Ryan Kohn is a freshman at MU who created Gameday Claps, gloves designed to allow fans to cheer on their team.
COLUMBIA — Hats, T-shirts, scarves and wristbands are a few of the more popular accessories people wear to sporting events. While these items can be fun and fashionable, they all share a common flaw: they stay silent. I, Ryan Kohn, a freshman here at MU, am hoping to change the landscape of sports apparel. A few years ago, I helped my dad design and test-market a new sports fan item now known as Gameday Claps.
Simply put, these gloves are designed with fans in mind, giving them a chance to cheer on their team louder than ever before. The now patented techno-design fuses an ABS plastic "Palm Pounder" sound dome with a cotton/polyester performance fabric, providing extraordinary comfort while unleashing a "just above normal" clapping sound that engages and fuels fan passion, while also protecting their hands from hurting due to excess cheering.
The gloves are truly a product of a collaborative family effort. My stepbrother came up with the idea; my dad did the initial research and created several crude prototypes; and I tweaked the design to make it something the college generation would want to wear. The idea came about after my stepbrother James went to a playoff basketball game, and his hands got sore from excessive clapping as the video board kept reminding fans to "Be Loud." He thought there should be something in the marketplace that protected the hands but also allowed for clapping and making noise — just as the team directed. Once we had the idea, it took several months of trial and error to figure out the correct materials to use.
Once I made the gloves, shall we say, aesthetically pleasing, we decided we needed to give them their first true test. My father and I went on a three-week, 3000-mile, 12-city baseball tour across middle and eastern America. We visited professional ballparks in Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee and New York, as well as several other minor league venues along the way. Our test-marketing strategy was simple: purchase game tickets, take our seats, put on the gloves and start clapping.
Fans around us would inevitably come over and ask questions about the odd, yet intriguing, gloves that were making even baseball purists interested. One man at Boston's Fenway Park walked down a whole section of stairs just to ask if they would be available for purchase during the playoffs.
The reaction to the gloves was overwhelmingly positive, but we did not know how obsessed fans were with them until one game at Baltimore's Camden Yards. A woman, whom we had given a pair to as a test, actually put them down her pants and ran off when we tried to get them back!
When we got back home from the road trip, we presented the product and our field notes to a highly respected sports marketer to get his professional opinion on the product's chances of success in the sports apparel and accessory marketplace. He gave us a score of 9.5 out of 10 for unique and clever design but offered that the buying public would be the final determinant of product success. He recommended that we start out by marketing the gloves as a potential giveaway item, a product fans received for free when they entered the gates of the stadium. So that's the direction we went ... and it was not an easy road to navigate.
We quickly realized that professional sports teams are hesitant to try out new products or at least hesitant to be the first to try something. They wanted to see where the product had previously succeeded, so they could be certain it would be successful for them also. One big lesson learned was, you must convince the decision-maker at the team that it would benefit them to use our product as a giveaway item. Fan support does not mean nearly as much to professional businesses as a proven track record does.
Once the initial sting of rejection wore off, we set our sights on the minor league market first. The past few years have been relatively successful, having done numerous giveaways with minor league hockey teams across the U.S. and Canada. During several of the giveaway events, I accompanied my dad to the venue to shoot promotional video, which was then edited and uploaded onto YouTube to give potential buyers a glimpse into the true fan response.
Once I enrolled at MU over the summer and had taken a campus visit, I saw the wide array of Mizzou merchandise available for purchase at the local stores. I realized it was time to try selling the gloves in the retail marketplace. We approached the university's licensing director, showed her the product and were granted a local Mizzou license. We are now allowed to put the Mizzou logo on the gloves for one full year.
Last week, Gameday Claps kicked off our retail endeavor with a soft product launch in partnership with Columbia Hy-Vee and Old Navy stores. Initial sales were positive, and next week, in addition to Hy-Vee and Old Navy, we will have Gameday Claps available at Schnucks, Rally House, Jocks Nitch and a few other retail outlets in town. The goal of our retail initiative is simple: sell as many Gameday Claps as we can to as many Mizzou fans as we can. In retail, numbers are the only thing that matter. If the product sells, we will have hard numbers to present to other stores and retail chains across the country in hopes of getting a commitment to carry the item. We will also be able to present our sales numbers to a few strategic wholesalers who already possess top college and university licenses.
There's nothing like helping to create a physical product that people enjoy. When I go to an event where the team is giving out our Gameday Claps and fans get really excited about them, I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I hope the product will catch on with Mizzou fans and become a hit. If you're reading this, I could use all the help I can from my fellow Tigers. If you see Gameday Claps in the store, give them a try. If you think they are fun and you, a friend or a family member would enjoy them, I'd be thrilled if you bought a pair, as it will help validate the product.
Tigers: The football team plays top-ranked Alabama on Saturday. Let's show the Crimson Tide the passion and pride Mizzou fans have for their school and sports teams.
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