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The Official Site of Minor League Baseball
Brainstorming at the MiLB Promo Seminar
Front-office execs share ideas, experiences in Columbus, Ohio
10/02/2015 10:00 AM ET
The 2015 Minor League Baseball Promo Seminar, where "one idea is worth the price of admission." (Courtney Jantz/

The Minor League Baseball Promo Seminar, an annual event held soon after the conclusion of the season, has long had the slogan "Where one idea is worth the price of admission."

Alternative slogans could include "Minor League Baseball: Where intellectual property theft is encouraged;" "Take my concept, please;" or, most succinctly, "Steal this idea." The point of the Promo Seminar, this and every year, is simply to share best practices among peers. Since Minor League teams don't compete with one another -- each team operates within a controlled geographic area -- the industry subscribes to the general theory of "a rising tide lifts all boats."

The Promo Seminar, organized by the Minor League Baseball head office in St. Petersburg, Florida, always takes place in a Minor League Baseball city. This year's locale was Columbus, Ohio, home of the International League champion Clippers. For three long days (and longer nights, for this is a group that never says no to another round), the Columbus Convention Center served as an incubator for the best and boldest ideas that the industry has to offer.

Free baseball

The Promo Seminar kicked off on Tuesday, Sept. 29, with a presentation by Ken Schnacke, president and general manager of the host Clippers. Though the bulk of his presentation was concerned with ways to extend the "honeymoon" period of a new ballpark, Schnacke also took the time to explain his team's unorthodox ticketing strategy in the International League playoffs. Contradicting the long-held industry truism that free admission devalues the product, the Clippers did not charge fans to attend each of their final three postseason home games.

Schnacke said that the idea to allow fans in for free was one borne of frustration. Game 4 of the semifinal series took place in Columbus in front of an announced crowd of 2,468, with the Norfolk Tides rallying for a 6-5 victory to tie the series 2-2. The stadium atmosphere in the game's late innings was grim and uninspired, and Schnacke was determined to not let that happen again. Up in the press box, he said "Tomorrow, we're letting the fans in for free."

That they did, as the Clippers won the series in front of a crowd of over 10,000 fans. The team hosted the first two games of the finals in each of the next two nights, drawing an additional 20,000 supporters. The Clippers won both games, and eventually won the league championship in five games over Indianapolis.

Schnacke said that the lost ticket revenue had to "be made up from another pocket" and that they did so via money made from increased concession and souvenir sales.

"The key thing was [the fans] came," said Schnacke. "Almost to a man, the players told us that they biggest reason they wanted to win was because of the energy of those fans."

Nursing an idea

The latter part of Tuesday was spent in smaller Group Therapy sessions, which allowed for a more informal and interactive brainstorming environment. Kristen Call, senior director of marketing for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, moderated a session entitled "Taking Timely Advantage of Pop Culture Phenomena." During this session, participants shared their best pop-culture promos and debated strategies regarding how to best capitalize on current events. After hearing about 2015 highlights such as the Pelicans' Deflate Cancer Night (a satirical and charitable response to the Deflategate scandal) and the Hickory Crawdads' Dad Bod Night, attendees to the session devised a new theme night on the spot.

This theoretical exercise was based around a recent pop-culture controversy. The View co-host Joy Behar mocked a Miss America contestant for doing a monologue while wearing nurse scrubs and a stethoscope. Behar's dismissive attitude toward the nursing profession resulted in a veritable boatload of internet indignation. So how to capitalize?

Ideas included players wearing scrub jerseys, a pregame "Miss Nurse" parade and pageant, stethoscope giveaways, a life-size game of Operation, Jell-O specials at the concession stand, extending an invitation to Behar and Miss Colorado to attend a ballgame, sashes for all between-inning contest winners and much, much more.

No idea was too outlandish, and that's the point. As with all creative endeavors, the main object was simply to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks -- metaphorically speaking.

Pass the mic

No Promo Seminar would be complete without the Around the Horn segment, which took place Wednesday morning under the watchful, albeit easily distracted, eye of emcee Todd "Parney" Parnell (vice president of the Richmond Flying Squirrels). The premise is simple -- the microphone is passed around the room, with a representative from each team in attendance sharing their most innovative promotion of the season. After an impassioned monologue from Parney about his love for Minor League Baseball ("I just want to remind all of us that our lives kick [butt]."), the idea-sharing began in earnest.

It'd be an insufferably lengthy exercise to list all of the highlights from this nearly three-hour exercise, but ideas included:

Frederick Keys: Having the players wear Rugrats jerseys and "pickle" pants, with 15 of the uniforms given away via an in-stadium raffle.

Lake Elsinore Storm: Playing off their annual minimalist exercise that is Nothing Night, the Storm staged Everything Night at the end of the season. The evening was an anything-goes mashup of the season's best promos, from theme nights to giveaways to food and drink specials.

Bowling Green Hot Rods: The Hot Rods partnered with a local radio station to host Nickelback Night. Fans were given a "nickel back" upon entering the stadium, and then were able to use that nickel as a way to vote if Nickelback should continue to be played over the PA. The answer was, perhaps inevitably, a resounding "no."

Of course, sometimes the best promotions aren't conjured up by the front-office staff. Nate Teut, professional pitcher turned Iowa Cubs assistant general manager, wryly noted that his team's biggest revenue generators were "Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell."


One of the few non-Minor League Baseball speakers was Jeff Eldersveld, director of customer relationship management (CRM) and analytics for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. In front of an unfamiliar crowd, Eldersveld lightened things up with a state-centric joke.

"Have you heard of Engagement, Ohio? It's between Dayton and Marion."

It ain't over 'til...

At the end of his presentation on "Creating Unique Partnerships," Brooklyn Cyclones assistant general manager Gary Perone paid tribute to Yogi Berra by invoking a quote apropos to the occasion.

"If people don't come to the ballpark, how are you gonna stop them?"

Who me?

Apologies for not including highlights from Thursday's portion of the seminar. The bulk of the morning was spent preparing for and then delivering my own presentation, which recapped my 2015 season of ballpark travel. I'll refrain from delivering my own commentary on how it went -- my perspective is skewed -- but my 11:50 a.m. presentation has been widely hailed as having the greatest title in Promo Seminar history: "Lunch Can Wait: I Know You're Hungry, But It's Not My Fault That the Speakers Before Me Went Long."

As it turned out, my presentation took place right on time, but why let the facts get in the way of a "good" joke?

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs. Comments