LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- From Monday evening through Wednesday afternoon, Walt Disney World's Dolphin Resort was home to what may be the biggest popup shop in the country -- the Baseball Winter Meetings Trade Show.
The Trade Show has long been a staple of the Winter Meetings experience, in that it's a literal one-stop shop for any baseball team's needs. Nearly 300 vendors (representing 100 categories of products) filled the resort's Atlantic and Pacific Ballrooms with more baseball paraphernalia than one could swing a novelty oversized inflatable bat at.
It's a daunting situation to make sense of, and I'll say this up front: I didn't. But I did spend a few hours wandering through this maze of National Pastime gear and supplies, and what follows is an admittedly random sampling of a few of the many vendors I came across.
The Emblem Source (Booth 426)
The Emblem Source hails from Addington, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. True to the name, they are indeed a source of emblems.
"We do all of the on-field patches for Major League Baseball," said Adam Bender, who serves as Emblem Source's director of business development and associate general counsel. "We also hold the retail license for Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball.
"Basically any time you watch a baseball game, you're watching our product on the field," he continued. "Anytime there's a memorial patch, a World Series patch, an All-Star patch or any regular sleeve patch it comes from us. We're very, very close to baseball, we take that relationship very seriously, and we hope to keep it going in the future."
Bani Bands provide a new option for females, toddlers to adults.(Benjamin Hill/MiLB.com)
Bani Bands (Booth 522)
As national sales director Bridget Farrell explained, Bani Bands are "adjustable, soft-grip headbands."
"They are unique because of the adjustable strap, which fits toddlers to adults," she explained. "We're a new licensee with Minor and Major League Baseball, and this is a great item for women because normally when you walk into a stadium shop you have a lot of men's items and then that one pink item for the woman. This is new and refreshing to fans and buyers who can support the team and wear a cute headband."
360 Architecture (Booth 1116)
Team executives roaming the Trade Show floors aren't likely to make an impulse buy along the lines of a major multi-million stadium renovation. But often, the Trade Show is where the conversation starts.
"[The conversation] has gone from building whole new ballparks to renovating all or parts of it," said 360's Chris Lamberth, who specializes in sports development. "Revenue generation is still huge, fan amenity is another. If you can marry those two together, often times you'll find you have a project. I think word of mouth is still the best in this market for my services, it's all about relationships."
FreeHand's corrugated box concession tray has a strategic thumb hole.(Benjamin Hill/MiLB.com)
FreeHand Stadium Trays (Booth 1818)
Tired of those precarious walks back from the concession stand, juggling nachos, two hot dogs, French fries and a couple of beers? FreeHand is here to help.
"It's a corrugated box concession tray which allows for a painter's palette grip with the thumb hole, which is strategically placed to allow for greater space on the tray and greater load carrying and balance," said FreeHand's Larry Mack. "From a Minor League standpoint, there's been very, very positive feedback."
BairFind Foundation (Booth 2106)
Dennis Bair is a former Minor League pitcher, who upon retiring, started a charitable organization dedicated to finding missing children (for more on this, check out my 2009 article). One of his initiatives is to have Minor League teams feature photos of missing children on their team photo giveaways.
"We've met with the Florida State League and the Southern League, and it looks like we're going to have our signage up with those two in addition to the Texas League and New York-Penn League," said Bair, who is based in Pittsburgh. "We can raise so much awareness for missing kids. Minor League Baseball is the vehicle to solve the problem. The fans and families come and see the profiles of the kids we're featuring, which increases the chances that they're found and returned home."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.