Co. hopes to become H'w'd's official hatmaker

After locking down exclusive deals with Major League Baseball and the National Football League, New Era Cap Co. now has its sights set on becoming the official hatmaker for Hollywood.

Ever since the company’s ballcaps became a regular fixture on HBO’s “Entourage,” New Era has aggressively pursued similar product placement deals with other TV shows and movies, handed out hats at gifting suites and brokered tie-ins with studio tentpoles to stand out from larger rivals like Nike in the increasingly competitive headwear biz.

Such entertainment deals have long been dominated by auto, cell phone and soda brands, as well as fast food chains — primarily because of their massive marketing budgets — but New Era represents the latest clothing company to connect with fashion-conscious celebrities to boost sales.

“New Era has been involved in the branded entertainment industry for some time, but as our brand is evolving, it’s important that we look at our integration with fresh eyes,” said Dana Marciniak, head of PR and entertainment marketing for New Era Cap.

Next year, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based brand’s 59Fifty and 39Thirty caps will prominently appear on Brad Pitt and other cast members of Sony’s baseball pic “Moneyball,” about the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane; will show up on NBC’s “Parenthood”; and will be the focus of an episode of the network’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

This year, they’ve shown up in Showtime’s “Californication.” They regularly appear on “Entourage” — that relationship began when co-creator and exec producer Doug Ellin outfitted the Turtle character (played by Jerry Ferrara) with a New York Yankees cap because they’re both fans of New Era’s hats and the team.

“The hat has become the character’s signature,” said Julie Mulholland, CEO of Mulholland Drive Entertainment, the marketing firm that handles New Era’s deals in Hollywood.

Given New Era’s official deals with sports teams, the hats have provided its wearers with an authentic product with which to boast their fandom. But that sentiment is what prompted New Era to also seek out other exclusive tie-ins outside the sports world.

It produces hats featuring DC’s and Marvel’s superheroes, such as Superman, Batman and Iron Man, and has one for Warner Bros.’ bigscreen launch of Green Lantern next summer, when it will also sell hats tied to the third “Transformers,” “Thor” and “Captain: America: The First Avenger.” It currently has several caps revolving around Disney’s “Tron: Legacy,” after introducing ones for “Alice in Wonderland.”

“In 2008, when the superhero movie craze was just beginning, we saw it as a great opportunity to tap into a whole new market,” said Stuart Domanowski, lifestyle business unit manager for New Era Cap. “This was a chance to expand our brand beyond our sport licenses. We provide (studios) another consumer touch point to promote the movie and our marketing efforts are enhanced at retail and online.”

New Era’s pursuit of all these deals makes sense. Compared to its rivals, New Era doesn’t boast a large advertising budget, which has forced the company to go after deals that show off its caps and fluttering flag logo without having to pony up steep sponsorship or placement fees.

“You have to make every dollar work harder and smarter,” Mulholland said. “You’re limited only by your creativity in this business. But you have to have something to work with too.”

New Era is a new category for Mulholland, after having started her entertainment marketing shop representing Heineken in 2003 and helping get the beer brand into movies like “The Matrix,” “Swordfish,” the “Austin Powers” comedies and the James Bond and Jason Bourne franchises and create campaigns around them. Mulholland started her career working on Madison Avenue, developing marketing efforts for Coca-Cola while at ad giant McCann Erickson and later for Heineken at various agencies for nearly a decade.

In addition to New Era, Mulholland also reps Fatburger and acai-based liquor brand VeeV.

While a Heineken is well known around town, Mulholland had to figure out creative ways to get New Era’s hats into the hands of costume designers, producers and actors to get noticed. To do that, she’s produced limited edition caps for the cast and crew of “Californication” and NBC’s “30 Rock” as wrap party gifts.

“It’s all part of building a relationship with shows and productions,” Mulholland said.

New Era also hands out the hats at gifting suites in the weeks that lead up to MTV’s Video Music Awards, the Golden Globes and Espys, for example, and has produced custom-made caps for friends and family members of Jay Z, Spike Lee, P. Diddy, Lil Wayne and LMFAO after the talent requested specific designs.

Capitalizing on that idea, New Era is having 90 celebrities design their own hats for the Clothes Off Our Back charity to celebrate the company’s 90th anniversary. Each hat will be auctioned off.

“It’s all about getting product into people’s hands,” Mulholland said. In New Era’s case, “It helps that there’s a lot of brand love” that already exists.

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