Whenever a big-name baseball player signs with a major league team, the image that makes the front page of the sports section and the top of the evening news is always the same. At a crowded press conference, engulfed by reporters and photographers, the athlete smiles through a blaze of flashbulbs and holds up—what else—his brand new jersey.
Majestic Athletic Wear Limited, a third-generation family business headed by father and son Notre Dame alumni, will soon play a part in that story every time it’s told. Beginning with the 2005 season, Majestic will hold the exclusive rights to supply on-field uniforms to all 30 major league baseball clubs. The small Pennsylvania-based company will also become the sole producer of lucrative MLB replica jerseys and other officially licensed fanwear for the next five years.
Since chairman Faust Capobianco III (’62) founded the company in 1976, Majestic has survived and thrived in the intensely competitive sports apparel business. But when Majestic beat out Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Russell and a host of other rivals to win the coveted major league uniform contract, it wasn’t only a Cinderella story. According to president Faust Capobianco IV (’94), the firm’s ability to identify and exploit key competitive advantages has kept Majestic at the top of its game.
A “baseball-centric” approach is the first of Majestic’s strengths. “We live and breathe the baseball business,” said the younger Capobianco, 32, on a recent visit to the Mendoza College of Business. “We’re so trained on baseball that it’s been a catalyst in outperforming our competition.” Majestic’s keen focus on the sport helped it convince major league clubs to buy the company’s unique line of batting practice jerseys in the 1980s, creating a niche market it would build upon later.
Maintaining most of its manufacturing, sales and marketing operations in tiny Bangor, Pennsylvania has proven to be another advantage for Majestic, even as bigger firms moved more of their business overseas. The company employs several hundred workers in Bangor, many of whom have known Capobianco since he was a boy. Majestic’s strong domestic base has allowed it to move products more quickly to market, to adjust manufacturing output to sudden shifts in demand, and to cultivate sales-driven relationships with retailers.
That approach is critical in baseball, says Capobianco, since “you can’t predict how the season’s going to turn around.” If, say, a star player is suddenly traded or a team comes from behind to win the division, Majestic can get new apparel into stores much faster than other firms. When the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez in the biggest trade of last year, for example, Majestic could ship pinstriped A-Rod replica jerseys to fans around the country within 48 hours. “The domestic aspect of our business gives us flexibility,” Capobianco explains. “Being able to capitalize on those unexpected events within days, not months, is the key to being successful.”
Tapping into trends and figuring out which items will be “hot market” are crucial elements of company strategy. Majestic was one of the first companies to discern that fans would pay a premium for replica jerseys—authentic copies of what professional players wear. The company also realized early on that marketing team gear in fashion styles and colors would have high returns.
Capobianco credits his father for providing the passionate leadership that helped the company expand tenfold in the last decade, with annual sales reaching an estimated $150 million last year. He says his father’s best weapon is the ability to put the company’s best interests above his own ego. “We have a Level 5 leader as our CEO and that’s my father,” Capobianco says. Being a small family firm may have given Majestic another important edge. “In a family business you tend to have senior management or ownership that ran things back when it did $200,000 a year in sales, not $90 million,” says Capobianco. “They have an appreciation for what it takes to do every job in the company.”
He believes his father has worked not only to grow Majestic, “but to protect what’s been built and not take undue risks.” That legacy sometimes feels sobering to the young company president. “It’s a little daunting because you understand how many people depend on you. It’s a lot of responsibility to carry, because jobs are at stake. It’s also quite a motivation.”
Women have always been part of the starting lineup at Majestic. Capobianco’s grandmother Mary, a seamstress, created Majestic’s predecessor company in the 1940s with her husband, Faust II, a presser. That firm manufactured women’s wear. Both were first-generation Italian immigrants who “sweated and toiled for forty years so that their kids could become professionals,” Capobianco says. He claims his grandparents were dismayed when their son came home from Notre Dame and wanted to work in the family business, but the choice proved prescient in the end.
Today Capobianco’s sister Nicole (SMC ’95) follows in the same tradition. As Majestic’s vice president of team services, she oversees the outfitting of almost 750 major league players in custom-made uniforms. Majestic caters to the individual tastes of each athlete—realizing that players are as fashion-conscious as fans—and takes their measurements twice a year to track changes in bulk and brawn.
If the job sounds fun, that’s because it is. “We don’t just make widgets. We make products that people are passionate about, that people are emotional about. That’s the fun part,” Capobianco says. The game of baseball still holds some magic for him, too. While officially claiming to be a fan of all 30 major league clubs, he has Phillies season tickets and goes to as many home contests as his schedule permits.
For the first few minutes of a game, Capobianco admits, it’s hard to relax. But long about the third inning he stops looking at the jerseys and thinking about the bottom line and sits back to watch the show.
Sometimes, it can be majestic.