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At Cubs Spring Training, It's Data by Design

By Published on .

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Think spring training doesn't count? The exhibition games played by Major League Baseball teams every March in Arizona's Cactus League don't affect standings once the real season begins, but there's still a lot at stake. And for the 2016 World Series Champions the Chicago Cubs, what happens at its spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., isn't just about their performance on the field. It's about what's selling in the team store.

Based on a month of spring training sales, items like player hats with an Arizona-themed patch and official 2017 Cubs Spring Training logo items such as balls, magnets and pins came out on top.

The Cubs transitioned to a new point-of-sales system, Bypass, in 2014 but the team continues to explore additional ways to employ the data the software helps gather. This spring at Sloan Park, where fans traveled from across the country to see the Cubs face off against the Cincinnati Reds, crosstown rivals the Chicago White Sox, and even the World Baseball Classic's Team Italy, the Cubs Business Operations group for the first time tracked how well particular design elements featured in spring training-themed merchandise such as T-shirts, polo shirts, sweatshirts and lapel pins sold.

The team categorized spring training gear—picture a New Era ball cap emblazoned with the Cubs "C" logo beside a desert cactus—according to the size and type of logo or imagery used.

"We can track categories—do you like little logos or big logos? What colors? Those are the types of things that we can start looking at," said Justin Piper, general manager of spring training business operations for the Cubs.

The cloud-based Bypass software allows Mr. Piper's group to view all merchandise sales in real time. Food and beverage sales are also tracked via the system, while game ticket sales are handled separately.

The data serves as an early indicator for what could sell well during the regular season at Wrigley Field, and will make its way to Chicago now that opening day is upon us, said Mr. Piper, who is based in Arizona year-round.

"We look at those trends and share that with our operations in Chicago so they can see those trends as the year begins."