A Mets T-shirt from the DKNY Sport x MLB collection.

With opening day of the baseball season rapidly approaching, DKNY Sport is hoping to gain a foothold with fans of America’s pastime by partnering with Major League Baseball on a new apparel collection for women.

DKNY Sport x MLB is a sports-inspired offering that includes signature pieces from the brand’s collection co-branded with logos of the league’s teams. It will include a sneaker dress, coach’s jacket, cropped hoodie and leggings stamped with team logos on the chest, back or on the legs.

“Everyone at Major League Baseball is excited to partner with DKNY, an iconic American women’s fashion brand,” said Denis Nolan, MLB’s senior vice president of consumer products. “We always strive to offer our fans a variety of unique options to support their team and this collaboration with DKNY does just that. Approximately half of our fan base is comprised of female fans, so we want to make sure they are being served with the most on-trend selections possible.”

Tops will retail for $40 to $70, fleece and bottoms for $60 to $80 and outerwear $80 to $160. It will be sold on the company’s web site as well as at Macy’s, select ballparks throughout the U.S. and the Fanatics network. DKNY and MLB will host a two-hour interactive launch event in New York on Thursday to introduce the collection.

DKNY Sport created merchandise for teams including the Yankees.

DKNY Sport created merchandise for teams including the Yankees. 

DKNY’s entry into the licensed sports space is the latest example of an aggressive push by Fanatics, the largest global retailer of licensed sports merchandise, to focus on more-upscale brands.

Jack Boyle, copresident of Fanatics’ direct-to-consumer retail and head of merchandising, said the company has been testing a Better Brands program over the past 12 to 18 months, with strong results.

“The success we’ve had was way beyond our expectations,” he said, adding that this addresses the company’s mission to offer “innovative new retail and e-commerce approaches to bring a wide assortment of licensed sports merchandise to fans.”

This upscale product tends to appeal to a different consumer base and allows fans to blend their appetite for designer and heritage brands with their affection for their favorite professional and college teams.

“We see this as largely incremental,” Boyle said. “We won’t sell fewer jerseys or on-field hats as a result of a better branded business.” Instead, the upscale brands are offered much wider reach by being sold on the 300 e-commerce sites Fanatics operates for professional and college teams around the country. Fanatics also operates more than 50 flagship stores across the country including the NBA Store and the NHL Store both in New York.

The privately held Fanatics had sales of $2.3 billion last year and its e-commerce business grew by double digits.

Boyle declined to say what percentage of the overall business he expects the better branded merchandise to represent, but said Fanatics has “really significant plans for this to become a major part of the business.”

And the fact that DKNY’s entry is in women’s wear reflects a larger trend in licensed sports apparel. Boyle said women’s is an underpenetrated market and sales within the category were up more than 20 percent across all the sports and leagues year-over-year.

In addition to DKNY, other better brands participating in the program include Vineyard Vines, Dooney & Bourke, Tommy Bahama, Columbia, Levi’s, Herschel, and Alex and Ani.

The Tommy Bahama Michigan Wolverines button up shirt.

The Tommy Bahama Michigan Wolverines button-up shirt. 

“We’ve had a relationship with Fanatics for many years, but in April 2018 we launched as the anchor to Fanatics’ new ‘Better Brands’ strategy under the banner ‘Club Level.’ Since then we’ve seen tremendous success, validating all of our assumptions,” said Ian Murray, co-ceo and cofounder of Vineyard Vines.

His brother, Shep Murray, co-ceo and cofounder, added that the product is now sold on more than 40 Fanatics sites as well as at its on-site retail venues at the MLB All-Star Game FanFest and the Kentucky Derby. “Our best performing product commonly includes iconic Vineyard Vines art,” he said. “Specifically, our bestseller is the Michigan whale helmet T-shirt.” The graphic T-shirt with an image of the pink whale wearing a football helmet retails for $46.

Vineyard Vines' licensed sports apparel

The Vineyard Vines Clemson Tigers long-sleeve pocket T-shirt. 

Peter Beaugard, chief marketing officer of Dooney & Bourke, is also pleased with the results he’s seen with the accessories collection. “In the past, our customers had to compromise: they either could highlight their love of sports and their favorite team, or they could show off their style. Our rich brand history, our partnership with the leagues, and Fanatics’ expertise in omnichannel retail created the perfect platform for meeting the sports fan with elevated, team-specific bags wherever they shop.”

A Dooney & Bourke Miami Dolphins purse.

A Dooney & Bourke Miami Dolphins foldover crossbody purse. 

In all these cases, the brands are granted licenses for specific categories from the major professional and college teams, allowing them to create the merchandise. They can then sell the merchandise through their regular channels and partner with Fanatics to obtain the scale that association provides.

Boyle said Fanatics is “aggressively out there talking to additional better brands” to become part of the program. “We’re looking at dressy and casual, men’s and women’s, accessories, footwear and hard goods that are highly recognizable and have a better or best profile,” he said.

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