In Omaha, fake news has become real.
On April 1, the Triple-A Storm Chasers tweeted that "[T]his season on June 31st, we will be playing as the Omaha Potholes!"
This was a joke, of course. If the date of the tweet didn't give it away, then the date of the promotion itself certainly did. But sports business journalist -- and uber-prolific tweeter -- Darren Rovell nonetheless fell for it. Rovell's April Fools' faux pas, combined with the Storm Chasers' giddy reaction to it, helped push the Potholes' already robust online response into the stratosphere. According to team president Martie Cordaro, the Storm Chasers received more Twitter impressions on April 1 than they did during the entire month of March.
"We annually do something on April Fools' Day, as most quality sports franchises do," said Cordaro. "[Media Operations Manager] Andrew Green came to me in early March with the [Potholes] idea. I thought it was fantastic. ... We had a terrible winter and potholes were all the rage. They became the topic of conversation, more prevalent than Huskers football and the weather.
"I thought we'd get 40 or 50 retweets, get some likes for an hour or two, just cause a little bit of a stir on Twitter....But within that first 45 minutes to an hour, the thing really just exploded beyond our wildest imagination."
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As April Fools' morning gave way to April Fools' afternoon, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals found itself dealing with a not-unpleasant conundrum. Should this joke become real?
"We gathered as a staff," said Cordaro. "Does this have legs from a merchandise perspective, if any? From a theme night perspective, if any? That dovetailed into what community relations aspects could come out of this, what ticket sales and sponsorship opportunities could come out of this."
From these discussions, Omaha Potholes Night was born. The Storm Chasers wanted to announce it as soon as possible, in order to capitalize on the momentum that had been created on April Fools' Day. But the University of Nebraska was formally introducing its new basketball coach, Fred Hoiberg, at an April 2 press conference. The Storm Chasers waited until the next day in order to fully capture the attention of the local sports media.
After revealing that Omaha Potholes Night would take place on April 24, the Storm Chasers began accepting online preorders for Potholes caps and shirts. Twenty percent of Potholes proceeds will go to Chasers Charities to help restore youth baseball fields damaged by March's floods. (The floods also greatly contributed to Omaha's current proliferation of potholes.)
"One of my demands was that we're not changing the logo," said Cordaro. "It was a logo created internally, very quickly and tongue-in-cheek. What you see on the hats and shirts is what was created initially. Some people can't believe that we didn't go with a professionally designed logo, but that would have taken away from the spirit of Potholes Night."
On April 9, the Storm Chasers released further details on the promotion. The team will not play the game in Potholes uniforms, but players and coaches will wear batting practice gear bearing the logos that will be auctioned off during the game, with proceeds benefiting Chasers Charities. The first 1,000 fans receive a free Krispy Kreme "spare tire" (as in, a donut), while rocky road ice cream and "Pothole Philly" pot roast sandwiches will be available at the concession stands.
"There's also a big component of us saying 'Thank you' to road workers," said Cordaro. "We reached out to 14 municipalities, offering tickets to street workers who plowed snow or ice during the winter or who are repairing the roads now."
The Storm Chasers now are taking their joke seriously, and it's an approach that has paid off.
"A Wednesday in April, where we'd normally have a couple thousand people in the ballpark, now we're anticipating doubling that," said Cordaro. "All around, this this has turned into something deep and impactful and I'm excited about it."