Since its inception, New Balance has been the athletic market’s standout when it comes to Made in the USA sneakers, and now the brand is out to dominate another category rooted in red, white and blue: baseball.
After competing in the sport for the past seven years, New Balance’s president and CEO, Rob DeMartini, is sponsoring more high-profile athletes and rolling out a made-in-America lifestyle baseball collection this spring.
DeMartini believes there’s crossover for the baseball fanatic and the people buying Made in the USA footwear, which accounts for 20 percent of the firm’s domestic business.
In fact, the company tied the two initiatives together with the brand’s recent domestically produced Coumarin Pack, inspired by the Cactus League and Grapefruit League spring training camps held in Arizona and Florida, respectively.
The Coumarin Pack, featuring cleats and Made in the USA sneakers, arrived on New Balance’s website at the end of March, in time for Major League Baseball’s opening day on April 2.
“Springtime and the kickoff baseball season is a signal all across the country, but particularly in cold-weather markets, that spring’s coming,” DeMartini said.
Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, arguably the game’s best shortstop, is New Balance’s latest star.
He signed with the brand in the offseason and is the face of the campaign, where he wears some of the American-made lifestyle products.
“I really loved the miUSA 998 from the Coumarin Pack that I got to wear during a photo shoot a few weeks ago,” Lindor said. “The colors are really fresh for spring and remind me of [spring training] in Arizona.”
Lindor told Footwear News that the opportunity to be a global ambassador for a brand with such strong, positive momentum is amazing and humbling. “I’m excited to be working with a great company and looking forward to everything we’re going to do together.”
DeMartini confirmed that consumers could expect more themed Made in the USA collections like this in the future.
“We recognize that the right to work with these athletes is a privilege, and any time we can help them celebrate a milestone by doing something special, we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’ve got a nimble, flexible system, we’re close to the players, and if we can make the player feel great about working with us, we’ll do it.”
Lindor is also providing feedback to the company about wearing the product on the field.
“Everything starts from the ground up in every sport, so my footwear is very important,” Lindor said. “The guys at New Balance respect that and were open to my input and hearing about my specific needs. I’ve already had some input into products coming out later this year and in 2018.”
Going forward, DeMartini believes the company is well-positioned to drive growth in the overall baseball market. The secret to New Balance’s success in baseball, said DeMartini, is its atypical, cutting-edge product.
“The knowledge we have to make great baseball cleats comes from our knowledge of making footwear, particularly running shoes,” he said.
Lacing up New Balance spikes are stars of the diamond, including Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and José Altuve. (Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs was named the World Series MVP last year while wearing spikes from the Boston-based brand.)
While it’s clear that New Balance is making plays to own the market, another athletic standout is making a run for the No. 1 spot: Under Armour. The Baltimore-based brand announced in December that it signed a 10-year deal with MLB to become the league’s uniform provider, making jerseys that will feature UA branding.
DeMartini said New Balance isn’t intimidated by the move.
“For us, it isn’t branding first. It’s making sure we’re building the best possible product we can,” he said. “If we make that player feel good about his cleats and think it’s contributing to his success, then we’re going to be just fine no matter what Under Armour does.”
According to data provided by the NPD Group, New Balance owns a top-three spot in cleated baseball footwear, with sales in the category up 3 percent over 2016.