Originally created 05/04/04

The clothier to baseball's stars



BANGOR, Pa. -- Jim Thome already wears one. Next year, Barry Bonds will, too.

Majestic Athletic, a small family company from Pennsylvania, recently beat out apparel giants Nike, Reebok, Adidas and Russell to win the contract to outfit all 30 major league baseball teams.

"When we wake up every morning, we breathe major league baseball," Majestic president Faust Capobianco IV said.

The company's survival depends on it. When a player is traded, Majestic, which already outfits the Philadelphia Phillies and 15 other teams, has mere hours to produce a new uniform and ship it to its destination. When someone gets hot or a team moves up in the standings, the company had better know about it, because consumer demand for licensed apparel inevitably will spike.

"We're fortunate enough to be in an industry where everything changes based on who won, or who threw a no-hitter," said Capobianco, 32, whose father started Majestic and remains its chairman. "It also makes you want to tear your hair out."

Capobianco recently led a tour of a Majestic cutting factory about 65 miles from Philadelphia. The factory stores about 1 million yards of fabric - huge swatches of cloth with labels such as "Yankees Navy" and "Astros Navy" that will become the uniforms millions of fans will see at the ballpark or on TV. As he spoke, a machine was cutting polyester pants for the Baltimore Orioles' David Segui.

Majestic measures every major leaguer twice a year, and the information is stored in a computer.

Frank Coppenbarger, manager of equipment and team travel for the Phillies, said he was skeptical when Majestic asked for the team's business four or five years ago. His concerns have long since disappeared.

"As far as comfort and durability, the players love them. They hold up very well, certainly among the best I've seen made," Coppenbarger said.

The seeds of Majestic were sown five decades ago, when family patriarchs Mary and Faust Capobianco II entered the textile business, opening factories that made women's clothing.

As textile production shifted overseas, the Capobiancos' son, Faust III, explored other opportunities. He started Majestic Athletic in 1976 to focus on team apparel, a business that required speedy - thus domestic - production.

Majestic was awarded its first MLB license in 1984, but did not win its first on-field uniform licenses until 1999. In the 1990s, with sales of licensed athletic apparel booming, baseball and other pro leagues took on as many licensing partners as possible.

"It used to be a terrible business because the leagues all licensed out their name to four or five major licensees who were all competitive with each other. They flooded the market," said John Horan, publisher of Sporting Goods Intelligence, an industry newsletter.

The oversupply, coupled with player strikes, devastated the business. Starter Corp., Pro Player Inc. and other formerly high-flying companies declared bankruptcy.

Majestic kept plugging along, and is nearly 10 times the size it was a decade ago. The company, which employs 750, rings up annual sales of about $150 million, according to Sporting Goods Intelligence.

Howard Smith, baseball's senior vice president for licensing, said Majestic's singular focus and ability to produce quickly helped it survive.

"First, foremost and forever, they are a baseball company," he said. "They put all their eggs in that basket and they've been rewarded by continuing to win our confidence, our players' confidence."

On the Net:

Majestic Athletic: http://www.majesticathletic.com/