Rawlings Sporting Goods Company manufactures bats and advertises and labels bats as a certain weight. Richard Sotelo is among the plaintiffs who called OUT Rawlings for false and deceptive advertising because the bats were not the advertised weight. MMR Strategy Group was retained to measure consumer understanding of the bat labeling, the materiality of the weight and drop of the bat, and whether it affected their past or present purchasing behavior.
Defendant Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, Inc.(“Defendant”) is the manufacturer of non-wooden aluminum alloy bats. It advertised its bats as a certain weight in ounces. Lead plaintiff Richard Sotelo purchased a bat for his 8-year-old son for $78.04 from a third-party retailer. The bat’s packaging stated that the bat weighed 16 oz, with a “weight drop” (the difference between the bat’s length and its weight, a measure of how heavy the user will find it) of -11. Sotelo purchased this bat because of its weight, thinking the lighter bat would give his son greater control. In fact, Sotelo alleged, the bat weighed two ounces more than advertised, making it unusable.
Sotelo filed a proposed class action in California, seeking to represent a class of people who had purchased the bats since 2014. He alleged that the defendant willfully deceived consumers to increase profits, supporting that allegation with testimony from an employee and CEO correspondence. Across all marketing channels, bats were labeled as a certain weight, and the importance of the weight was a key part of the marketing of the bats. For example, the Rawlings website clearly stated, “Choosing the right-sized bat is important to a player’s performance and development. Players with less experience should start with lighter bats for better swing control. More experienced players should use a heavier bat to help maximize power. A bat that is too heavy will dramatically reduce swing speed; if a bat is too light, the player could miss out on the extra force that a heavier bat can generate.”
The plaintiffs argued that the weight and drop of the bat are material to the purchase of a bat. Plaintiffs retained a litigation survey expert to perform a materiality survey which found that members of the class considered the weight and drop of the defendant’s bats to be material to their buying behavior. The survey found that 90.7% stated the weight was very important or important and 84.7% found that the drop in weight was either important or very important. Further, 90.2% stated that if weights were misstated, it would be important or very important to their buying decisions.
MMR Strategy Group Steps Up to the Plate
MMR Strategy Group President Dr. Bruce Isaacson was retained to rebut the materiality survey and report provided by the plaintiffs, and to conduct a new materiality survey. The plaintiffs’ survey was conducted online among adult California residents who had purchased a metal alloy bat within the prior nine months. After qualifying for the survey, they were asked a series of questions regarding the weight and drop of bats, which were answered on a scale of “not important” to “very important.” The survey concluded that weight and drop were material to the purchase of a bat.
MMR argued that the plaintiffs’ survey suffered from a number of flaws that made its measures of materiality inaccurate. First, the survey did not properly measure materiality. In addition, it lacked a control, contained vague terms and questions, and interviewed the wrong “universe” of respondents.
MMR Materiality Survey Design
As part of the rebuttal, MMR designed and conducted a materiality survey to obtain a reliable measure of how material weight and drop are to consumer purchase behavior. Specifically, the MMR survey measured attitudes and behaviors around weight and drop for baseball bats, the percentage of consumers who consider weight and drop of bats, how consumers learn about weight and drop, consumer understanding of the term “drop weight,” and whether the difference between the stated weight and actual weight were material to buying decisions.
This survey was also conducted online, among respondents qualified as Californias who had purchased a non-wooden Rawlings bat within the past two years. Following qualification, respondents answered a series of questions regarding purchasing bats, including questions about what they considered when they bought a bat and where they learned about the bat’s weight and drop. Three other questions investigated whether respondents understood what the drop of a bat is, and asked whether respondents believed that the actual weight drop and advertised weight drop may differ, whether these differences would change their decision to purchase a bat, and whether those differences would have made them more or less likely to purchase the bat.
How Much Weight do Bat Weight and Drop Carry for Consumer Decisions?
After accounting for controls, the MMR materiality survey found that:
- 83.4% of respondents answered that they considered weight, and 49.4% answered that they considered weight drop, when purchasing a bat
- 52.7% of respondents learned about the weight of the bat from the weight number printed on the bat and also learned about the weight of the bat from other sources
- 9.3% read about weight from a source related to the manufacturer, such as the manufacturer’s website or materials from the manufacturer.
- 25.3% of all respondents (44.7% of those asked) learned about weight drop by reading the weight drop printed on the bat, whereas 29.3% of all respondents (51.8% of those asked) learned about it from holding or swinging the bat and 7.3% of all respondents (12.9% of those asked) read about the weight drop from a source related to the manufacturer, such as the manufacturer’s website or materials from the manufacturer.
- 40.0% of Rawlings purchasers (70.6% of those asked) answered that they know what weight drop refers to.
- 23.3% of Rawlings purchasers (58.3% of those asked) provided a correct description of weight drop.
- Asked about the weights of bats of identical lengths but two different weight drops, 22.7% of Rawlings purchasers (56.7% of those asked) provided the correct answer.
- 39.3% indicated that when they purchased their bats, they were aware that the weight of the bat may differ from the stated weight. 53.3% indicated that when they purchased the bat, they were aware that the weight drop of the bat may differ from the stated weight drop.
- After adjusting for the control, a net percentage of 13.3% indicated that if they understood the weight of the bat would be different from the stated weight, they would have been less likely to purchase the bat. For drop, that net percentage was 9.0%.
Dr. Isaacson concluded that relatively small percentages of Rawlings purchasers found the difference between actual and stated weight, and actual and stated drop, to be material to their purchase of the bat.