NEW YORK — Louisville Slugger, a more than century-old symbol of America's national pastime, will be sold for $70 million in cash to the Finnish sporting-gear company that owns the Wilson brand.
Hillerich & Bradsby Co. is selling the business, including the Louisville Slugger name and innovation rights, to Helsinki- based Amer Sports, according to a statement on Monday. The brand had revenue of $75 million last year.
The Louisville Slugger business sells the official wooden bat of Major League Baseball, as well as a range of gloves, bags and protective gear. Hillerich & Bradsby, the brand's current owner, began as a Kentucky woodworking shop. After watching baseball players crack bats, John A. Hillerich set out to build a sturdier product. He started making bats at the shop in 1884, and the Louisville Slugger brand was registered a decade later.
Today, 60 percent of major league players use Louisville Sluggers, according to the company. The sport's legends Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig all swung the bats, and the company has sold a total of more than 100 million of them.
Amer Sports, which also makes outdoor clothing and fitness gear, is counting on the acquisition to reignite growth in its ball-sports division. It already sells gloves, bats and uniforms through its Wilson brand.
The worldwide baseball and softball market generates about $2.2 billion, with $1.4 billion coming from the U.S., the company said in Monday's statement. There are about 20 million active baseball and softball players in the U.S., Amer said.
The early success of the Louisville Slugger was due in part to the fact that amateur baseball players across the country could purchase the model of their favorite big-league player. A youth-size model was introduced in 1915. The company was renamed Hillerich & Bradsby the following year when Frank Bradsby became a partner.
Amer Sports plans to complete the acquisition in the second quarter. The deal is expected to start adding to earnings, excluding interest in taxes, in 2016.
"We are proud to become the home for another iconic consumer brand," Amer Sports Chief Executive Officer Heikki Takala said in the statement. "We look forward to building it toward an even greater future."