The promotional geniuses at Minor League Baseball (MiLB) are at it again. When we last checked in, they were planning special festivities to tie-in with the solar eclipse this summer. Not content to rest on their laurels (or their give-away hats and sunglasses) for that event, they continue to amuse by creating rivalries designed to pump up interest in upcoming games.
What can sports planners learn from this? Standings are important, but economic impact is king. What brings in the money? Hot fun in the summertime, as the song goes. Sometimes, it’s clever and sometimes it’s just plain silliness. But whatever name you give it, it’s what engages fans, brings in families and keeps them coming back.
The latest endeavor announced by MiLB is a Tennessee/Texas take-down over…country music. Specifically, they’re calling it the Battle for the Boot Series, and it involves the Nashville Sounds and the Round Rock Express playing in a two-game home-and-home event. According to the MiLB blog, Promo Watch (and the fact that this even exists tells you just about everything you need to know), the fun unfolds as follows:
The series will feature both teams wearing jerseys and caps best representing their respective city. The Nashville Sounds will become the Nashville Honky Tonks and the Round Rock Express will become the Round Rock Dance Halls. The social media component is swinging for the fences, with the hashtag, #BattleForTheBoot, taking center stage.
"Becoming the Honky Tonks for two nights during the 2017 season is a great way to represent Nashville as the real Music City," said Sounds General Manager Adam Nuse. "The Express won the division in 2015, the Sounds won it 2016, and we're confident the Honky Tonks will win the Battle for the Boot and help us repeat as division champs this year."
Not to be outdone, Express vice president of public relations Jill Cacic and director of ballpark entertainment Steve Richards offered up the written opinion that "Texas country music is true and authentic, especially when it comes to sound. You won't hear the jazzed-up, electronic, studio-produced pop-country that Nashville puts out.” An additional zinger: “The artists you see and hear at a Texas dance hall typically write all of their own songs. There's more of an emotional connection to many of the songs, as opposed to the Nashville mass-produced songs that you hear on mainstream country radio."
(As an aside, ouch – although something tells us these head-office execs will be sitting down and throwing back beers together, no matter how the games end up.)
Game one of the two-game series took place at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, and Round Rock came out the winner. Game two is scheduled for Thursday, June 29 at First Tennessee Park. (A long time between games? Sure – gotta build that interest.)
The winner of the #BattleForTheBoot trophy will be determined by the play on the field in the two-game series. If Round Rock sweeps the series, they're crowned the winner. If the two teams split the series, a social media vote through Twitter will decide the contest. (Spectators, rev up those hashtags; they may come in handy.)
MiLB has never lacked for imagination, nor the ability to make things enjoyable and attention-getting. Other promotions so far this spring have included the Star Wars-centric event, “May the 4th Be With You” (on, duh, May 4th) and the next day’s Cinco de Mayo promotion in Frisco, Texas, when the RoughRiders took the field as their Spanish-language equivalent, "Los Jinetes deFrisco."
Not to be overlooked were the Charleston RiverDogs, who continued to lead the Minors in absurdity. The RiverDogs, fresh off legalizing marinara (that was not a typo) and staging the world's largest Silly String fight (go ahead and click on both of those; we can wait), celebrated Cinco de Mayo “with an emphasis on the mayo.” The team staged "mayo-related eating contests and condiment hairstyling demos." (And it’s a pretty sure bet people went home messy but happy.)
The fun didn’t stop on Cinco de Mayo. May 6 was labelled "Halloween in May," and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ big give-away was "Grim Grieper bobbleheads." The "Grieper" in reference was reliever Nate Griep , who set the team's single-season saves record in 2016 with 23. In Indianapolis, the Indians promised fans it would be at least 60 degrees at game time. It wasn't, so the Indians coughed up an extra ticket for a future game to everyone present (safe to say that was in the game plan all along.)
The Winston-Salem Dash, meanwhile, are honoring plain ol' gluttony. It's "National Eat What You Want Day," so the Dash are offering a free diet soda to anyone who eats a Cheesy Pig Dog (a hot dog topped with pulled pork and macaroni and cheese). This mixed message will further be exacerbated by the presence of treadmills on the concourse, so that fans can work off the calories.
What can event planners learn from this? Minor League games are working feverishly to keep up the interest. The constant influx of low-level insanity is a brilliant tactic. Additionally, games are often filled with kid-centric activities that include base running races, sharing the field with players, juggling with live children (yes, you read that correctly, and you can click on the link if you think you didn't) and more. (And as any parent of small children will be glad to explain, nine innings can be long and diversions are more than welcome.)
Then there’s the economic component. According to a 2015 study commissioned by the National Center for Business Journalism, tickets for a Minor League game are affordable – perhaps $7 each. Compare that to the approximately $27 per ticket price of MLB – and that’s before adding in the food and parking. In addition, MiLB stadiums have built-in amenities like playgrounds, carousels, bounce houses, carnival-style games and more to keep kids occupied during what might otherwise be a slow time for them. Last year, Frisco even added a Lazy River feature so spectators could keep cool and see the game. Oh, and despite the fact that some MLB venues are hosting dog-friendly days (and in some cases, series), they lag behind their minor league counterparts that have dog-friendly seasons.