Turning up the fans

By Published on .

Big city sports come down to the grassroots level this month with the debut of "Modell's Sports Experience," a three-day sports love-in billed as the largest fan festival ever held in New York.

More than 50 amateur and professional sports, teams and activities will come together March 24-26, with a variety of attractions and games for fans and their families, said organizer Kevin Broadbin, director of sales for trade show operator ComTek International, Wilton, Conn.

Inspired by a swelling of interest in fan activities, ComTek devised the event to boost fans' interest in local sports and introduce kids to the heritage and heroes of hometown teams, Mr. Broadbin said.

ComTek also launched a sports marketing division this year to create several such fan fairs in cities. Its next fan fair will be in Philadelphia next October.


"We wanted to create a World's Fair of sports, to show kids the whole range of sports in New York and introduce them to new activities . . . we want to give kids a chance to get close to sports celebrities and know the teams," Mr. Broadbin said.

East Coast retailer Modell's Sporting Goods is the title sponsor and will promote its 86 stores along with products from undisclosed manufacturers, said Peter Lindenbaum, the retailer's senior VP-merchandising and marketing. ComTek didn't reveal the price tag for Modell's sponsorship.

Ticket prices range from $10 for children to $16.50 for adults, giving access to 70,000 square feet of activities and displays at New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Among the attractions are the New Jersey Nets' interactive "HoopZone" game area; a slap-shot booth sponsored by the National Hockey League's New Jersey Devils; a chance to bat against live pitchers at the Major Stick-Ball League's booth; tennis clinics; football skills testing and the opportunity to ride a luge sled on a 30-foot mobile ramp.

Other sports organizations involved in the event include the National Football League's New York Jets, minor league baseball's Newark Bears and Staten Island Yankees, U.S. Tennis Association, USA Luge, and New York Arm Wrestling Association.

"The emphasis is on entertainment, not just on merchandise, but we are clearly eager to reach this audience of families who participate in sports, including people who buy team merchandise," Mr. Lindenbaum said.


Local teams are eager for the chance to meet and greet fans, who have been driving booming sales of licensed merchandise in nearly every sports category in the past few years.

"Fans are why we're here, and the chance to get out there and meet them, to give back something to them, is great," said Jamie Streit, marketing coordinator for the National Basketball Association's New Jersey Nets.

The Staten Island Yankees have seized on the fan fair as a way to nurture its audience for a team launched only last year, and also to build enthusiasm for its new stadium, to be completed in 2001.

"We're New York's first minor league team, and we've been well-received because people want to connect with players on the local level; they don't just want to gaze at sports stars from miles away," said Steve Lenox, director of public relations for the Staten Island team.


Sports that have enormous participant appeal but get short shrift on TV will be center stage at "Modell's Sports Experience," with arm wrestling and stick-ball looming large along with bowling and Wiffleball.

"The potential to tap into local sports enthusiasm is huge, and we hope to create an atmosphere where entire families will be introduced to new sports and parents will pass on the torch of their appreciation for local teams to kids," Mr. Broadbin said.

More than 70,000 people are expected for the event. Dates and locations for subsequent fan fests haven't been determined yet.

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