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The All-American Pastime for Sports Planners: Promoting the Fourth and Profiting from It

28 Jun, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Three cheers for the red, white and blue; they certainly can do a lot to keep sports events in the black.

The Fourth of July is fast approaching and with it come parades, festivals, fireworks and other community events. Sports tie-ins are a natural and planners have wasted no time in taking advantage of it.

July 4 falls on a Tuesday this year. And while that’s perhaps not as optimal as having it on a Friday or a Monday (meaning an automatic three-day weekend), it doesn’t seem to be hurting the promotional angle.

Certainly, there is no lack of spending. The National Retail Federation noted that in 2014, nearly $6.3 billion was spent in preparations for the holiday. As of 2016, there were equally robust celebrations planned, with more than 52 million people planning to buy even more patriotic items (this includes apparel) and nearly $7 billion on shopping lists for food alone to host or go to celebrations.

And when you come right down to it, there’s nothing quite as all-American as sports, and planners have worked to create some excellent cross-promotions. The Great American Pastime is where you’ll see the tie-ins first – perhaps because at a higher level, they’re so visible. Major League Baseball has stepped up to the patriotic plate. The Detroit Tigers have Armed Forces and Veterans Recognition night, as well as a patriotic hat. The Chicago Cubs have a Cubs Camo BBQ Mitt for their July 4 game against the Rays, perfect for the 153 million cookouts the NRF says are planned.

In the Minor Leagues (also perhaps known as The Home of Creative Promotions, Inc.), tie-ins abound. The Tampa Bay Yankees have a July 4 celebration, post-game fireworks and a BOGO for that all-American burger. The Aberdeen Ironbirds have the Stars & Stripes Celebration and Fireworks. Almost every mascot has some special get-up for a July 4 home game and you can count on any home game to have fireworks, patriotic music and more.

Even at the youth level, baseball and July 4th seem to go together. Rehoboth, Delaware hosts Perfect Game Baseball Association’s Sports At The Beach on July 4 and 5. And SportsForce Park in Sandusky, Ohio, has the 4th of July Fireworks Classic.

Want to take it one step further? Sports fields are also able to display the patriotic spirit, thanks to the Sports Turf Manager Association’s special ‘Stars & Stripes’ contest, in which field managers mow fields in creative patterns. "Freedom on the 50 Yard Line," "Merica" and "God Bless the USA" were among the 2016 designs submitted by turf professionals from major sports leagues, NCAA, and parks and recreation sectors. Get information on this contest here.

Wimbledon will be going on, but that’s all the way over in England. Stateside, there’s the culmination of the Bronx Tennis Fest on July 4, meaning amateurs just enjoying the game and playing for bragging rights.

Nashville, Tennessee, hosts Independece Dubz, a disc golf tournament. Pickleball, that explosively growing sport, has tournaments on July 4 in any number of locations, including Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Clinton, Iowa and Columbus, Ohio. In Placer Valley, California, there's the Firecracker Frenzy Pickleball Tournament.

For sports the average Joe can participate in, the 5K is a classic. Many communities run these along parade routes before the marching bands step off, giving the runners (who are generally resigned to working without an audience) a rooting section. Running in the USA lists a full calendar of July 4 events. On the holiday alone, more than 400 5Ks and 100-plus 10Ks are planned. (Unsurprisingly, typical Tuesdays don’t even have a fraction of that.)

According to a report by Running USA, the Fourth of July race is a growing phenom. Last year, the Fourth of July saw a record 329,620 runners cross a finish line, marking 13 percent  year-over-year growth, while eclipsing the former finisher record of 314,860 finishers set in 2013.

And while it’s not technically a three-day weekend, you can bet plenty of people will extend the celebration. The holiday lends itself to travel, which actually may feed into patriotic-themed events; sports enthusiasts often have a bucket list that includes running in new places, going to sports events in different cities and so forth. So it’s a good thing that according to NRF, gas prices won’t impact travel at all, at least not according to about 80 percent of people surveyed.

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