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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