STEP UP TO THE PLATE: MIZUNO WEAVES INTERACTIVE APPEAL INTO BASEBALL TOUR OF 50-PLUS MARKETS

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Sporting goods marketer Mizuno USA is making a big push for kids with a national baseball workshop tour hitting the road next month.

After suffering through a downturn following the Major League Baseball players' strike in 1994, Mizuno's sales surged last year thanks to a hot MLB season.

Based on that trend, Mizuno has significantly boosted its promotions this year in order to capitalize on fresh fan interest in baseball, said Greg Barton, director of promotions for Mizuno USA.

"Our sales are directly tied to fan interest in MLB, and as excitement is building about the sport we're going out into the streets with promotions," Mr. Barton said.

HITTING 50 MARKETS

Its biggest promotion this year is the "Dare to Dream Baseball Tour," two traveling interactive baseball exhibits visiting more than 50 major markets from Feb. 18 through July 25.

The experience allows kids to practice at an interactive pitching station, get their photo taken with Major League Baseball players from local teams, touch baseball memorabilia, and watch a Mizuno craftsman make professional baseball gloves and baseball shoe cleats.

Mizuno put extra muscle behind its tour by forming partnerships with more than 100 individual sporting goods stores across the U.S., each helping promote the events in its market.

Participating sporting goods chains include the Sports Authority, Oshman's Sporting Goods and Gaylan's Trading Co.

While it's the No. 1 baseball equipment manufacturer in Japan, where its parent company is headquartered, in its home market Mizuno USA trails behind category leaders Rawlings Sporting Goods Co. and Wilson Sporting Goods Co. in total volume sales in the estimated $190 million baseball glove market.

This year Mizuno is introducing a new 9-Spike baseball shoe technology to the industry, which is expected to give the company a boost in total baseball

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