Nobody Night…Awful Night… Mustache Appreciation…Used Car Giveaways…and even Salute to Indoor Plumbing. These are all promotional nights which have taken place at Minor League Baseball games in the past. Fans and outsiders hear about these events and even attend these events from time to time but does anyone really ever think about what goes into planning one of these nights or how they were developed in the first place? Keep reading and you’ll find out.
First, it’s a safe bet to assume that 95% of teams sit down at the conclusion of every season to discuss what went well during the season and to begin brainstorming ideas for the next season. In these brainstorming sessions many ideas are floated around…some of them great and some of them completely unrealistic. However, sometimes the ideas which may seem unrealistic at first become the well-known promotions we know and love thanks to the creativity of the folks in Minor League Baseball.
I classify Minor League “Theme Nights” into two different categories. First, some teams do these promotions just for fun and in hopes of not only local but national publicity. The Charleston RiverDogs once staged “Nobody Night” where they didn’t let fans into the ballpark until the 5th inning so they could announce an attendance of zero for the night. They very much accomplished their goal of garnering publicity from these event as it’s still talked about today, but this didn’t translate into any type of monetary benefit to the team. While Minor League teams are known for fun, wacky promotions they are also businesses with bills to pay and publicity doesn’t pay my salary as an employee of a Minor League team!
The other category for these promotional nights would be ones in which teams develop in order to try to increase sales – tickets, merchandise and food. I’ll use my own Cleveland Sports History Night with the Captains as an example of this type of promotion. Cleveland Sports History Night began as a theme night idea to re-live some of the infamous moments Cleveland sports teams are known for. Once the idea was dreamed up we brainstormed on what all should be involved in the night and came up with concessions specials, celebrity appearances, group ticket ideas, and merchandise sales opportunities. Our concession special we did was Nickel Beer (Dime Beer in year two) which was an idea to bring in the beer-drinking fans and generate media attention…it worked on both accounts.We did small, discounted beer for one hour and then sold full-price beer for the remainder of the game. We also thought bringing in former Cleveland athletes would help bring in true sports fans looking to meet and greet these athletes and this has worked for four straight seasons. Next, we targeted Browns Backers groups to do a group outing at the ballpark on this night which ended up turning into a large pre-game tailgate party in the parking lot prior to the game. Finally, we wanted to sell merchandise to these die-hard Cleveland sports fans so we bring in baseball cards of the celebrities, footballs, football helmets, photographs and anything else we think may sell and try to make money through incremental merchandise sales as well. The in-game promotions are icing on the cake for the fans who’ve come to the game and we hope that at the end of the night fans enjoyed their experience and will come back for another game in the future.
In a perfect world everything comes together and a team not only gets great publicity from a wacky promotional night but they also find a way to cash in financially. My current team, the Lake County Captains, and I were lucky enough that the stars aligned for us on Cleveland Sports History Night which has been going strong for four seasons and was named Promotion of the Year by ESPN Magazine in 2009. This year’s event came and went this past weekend and now I’m hoping the folks at Minor League Baseball will recognize our event as part of their Golden Bobblehead Awards for Minor League promotions.