Bethany Clough

Retail Therapy: Grizzlies merchandise now a uniquely Fresno brand

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Fresno Grizzlies merchandise had its top-grossing year in sales ever last year

• Designs are more urban lifestyle brand than traditional baseball themes

• The designer has worked with Kanye West and ran FTK stores

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The T-shirts at Fresno Grizzlies baseball games look like no other: “Growlifornia” scrawled across the chest. “Los Grizzlies” in the colors of the Mexican flag. A stylized 559 that almost looks like an album cover.

Most baseball teams rely on outside vendors to make their souvenir T-shirts, swapping out the name and logo on the same generic merchandise around the country.

But Fresno broke away from the pack, creating its own shirts and its own spirited style. The result is a uniquely Fresno brand of merchandise that had its highest grossing year ever last year.

It helps that the man designing the T-shirts, Sam Hansen, has a designing background that includes creating merchandise for Kanye West and running the urban lifestyle stores FTK.

Today in the Grizzlies team store you’ll find T-shirts that wouldn’t work for any other baseball team, like one that looks like a dictionary entry and says “Carpe Grizz: To grab life like a grizzly bear.” One of the top sellers is the black T-shirt with Growlifornia scrawled across it and Madera, Fresno, Hanford and other Valley city names printed above.

Fans have noticed the difference.

Season ticket holder Joseph Silva, 37, of Fresno, has been following the team since 2005. He’s been buying a lot of Grizzlies shirts lately, including one that says “#wearthebear.”

“For me it’s more of a local feel of it being more geared toward Fresno, the 559, T-shirts that name different towns,” he says. “That’s more why I started buying more.”

Before, there was a focus on the Grizzlies being an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. That’s gone now with the Grizzlies is the farm team for the Houston Astros. The Grizzlies don’t rely so heavily on that connection for its merchandise now.

“Now it’s clear this is Fresno’s Grizzlies,” Silva says.

People line up outside the store when new hats or shirts are released, particularly if they’re in limited amounts. The products are also available online.

Sales are already ahead of where they were this time last year, Hansen says.

“If we continue at the pace we’re going, it will be significantly higher this year than we were last year,” Hansen says.

Merchandising manager Lalonnie Calderon has managed the team store since 2007 and has noticed the change.

“It’s not just a souvenir shop,” she says. “It’s a part of everyday fashion.”

People look for shirts to wear out of town, she says.

Most of the designs are created by Hansen, whose business card says he’s the Grizzlies’ “marketing ninja.”

He’s a familiar name to many Fresnans. He and a partner ran FTK stores in Fresno and Visalia that created urban streetwear influenced by hip-hop, skateboarding and rap and sold limited-edition sneakers that customers lined up for.

Hansen is also the one who created the “nickel nickel nine” T-shirt that’s popular in Fresno, a reference to the 559 area code with images of two nickels and a 9 mm handgun.

He also created merchandise for Kanye West’s first two albums. He came up with “the dropout bear” logo for West’s first album, “The College Dropout” (hence the college dropout T-shirt Hansen sometimes wears, but the cowboy hat with the Growlifornia flag wrapped around it is an everyday staple).

He and FTK collaborated with the Grizzlies on a hat years ago and it turned into job for Hansen as a graphic designer and eventually the director of marketing with the team.

All that background in creating fashion and brands paved the way for the changes that started about two years ago at the Grizzlies store. Hansen says he’s not an artist, but a marketer.

“I feel like when I got here the Grizzlies had a product and they tried to find customers for their product,” he says. “I find my customers first and I create products for my customers. My designs are a result of that.”

When the Grizzlies lost the Giants’ affiliation, some worried that the team would take a hit. Hansen saw it as an opportunity.

“Now there’s no crutch,” he says. “This is going to be a central California brand, an unapologetically central California brand.”

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