Feature

Headliners

Caps roar into the ’20s with custom looks, high tech and a focus on comfort.

Baseball caps roar into the new decade with updated comfort and performance features, styled looks and sleek online customization tools that reflect the times.

Perennially popular and marvels of timeless style, caps are designed and constructed to be breathable, comfortable, durable and lightweight. Team caps are imagined online and sized right by virtue of custom fitted, adjustable or flexible fit options.

“In an ever-evolving headwear landscape, it’s important to stay in lock step with what today’s players and coaches need on the field to succeed and look great doing it,” explains Jennifer Minnick, digital marketing manager for Augusta Sportswear, which purchased Pacific Headwear in September.  

Caps are good business returning strong margins for dealers, with new fabrications and designs to keep teams happy.

“The newer technology and materials are definite selling features. Some of the newer knits are very well accepted because of their breathability and light weight,” says Kim Karsh, owner of California Pro Sports, Harbor City, CA.  

Karsh sells primarily custom-sized caps from Richardson and New Era. “Teams want flat bill caps with contrast eyelets and 3D lettering is a must. Occasionally teams will put a logo, a school name or a mascot on the back, but we’re not seeing much piping anymore,” he says. “Our teams like to tweak the design every year to keep it fresh.”

Tradition still holds sway in baseball and teams want the custom fit look of the pros. “Most of our teams order custom sized caps, still one per player. Some coaches order custom-sized for varsity and flex fits for JV. Younger coaches and travel teams tend to order more flex fit because it’s easier,” says Karsh. “Most customers will get a flexible fit cap for themselves.”  

What makes caps a home run?  

“Comfort reigns supreme and I think it will continue to hold the throne,” says Brad Reagan, national sales manager at OC Sports. “Backing up that comfort with performance fabrics, styled looks, size availability and color matching is also crucial for teams, especially as you get involved with the more elite athletes as opposed to recreational leagues. Today’s customers demand reliable service, simple ordering processes and an unbeatable quality cap.”  

Teams look for comfort, colors and style options, in a mix of on-field and sideline options. “Caps have to deliver on the latest technical materials in the shapes and styles that most reflect their efforts on the field,” says James Matson, VP–sales at Cap America.  

Pro style caps are the desired look for high school, college and middle schools teams. “We stick with three brands, Richardson, Pacific and The Game, all good solid companies with great hats,” says Steve Kraai, team sales representative at Holwerda-Snoap Sporting Goods, Grand Rapids, MI. “Teams want the latest performance fabrics that dry quickly and keep the head cooler during competition. Fitted or flex fit, they are solid in the back for a pro style look.”

Athletes these days have more say about what they wear on their heads, especially as families pay more of the cost for uniforms.

“The caps we sell are generally more basic, a flex fit with performance fabrics,” says Chris McGlone, team salesman at Glenn’s Sporting Goods, Huntington, WV. “The flat brim is in, with contrast eyelets and buttons, but piping has gone away. With the flat brim, you can curve it if you want to, but you can’t flatten a curved brim, and kids can do what they want.”

High schools and middle schools order the same style caps from Glenn’s, sourced by The Game and Pacific Headwear. “These caps have a 3D letter on the front, American flag on back or side and maybe a team name on back,” says McGlone. “Little Leagues choose Outdoor Cap replica caps with no customization.”

Fashion meets performance in new caps for the 2020 baseball season from Pukka (left) and OC Sports.

The trend here is for more variation based on athlete preference. “When school budgets only cover the cost of the jersey, the rest of the uniform is purchased by the athlete from an online team store,” says McGlone. Several of his school teams order caps early and the caps are warehoused until OrderMyGear team stores are set up.

“Coaches used to be more old school and the uniform was the uniform. With kids placing their orders and paying in team stores, they have more leeway to choose the style they want from multiple options,” says McGlone. “It’s common here to see curved and flat brim hats and baseball pants with open bottom/relaxed fit or knickers on the field at the same time.”

Serving schools throughout the state of Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and South Carolina, Hobbs Sporting Goods, Dublin, GA. sources 97 percent of hats from The Game for college, high school and middle school.  The exception is Little League caps that are 95 percent MLB replica. “The reason is predominantly loyalty, but also they have a great promotion,” says owner Frank Hobbs.  “We sell a performance cap, mostly flat bill, some wool. Decorating is a mascot on the front, most have contrast eyelets and buttons but no piping.”  

Decision Points for Teams

Dealers and their teams look for early order incentives, depth of inventory, updated materials and design technology when choosing caps. And teams certainly like to take advantage of early “buy some, get some” promotions.

“Our teams are used to ordering early and are ready to place their orders for home and away caps by October,” says Hobbs.  

“We like to order caps ahead of the uniform order. It encourages teams to take advantage of buy some/get some promotions to get more than one, home and away,” says Kraai. “Plus it’s one less thing to worry about and we can cross it off the list.”

The number one hat he sells is from The Game. “The Game is made overseas and there’s a three-month delivery, but their 60/24 promotion enables teams to get multiple hats — a home, away and special occasion cap,” says McGlone. “We also take advantage of Pacific Headwear’s 36/12 promotion. Pacific has the parts made overseas, but they make them here in Oregon, which is why they can deliver in four to six weeks.“

Timing is everything in ordering caps for next season, dealers agree.

“Our coaches like to take advantage of incentives like Richardson’s buy 36/12 program,” says Karsh, noting the need to pre-order Richardson or Pacific four weeks out, and New Era as much as eight weeks. “But there are always coaches who are not organized or who have been thrown into the position at the last minute. They just want to get a stock cap in the right color and we embroider in-house. We have our own program that if you buy a certain number you get 12 free.”  

Although teams are used to ordering early, speed-to-market provides a critical competitive advantage for vendors. “We’re expanding our production capabilities throughout our supply chain in 2020 to meet the growing demand for our caps,” says David Hubbs, marketing manager for Richardson Sports. “This increased capacity will allow us to make more custom decorated baseball caps and deliver them faster.”

The quality of the cap builder and the depth of inventory are critical aspects.

“The functionality of the cap builder definitely influences our choice of vendor,” says Karsh. “It helps make the sale when the coach can visualize different options as it’s created. What if we make the eyelets white?  They see it, they like it and can make a decision then and there.

“Any cap company with a good builder will sell more caps,” he adds. “These days it’s hard to wait three days to a week to get an image when you can create it and have them sign off and pay on the spot. We can also build internally with our in-house designers, but that’s more time-consuming.”

A good builder also gets creative juices flowing. “No team wants to get out on the field and look like their opponents,” says Mike Hiskey, creative director at Pukka Headwear. “The ability to visualize in real time what their custom hat will look like cuts out so much back and forth and allows the end consumer to feel more involved in the process.”

Caps and Tariffs

Almost everything needed to play America’s pastime is now made in China, including caps, cleats and batting helmets. Recent tariffs have resulted in higher priced baseball caps since most are made in China, but dealers haven’t gotten pushback from customers.

“The tariffs have added 75 cents to $1 to the price of cap. The general public is not that aware of this, but we are,” says Karsh. “Now when we reorder hats we have to tell coaches they went up a dollar. All of the companies are being affected by the tariffs, but the second agreement may mitigate that cost.”  

Hobbs acknowledges that tariffs have added $1-$1.50 to the price of a cap. “It’s not causing us any grief because people are willing to spend $20 on a nice cap,” he says. “Teams have to have a new hat. A nice hat makes the uniform and prices in this category have been very stable for a long time.”

“Tariffs have added a small amount of cost but overall it’s all relative,” agrees McGlone. “When I started in this business 26 years ago, we bought New Era hats that were being made in Buffalo, NY, and the price was about the same as now.”

Teams need other hats for practice, sidelines and fan wear. Knitted beanies, buckets, boonies and sun hats can all be sold in online team stores, meeting a team’s additional headwear needs and adding revenue.  

“Dealers should remember that hats for coaching staff, parents, booster clubs are an integral part of everyday use and fundraising for their sports programs,” says Chad Kennedy, national sales manager at The Game.

Offering an array of sideline and fan wear with a large assortment of decorations helps sell more team hats. “At Cap America we continue to increase our domestic production capacity to supply the team market with USA Made customized beanies and scarves in a fraction of the time other companies can import from overseas,” says Matson.

Pearsox also offers custom knitted hats. “The Peartop is USA made,” says Richard Schulman, CEO of  Pearsox. “We offer 12-piece minimum, two-week turn time.”

Heat or cold, sun or rain, teams, coaches and fans want protection from the elements. “We’re in Michigan and it’s cold up here and we have some teams order knitted beanies for spring practice,” says Kraai. “We also sell some boonies and earflap hats and scarves. Teams take advantage of buy some/get some here too from the same three companies — Richardson, Pacific and The Game.”

Coach hats are a reflection of what the college coaches wear on the sidelines. These hats are personalized with a school or organization logo on it, with the occasional name or number.

“Our football coaches wear 60 percent caps and 40 percent visors now. Some football coaches also wear boonies and sun hats for sun protection in summer practice,” says Karsh. “Boonies and sun hats are popular in lacrosse and we do a lot of lacrosse out here. We also sell some beanies with embroidered logos.”

Visors are popular with softball teams in his area, with more visors than headbands, according to Karsh. Teams also order beanies with embroidered logos.

McGlone sells baseball caps and some boonies to the football coaching staff. His softball teams mostly select headbands, if anything. “It used to be visors and hats with a ponytail hole, but not anymore,” he says.

2020 New Products & Trends

Cap America

The company has three new performance style caps, i7037, i7038, and i7039, with moisture-wicking properties and UV protection, along with increased color offerings and new materials in some of its more popular cap styles. A new USA Made in-stock knit line now offers more knitted caps and beanies in team colors.

OC Sports

Its Trucker Style Cap is an updated traditional trucker with comfort and style. This is a mesh back cap with comfort-wrapped sweatband in 60 color combinations. New beanies are fleece lined for early morning practices and sun protection boonies for coaches and fans now come in edgier styles, in as little as seven business days.

Pacific Headwear

New styles in Elite Series line of Premium On-Field caps feature a distinctive ES crown and visor shape, with style, performance, price and premium decoration.

Pukka Headwear

The company’s enhanced online customization tool enables custom cap visualization in real time. To appeal to a wider audience, improvements will allow the user to see what their entire hat can look like simply by inputting school name, mascot and the colors. Perfect for school spirit storess and clubs.

Richardson

New innovative styles include #634 Lite R-Flex adjustable on-field cap (in photo) with lite r-flex adjustable micro hook and loop, performance stretch fabric and precurved visor. The #112+ is an R-Flex adjustable version of its trucker cap, in twill/stretch poly mesh. The original #112 will be available in a new size small and XL version this year.

The Game  

Look for the continued evolution of lightweight breathable performance fabrics. Functionality of fabrics is just as important as the cosmetic look of the fabric. In addition, the company is giving an expanded focus on off-field caps for coaching staff, parents and booster clubs.

View the full print issue here.