April Fools' Day jokes are one-offs. That is their nature. We laugh for one day before returning to our regularly scheduled lives. Sometimes, though, the joke is too good to give us just one day of fun. Such a joke deserves recognition.
On April 1, the Omaha Storm Chasers announced their (fake) plan to rebrand as the Omaha Potholes on June 31 (a day that does not exist), in honor of the jarring number of the nefarious obstacles brought to the city by unrelenting precipitation throughout this past winter. As the announcement came on the day known internationally for its pranks, most immediately recognized the joke, laughed and dismissed it. However, there were some who believed the farce and even more who saw potential in it. By the next afternoon, the Storm Chasers announced they would bring the antic to fruition. On April 2, the team released plans for its new "Omaha Potholes Night," set for April 24. The game, which became a top-five attended April game in Werner Park history and the stadium's highest attended Wednesday-in-April game, was successful enough to earn Minor League Baseball's April Promotion of the Month.
"Everybody drives on the same roads no matter who you are. It was a unifying promotion, and it didn't fragment any part of the population. We took a Wednesday night in April, which likely would have had a meager crowd otherwise, and we more than doubled what our attendance would have been," said Martie Cordaro, president and general manager of the Storm Chasers.
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Though there were little more than 20 days between the joke and the scheduled theme night -- already putting planning on a time crunch -- the Storm Chasers mapped out nearly the entire promotion in a 30-minute meeting, save for some crossing of t's and dotting of i's. The team's staff designed batting practice shirts for the players, planned on-field mascot performances, placed traffic cones and "road closed" signs around the ballpark (courtesy of Papillion Public Works), integrated the theme into on-field contests, provided 1,000 "spare tires" (Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts) for fans, and served rocky road ice cream with small shovels for spoons and "Pothole Phillies" cheesesteak sandwiches with pot roast.
The batting practice shirts were entered in a silent auction for the team's charitable arm, Chasers Charities, with the proceeds benefitting the repair of little league fields affected by the floods that tormented the Omaha area in March. Additionally, 20 percent of proceeds from merchandise sales were donated to the same cause. Those funds, plus monies from replica jersey sales and additional donations, totaled more than $10,000 raised from the promotion.
"We knew we wanted to donate the funds to something, and we decided to help the area's youth baseball and softball teams recover from the flooding brought on by the same storms that created these potholes," said Cordaro.
Separately, the team wanted to thank the men and women who worked tirelessly to fill the area's 15,000 reported potholes. The Storm Chasers made hundreds of tickets available to public works employees from Omaha and the surrounding suburbs to show their gratitude.
Thanks in part to Darren Rovell, a well-known sports business reporter who was tricked by the promotional announcement, the Storm Chasers amassed more than 1.9 million organic impressions on social media from April 1-3 before announcing the theme night. A week later, the promotion and its merchandise received some attention from MLB Network.
In Omaha, from a joke stemmed a midweek game that attracted more than 6,000 fans and millions of eyes. Though the Potholes wound up losing the game, fans weren't too upset. After all, they got to see potholes lose for once.