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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 05 March 2008 22:08

7th Inning Stretch BalloonsThe band strikes up the team fight song. Fans, adorned in team colors, chant from “V-megaphones”, while others bang on drums in support of their team. At a key point in the game, balloons are blown up and released simultaneously, creating a wash of color.

No, you’re not at an NCAA football game; you’re at a baseball game in Japan.

And while the culture at a baseball game may be different in the countries, the way promotions are done in Japan may be a great untapped resource for American baseball, especially at the minor league level.

Minor league level baseball is a different entertainment package than its big league counterpart. There, the players are the key marketing factor. In the minors, it’s a matter of reaching out at all levels.

As Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Triple-A Portland Beavers said at a luncheon this past week, "We don't have the marquee athlete to market.”

Instead, as Paulson noted, you sell it all: the chance to see players moving up or down from the big leagues, the more intimate feel of a smaller ballpark, where there is more accessibility. And, there are the promotions.

Ask any minor league owner/operator, and they’ll tell you that promotions are a big part of their business. Look at the attendance on days where a cap or tee-shirt is given out at the door, or, when it’s bobblehead day, and you’re bound to see spikes. The minor leagues pack promotion days in as often, and as inexpensively as possible for good reason: they draw fans through the turnstiles.

Sharo Shangyo - World Sporting GoodsIs it any wonder that creative companies such as Plan B. Branding devote rankings each year on how effective minor league promotions are, and which of them are giving the biggest bang for the buck? And, in a search to offer something totally new, how about promotional ideas from Japan that might transfer over to the American market?

For at least one company from Japan, they’re not waiting to have America approach them, they are coming to America.

Select Read More to see what kinds of promotional products from Japan might be coming to America

Baseball Fortune TellerSharp Sangyo Co., Ltd, a company that started manufacturing and selling commemorative gifts for Japan’s National High School Baseball Tournament in the mid-1960s and is now the leading manufacturer and seller of sporting goods and souvenirs in the country. Katz Murai, the overseas sales representative for Sharp Sangyo is working to promote their unique products in America, and had a booth at this year’s Winter Meetings in Nashville. When asked what products seem to be the best received so far in America, Murai said in an email interview with us, “Right now, Minor League teams seem to be most interested in the "Jet balloon (7th Inning Stretch Balloon)" and "Baseball Fortune Teller".

What is the Baseball Fortune Teller? It’s a different take on the “8-Ball” where you ask a question, and flip the 8-Ball over to get the answer, only baseball-styled.

With Murai coming to the US to market Sharp Sangyo’s products, there is a case of offering the new, but offering products that are different than what the US market gravitates toward – a bit of a marketing dilemma. “Occupying the biggest share in sales of baseball merchandise in Japan is the cheering goods such as Megaphones (noise makers), Mini-baseball Flags, V-megaphones, 7th Inning Stretch Balloons, etc., while I think the item that occupies most shares in sales in the United States is apparel,” Murai said.

And while a baseball fan in America buys a jersey or cap and wears it as casual wear, fans in Japan approach it somewhat differently. “Most of people buy their favorite team’s replica jersey and wear them on and cheer their favorite team at the stadium,” Murai adds. “I think this is a characteristic difference between American and Japanese fans. Japanese fans usually like to get united; they tend to do something by group.  They want to give support their own favorite team with a companion who likes a same team and wear their team replica jersey on the game-day. I think this is their motivation to buy their favorite team apparel.”

Sharp Sangyo sees real potential in America with the identification of team brand that is so prevalent in Japan. Murai says that Sharp Sangyo is looking to do product development and research on which products have never quite taken root on American soil and develop symbolic goods and other cheering items that consider the character of each team’s community and the team.

V-MegaphoneSharp Sangyo hopes to make deep in-roads at the minor league level over a few years, and work to eventually break their products into MLB, building up acceptance of the Japan based products along the way. To help that effort, Sports World Entertainment, Inc. out of Frederick, Maryland is assisting in distribution in the U.S.

“Our company creates an atmosphere where American fans enjoy their entire baseball experience,” Murai says.

With the buzz that has come from these Japanese products, a new twist on the baseball experience for Americans could come from a non-traditional source. When clubs, especially at the minor league level, are looking for something new that will pull you into the ballpark… Well, it doesn’t take a Baseball Fortune Teller to see that a team is going to take chance with some of these products from Japan, and who knows? It might well turn into marketing gold and a new way at taking in the ballgame.


Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is also a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network

 
 
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