DALLAS -- It may lack in slugging first basemen or frontline starters, but virtually every other baseball need can be fulfilled at the annual Winter Meetings Trade Show.
The Trade Show, an annual national pastime shopping extravaganza, kicked off Monday evening and will be open through Wednesday afternoon. Nearly 250 vendors are contained therein, offering everything from field turf products to bobbleheads to sporting goods to mascots to concession items to, well, themselves.
Over the course of Tuesday afternoon, I wandered every nook and cranny of the Trade Show's far-flung corridors, in search of...well, I don't really know exactly what I was searching for. One of the best things about this annual exercise in sports industry consumerism is its sheer unpredictability; you just never know who -- or what -- you'll stumble into.
What follows is a brief, and exceedingly random, compendium of that which I discovered (more to come in future articles as well as posts on Ben's Biz Blog).
What is it?: "The #1 Signal Enhancer," with the signals in question being those being relayed between pitcher and catcher. Essentially, they are white fingernail-sized stickers.
Game Signs were being given away aggressively throughout the day by those manning the booth, despite the obvious lack of professional catchers traversing the Trade Show hallways.
"We're trying to get them into the hands of those who work for [professional] teams, and we've already heard a lot of people say 'Oh, my guy's gonna love these,'" said Game Sign's Nathan Passantino. "Catchers need to be able to execute every time out there, because their career depends upon it."
Who are they?: An architectural firm, one whose specialties include stadium design and renovation. Recent projects include BB&T Stadium in Winston-Salem and Columbus' Huntington Park.
"We realize that people aren't going to see our booth and say 'We should get a new ballpark today,'" said 360's Chris Lamberth. "But [the Trade Show] is important for us as a way to get our brand out there. Relationships are key. We just want to be out there starting conversations, because you never know."
Smart Bug Corporation
What Is It?: "An onsite broadcast system" that allows fans to listen to the game live on a small plastic receiver, one able to pick up a variety of different feeds (internet, radio, TV audio, etc). Smart Bugs been used at sporting events ranging from the Olympics to an Omaha Storm Chasers game.
[Teams using Smart Bug] have a lot of options," said Smart Bug's Jack Kelly. "They can give them to season ticket holders, or find a sponsor and give them away, or sell or rent them."
What Is It?: Consultant Chad Walters, who shows teams how to "be more efficient using lean techniques." This is based on a management philosophy first developed and popularized by Toyota.
Proponents of the lean philosophy work relentlessly to reduce the "Eight Wastes," which include excesses related to inventory, time and transportation (among other day-to-day business expenses).
"[Lean philosophy] is sometimes lost on those in the sports business, who can be slow to adopt to new ways of business thinking," said Walters.
What Is It?: A successful Halloween costume company now looking to make its mark in the world of Minor League Baseball.
"We want to break into between-innings contests, because if it's wacky and weird, we have it," said Rasta Imposta's Tom Riggs.
This indeed seemed to be the case, as Rasta Imposta's line of costumes include standbys such as Ketchup, Mustard and Hot Dog as well as less represented anthropomorphic foodstuffs such as Taco and Popcorn. Other options include giant pink breast cancer awareness ribbons, beer hats and a full body Wiffle Ball bat suit.
Logo Hooks Inc.
What Is It?: A hook attached to the back of a seat, that gives patrons a place to hang their belongings while also acting as a functional billboard. Above each hook is a small rectangular section reserved for ad space.
"I don't know anything about baseball," said salesman Jonathan Bierner. "But I don't like to bring a girl to the game and watch her have to put her purse on the ground."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.