Louisville Slugger rolls out new logo, harder bats

The familiar smell of hot dogs and freshly cut grass on Major

League Baseball’s Opening Day will be complemented by changes to

the iconic Louisville Slugger bat, which is now made with firmer

wood and stamped with a new logo.

The 129-year-old manufacturer hopes the harder bat, which is

less likely to splinter, and more modern logo will help the

family-owned company stay relevant in the sporting good supply

market and ahead of competitors in luring younger ballplayers to

its products.

The new logo is the first such change since the company dropped

the ”Hillerich & Bradsby” name from the center of its oval

design and replaced it with ”Louisville Slugger” in 1980. And the

new bats, which are made from a high-grade wood and processed to

enhance the surface’s hardness, are the biggest change in the

hardware since the introduction of cup-ended bats in 1972.

”You have to ask yourself, Do you really need to change it?”

Louisville Slugger CEO John Hillerich said of the logos and bats.

”Our greatest asset is our brand.”

The changes were the result of a multi-year process that

involved talking with everyone from corporate partners to players

about what they wanted in a bat to how the new logo looked on the

equipment.

The new bats – made of ash or maple – are designed to be harder

than previous models. Bobby Hillerich, director of Wood Bat

Manufacturing for Louisville Slugger, said new selection processes

for the wood, as well as drying and processing methods, have

created a bat hard enough to reach a grade of 9h – the highest

rating possible by the American Society for Testing and

Materials.

Buyers search for the hardest wood available – known as veneer

wood – which is vacuum dried to pull moisture out of the wood and

push the material closer together, Bobby Hillerich said. Once that

is done, the wood is cut into billets used to create the bats. The

billets are shaped and compressed before being finished with a

water-based coating, logo, and any coloring and player

signature.

Part of the aim of the new bat is to keep it from splintering on

the field. In recent years, baseball officials have been concerned

about maple bats breaking or shattering, creating potential hazards

for infielders. Bobby Hillerich said the new bats have held up well

in tests.

”The crack of the bat is just so much different because of the

drying process,” Hillerich said.

Howard Smith, Vice President of Licensing for Major League

Baseball, said players tested the new bats toward the end of the

2012 season and gave it ”rave reviews.” Louisville Slugger has

refined bat-making to a science, Smith said.

”In terms of the slope of the grain, which determines how hard

the wood will be, Louisville has been able to harvest the best wood

with the most perfect as you can get slope of grain,” Smith said.

”It has absolutely contributed to less bats breaking on the

field.”

With the new bats comes a new look. The old Louisville Slugger

logo – an oval featuring the company name at the center with the

number ”125” above it – is being replaced by a new logo that

keeps the oval, but slightly alters the look of the Louisville

Slugger name and has an interlocking ”LS” above it. The bats,

marketed as MLB Prime, will also feature a player’s signature boxed

in by the Louisville Slugger name, the model number, a notation

that the bat is genuine and the wood from which it is made.

Older bats featured the model number and the Louisville Slugger

name in parallel lines around a player’s signature.

”We saw the brand in need of a small bit of an infusion of

modernity,” said Kyle Schlegel, vice president of Global Marketing

for Hillerich & Bradsby.

”Changing such an iconic logo can come with risks, particularly

if the alterations are dramatic enough to cause customers to not

recognize the brand identity,” said Michael Barone, a professor of

marketing at the University of Louisville. Other long-standing

brands, such as Ivory, Betty Crocker and Harley-Davidson, have

successfully made small logo changes over the years, Barone

said.

”When you’ve been in the market that long, consumers may start

to think you are not as contemporary or relevant as you really

are,” Barone said. ”A logo could signal something new. It helps

get attention back to a mature brand.”

The company is rolling out the new logo with a ”What Mark Will

You Leave?” campaign on its website, Facebook page and Twitter

account.

To John Hillerich, the logo change and launch on Opening Day

fits well with the future he sees for the company, a path that

takes it into deeper ties with baseball. Along with bats, the new

logo will appear on equipment bags, catcher equipment and

gloves.

Eventually, the logo could appear on apparel and other items,

possibly even pop-up stores or restaurants, Hillerich said.

”Could you take that on the road?” he asked. ”Those decisions

are five to 10 years out, depending on how you grow the

company.”

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