The July 9 all-star game marks what organizers hope is the beginning of a fun— and profitable—off-field tradition. For five days leading up to the game’s first pitch in Toronto’s SkyDome, the city’s downtown convention centre will be transformed into a theme park for baseball fans. Organizers say that FanFest will treat patrons to dozens of exhibits extolling past and present virtues of the game, from Baseball Hall of Fame displays to a video-enhanced pitching machine that makes its users feel like they are batting against Blue Jays relief pitcher Tom Henke. Amid the recorded crowd noises and the mingling aromas of such ball-park food staples as Milwaukee bratwursts and Philadelphia cheese steaks, visitors—who must pay an entrance fee of between $8 and $15— will also find vendors hawking all-star game
memorabilia, from $15 caps and $20 T-shirts to key chains and coffee mugs. Richard Baetz, Canadian retail director of New York Citybased Time Warner Sports Merchandising, the major leagues’ licensing agent, says that FanFest will likely boost souvenir sales, but he claims that the event was not commercially motivated. Declared Baetz: “FanFest is designed to give more people the all-star game experience, not to sell them more T-shirts.” Licensed merchandising has a shorter association with baseball than the hotdog, but it is increasingly important, indeed, overall sales of major-league baseball’s licensed goods exceed $1.5 billion annually, and the Blue Jays, for one, earn $1.7 million from that source alone. Edward Fletcher, president of Montreal-based Starter Canada Sports Inc., says that his company is working around the clock to produce enough caps and T-shirts bearing the all-star game logo—a blue jay and maple leaf under a dome of stars—for the 1991 event. They will be sold not only at the game itself and at FanFest, but also at stores across Canada.
Added Fletcher: “There has been a fabulous consumer response to all-star game goods.” Said Baetz: “You are talking about $10 million plus just for the all-star game.” Other Canadian companies are cashing in on the commercial potential of the game as well. A Barrie, Ont., company, Flags Unlimited, has produced 270 flags and banners to decorate downtown Toronto streets before the game. And FanFest itself is managed and was built by several Toronto-based companies, including the project managers, Ainsworth Productions, and Edge & Bratton Scenery and Display Ltd. At SkyDome, some owners of luxury boxes are renting them for the all-star game for up to $30,000—the same 16-seat private boxes rent for as little as $2,000 during the regular season. Clearly, for many people, baseball’s mid-season showcase will be a financial bonanza. JAMES DEACON
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