The State of Baseball in 2017 with Joe Rubertino [OC Sports]

Following the Cubs’ historical World Series win, I sat down with OC Sports National Sales Manager, Joe Rubertino, to discuss the future of America’s game.

Admittedly, I’m not well versed in the world of baseball, but even I recognized the significance of the Cubs’ World Series win. Do you think it will influence youth participation in for the 2017 season, and years to come?

I personally believe this could be one of the biggest things to reverse the decrease in participation we’ve seen over the past 10 years. After seeing such an exciting series, specifically Game 7, coupled with the Cubs winning and breaking that century-long drought, I think even the most casual fans are more invested now.

I think having such young, relatable players on the team has helped them sort of become more famous.

I have an acquaintance with 2 kids, ages 8 and 10, who have never played baseball. They watched the World Series as a family this year, as much as they could before bedtime anyways. A few days after Game 7, both kids went to their dad and said they want to play baseball next year. So, I know we have at least 2 more participants because of it.

Some of the Chicago players appeared on Saturday Night Live. Do you think creating more PR like this can help make it a more desirable sport, thus improving the industry as a whole?

In the NFL, they play only 16 games, in soccer, they play 34, basketball and hockey both have 82 in the regular season.

In Major League Baseball, they play 162 games a year.

It’s not that these guys aren’t out there; it’s just that new generations have shorter attention spans and more things vying for their attention. Baseball is a long game with a long season, so as a sport, we need to figure out how to reach young people and turn them into fans.

One way of doing this is by making the players more memorable, turning them into heroes, and giving them a celebrity status. Like I said, the Cubs are doing a great job of this.

We’re talking about youth participants, anywhere from T-ball to high school players; what are they looking for in a team cap? 

Well, I think for the young kids around ages 5-9, they really want to emulate their heroes. These guys love MLB replicas because it’s almost like playing dress up, they can envision themselves playing for the Yankees or the Cardinals. 

The teenagers are all about self-expression and personalization. They want brighter colors and patterns, and their own individual logo. 

Yes, I’ve noticed teens are gravitating toward more fashion-forward, unconventional styles in their on-field headwear. Why is that, and will it continue?

At that age, they want to push limits and test boundaries in every aspect of their lives. Sports and uniforms are no exception. They do it with sleeves and shoes too, not just headwear.

They want something with a wow-factor that will stand out.

I think it will continue, but like everything else, it fluctuates. Digital Camo has been all the rage for the past 5 years, but it quickly went from an all-over, in your face pattern to small touches here and there. 

On the flip side, I’ve seen a lot of vintage, throwback styles gaining popularity. These guys just want whatever is hot at the moment. 

Speaking of trends, where do you stand on the flat v. curved debate?

I get asked this question a lot, and it always makes me chuckle. It’s really very simple. You can shape and curve any flat visor, but you cannot flatten out a pre-curved visor.

When coaches ask my advice, I always tell them to order flat visors and then let the kids wear them however they prefer.

So tell me why performance fabrics are so important to athletes. Are they all they’re cracked up to be? 

Well, the main thing most players are concerned with is having a cap that is lightweight and manages moisture. Some fabrics have cooling effects in addition to sweat wicking properties; they really like that as well.

If it fits well and it does those things that makes all the difference.

How important are SPF fabrics for the future of ball caps? 

They’re definitely becoming increasingly more important. I think as a society in general, we’re just more aware of carcinogens and our exposure to the sun. This comes naturally as we understand more about the dangers of skin cancer. But I do think SPF rated fabrics will become more popular.

I recently learned that 
cold-weather caps are a thing in baseball. Is that an important piece of the uniform I was completely unaware of?

I don’t think so; it’s more of a geography-based thing. Baseball season lasts from April – October, and practices run even longer than that. Some areas of the country are pretty cold during those times, so teams in certain states, and travel teams also, will be more likely to want knits and beanies.

Baseball and softball will re-join the Olympics in 2020; can this influence participation as well?

I think there are a lot of things that can and will influence participation. The Olympics are certainly on that list. Sports tend to see an uptick in registrations, especially after Team U.S.A. medals. I think we’ll all be excited to see what happens in Tokyo. 

MLB also just announced that Under Armour and Fanatics will replace Nike and Majestic as the official uniform partners by 2020. The rumor is, they’ll get the contract even sooner, but it’s set to run for at least 10 years.

Walk into any school in the country and you’ll see, kids love Under Armour; I think this could be a game-changer for making baseball seem cool to a new generation.

This year, we have the World Baseball Classic to look forward to, it too, happens every 4 years. It consists of 16 teams and will run from March 6th – March 22nd.

A lot of star MLB players have been hesitant to participate in the past. I think this goes back to what I said about making celebrities out of them. Look at how invested people are in the World Cup when it comes around. We need to create that level of hype around baseball.

This is the last thing I have for you today, but the ABCA Convention is coming up quick. What can everyone anticipate this year?

Well, first let me shamelessly mention what folks can look forward to from OC Sports this year. We’ve upped our speed to market significantly. We’re offering stock styles in as little as 10 days, and fully customized caps in as little as 30 days.

We also released a new style in 2016, the MBW-800, and it has exceeded all of our expectations. People love this cap. It has over 20 color options, and it’s 100% customizable. We always joke; the only limitation is between your ears.

As far as ABCA goes, I think the most underutilized, or perhaps, undervalued benefits are the clinic videos. They offer a full library of coach talks on all aspects of the game: running a practice, drills, techniques, etc. These are an excellent resource for coaches at any level.

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