The Jersey Shore is always an interesting barometer for what America is thinking, from politics to pop culture. It’s mix of people from as far away as Canada and Europe as well as the surrounding states, but people young and old into a fun melting pot which always makes for great people watching. Ironically, the same can be said for sports business, which we are always keeping an eye on. Five days in and around Cape May, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest last week and early this provided some interesting insights into what families, and those a bit older, are consuming, buying and doing even in a business that may seem to be a bit far removed from sun and sand. Also take a read of Many Antoniacci’s piece on the entrepreneurial and simple games people are using, Spikeball has passed ProKadeema in popularity!) ; Here’s a look.
Go Globies: Driving into Exit 4 off the Garden State Parkway we were amazed to see that the Harlem Globetrotters were hitting the shore as well for not one, but four nights at the Wildwood Convention Center. These are the Globies of fan experience, many nameless and faceless to the brand but talented showman nonetheless. The Globetrotters are no longer about Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon and are more about affordable family fun than ever before, and but do they promote. They made shots from helicopters, attended barbecues, did sand sculptres, rode up and down the beach hawking prizes with life guards, and of course doing the clinics and community events almost 24/7. In an age where digital and social seem to drive everything, the Globetrotters, who had to compete with Morrie’s Pier, water parks and mini golf to put butts in seats at the beach, still knew how to sell. Not every show was full, but you could not go anywhere without feeling their presence, or learning about the value of their brand and how they can still attract a nice audience with 90 minutes of fun.
Grassroots Baseball Finds Its Spot: Say what you want about esports and waning interest in “The National Pastime,” but the Shore was alive and well with not just the feel, but the presence of baseball. How? How about sand baseball. The hard packed wide beach in Wildwood was the home of FOUR diamonds where Little League-age kids from five states played round robin competitive baseball for four days. While the talk was of games in Williamsport on ESPN, these kids played hard and had fun, and with their parents and siblings, found a way to take the diamond to the shore. This was no small event; close to 500 kids and families braved the heat to try baseball on the sand. Too much year round play? Maybe. But the kids were engaged and having a good time just minutes from the ocean, in a setting and a surface that was pretty unique.
Innovative Crafts And Brands: The Wildwood boardwalk had its own look for sports fans, complete with some unique companies and entrepreneurs that caught our eye. There was license plate lady, who had hundreds of old plates cut into pieces where people could make their on signs, many of whom revolved around key sports dates and times. The rock lady, who took the time to design rocks with team and school logos to keep in offices, desks and on lawns (the acrylic paint doesn’t fade, and the hand painted logos “Jets rock,” “Temple rocks,” “Flyers Rock” were spot on. Did she worry about licensing issues with teams and schools? No. She said the one complaint was from team officials asking why they didn’t have more of one team. Then on the baseball side we came across a San Francisco startup Birdman Bats. Great logo, great use of affordable wood bats of all shapes and sizes. We talked to them about a charitable initiative and also a better use of bitmoji’s that may can be customized to maybe make their bats fly a bit more. Loved their passion, their germ of an idea and where the business can go.
BOARDWALK RIDES STILL TRUMP TECH: While entertainment continues to look more towards fast, virtual and mobile entertainment it is refreshing, and interesting, to see how much of a draw “old school” rides are. Ferris Wheels, arcade games, roller coasters, still have their place in American society, and that has not really changed even with the influx of technology thus far. Nary a VR exhibition, or an AR outlet, could be seen or found on miles of Boardwalk. Now that will change somewhat with the affordability and portability of technology going forward somewhat, but making a mini golf shot, or shooting a balloon full of water in real time for a few bucks still, and hopefully always will, have an appeal.
SOCCER IS GROWING ITS NICHE STILL: One thing that has changed is the continued growing appeal not just of soccer and the stars of the game, but the global clubs. A five day search of the boardwalk saw any number of jerseys and tees with Juventus, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Roma and Manchester United, even Bayern Munich. What was not there either for sale or en masse? MLS kits. Now that’s not to say people on the boardwalk aren’t fans of the Philly Union or NYCFC. They probably are. What it does say is that young people have and continue to build an affinity to global clubs because of the access to live games and information now, and the push of the clubs into this country through supporter groups and academies is gaining even more steam. Even more concerning than MLS should be a sport like baseball just in terms of apparel. Very few of the hundreds of shops were sporting baseball gear, especially of players currently in NY and Philly (Aaron judge being the exception). That waning of interest in the purchase power speaks to the continuing issue MLB, much less the sport, has in slippage amongst families.
AND THEN THERE IS ESPORTS: While the massive gamer facilities that are propping up in malls and other vacant store areas have not yet made it to the boardwalk, the presence of esports interest is growing. Overwatch sweatshirts and tees especially were seen and sold up and down the boardwalk, more so than anywhere else in the past. Console gaming still doesn’t really fit the beach lifestyle, and frankly it was good to see arcades with traditional games filled every night, but you could see the spaces and places potentially where gaming arenas could fit in. Now would families go there to get out of the sunlight to watch live streams of LOL or DoTA while on vacation? Nah. But could layers gather for elite tourneys like they are in Vegas or Atlantic City and replace the Globies on a weekend in Wildwood? Probably. The infiltration of gaming has been on the boardwalk for years and is a main draw. Competitive esports is something different that could fit into the week away to some extent, and the presence of shirt for sale, even generic game ones without players or teams, was a telltale sign of growth. If it didn’t sell it would have been there. What is still missing from the esports sell are player images and their storytelling, but just having the black hoodie there next to say, Ben Simmons, was a changeover that will bear watching in the coming years.
There is a great deal to be said about the timelessness of family vacations in the US in the mountains and the shore. The costs don’t go down but then again the memories can’t really be measured in dollars. Those trips become a great barometer for consumer behavior, and it is pretty amazing how sometimes brands take those large gathering areas for granted as places to engage. What was both interesting and refreshing on the trip was to see the creativity of legacy brands like the Globetrotters combined with the ingenuity of a craft fair and how it applies and reminds us that our business s of sport has a place everywhere, and that’s a pretty fun thing and a great measurement tool.
Enjoy what we have left of summer, the fall awaits!