Todd Scheel, president and CEO of New Berlin-based Exciting Events, Muzic in Motion and FX in Motion, shows off some of his toys, including the T-Shirt Gatling Gun, which he leases out for events.
There’s a timeout on the basketball floor. It’s showtime for Todd Scheel’s toys.
A showman first and a businessman second, Scheel is the guy behind the parachute drop from the rafters of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where rolled up T-shirts float gently to fans in the stands.
Or it might be his telescopic backpack, which allows a performer to raise or lower a tiny basketball backboard for fans to try their luck throwing a ball from the stands through the hoop.
Then there’s Scheel’s signature product: the T-Shirt Gatling Gun. Weighing 600 pounds and powered by 20-pound liquid CO2 canisters, the double-barreled beast, which Scheel once likened to something a kid would put together in shop class, is wheeled out onto the court, firing T-shirts in rapid-fire fashion high into the nosebleed seats.
If your team isn’t playing well, the T-Shirt Gatling Gun just might be the entertainment you need.
“Sports teams have given away T-shirts forever,” Scheel said. “But with our product, not only are you excited to get that T-shirt, but even if you don’t get a T-shirt, some kid will yell at his dad and say, ‘Look at that!’
“Our product has just taken that timeout to a different level.”
A louder level, too.
“It’s a rocket sound,” Scheel said. “And to me that’s part of the experience.”
Operating out of a nondescript building in New Berlin, Scheel runs Exciting Events, a company that produces events with audio, video, lighting, d̩cor and special effects. The company has two divisions: Muzic in Motion, a DJ wedding and entertainment company; and FX in Motion, which produces sports-related events.
Scheel has done business with most of the sports teams in town, and his work is well-known at corporate events, especially the annual Northwestern Mutual meeting at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“We are the excitement at the Northwestern meeting,” Scheel said. “We are the juice before the meeting.
“No matter what kind of event is taking place, a sport event, a corporate event or even a nonprofit gala, we are there to make an experience,” Scheel said. “The more senses we can touch at one time, the more memorable it will be. When it’s done right, it will inspire, motivate and live well beyond the end of the event.”
Gail Meagher of Williams/Gerard, a Chicago event-production company, has brought Scheel in to help handle the Northwestern meeting for the past five or six years.
“They are a well-oiled machine,” Meagher said. “They are great company to work with.”
Scheel, born and raised in New Berlin, got his start in 1987 when his parents and their friends were planning a large party. Just days before the event, the DJ canceled. Scheel asked his parents how much they had paid. He was told $150.
“I said, ‘I’ll DJ it.’ I took my home stereo and did it. Everyone said it was awesome. That was the beginning of the entertainment thing,” he said.
In 1989, he met the then-owners of the Milwaukee Wave. In those days, entertainment at Wave games basically meant playing a few music CDs before the game and during breaks.
As Scheel sat in the audio booth, the players on the opposing team, upset with a call, walked off the field. “They’re yelling at the ref, ‘If you don’t call the game, we won’t play,'” Scheel said.
Inspiration struck. Scheel grabbed a CD featuring the old Four Seasons classic, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
“I handed it to the audio guy,” Scheel said. “He said, ‘Are you telling me to play it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t care.’
“He’s covering his butt. So we play the song and the whole place goes crazy. The audio guy and I look at each other and he says, ‘You either got the job or you’ll never be invited back here again.'”
He stayed, and took a job as the DJ for the Wave.
That morphed into laser shows, balloon drops and more adrenaline-fueled entertainment events. Last year, Scheel’s company did about 150 dinners or galas for nonprofit groups.
Scheel’s business has been wildly successful. In one year, he did 520 weddings. Combined with his sports business, revenue was up 25% last year over 2012. This year, he and his 25 employees expect to do $2 million in business.
Scheel has 25 different products he can offer to customers looking for a little pizazz. There’s the Ball Blaster and the adult Monster Trikes.
“The Ball Blaster was the first large special effect we created,” Scheel said. “It can send out 100 mini-basketballs in 20 seconds.”
But if Scheel is known for anything, it’s the T-Shirt Gatling Gun. In 2007, the Memphis Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association commissioned the first rapid-fire Gatling Gun.
“I am the one who came up with the design and concept,” Scheel said. And he trademarked the name.
Historians may remember the Gatling gun as the name of one of the first rapid-fire weapons dating back to the Civil War era.
Now, the Gatling Gun is known for something else: “Getting Abundant T-shirts Launched Into Noisy Grandstands.”
The original gun could spit out 24 T-shirts in five seconds. Now, his double-barreled gun, with 80 pounds’ worth of liquid canisters of CO2 aboard, can fire 60 T-shirts in five seconds.
Scheel says he has about 80 of the guns around the world and can’t keep them in stock. Somebody in Israel just ordered a double-barreled one the other day. So did an organization in Istanbul. Under normal circumstances, it takes about two weeks to build the T-Shirt Gatling Gun.
While basketball programs are his primary customer, Scheel said the National Hockey League is starting to pay attention. College programs like the gun, too.
Scheel doesn’t sell the Gatling Guns; he leases them. If you want one, it will cost you $4,000 a season.
But Scheel knows entertainment. He knows fans want more and more. So Scheel has plans for a bigger and better gun that he hopes to have ready in time for next year’s NBA season.
“The next version will be able to send out 120 T-shirts in five seconds or 240 mini basketballs in five seconds,” Scheel said. “We try to make them mascot proof. It will be our biggest visual. And it has the cool factor.”
They’re also pretty durable. “The only thing you can do to them is tip them over. We over-engineer them,” he said.
Not everyone likes what Scheel and others in his trade have done at sporting events. The game’s the thing, say the sports purists, not some mascot running around the court pointing the Gatling Gun at the crowd above.
Scheel has a message for the sports junkie who has no use for the extracurriculars.
“You’re a dying minority,” Scheel said. “Are you kidding me? When a family goes to dinner at a restaurant, what are they doing? Besides eating, they’re using their smartphones.
“We are in an ADD world. We are not taking anything away from the game. We are adding to it for the fans who are halfhearted fans. And from the team standpoint, we are trying to put butts in the seats.”
That’s Scheel’s mind-set. “How do we put steroids in everything we do?”