GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Wednesday, the middle of the three-day Minor League Promotional Seminar, was reserved for the event’s biggest brainstorming session. With Pawtucket’s Rob Crain in the front of the room--decked out in a suit that looked like he gave a tailor a pair of scissors and told him to go to town on the American flag--as emcee, a horde of MiLB’s promotional directors spent the next three and a half hours sharing their most successful idea of the season.
Some well-known ideas obviously made the cut. The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s shrimp neck pillow was a big hit, as was its Silent Movie Night. The Daytona Tortugas won big at the box office all season long, and their one-two combination of Bob Ross Night, as was its Sager Strong Night with special guest Vince Carter. The Charleston RiverDogs found a winner with Silly String Night, too.
But throughout the course of the morning there were a few less-publicized ideas that caught the attention of the crowd. Here are five ideas that separated themselves from the pack and look like big hits for years to come.
1. Promotional Execution Team -- Tennessee Smokies: The Smokies didn’t highlight a particular promotion, but rather a new approach to promos as a whole. Their staff made a concerted effort this season to have all of its various groups on the same page for each promotion. That means the promotional team, the ticket sales team, the concessions team and grounds crew are all on the same page entering the evening. With everybody in sync, things just flow more smoothly.
“It was one person from each of our core departments that really took these ideas and made them go from good to great,” promotions director Allie Crain said. “For example, we had a Jimmy Buffet Night. On ticket sales, we sold a pre-game Jimmy buffet with cheeseburgers, margaritas. On field, with our promotions, we had the jerseys, a cheeseburger-eating contest, limbo. Our grounds crew got into it--they wore Hawaiian shirts and their drag was to ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise'”
The team used this philosophy for all of their large promotion nights and saw a different atmosphere than in previous years.
“It helped our staff really get into the nights and really know what was going on with everything,” Crain said.
2. College Rivalry Night -- West Michigan WhiteCaps: It’s an upset that the team’s Corgi races didn’t wind up in this slot, but the WhiteCaps’ twist on college night was executed well enough to have some staying power. The team’s markets obviously includes fans of both Michigan and Michigan State, two schools that don’t need a reason to hate each other.
College nights at minor league ballparks are not rare--it’s an easy way to boost end-of-year attendance when the students are back in town. Offer discounted tickets to 18-to-21-year-olds and discounted beer to the upperclassmen and call it a night. This time, though, West Michigan added a twist. The team donated a portion of the proceedings to two charities--the Sadler Foundation (named for the late Michigan State punter) and ChadTough, an organization named in honor of Chad Carr (the grandson of longtime Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr) that raises money to fight childhood cancer.
Perhaps the most thoughtful touch of the evening involved autographs. Before the game, cancer-affected children were invited onto the field to play catch with their families. They also had the option of posing for a baseball card that was turned around quickly by the WhiteCaps’ graphics team. Once the kids got the cards, they went up to the concourse where they signed autographs for fans.
3. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp -- Self-Brewers: Silent Movie Night and the neck pillow weren’t the only ideas the Jumbo Shrimp came up in their first year with a new name and branding. The team partnered with a local brewery to help brew a batch themselves and then taste their wares. The result? $4,000-$5,000 in extra concessions.
“Jacksonville, like a lot of other towns I’m sure, is beer-friendly,” Jacksonville promotional and special events manager David Ratz said. “We partnered with a local brewery and we did a one-off beer that we just actually got to go help brew. We did some social media with that as the staff was making the beer.”
The team followed by selling it as a combination ticket package on a Monday night that included a pint glass with the team’s logo and the brewery’s logo and two fills of the beer. For those who were unaware of the promotion beforehand, the Shrimp set up a table on the concourse with pint glasses and beer for sale as well.
4. Quad Cities River Bandits -- BP Passes: From a media standpoint, one of the most informative parts of going to a game involves watching batting practice. It’s a great venue to gauge a hitter’s raw power and bat speed and to see if he’s working on anything in particular. From a fan’s perspective, it’s a little bit different. It’s an easy way to see your favorite player lose some baseballs, scramble to get some of those baseballs, and perhaps snag a few autographs as players leave the field.
Typically, though, teams don’t allow fans in until after batting practice is over. That changed this year in the Midwest League, when the River Bandits found a way to monetize the game before the game. They came up with the idea to help boost revenue during their playoffs, a time--because those games are not on the schedule until late--when attendance is hard to come by.
“We were able to put together, for $15, early-entry to watch BP,” River Bandits assistant general manager Jacqueline Holm said. “Obviously an added element that got a lot of fans to purchase. … It was nice for the online buyers who actually got the opportunity to buy something they wanted to participate in and engage with, which isn’t usual for them, so that was nice. We sold two on the Thursday--we played on Saturday--and then we sold 90 on Friday, so you could tell we had a bit of an impulse-buyer market.”
5. Portland Sea Dogs -- Assurance Tickets: Most fans know that the attendance listed at the bottom of a box score isn’t reflective of the amount of people who actually show up at the game. That figure is the announced attendance, and counts all tickets sold. So if you bought a ticket but couldn’t show up, you’re still counted among the attendance. That makes the team look good, but it’s a sunk cost for the fans.
The Sea Dogs over the last couple of years have taken steps to change this with their Assurance Ticket program. Here’s how it worked: For an extra $3 on top of the normal cost, any ticket at Hadlock Field was fully transferrable. So if you bought a ticket for a July 10 game but couldn’t make it that day, you can call up the box office and transfer that ticket to another day for a ticket of equal or lesser value. The same goes for people find out at the last minute that they won’t be able to make the game. If your ticket isn’t scanned in, you can still transfer its use for a game later in the season.
Not only was it convenient for fans, it was also a big money-maker for the Sea Dogs.
“The thing that makes it profitable is that you put it as the top-priced item in the (ticket) tier. So your $13 ticket is the best available in that price class,” Bryan Pahigan, the SeaDogs’ ticket manager, said. “So last year alone we sold 28,000, which is $84,000 revenue. And $235,000 over the last three years just on the extra $3.”