MLB All-Star FanFest Brings in Families and a Landmark Discount

After a landmark discount from the Javits Center, MLB set up camp for the 2008 All-Star FanFest for five days of games, history, food, and plenty of souvenirs.

By Michael O'Connell July 17, 2008, 8:00 AM EDT

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Photo: Jessica Torossian for BizBash

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Baseball lovers of every age convened at the Jacob K Javits Convention Center over the last week for the 18th annual Major League Baseball FanFest, a sports-themed carnival for people who couldn't get tickets to Tuesday's All-Star game, with admission costing just $30. The spectacle took up some 450,000 square feet of space, and hosted an estimated 130,000 people during its July 11 to 15 run.

FanFest aimed to give authentic baseball experiences to sluggers of all ages. Children hit the batting cages, tested their sliding skills in a miniature baseball diamond, and tried their hands at pitching against video projections of Major League batters. The small diamond played host to All-Stars like Roy White and Mickey Rivers who tutored little leaguers in hitting and fielding. While their children honed their skills with professionals, grown men and women lined up to don blue blazers and give mock sports commentary in front of a professional news crew set up by Gillette.

Games and photo-ops weren’t the only opportunities in the sea of exhibits. Historical booths chronicled the journey of African Americans and women in the sport, strategically placed vendors hawked traditional ballpark grub, and retailers peddling baseball paraphernalia took up large chunks of the space.

Reg Bronskill, principal at Toronto’s Bronskill & Co., has served as executive producer of FanFest since its inaugural run in 1991. “This year the space came in at just under half a million square feet,” he says of Javits. “Only a small portion of that was on another floor, so that helps us unify the overall experience. Every year we work with a different space, but this year allowed us to be compelling and integrated.”

FanFest’s arrival at Javits was not without some controversy. Early last year, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the 2008 All-Star game would be played at Yankee Stadium, the board at the Javits Center voted to subsidize MLB’s fee to rent the convention center for FanFest. The decision broke a longstanding policy against providing discounts, giving MLB 33 percent, or $200,000, off the rental.

The New York Times reported
last March that Javits previously refused similar discounts for the National Football League, the Republican Party, and the Robin Hood Foundation, which holds its annual gala in the space where FanFest set up shop. At the time, the board justified its decision to acquiesce to the city’s convention and visitors bureau and the Sports Development Corporation, which bid for the All-Star Game on the city’s behalf, by citing how much revenue the game would bring to the city.

FanFest took as many days to build as it was open to the public, and workers will have dismantled it Friday evening.

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