Photographer: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Retail

How Cubs Championship Hats Get to Your Store So Fast

Last year, New Era was almost caught unprepared by Chicago’s late surge. This year they were ready.

The moment Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant scooped up the ball and chucked it over to first for the final out of the 2016 World Series, workers 300 miles east of Cleveland’s Progressive Field began heat-sealing embroidered patches bearing the Cubs’ logo onto championship ball caps. By the time the Cubs put on their fresh new caps while celebrating their extra innings Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians, the race was already on to get thousands more of those caps to stores all over the world.

You see, Cubs fans had been waiting more than a century for this triumph, and the rush for celebratory merchandise would soon be on. The first day following a championship victory always sparks a mad grab for championship gear as exhilarated shoppers wait impatiently for gratification. Even so, this year’s World Series was especially frenzied, no matter the winner. There were 68 years of pentup demand for the fans in Cleveland; and it’s been 108 years for Chicago’s North Side.

New Era, makers of Major League Baseball’s on-field headwear, manufactures the base of its championship caps ahead of time, adding all the World Series Champion embellishments to a neutral color palette and leaving out the team identity until the final pitch is thrown. Once the victory was clinched, New Era immediately worked to add a colorful flourish of the winner’s name and logo to the caps at its Harrisburg, Pa., distribution center, staffed to full capacity through the night. Workers started deliveries this morning. 

As they churned out and boxed up the championship hats, retailers flocked to the facility to pick up their shipments. Lids, part of Hat World Inc. and the biggest hat seller in the U.S., has 1,300 shops across North America, but today Chicago is the priority. The company brought in extra workers to the Chicago area and hundreds of store associates mobilized to greet the truckloads of inbound Cubs caps and get them front and center at local shops. Lids has 40 stores in Illinois, and the first shipments got in before their 8 a.m. openings. A constant flow of new hats will arrive over the next few days.

“It’s not easy,” said John DeWaal, vice president of marketing for Lids. “We’ve [homed] in on a pretty good process to make sure we’re getting hats into our stores as quickly as possible.”

New Era's Chicago Cubs championship baseball cap.
New Era's Chicago Cubs championship baseball cap.
Source; Lids

Last year, New Era wasn’t prepared for the possibility of a Cubs win—or the magnitude of sales it would generate. Tony DeSimone, New Era’s category director for Major League Baseball, remembers watching the team come together and plow through to the National League Championship Series, where they were finally stopped by the New York Mets. 

“We started to realize if they won the World Series, we might not be able to handle the volume,” said DeSimone. “We spent the next year planning and prioritizing, getting ready for a Cubs championship.” Executives tweaked their processes to manage the potential load, trying to maximize the inventory they had to carry. For instance, they’d use hats that could be reusable as something else, so less goes to waste.

This year’s cap has the Cubs logo emblazoned on the front of big black-and-gold words proclaiming them World Series Champions, the Commissioner's Trophy displayed on the side. The hats seen on players’ heads as they danced around the field last night were made ahead of time, for each team, and sent to the stadium with a New Era rep. The losers’ championship caps are taken back to New Era, never to be seen again.

New Era expects to sell three times more Cubs caps than the average World Series winner in the coming weeks. It hit the cap-selling jackpot.

“It’ll be a record-breaking postseason for us,” said DeSimone.

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