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Baseball meetings let leaders tout Indianapolis to influential audience

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In baseball, three strikes usually means you’re out.

But despite three rejections, spread out over almost a decade, from executives of Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, Indianapolis Indians Chairman Max Schumacher stepped to the plate a fourth time in 2006 in a bid to bring baseball’s Winter Meetings here.

It was no small undertaking convincing baseball brass to hold their December gathering this far north for the first time since it was held in Columbus, Ohio, in 1966.

“They were worried about the cold weather, our hotel situation and other accommodations,” Schumacher said. “We kept telling them our city is difficult to comprehend unless you see it.”

Officials for MLB and Minor League Baseball finally agreed to check out Indianapolis in person. Then several more delegations came. And Schumacher’s persistence paid off with a May 4, 2006, announcement at Victory Field that the Winter Meetings were headed to Indianapolis in December 2009.

“Considering we’re a northern city and not a Major League Baseball town, it’s amazing we got this,” said Milt Thompson, an Indians board member and local sports marketer. “But it was no overnight success. It took tremendous persistence by Max and others in this community.”

The prize for Schumacher’s persistence is a gathering Dec. 7-10 that will draw more than 5,000 people to the city, including MLB and minor-league team owners, executives, players and agents, and the throngs of media that follow their every move.

The event will use 280,000 square feet of the Indiana Convention Center and consume 9,500 hotel room-nights. The Indiana Convention & Visitors Association estimates the event will ring up $4 million in direct visitor spending.

Welsh

But ICVA CEO Don Welsh said there may be a bigger payoff.

“While this is a midsize convention for our city, the publicity it brings makes it much more valuable,” Welsh said. “… It’s one of the meetings almost any city covets.”

Indianapolis was up against Dallas, Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta and New Orleans to host the event, which will draw more than 200 media members from the nation’s top 30 markets.

ESPN will broadcast live from the Marriott Downtown Hotel and The Westin Hotel, where officials for MLB and its teams will be stationed. Minor-league officials and teams will be headquartered at The Westin and Hyatt Regency.

“For those that wish to report on all manner of baseball in the offseason, the Winter Meetings are flat-out mandatory,” said Maury Brown, founder and publisher of BizofBaseball.com. “There is nowhere else where so many important figures in [Major League Baseball] and [Minor League Baseball] are in one place at one time. Indianapolis will literally be the center of the baseball universe for four days.”

The only other time Indiana hosted the meetings was when the event visited West Baden in 1931.

The ICVA sees the meeting’s first visit to Indianapolis as an opportunity to sell the city to a new audience.

“Since we’re not a Major League Baseball city, we estimate that 80 percent of the people coming in for these meetings have either never been here before or haven’t been here in many years,” said ICVA’s Welsh. “With all the growth here, we’re convinced that almost everyone coming in will essentially be seeing a brand new city. It’s a rare opportunity to grow our city’s brand as a destination.”

ICVA is arranging several special events to showcase the city to baseball higher-ups, including a contingency that will be guests in a Lucas Oil Stadium suite for the Dec. 6 Indianapolis Colts game.

“The ICVA is going to be very active getting in front of all the pertinent constituencies at these meetings,” Welsh said. “We know that not only are they deeply involved in baseball, but have connections with other businesses and industries and have sway in various other aspects in the world of sports.”

MLB owners’ connections to other businesses are many. Washington Nationals owner Theodore Lerner, for instance, is a prominent real-estate developer in the Washington, D.C., area. And the Ricketts family of Omaha, whose patriarch J. Joe Ricketts founded TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., are the new owners of the Chicago Cubs.

The Winter Meetings feature baseball’s biggest job fair and multi-day trade show, with more than 300 exhibitors.

“The trade show is attended by almost any type of company that does business with a baseball team, league or stadium, Schumacher said. “And there are some things there you’d never imagine. It’s quite a show.”

There also will be a number of side meetings among league and team officials, most of which are held behind closed doors. Some of those meetings are planned, while others are pulled together hastily to discuss major- and minor-league team relationships and potential player signings and trades.

Team executives will also gather to discuss such matters as the use of instant replay and team revenue sharing. Most meetings and the trade show are closed to the public.

But each team manager is made available for 30 minutes for a midweek press availability. Some team owners, players and agents also will hold their own separate press conferences. And there’s lots of mingling and some fan interaction in the hotel lobbies and surrounding bars and restaurants.

Schumacher, who has been with the Indians since 1957, is also expected to be honored at the event.

Thompson thinks the meetings provide Indianapolis a rare national spotlight to showcase its winter-time tourism and convention capabilities.

“I think it’s a precursor to the 2012 Super Bowl as far as showing what we’re capable of,” Thompson said.

Baseball officials are eager to experience the city’s growing convention reputation firsthand.

“There are a number of cities interested in hosting these Winter Meetings, so the selection process is very competitive,” said Brian O’Gara, MLB director of special events. “But the local convention folks and Max [Schumacher] showed us what was possible in Indianapolis.”•

 

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