybe a percentage of sales would go to charity or something. We haven't had any conversations about it, so it's premature. They haven't responded to it, but I'm sure they're a little busy right now."
Obama's Sox love inspired a local graphic design firm to create mock ads. On Friday, Maddock Douglas unveiled an Obama-White Sox Web site called bringchangehome.com. The site has four downloadable photo illustrations of Obama in his Sox cap with a few different tag lines, like "Change the Country, Change the World, Just Don't Change Your Sox."
"There are a couple of designers we know who are Sox fans, and they did some really cool stuff on Facebook and on their Web site," Reifert said. "It's not an organized campaign. They just did it for fun. They sent us some stuff and asked if we could use it. We said we didn't think we could put it up, but if it's viral, what do we care? It's certainly in the spirit of what we want to do."
The White Sox are having an Inauguration party in their high-end scout's lounge on Tuesday, and have invited students from McClellan Elementary School, located just a few blocks from the Cell, to share in the festivities.
Reifert won't be there though. He already left for Washington D.C., with his family in tow. If you look close Tuesday, you might see him in the crowd.
"I can guarantee you there will be one person in the audience with a White Sox hat," Reifert said. "Maybe a stocking cap, depending on the temperature."
Southpaw, the Sox's green-furred mascot, is taking part in the traditional Inauguration parade.
"We sent along the 'Let's Go, Go-Go White Sox' music," Reifert said, but he doubted it would get played. "It would certainly get everyone's attention."
* You know who won't be invited to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field this year? Rod Blagojevich.