It's a never-ending debate in minor league front offices: is it better to use one's best promotions to turn an already good weekend crowd into a great one, or is it better to use them to turn an otherwise poorly attended weeknight crowd into a good one?
There's no one-size-fits-all answer and there are arguments to be made either way. But on Monday, the Greensboro Grasshoppers didn't have a choice–the promotion came to them.
With the solar eclipse rolling through Monday afternoon, it was only logical for the Grasshoppers to turn Monday's getaway day to a 1:13 p.m. ET special start time. The team announced that it would give solar eclipse glasses to the first 2,500 fans and instantly turned what would have been a relatively modest crowd into an impressive throng of 6,756.
Greensboro president Donald Moore said if it had been a normal Monday night game, the crowd would have likely been half what it was Monday afternoon.
At just 80 cents or so per set of glasses, it was a modest giveaway with a significant payoff. The advance sales were strong enough that the Grasshoppers knew to staff everything like a busy Friday.
Gates didn't open until noon, but the first fans started showing up before 10 a.m. More than a thousand fans were lined up thirty minutes before gates opened to snag their solar eclipse glasses. The last set of the 2,500 glasses were handed out more than 30 minutes before the game began.
"Obviously if I had a crystal ball, I may have ordered 5,000 instead of 2,500, but at the time, 2,500 seemed like a lot," Moore said.
Some of them fans snagging their glasses never even made it to their seat. Much as one will see with a popular bobblehead giveaway, some fans stepped through the turnstile, took their glasses and turned right around to slip back out through the gate.
But there is a difference between a bobblehead giveaway and a set of eclipse glasses. A bobblehead is something that can be put on a bookshelf and enjoyed or sold on eBay for a quick buck.
Eclipse glasses were like a bobblehead that turns to dust just hours after they were handed out. By the end of the game on Monday, the same glasses that could have fetched an impressive sum outside the park a few hours before could be found lying among the stadium seats. This was a fad that made fidget spinners seem long-lived.
"They don't have a lot of residual value," Moore said.
The game was scheduled to begin at the moment that the moon started to block the sun in Greensboro. And as it happened, Hickory's 5-2 win finished roughly four minutes before the last sliver of the moon cleared the sun's rays.
It was an entire game played during the eclipse, but there was one problem. For most of the game, clouds blotted out the sun completely. Yes, it got darker as the game entered the middle innings and the temperature dipped from 92 degrees to 78. But it was difficult to tell how much of that in Greensboro was because of the eclipse and how much of it was because of the weather.
Just five minutes before the eclipse reached its Greensboro peak of 94 percent coverage, it started to rain. When peak eclipse passed, a significant number of fans got up and headed for the exits.
But those who stuck around were rewarded. The sun did start to peek back through the clouds about an hour later, just 30 minutes before the eclipse was scheduled to end. Sun-starved fans made their way down to the lower sections of the seating bowl (most of the seats were in shadow by then) and stood with their backs to the field, watching the sun through the seventh-inning stretch and then through much of the bottom of the seventh as well.