As Baseball Playoffs Near, a Question Looms: Are There Enough Red Towels? – New York Times

One way, new for this postseason, is placing GPS units in every truck. That allows a shipment to be tracked down to the second it is delivered, but also deters any shenanigans from sinking BDA, and the team, as they nearly did in the 1992 N.B.A. finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Light-up buttons, the scheduled Game 4 promotion in Portland, were coming from a supplier in the Chicago area, but they mysteriously disappeared in the airport there before their scheduled flight to Oregon. Averting a crisis, Jay Deutsch, the agency’s co-founder, arranged for the speedy printing of 15,000 white rally towels with the Blazers’ logo and rented a Learjet to fly them up from California. They arrived a few hours before tipoff.

“We don’t miss,” Deutsch said. “We can’t miss.”

To that end, every truck — a 53-footer can hold up to 50,000 towels — has two drivers. They drive straight through, swapping the wheel after a certain number of hours, to shorten transit time. Twenty-four hours are allotted for delivery from the time of pickup, though trips never take that long.

To ease tension in October, BDA starts planning in January, evaluating how it handled the previous postseason. After accommodating the Texas Rangers’ switch to red towels from blue — to avoid a potential clash with their opponent, the Toronto Blue Jays — the company now encourages teams to stick with one color for the entire playoffs.


A screen for the Seattle Seahawks at the facility in Las Vegas. If there is a surplus in a particular shade of towel, it can be used in other leagues.

Isaac Brekken for The New York Times

As early as May, BDA checks the standings and starts projecting the inventory it must secure from Asia, where the towels are produced and dyed. That number is refined about three more times — in July, and twice in September. Even if there winds up being a surplus in a particular shade — as there was with orange last postseason when Baltimore, Houston and San Francisco reached the playoffs but did not advance to the championship series — those towels can be used in other leagues.

On Aug. 31, BDA sent a memo outlining the postseason production schedule to contending teams — about 18 in all — to notify them of ordering deadlines for every potential game. The Royals at the time lingered four-and-a-half games behind the second wild-card spot, but there could be no excuses if they squeaked into the playoffs and rampaged to the World Series, as they did in 2014.

That year, Kansas City fans waved white towels. Had their team qualified this season, they would have had fewer options. Major League Baseball no longer permits giveaway towels in the Royals’ standbys of white and powder blue, banning all pale colors so as not to impede players’ ability to track the ball.

The decision to outlaw white did not surprise teams, but it had ramifications on their budgets. Instead of paying BDA less than a dollar for each white towel, they now spend about $1.30 per colored model.

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