Where clothing merchandise for the major leagues was once focused almost entirely toward males, it has taken Alyssa Milano, with her appeal as an actress and sports fan, to reshape what was once simply called “fan gear” and turn it into quality casual and fashion wear for women looking to support their favorite teams. Through her Touch by Alyssa Milano line, Milano now offers women something other than baggy tee-shirts, jerseys, and the occasional “pink” hat that has taken all MLB team logos, and ignored their designed color scheme and offered something exceptionally fashionable from a believable celebrity that has a sincere love of sports.
Three years ago, Milano approached MLB Properties about marketing a clothing line that would look as good in a boutique as it would at the merchandise stand at the ballpark. The results has spawned not only a revolution in clothing for women to wear to the ballpark, but the business model has been so successful that it is now available for the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA. As Greg Sim, MLB Properties’ director of licensing, apparel and headwear said at the time Touch by Alyssa Milano was launched, it taps “a part of the market we haven’t touched yet, putting a high-end product on the casual and younger fans who are more fashion conscious.”
But, it isn’t the clothing itself that makes the fashion line so popular, it is Milano herself that moves the products from something on a rack to a fashionable sports lifestyle. A crossover celebrity, who has gone from child star as the character Samantha Micelli on Who’s The Boss? in the mid-‘80s to early ‘90s to adult actress breaking the “nice girl” type on the big screen such as Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story and Embrace of the Vampire to her roles on television as Jennifer Mancini on Melrose Place, Meg Winston in Spin City, and most notably as Phoebe Halliwell where she played role in the series Charmed from 1998-2006, Milano has become a staple of popular culture, and fashion sense for those that follow her work as an actress. If it’s chic for Alyssa to be a sports fan, and still dress attractively, it makes it likewise for the 20 and early 30-something demo that relates to her. If any other celebrity tried the approach, they would most likely come across as just a “face”; Milano defines the fashion line. Put it all together and it has made cash registers ring, not only for Milano, but the sports leagues that back the product lines.
As her beloved Los Angeles Dodger were facing elimination in Game 5 of the NLCS, we caught up with Milano to talk about Touch, when she came up with the idea for the fashion line; whether it was intimidating to approach the “old world” of Major League Baseball, with something fresh, and new; how involved is she in the design process; how she might expand the Touch product line, when she already has tapped nearly every major sports league in the U.S.; how a product for MLB might differ from one for the NBA; other women celebrity that are big fans of Major League Baseball; whether she might consider investing in a pro baseball team, and much more. -- Maury Brown
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Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: Up until you began Touch, women were pretty much relegated to wearing men’s apparel and caps if they wished to show their support for their favorite team – there were no licensed brands through sports leagues for women’s fashion. When did you get the idea for Touch?
Alyssa Milano: The idea came to me at Dodger Stadium in 2005. I’m a season ticket holder and I had the same ritual at every game I attended. I would go into the stadium shop and look for something to buy to support my team. Most of what was available was made poorly, or too boxy, or pink so I would usually, leave the store empty handed. Occasionally, I would find a hoody in the children’s section that was cut big enough to fit me and that would be an awesome find! I had a light bulb moment after one trip to the stadium shop. I returned to my seat, looked around and saw a lot of women in the stands in the pink gear. I figured if even 30% of these women were insulted by the pink gear (like I was) but wore it anyway because it was the only way MLB was addressing female fans, the market was there for a well made, fashionable, flattering, fan apparel line.
Bizball: When one thinks of baseball executives, you don’t normally conjure up “cool”. The likes of Bud Selig and many of baseball’s owners seem to be the last ones to “get” what a women’s fashion line for MLB brands would be like. How did your meetings with MLB Properties go, and was it at all intimidating?
Milano: I pitched the idea to my agent at CAA (this was before they had their sports department) and he figured out a way to get me a meeting with MLB Properties. I flew to New York specifically for this meeting. It was very intimidating. I had put together a presentation with sketches and fabric swatches. I remember giving the pitch and thinking to myself, “I’m not sure if they are getting this”. Then Howard Smith asked me how long I had been a baseball fan and thankfully, I was able to share my love of the sport with them. I spoke about how baseball was my way to connect with my dad when I was little and how he would tell me romantic stories of Ebbets Field. Ultimately, I don’t think they gave me the licensing because of the concept of the clothing line. I think they gave me the licensing because they could tell I was a real fan and that I could represent female fans in a passionate, intelligent way. They introduce me to my partners G-III Sports and Aminco (jewelry) and we were off and running. I will always be grateful to MLB, not only for all the baseball memories I have tucked away but also, for believing in me enough to take a risk on me and my idea.
Multi-sport player. Milano and G-III Sports have expanded reach beyond MLB, including the NFL, as seen in this ad.
Bizball: We’ve just moved from summer to fall fashion... How does the process work for each new seasonal offering? Are you actively involved in the selection process?
Milano: I’m involved with every aspect of the line for the simple reason that I’m the one sitting in the stands, spanning all leagues, for over 80 games a year. I don’t think a designer sitting in an office can adequately design for a sports fan if they aren’t actually attending sporting events. I work with designers for trend and tech aspects but I’m very hands-on to make sure the female fan is represented in the overall vision and functionality. The weird thing about the design process though, is that you are working so far in advance. We’ve already designed through Fall 2010. The process itself isn’t that different from Spring to Fall other than fabrics and silhouettes that are more conducive to colder weather. But the trickiest part is trying to predict what will be hot in the fashion world so far in advance. I consider the line to be a fashion sportswear line with logo’s placed in flattering positions not just “fan gear”. I want women to be able to wear the clothes even if they aren’t attending a game. And the selection process is pretty simple. We usually go to proto sample with all the designs and once the samples come in, it’s just about putting together a collection that has product to fit every body type and is cohesive so it will look right together on the floor.
Bizball: It’s not only MLB licensed products that comprise the Touch line now, but the NHL, NFL, NBA, and NCAA that you are working with – a monopoly of sorts. Do you feel like you’ve saturated the sports market, or are there areas still untapped?
Milano: I’m very proud of what Touch has accomplished in only 3 years. I’m not sure I will ever stop striving for expansion though. The next step, which I guess is basically untapped, is to open more Touch boutiques in stadiums. We opened our first boutique in Citi Field this year and it has been a wonderful success. I would like to open more stores to give women their very own place in the stadium.
Bizball: Are there different styles for different sports? NBA might have something different than MLB?
Milano: We offer the same designs for every league, but each league/team buyer gravitates to certain style based on their demo’s. For instance, NBA tends to lean towards styles that are more graphically driven. NCAA leans more towards the more youthful looks. All these different demo considerations are addressed throughout the design process to ensure that there is something for everyone.
Bizball: Sports has been a predominantly man’s world over the generations, and baseball is no exception. You’ve been visible through blogging, doing TBS Hotcorner, and publishing your book, Safe at Home. Do you think you get all the respect you deserve, or is it still somewhat of a battle?
Milano: I don’t even think about it that way. My intention is simply to give women a voice in sports. And I try to use whatever opportunity I’m given… to do so. The most rewarding part hasn’t been the specific achievements. The most rewarding part is how much the female sports fans appreciate my efforts.
Bizball: As a celebrity, you don’t “watch” baseball, you provide thoughts on the game; analysis. Are there other female celebrities that we might be surprised to find out have a detailed understanding of the game?
Milano: My co-star of Romantically Challenged, Kelly Stables is a big St. Louis Cardinals fan. Mindy Kaling is a big baseball fan. Eliza Dushku is a big Red Sox fan! I’m not sure if they have a detailed understanding, but I know they understand the fundamentals and love the sport.
Bizball: Have you ever considered investing in a sports franchise?
Milano: I would love to buy into a Triple-A baseball team.
Bizball: Finally, you have embraced Twitter providing commentary on sports to social issues. What’s the most appealing thing about the platform?
Milano: I became passionate about Twitter during the protests in Iran. I was following a few Iranian college students that were reporting on Twitter what was happening in real-time. In this day and age, our computers have become like our personal diaries and there was something about receiving this information about the protests on my laptop that made it so much more personal and heart wrenching. I look at Twitter as being a part of a community; where like-minded people find each other and sort of walk together to share information. I don’t really use my personal account as a promotional tool. For me, it feels too self-serving to have over 250,000 followers and talk about my career when I can use that voice to effect positive change, make connections and empower. I have other Twitter accounts to promote my different career elements. I use my personal account to share my passions and what is important to me.