The annual Baseball Winter Meetings receive plenty of Major League media coverage, but don't be misled: First and foremost, this is a Minor League Baseball event.
The Winter Meetings -- this year's iteration is now underway in National Harbor, Maryland -- are organized by Minor League Baseball's head office in St. Petersburg, Florida. The majority of attendees, from employees of all 160 Minor League teams to trade show vendors to job seekers, are there because they work in, market to or wish to break into the world of Minor League Baseball.
Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball's senior director of communications, stresses that the Winter Meetings are nothing if not accurately named.
"There's a lot going on that you don't see on MLB Network or ESPN," he said. "There are literally hundreds of hours of meetings, and those rooms have to be arranged. I can't begin to guess how many different rooms, rooms that have to be set up in certain ways for certain meetings. Some leagues want a table set up in a square form, some want a classroom-type setup. There's so much logistics that [Minor League Baseball special events director] Kelly Butler and a lot of people in the office have to deal with."
All told, the Winter Meetings are attended by more than 3,000 executives representing over 200 professional teams, as well as media members, trade show exhibitors, job seekers and virtually every other niche of the baseball ecosystem. As the event has grown, organizers have found that there are a limited number of venues that can ably accommodate its demands. Nashville (Gaylord Opryland Hotel) and Orlando (Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort) have been the most common locations in recent years for precisely this reason. This year's venue, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, is hosting the Winter Meetings for the first time and offers more than 530,000 square feet of total event space.
"The sites are chosen several years in advance," said Lantz. "Tim Brunswick is our vice president of business and baseball operations, and he and [Butler] and [Minor League Baseball president] Pat O'Conner discuss that. A lot of it does come down to space. There are a couple thousand hotel rooms each night, and we want to keep everybody as close together as we can."
He continued, "Even San Diego, when we added that to the mix in , people were complaining about the walk from one hotel [hosting Minor League events] to the other [hosting Major League events]. But the convention center was in between, so it wasn't too bad. There's been a little more work this year, since we haven't been to National Harbor before. It is helpful when you're able to go back to a place you've already been a few times before."
The next two Winter Meetings will take place at Orlando and Las Vegas, respectively. Work is already underway on a logo for the 2017 event; 2016's logo was designed by Louisville-based Studio Simon. But for now, of course, the focus is solely on National Harbor.
"It's kind of crazy, and there's so much you have to adjust to on the fly," said Lantz. "Like with the Bob Freitas Business Seminar, we have to line up speakers for different topics and we want to make sure every single one goes smoothly. You make it work; you find a way. It's like anything else in life."
If there's one unifying feature of the Winter Meetings, it's that everyone, no matter who he or she may be, seems to be dashing from one place to the next.
"People are always on the run. There's no time to catch your breath until you lay down and go to sleep," said Lantz. "Mary Wooters, who is Pat O'Conner's scheduler and assistant, said he has 60-something meetings over four days."
When the Winter Meetings end, it then becomes time to reflect on what worked and what didn't.
"We all take an interoffice survey, a whole long list of topics that includes everything from 'Were the front desk people courteous?' to 'How was the food in the meeting rooms?'" said Lantz. "That helps us put our thoughts together and make adjustments where they need to be made. If there are things we can do to make the experience better, we'll try to do that."
Prior to assuming his current position with Minor League Baseball, Lantz worked in media relations for the Baltimore Orioles and, prior to that, the Iowa Cubs. While working for these two organizations, he attended the Winter Meetings "12 or 13 times."
"Before going in this capacity, I had no idea how much work went into it," he said. "It's pretty eye-opening, really."