Question: Where can you get a free corn dog, cup of dippin’ dots, a swill of beer and a shot of whiskey?
Answer: The same place you can bounce like a kangaroo in an inflatable house, find guys hitting fungos across a massive convention room and see a man use a saw and belt sander to turn a tree trunk into a 32-ounce baseball bat.
The annual baseball Winter Meetings of course, which are being held through today at the Indiana Convention Center.
Attendance is down this year about 10 percent, with 5,000 attendees coming to town. But that’s enough, reported the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, to book the four host hotels solid this week. Direct visitor spending is projected to hit $4 million, and the event brings in lots of Major League Baseball executives who have either rarely or never been to Indianapolis.
Not to mention an army of media including ESPN, Fox Sports and about every baseball beat writer nationwide. The activities in the media room alone are good entertainment. It’s great exposure for the city.
But when I got my personal tour of the happenings from Indianapolis Indians Chairman Max Schumacher yesterday, I was more interested in the side show at the trade show than MLB trade deals brewing behind closed doors.
Of course, I was expecting to see makers of baseball gloves, rosin, bats, etc. But I wasn’t expecting to see more than a dozen bat manufacturers. Before yesterday, I couldn’t name two batmakers without Louisville in their names. Yesterday I saw batmakers from Canada to Japan. Oh, and one from Indiana, Valpo-based Hoosier Bat Co.
The competition among batmakers was a little surprising, but who knew the bobblehead and foam finger industry was so hotly contested. There was a dealer for everything you can find at a major or minor league ballpark. And I mean everything.
Need a seat, no problem. The show was replete with bleacher and box seat sales booths. Scoreboards too. And not the manual ones. The electronic jobs that ring up a six-figure price tag.
Need a few marketing ideas. How about ads that can be pasted on turnstiles or in the bottoms of cups. Want a back yard that looks like the outfield at Yankee Stadium. I’m sure the booth operators at John Deere or some of the other lawn equipment makers would be glad to give you a tutorial.
Mascot uniforms? There were several manufacturers to chose from. And displays and modeling too.
You want entertainers? The baseball meetings have those on display too. I mean the professional kind. There were San Diego Chicken look-a-likes, a guy who did a nice soft show wearing a pair of nerd glasses and floods, and another who played multiple instruments simultaneously. Now that’s talent.
And the names some of these companies come up with. There’s Sink or Swim Enterprises and my personal favorite, Pointless Products Inc. Now those are names that engender confidence of potential customers and scream “Gotta have it!”
Alas, before you come to the conclusion that it's all fun and games at the winter baseball meetings, one vendor told me his company books more than 55 percent of its business for the year during these four days. And that's a seven-figure sum, he whispered to me, right after asking me not to publish his name. It is indeed a rare time when everyone in minor and major league baseball is in one place at one time.
But my mind kept wondering back to the whiskey. It looked like some of the harried 20-somethings down at the job fair could use a shot. But I’ve never seen whiskey sold or served at any professional sports event I’ve attended. Not even in the media room. And since Ron Artest wasn’t there, I wasn’t sure who the target market was.
But this was no rot gut. Even I could tell that looking at the fancy bottle. I was informed that the good stuff (and apparently the hard stuff) is reserved for the high rollers in exclusive stadium restaurants and luxury boxes—possibly even the owners suites.
Ahhh, I get it. I imagine that offering looks pretty good to some team owners. I’m guessing a shot or two has been tossed back at the conclusion of many a Chicago Cubs season.