Harvey’s Gaffe Sparks Promotion For Frisco

When Frisco RoughRiders broadcaster Nathan Barnett was out at dinner last month, occasionally peering over to the restaurant’s television, he didn’t expect to get the spark for a promotion for his new team.

The television had been tuned in to FOX for its weekly late-afternoon football game. Once the game ended, the network switched to the yearly Miss Universe competition and the restaurant didn’t turn the channel.

When the evening’s host, comedian Steve Harvey came out and announced that Miss Colombia had won, Barnett thought nothing of it. When Harvey came out again, however, to sheepishly announce that he had erred and Miss Philippines was the actual winner, Barnett immediately knew he and the RoughRiders had to capitalize.

“I could tell something happened that was not right. I couldn’t really tell exactly what happened, but I knew something was wrong,” Barnett said. “We were kind of piecing it together as we looked over and were talking about and kind of assumed what had happened but weren’t totally sure.

“I got my phone out and looked on Twitter and confirmed what we had sort of suspected . . . I said, ‘I don’t know how we capitalize on this, but there’s got to be something fun that we can do for our fans here.”

Harvey’s gaffe ignited a storm on social media. From Twitter to Facebook and memes across the Internet, people piled on Harvey’s mistake. And throughout the evening, as Barnett shared texts with marketing director Matt Ratliff and in-game entertainment manager Gina Pierce, the RoughRiders came up with Runner-Up Night.

Eighteen hours later after Harvey fessed up to his mistake and the crown had been removed from Miss Colombia, the RoughRiders staff sent the press release and a promotion was born.

With the evening in place–Tuesday, April 26 against San Antonio at the RoughRiders’ Dr. Pepper Ballpark–the next step was hashing out the details.

For now, the RoughRiders have invited Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez Aravalo, to throw out the first pitch and watch the game in a suite. They’ve done the same for several other famous runners-up, including Buffalo Bills Jim Kelly, Andre Reed and Marv Levy; Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears (“Star Search”), Clay Aiken and Carrie Underwood (“American Idol”), Al Gore and Mitt Romney (President) and Darren McFadden (Heisman).

If none of those celebrities accepts Frisco’s invitation, however, there are sure to be other plans in place to make Runner-Up Night one to remember.

“I don’t know if we invite Miss Colombia to throw out a first pitch, celebreate Colombian Heritage Night, or do a pageant night at the ballpark,” Barnett said, explaining his immediate train of thought. “I don’t know how we do it to have some fun with it, but I know we can do it and really have a fun night for some of our fans.”

Making Memories

Throughout his tenure in the minor leagues, Frisco general manager Jason Dambach has learned the subtle difference between the definitions of success in the majors and minors.

When they worked together with the Altoona Curve, Todd Parnell, the current COO of the Richmond Flying Squirrels–this year’s Freitas Award winner as the best Double-A team–imparted to Dambach a bit of wisdom about working in the minor leagues.

“He was a mentor of mine and the brainchild behind a lot of the promotions we all know and love, and when we were in Altoona, he liked to say, ‘We’re not in the baseball business; we’re in the memory-making business.’ And as cheesy as that line is, if you keep that in mind and instill that culture in your front office, then they can sort of loosen their top buttons a little bit and have some fun with the brand.”

As an illustration, Dambach points to a game late in 2015 that the RoughRiders lost 21-4. The final score wasn’t pretty, but the fans walked away happy.

Why? Because the team celebrated Full House Night during the game, a nod to the 1990s television show set in San Francisco.

The team wore special jerseys for the game, tied in their usual between-innings promotions and treated fans to an appearance from Dave Coulier, who played Joey Gladstone during the sitcom’s eight seasons and 192 episodes. The show was rebooted this year as “Fuller House” with Coulier once again among the cast.

“The good news,” Dambach said, “was that we shut out Midland in six of the innings. The bad news is they scored 21 runs in the other three innings and we lost 21-4 but we had a great crowd, everybody had a good time, not one person cared that we lost 21-4 and it was the epitome of what we’ve been talking about.”

Developing Continuity

The challenge in every minor league marketing department is coming up with fresh, unique ideas before any other team. It’s a difficult task no matter what, but it becomes doubly so because of the constant turnover in the average minor league front office.

Barnett is in his first year with the RoughRiders, having moved over from the Carolina League’s Myrtle Beach after the 2015 season closed with the Pelicans capturing the championship.

The team’s GM, Dambach, just joined the club in January 2015.

With the near-constant flux, developing chemistry within the front office becomes vital. To wit, when Barnett was at the restaurant where Miss Universe was playing, he was out with member of the press box staff.

That’s why Dambach encourages his team to always be vigilant and to communicate with one another all the time instead of simply when they’re together at the office.

“If you instill a culture of ‘Hey, watch television, be thinking on a Saturday,'” he said. “When you’re not in the office, think about how you can tie in everyday life and pop culture events in to what we do from a promotional and marketing standpoint. That’s where you’re going to have your most success.”

It’s that culture of inclusion, that the general manager and marketing manager have the same voice as a ticket taker or a groundskeeper when it comes to pitching ideas, that helps the RoughRiders stay on top of their game from Opening Day through the winter.

The Test Of Time

One of the potential pratfalls with pouncing on a viral Internet sensation involves timing. Harvey’s mistake was memorable in December. The phenomenon was so universal that even the comedian himself got in on the act, posting a selfie on his balcony on Christmas Day wishing his followers a “Happy Easter.”

The minor league season is months away still, and something else will have come along by then and captured the Internet’s attention. So how do the RoughRiders rekindle the flame on April 26 for something that happened in December?

“The biggest reaction you’re going to get is intially,” Dambach said. ‘You’re never going to be able to sustain that. You’re never going to be able to match the initial reaction to the promotion, and we understand that.

“I think in a lot of ways the reaction that we’ve gotten to the promotion, we recognize it may not translate to the game, at least in the same fashion that it did initally,” Dambach continued, “but we’re going to try and we’re going to build up a heck of a promotion and have a lot of fun with it and we’ll continue to have a lot of fun with it right up until April 26.”

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