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New Era Cap has hats to fit four New York City water towers Promotion is part of firm's plan to raise its profile across the state

Two giant inflated baseball caps, on their way to top roof water towers in New York City, made a temporary first public appearance Monday in front of the new headquarters of the New Era Cap Co. in Buffalo.

If New Era's global marketing vice president has his way, 14-foot-high, 16-foot-wide baseball caps will soon top water towers all over New York City -- with fans lobbying for inflated caps of their favorite teams.

"It would be interesting to see if we could spark that kind of rivalry," said John DeWaal. As he stood by the Mets and Yankees caps in front of the former Federal Reserve building on Delaware Avenue, an air pump rattled as cars slowed for a better look.

"It's just part of our plan to build our brand globally," DeWaal said. "The hope is the curiosity factor draws people's attention."

For now, there are plans for four water-tower hats to appear in New York City as an unconventional $500,000 promotion during the baseball season, which opens next month.

Sometime in May, the Derby-based cap company, the official hat maker for Major League Baseball, will open its first boutique store in Greenwich Village.

Before the end of the year, New Era expects to have its administrative team of 200 in its new headquarters in downtown Buffalo.

The efforts are part of New Era's aim to raise its profile in the state. First, the inflated blue Mets cap with orange team initials, will go up Thursday by the 59th Street bridge that leads to Shea stadium, where the Mets play. The second hat, a navy Yankees cap, will go up next week in midtown Manhattan.

Another Yankees cap and another Mets cap will be tethered to other New York City water towers in the following weeks.

DeWaal came up with the idea in September while he was scouting for store locations in the Soho section of Manhattan and noticed the rusty and battered wooden tanks on the roof tops. A hat would make them look better, he thought.

"It was a good opportunity to beautify," DeWaal said. "And do some branding."

He made arrangements with a company that oversees the city water towers in a rental agreement that costs $10,000, per tower, per month.

Another company, in Florida, arranged for the hats' manufacture and display. Visionworks is used to setting up giant inflated objects -- from race cars to trucks to a basketball player's trademark goggles. But the water-tower hats, which needed special attention to be sure the curves were true to the brand's real caps, were a first. It took some figuring to settle on an inflatable design, not metal, as the best kind of durable water tower hat.

"This was a very, very creative execution," said Christian Campagnuolo, vice president for Visionworks. Such far-out efforts are one way to get through to people who already have lots of distractions to choose from. "It is incredibly difficult to get someone's attention," Campagnuolo said. "People are constantly being bombarded."

DeWaal is looking forward to finally getting a look at his idea the way he imagined it. First the hats, given an official hat size of "61 1/4 ," will make two more stops, at sporting goods stores in Rochester and Syracuse. Once the caps arrive in Manhattan, they will take a day to tether and an hour to inflate.

"It'll feel great when I see it up on a tank," DeWaal said. "At least I'm hoping it will."

He has noticed a water tower, of the kind he is renting in New York City, by an old factory by the General Mills plant in Buffalo. Will New Era try to cap it with a giant Buffalo Bisons hat?

"We might," DeWaal said. "I don't know. It's an interesting spot."

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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