"Just drove by. Two stars."
That was the dubious review of the Charleston RiverDogs left by Helen McGuckin, a Level 7 Local Guide on Google, in May 2018. It wasn't scathing, but it wasn't great, either. It was enough, though, to catch the attention of the RiverDogs staff, and a fire was ignited, the likes of which Ms. McGuckin could not have predicted.
On July 9, the Charleston RiverDogs held a theme night entirely dedicated to persuading Helen McGuckin to change her two-star review to a perfect five. The team may not have succeeded in getting the review changed, but its efforts grabbed enough national and local attention to earn Minor League Baseball's July Promotion of the Month award, and a chance to be awarded a Golden Bobblehead Award at next month's Innovators Summit in El Paso, Texas.
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"It was fun, it was light-hearted and it was funny in the right way for a lot of people," said Nate Kurant, director of promotions for the RiverDogs. "A lot of people with small businesses and in Minor League Baseball thought it was great because they, too, get those kinds of reviews. They thought it was awesome. It hit the right notes for a lot of people."
Though the real McGuckin had to back out of attending the game due to a scheduling conflict, RiverDogs office manager Cynthia Linhart discreetly stepped in to play the role of "Helen McGuckin." For the RiverDogs, there was no hesitation in continuing with the show. They felt it was too good of an idea to let it die.
Featuring the team's usual between-inning games and promotions, Helen McGuckin Night put extra emphasis on catering to "Helen's" every whim. In almost every aspect, the game operated with a "Helen's way or the highway" mentality from everyone, including the fans.
"For the most part, everybody got the joke. A lot, a lot, a lot of people loved it. People really seemed to enjoy it and really understood it," said Kurant. "Our national anthem singer came up [to "Helen"] and said 'Thank you so much for coming out. I hope you really enjoy the night. I hope I sang well enough for you.' People really had fun with it. Some fans let their kids come up and take pictures with her. It was a hit all the way around."
Make no mistake; it wasn't only the people of Charleston who were enthralled with the event. For their efforts, the RiverDogs grabbed attention across traditional and social media alike. MLB Network Radio featured the promotion during a 10-minute interview on its popular "Power Alley" show the following day. Earlier in the season, Adam DeVine -- of Pitch Perfect, Workaholics and Modern Family fame -- posted the promotion advertisement on his Instagram story, exposing it to his 2.1 million followers. The team couldn't have paid for that kind of organic exposure.
"[DeVine] came back later in the season with the cast from his new TV show and told them how funny he thought this idea was. I thought, 'Man, this guy who gets paid to be funny thinks this is funny. This is great,'" Kurant said.
In addition to DeVine's more than two million Instagram followers, the RiverDogs' Twitter page got nearly 80,000 impressions, and the game day post about the night racked up a 10.7 percent engagement rate. Both of those metrics were the team's highest of the month. The RiverDogs' attendance numbers shot up as well, as 3,679 fans attended the Tuesday night game, up nearly 25 percent from their average Tuesday draw.
"We have a lot of ideas we think are fun and will get people excited. For every T-shirt toss and fireworks show, there are also these kinds of nights," Kurant said. "It's a low-expense, fun idea. Fortunately, here, we so often have these theme night ideas that are centered around something so basic that end up being really successful and get a lot of eyeballs."
It took one extremely neutral review to inspire the Charleston RiverDogs to fill two-thirds of Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park on a midweek game night, which is no easy feat. Many of those fans showed up to watch the antics and help the team change one woman's two-star Google review to five stars, a simple quest at face value. The RiverDogs took a chance, though, and turned that simple goal into an all-out mission to satisfy their customers and put on a show while doing it. The team only asks one thing in return: a "5/5 would do again" review from Helen McGuckin.
So, Helen, if you're reading this: How about it?