Perspective: Whitecaps' burger buzz

National media focuses on West Michigan's 1.67-pound burger

(West Michigan Whitecaps)

By Benjamin Hill / Special to | March 25, 2009 2:30 PM ET

Over the past 36 hours, the West Michigan Whitecaps' Fifth Third Burger has morphed from a local curiosity into a nationwide phenomenon. It just goes to show -- no country appreciates a giant sandwich as much as America.

The Fifth Third Burger -- so named because the Whitecaps play at Fifth Third Field -- is five-thirds of a pound of grilled hamburger topped with lettuce, tomatoes, nacho cheese, chili, salsa and crunched corn chips. Holding it all together is an eight-inch sesame seed bun. The burger costs $20, and can be cut into fourths and served as a family meal.

This monstrous concoction was first announced in early March as one of five new concession items the Whitecaps will be serving in 2009 (alongside old favorites such as turkey legs, fresh-roasted corn and deep-fried Pepsi). Outside of a few mentions in the local media, however, the burger didn't initially attract much attention.

Now, as a conscientious journalist, I hate to inject myself into the story. But it must be done in this case, because what happened next is this: On March 11, after being alerted to the Fifth Third burger's existence, I contacted the Whitecaps and asked for photographic evidence. Promotions coordinator Brian Oropallo sent along a picture, which I featured in Ben's Biz Blog.

That would have been it, except that CNBC sports business reporter (and fellow blogger) Darren Rovell noticed the post and decided to take things a step further. He obtained nutritional information about the burger and went on to brazenly declare it the "Minor League Concession Item of the Year."

This was the start of a truly remarkable chain reaction, as the burger has now been featured throughout the national media. Due to the efforts of media behemoths such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press (as well as innumerable blogs, message boards and radio stations) the Fifth Third Burger turned into an overnight sensation. The Whitecaps are happy to be the recipients of so much attention, but it certainly wasn't anything they ever expected.

"It's interesting to see how this one has built up from the time we announced it in the Grand Rapids Press to when [Ben's Biz Blog] got it to when CNBC's Darren Rovell posted it on his blog Monday. The snowball effect of the media is amazing," Whitecaps media relations and marketing director Mickey Graham said. "Since those two blog posts, we have fielded interview requests from media outlets all over the country. It's a tribute to the speed at which information moves today."

Moving at a considerably slower speed will be anyone who is able to eat the burger in one sitting. It may seem impossible, but the Whitecaps will award a commemorative t-shirt to any fan that is able to do so. The front of the shirt features a huge photo of the Fifth Third Burger, while the back proudly lists its nutritional information.

299.5 grams of fat can't be that bad for you, right?

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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