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Minnesota Twins & Princes Estate Launching Merch Line

Purple Rain is going to fall during Minnesota Twins games this baseball season.

The Twins have struck a deal to sell Prince-branded merchandise throughout the year at their stadium in Minneapolis – Target Field. Items, which will include hats, shirts, pins, patches and balls, will go on sale at the Twins home opener on April 5th. The StarTribune reported that the co-branding deal could be the first of its kind for a Major League Baseball team.

Why the Twins and Prince? Simple: The international best-selling musical artist was from Minneapolis. "Along with our fans, we look forward to celebrating the legacy of a man who brought an international spotlight to our great city," Twins CEO Dave St. Peter told the StarTribune.

For the second year in a row, the Twins will also host a special Prince Night. During the June 8 game against the Los Angeles Angels, additional Prince merchandise will be on offer. Game attendees who purchase a Prince Theme Night package will receive a Twins/Prince co-branded hat.


Attribution: Minnesota Twins

Perhaps most interestingly for Prince Night, there will be a special giveaway – inflatable purple guitars in the shape of Prince's famous symbol that will also display Twins branding. During the 7th inning stretch, the 10,000 folks lucky enough to have scored the limited edition guitar giveaway will be encouraged to stand and illuminate the item – a show of remembrance and respect to the hometown musical genius who passed away in 2016.


Attribution: Minnesota Twins

Who knows, the inflatable purple guitar could become a sought-after bit of merch. After all, the umbrellas the Twins provided fans on Prince Night in 2017 were being offered for as much as $220 on eBay.


Attribution: eBay

For those curious about the nuts and bolts of the co-branding deal, it seems that Delaware North Sportservice, the Twins' retail provider, negotiated it with Bravado – the company handling the merchandising and branding for Prince's estate. The word from the Twins is that Prince's family is cool with the merchandising.

The Bobblehead Tax: Cincinnati Reds Court Case Could Impact Promo Industry

The Cincinnati Reds, Ohio tax officials and branded game-day merchandise like player bobbleheads are at the center of an intriguing court case that could send reverberations throughout the promotional products world.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to consider an appeal from the Reds. The Major League Baseball team argues that state tax officials have no legal basis to demand the payment of $88,000 in taxes tied to Reds-branded promotional products that the team provided to fans on game days between 2008 and 2010. The Ohio Department of Taxation, however, is doing just that, saying the Reds owe the levy.

The Reds contend that they're entitled to a resale exception/exemption because they're reselling the items as part of advertised ticket sales. Ohio law exempts companies from paying tax on items they buy to resell.

Lawyers for the Reds explained their position: Team officials identify certain games on the schedule they suspect fans won't be as interested in attending. To beef up ticket sales to such contests, the team advertises – and then provides – bobbleheads, player cards and other Reds-themed memorabilia as part of a fan's ticket purchase. "The price paid for the ticket includes consideration for the promotional item," Reds attorneys say in a court filing. "Accordingly, the Reds purchase of such items is exempt from tax since the items are resold to game attendees."

Ohio tax officials take an altogether different view. They say the Reds didn't resell the promotional items as part of the ticket price, but rather gave them away for free to increase interest in games. As such, the state tax commissioner contends that the promotional items should be taxed because the Reds bought the products to be distributed as freebies and are not, in fact, part of a ticket sale.

To support their position, tax officials say that the ticket price for each particular seat is the same throughout the season, whether a promo item is offered or not. Furthermore, not all patrons are guaranteed that they will get promo merch for a game in which it's advertised because supplies are limited. Relatedly, if a game attendee decides she doesn't want, say, a bobblehead, then her ticket isn't discounted. Given all that, the state Board of Tax Appeals denied an appeal from the Reds.

"We conclude that the Reds have not provided this board with competent and probative evidence in support of the position that it does not owe the assessed tax," board members wrote in their ruling. "It is the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals that the decision of the tax commissioner must be affirmed."

The Reds decided to appeal to the state Supreme Court. There the case rests, awaiting an initial hearing.

Depending on how the court rules, the case could have sweeping implications for the promotional products industry. Should the court side with tax officials, will teams and other businesses in Ohio be discouraged from investing in branded merchandise for game-day promotions and, indeed, other events because they don't want to pay taxes on the items? Could an Ohio ruling in favor of the tax commissioner's findings influence other states to enforce similar actions? Stay tuned.

Beach Town Considers Towel Ban

A tiny coastal town on Italian island Sardinia has proposed a ban on beach towels and large beach bags, in an effort to preserve the sand dunes at La Pelosa beach. The popular Mediterranean beach attracts thousands of tourists each day during peak season, many of whom leave with sand-caked accessories.

"We didn't come up with the idea of banning towels," Stintino Mayor Antonio Diana told La Repubblica. "The entire plan is based on scientific studies that indicate towels as one of the biggest dangers, since when they're damp they retain a lot of sand. This isn't some airy-fairy idea."

Instead of towels, beachgoers would be able to rent folding chairs, mats and reusable see-through bags.

La Pelosa is also scheduled for a number renovations to begin after the summer of 2019, including removing the road that leads to the beach and replacing it with pedestrian paths and bicycle lanes. The plan also calls for installing a new raised walkway along the beach to keep pedestrians off the sand dunes.

Last year, La Pelosa was ranked one of the top 10 beaches in Italy by Trip Advisor. Diana said he's not ruling anything out to protect and preserve the popular beach.

Backlash Over Walmart T-Shirts Portraying Negative Ethnic Stereotype

A New York man of Irish ancestry is calling for a boycott of Walmart's online store because the retailer's website is selling St. Patrick's Day-themed tees that feature images and messaging that promote negative stereotypes about Irish people being drunks.

After Kevin Westley, a radio show host and Irish dance instructor from Long Island, found a slew of shirts on Walmart.com that bore such portrayals, he began calling for the boycott. A search for "St. Patrick's Day shirts drunk" on Walmart.com makes it evident that Westley isn't making things up. See pictures below for examples from the site.

Back in 2015, Westley took up a similar cause when he bought hundreds of St. Patrick's Day T-shirts with stereotypical portrayals that were on sale at his local Walmart – just to clear them from the shelves. He then returned the tees on March 18. Westley's actions gained ample media attention and led at least a couple Walmarts in his area to desist in carrying such shirts.

Still, tees like "Kiss Me I'm Irish or Drunk or Whatever" and "Loud Proud Drunk Irish" remain available for purchase on Walmart.com. And, Westley wants to change that.

"All stereotypes are bad, regardless what group they demean," Westley states, according to IrishCentral. "Think of the thousands of job or housing opportunities that have been lost because of them. If you agree with me, please call Walmart corporate office on their toll-free line at 1-800-925-6278. Better yet, 'contact' them at https://help.walmart.com/ and let them know what you think about these T-shirts."

Westley has stated that, so far, Walmart has not replied to him.

IrishCentral has thrown support behind Westley, and encouraged site visitors to confront other retailers about St. Patrick's Day-related merchandise they find offensive. Suggestions include asking stores to remove the merchandise, while explaining that St. Patrick's Day is a holy day in Ireland and asking stores if they "would sell offensive stereotypical T-shirts for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Puerto Rican Day, St. Joseph's Day, etc."

If retailers refuse to remove the merchandise, IrishCentral suggests taking a page from Westley's book and buying up the merch, then returning it after St. Patrick's Day.

Company Aims To Revolutionize The 'Swag Bag'

Another disruptor has entered the promotional products industry, with her sights set on revolutionizing the swag bag. How? With what some are calling the anti-swag swag bag.

Lynne Lambert is the founder of the popular NYC Subway Line collection of mass-transit merchandise. From T-shirts and hoodies to hats and backpacks, her brand of clothing and accessories pays tribute to the Big Apple and all of its iconic elements. She has taken that same geographical approach with her new company: Mapt Gear.

"Many of us are not comfortable being a free walking advertisement for a company," Lambert told Adweek, "and many companies aren't doing anything more than putting logos in big text across the products. So I think there's room for a very tasteful product to come in."

Using a license to access a cartographic library, Mapt Gear imprints canvas totes with maps that pinpoint the location of a brand's headquarters -- or its various locations, or even the location of a conference it's having. The idea is that the image of an antique map with a pushpin will arouse enough curiosity and interest in a company without splashing its logo all over a product. However, the customizable map does leave enough room for a brand's name or logo – done subtly.

New York-based Mapt Gear currently offers three styles: a Gucci Nylon messenger bag, a 100% cotton tote bag and a silky 100% Poly/Canvas tote bag. Also available is a "Pad-Folio" iPad case made of vegan leather. If Mapt Gear generates sufficient interest from corporate clients, Lambert says she'll expand the product line.

Religious Freedom, Anti-Gay Discrimination Collide In Court Case Over T-Shirts

A Kentucky apparel decorating company and the imprinted T-shirts the business declined to print for a gay pride festival are at the center of a renewed court battle that pits arguments for freedom of conscience and religion against accusations of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

The case involving Hands On Originals (asi/219413), a Lexington, KY-based company that specializes in producing branded apparel for Christian organizations, schools and others, is before the Kentucky Supreme Court.


Blaine Adamson

Last May, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hands On Originals (HOO), a verdict that marked the second court victory for the company, which previously prevailed in 2015 in the Fayette Circuit Court. Nonetheless, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission appealed the 2017 ruling and the case is now to be heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The issue began in 2012 when the Lexington-based Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) asked HOO to print shirts for its pride festival. HOO Owner Blaine Adamson declined the order, saying that printing shirts that bear certain messaging would conflict with his conscience and religious beliefs as a devout Christian. Adamson has said that he offered up another print shop that would produce the order for the same price.

In reaction to Adamson's refusal, the GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission and HOO was charged with violating Lexington's fairness ordinance, which, in part, prevents businesses open in a public forum from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.

An initial ruling went against HOO, but that decision was reversed in the subsequent Fayette Circuit Court decision, reports show. In that 2015 ruling, Judge James D. Ishmael cited Kentucky's religious freedom statue and stated that Adamson was not refusing the GLSO as would-be customers because of their sexual orientation, but because he objected to the message on the T-shirt. "It is clear beyond dispute that HOO and its owners declined to print the T-shirts in question because of the message advocating sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman," Ishmael wrote. "The well-established Constitutional rights of HOO and its owners on this issue are well settled." In 2017, the appeals court ruled that HOO's right to free speech supersedes Lexington's fairness ordinance.

In the latest court battle, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin recently filed a legal brief in support of HOO, saying Kentucky's constitution ensures freedom of conscience. "Requiring (HOO's) owners to engage in speech with which they disagree is a violation of their freedom of conscience, and we are hopeful that the Kentucky Supreme Court will reaffirm this bedrock of Kentucky's constitutional charter," said Steve Pitt, Bevin's general counsel, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.

Josh Mers, chairman of Lexington Fairness, an organization that works for fairness and equality in Kentucky, told the Lexington Herald Leader that arguments for freedom of conscience are a "tired old message" that do not have bearing on the HOO case. "I think the most disappointing part is that the governor has decided to add the political aspect to the case by weighing in as the Governor of Kentucky," said Mers, who is running for a seat in Kentucky's state house.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Adamson and his company. In a video posted to ADF's YouTube account, Adamson explained his reasons for declining the order from GLSO.

Also, in an online commentary, Adamson has said: "I've happily served and employed people of all backgrounds, of all walks of life.... I have gay customers and employ gay people. For example, we have printed materials for a local band called Mother Jane whose lead singer is a lesbian. That was never a problem for us because ... we'll work with everyone, but we can't print all messages." Adamson added that he has declined other orders, including one for "a simple black shirt with white text that read, 'Homosexuality is a sin.'…I don't think that's how Jesus would have handled the issue; Jesus would have balanced grace and truth."

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