Minors are major for Star Struck

There’s nothing minor about Bethel, CT-based Star Struck’s Minor League Baseball business.

Thanks to the boom in Minor League Baseball attendance (a record 35 million-plus fans flocked to Minor League games last year), related merchandise has never been hotter. “Minor League Baseball has proved to be a great niche market for us,” says Jason Scheets, spokesman for the licensed sports merchandise cataloger.

To make the most of this booming niche market, in December, Star Struck acquired At the Yard, a Website devoted exclusively to Minor League Baseball. Featuring statistics, player journals, and merchandise from Minor and Major Leaguers, At the Yard was founded by former big-league pitcher Chris Hook. According to Scheets, the At the Yard Website receives approximately 20,000 hits each month.

At the Yard’s editorial will be integrated into Star Struck’s print catalogs and Website to give fans “the ultimate Minor League experience,” Scheets says, complementing the wealth of stats and trivia already featured. (In what other catalog would you be able to find out that Whitey Ford holds the N.Y. Yankees franchise record for most career wins?)

The growth of the three-year-old Star Struck parallels the resurgence of baseball over the past few years. New Minor League teams have been springing up all over the country, and 1998’s “home run race,” during which big-leaguers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa surpassed Roger Maris’s single-season home run record, brought the sport to the forefront of the news.

Caps and shirts featuring the logos of the Major League teams account for 30%-35% of Star Struck’s $2.3 million in annual sales, according to Scheets. But licensed Minor League caps from heretofore obscure baseball towns such as Lansing, MI, and Rancho Cucamonga, CA, are the fastest-growing part of the cataloger’s business, accounting for nearly a quarter of its sales.

Star Struck will mail about 3 million catalogs this year, up from 2.5 million last year and 750,000 in 1998. The cataloger produces two books: The official catalog of Minor League Baseball sells merchandise from all 160 Minor League teams, as well as from all 30 Major League Baseball teams, and the All Sports catalog sells apparel and gifts licensed from the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and NASCAR.

Besides renting subscription lists from Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine, Star Struck gets names from its contract with Minor League associations, such as the International League (AAA) and the Eastern League (AA). Star Struck also gets prospects from FanFest, a Major League Baseball event held during the annual All-Star break.

Baseball fans aren’t Star Struck’s only customers, by the way. According to Scheets, former big-league reliever Rollie Fingers bought hats from each Minor League team he played on.