COLUMBUS, Ohio—The motto for Minor League Baseball's Promotional Seminar sounds simple enough, but it hardly does justice to the annual gathering of the men and women behind the zany and entertaining antics that take place at the sport's 160 ballparks.
Sure, "one idea is worth the price of admission," as posters and pamphlets around the Greater Columbus Convention Center promise attendees. But hang around any of the seminars, speeches or late-night gatherings long enough, and you're bound to hear many more than that.
"Find a thousand dollars worth of ideas (here)," Lake Elsinore Storm general manager Dave Oster told those gathered for a welcome luncheon Tuesday at the opening of the three-day event, "or you're not trying."
Trying equals having fun here. The Promo Seminar is a favorite for minor league front-office staffers, many of whom prefer it over the Winter Meetings because the intimate setting better allows for idea-sharing. And while promotions aren't the only thing on the event's docket—Columbus president and general manager Ken Schnacke got it started with a lesson on how to fill your ballpark, followed by El Paso's Jon Staub detailing how analytics can drive ticket sales (hint: always ask fans for their zip codes), and a status update on Minor League Baseball's marketing program—the promotional talk remains the highlight.
When attendees broke into smaller "group therapy" workshop sessions later Tuesday afternoon, the ones focusing on promotions were the place to be. Roughly 75 promo directors and staffers gathered in a conference room to tackle hard-hitting subjects such as "taking timely advantage of pop culture phenomena" and "doing the outlandish and making money off of it."
Around the room they went, sharing tales of what promotions went right at their ballpark this season, how they incorporated news and trends into their events, and what can be done to make them even better. Below are a few of the season highlights shared by attendees.
• The Johnson City Cardinals (Appalachian) celebrated the summer fad of flabby father figures with "Dad Bod Night." Wisely timed on a Thirsty Thursday, dads willing to enter the ballpark shirtless got free admission, and a between-inning stunt included a Dad Bod Beauty Pageant (the winner left with a $100 gift card, a trophy and the title Mr. Dad Bod 2015).
• The Lakewood BlueClaws (South Atlantic) bid farewell to David Letterman in May with a "Letters to Letterman" promotion. During games leading up to the promotion, fans were asked to submit Top 10 reasons why Letterman should show up—he didn't, but the team made do with their own version of stupid pet tricks, a variety of top 10 lists, and their own mock Letterman desk occupied by a staff impersonator.
• Hickory Crawdads (South Atlantic) hosted their own twist to Labor Day, taking the name of the end-of-summer holiday quite literally by promising two season tickets for life to any pregnant patrons at the Sept. 7 game who gave birth before first pitch of their playoff game on Sept. 11. Turns out one mom in attendance did just that, delivering a future Crawdads fan just hours after the Labor Day event. The team still considered the publicity the event drew worth the cost of the lifetime season tickets for two.
• The Lake Elsinore Storm (California) paid tribute to pop star Ariana Grande and her unpatriotic donut shop mishap last summer with a "Donut Tread On Us" promotion. Grande, while passing through Wolfee's Donuts in Lake Elsinore during her tour, made tabloid headlines after licking donuts on display and professing her dislike of America. So the Storm rallied for their local business, passing out a free "unlicked" donut provided by Wolfee's to the first 1,000 fans while poking fun at Grande—they only played songs by her pop-diva rival Demi Lovato and held a between-innings "foot in the mouth" chipping contest.
• The Lehigh Valley IronPigs (International) combined starts by top pitching prospect Aaron Nola with New Orleans-themed fare at concession stands. The every-five-day feats were a hit with fans, but unfortunately he made just two home starts before getting the call to Philadelphia. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina) added a similar twist to their concessions, celebrating their first-year affiliation with the Cubs by setting up a concession stand dedicated to Chicago-style cuisine. This, of course, included non-traditional items like a pizza burger, consisting of a burger sandwiched between two deep-dish slices.
• And then there is the Bowie Baysox (Eastern), which held a Back Hair Appreciation Night promising any fan who showed up with the No. 15 (for the year 2015) shaved his back two free tickets (one did just that). Those in attendance with particularly hairy backs won free seats and a free postgame wax on top of the dugout.
Tonight is back hair appreciation night and yes, Robert Andrew spas did wax 4 hairy backs live on the dugout pic.twitter.com/v2YpKFDeuW
— Bowie Baysox (@BowieBaysox) July 30, 2015
The Promo Seminar continues Wednesday with the popular "Around the Horn" session, hosted by the entertaining Richmond Flying Squirrels vice president Todd Parnell, a rapid-fire session of organizations sharing their best ideas.