What do a failed marriage proposal, social media-themed jerseys and a murdered mascot all have in common?
Up until this week, there had never been an occasion in the history of humanity in which that question would have made sense, but now -- finally! -- it does. For the above three items, along with seven equally disparate selections, have been nominated for 2013's Minor League Baseball Promo of the Year.
"Promo" is one of 13 categories in the annual MiLBY Awards, a wide-ranging overview of the season that was in which fans vote for their favorite players, teams, moments, bloopers and much more. The 10 Promo nominees were selected by me following another season of writing my weekly "Promotion Preview" column as well as traveling the country in search of the best that Minor League Baseball has to offer. The criteria I used when it came to choosing the finalists was simple -- originality, timeliness, community engagement and trendsetting potential. Though Minor League Baseball teams don't directly compete with one another for fan dollars, it is nonetheless a competitive industry in the sense that front offices are always trying to one-up each other when it comes to promotions. I hope that the finalists I have chosen cause fans to wish they had been in the ballpark and front office execs to wish that they had thought of the idea in the first place.
Fan voting for the MiLBY Awards runs through Oct. 22, and whichever promotion emerges victorious will join the hallowed ranks of Billy Donovan Night (Fort Myers Miracle, 2007), Mascot Showdown (Fresno Grizzlies, 2008), What Could've Been Night (Bowling Green Hot Rods, 2009), the Rickwood Classic (Birmingham Barons, 2010), Dallas Braden Bobble-belly (Stockton Ports, 2011) and Home Run Derby on the USS Yorktown (Charleston RiverDogs, 2012).
Choose wisely, and choose often.
The Industry Speaks
Though "Promo of the Year" voting has just begun, those who work in Minor League Baseball have already chosen their top promotions of the year via the "Golden Bobblehead Awards." These awards have become a staple of the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar (an annual idea-sharing event), as attendees are briefed on each promo and then vote for their favorite in each of four categories. As a self-described promotions "expert," I feel that it is my duty to offer my take on the winners.
Category: Best Theme Night
- Brooklyn Cyclones -- Sandy Mitzvah
- Frederick Keys Clue Night
- Hickory Crawdads -- 2013 Cover Design Contest
- Richmond Flying Squirrels -- Larry "the Soup Nazi" Thomas Appearance
- San Jose Giants -- Lennay Kekua Night
- Inland Empire 66ers -- Zombie Apocalypse Night
- Lowell Spinners -- Military Hero Card Set Giveaway (winner)
It's kind of hard to determine the "best" in a category with such diversity (Lennay Kekua, the Soup Nazi and Zombies, oh my!) The Brooklyn Cyclones' "Sandy Mitzvah" was a particularly strong contender as it was the first-ever religious ceremony to be centered around a mascot (please, correct me if I'm mistaken with this). As such, it added levity and energy to the team's annual Jewish Heritage Night. But the promotion that won this category was the one that deserved to. Lowell's Military Hero Card set giveaway is something that will almost surely be replicated by teams across the country as it provides a unique and memorable way to pay tribute to local veterans (the Spinners' set included 32 individuals, representing WWII through the global war on terrorism). The idea can be adapted so that it honors those outside of the military as well, as future sets could also feature community pillars such as police officers, fire fighters, EMT workers or teachers.
Category: Best In-Game Promotion
- Fort Wayne TinCaps -- Bobby Knight Musical Chairs
- Lake Elsinore Storm -- Storm Wars Mini-Movie
- Lehigh Valley IronPigs-- PorkCenter
- Orem Owlz -- Owlz Eyez Glasses
- Lehigh Valley IronPigs -- Interactive Urinal Gaming System (winner)
Even if the winner had been determined by randomly picking names out a hat, the IronPigs would have had a 40 percent chance of emerging victorious as the club received two out of the five nominations in this category. And win it they did as the "Interactive Urinal Gaming System" was deemed to be the best in-game promotion of the season. More commonly called "urinal video games," this was a first not just in Minor League Baseball but the United States. Fans (male fans, more specifically) had the opportunity to, yes, play video games that were controlled via the stream of their urine. Of course this was "number one"!
Nonetheless, I'd like to give an honorable mention to the Orem Owlz "Eyez Glasses" giveaway. A crowd of 6,209 donned these day-glo orange beauties in unison during the seventh-inning stretch, unofficially establishing a new Guinness World Record in the category of "most people wearing logo sunglasses at night."
Category: Best Charity Promotion or Event
- Brooklyn Cyclones -- Meaningful Mondays
- Hagerstown Suns -- Knock Blindness Out of the Park
- Quad Cities River Bandits -- Autism Awareness Photo Jersey Auction (winner)
- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders -- HOPE Week
- Wilmington Blue Rocks -- VS. Cancer Charity Event
- Gwinnett Braves -- Boston Strong Night
- Myrtle Beach Pelicans -- Summer Tide/Hops for Hospice
I was glad to see the River Bandits win in this category as their Autism Awareness Photo Jersey is original and adaptable. It's also an example of the power of perseverance. The team did a similar promotion in 2012 that was largely unsuccessful as fans had a hard time grasping the concept. But the concept is a good one -- the numbers on player jerseys are comprised of 108 photo squares, each of which cost $25 to purchase and features an individual whose life has been affected by autism. The River Bandits sold all 108 squares and raised additional money by auctioning off the jerseys themselves after the game.
The Gwinnett Braves' star-studded "Boston Strong" fundraiser (nominated for a MiLBY) was another strong contender, as was the Brooklyn Cyclones' series of "Meaningful Monday" promotions which paid tribute to the everyday heroes that emerged in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.
Category: Best Non-Game Day Event
- Columbus Clippers -- Ballpark Boom
- Frederick Keys -- KeysFest/Egg Hunt
- Pensacola Blue Wahoos -- Winter Wonderland
- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders -- The Office Wrap Party (winner, this category as well as "Best Overall")
- Tri-City ValleyCats -- Show on the Road
"The Office" Wrap Party was, without question, a spectacular event. In conjunction with the series finale, the entire cast of the beloved TV show appeared at Scranton's PNC Park for an emotional farewell sendoff. Though the RailRiders certainly did a good job as hosts, this promotion shouldn't have won as its existence was purely circumstantial (the show was set in Scranton) and not something that the RailRiders or any team could have accomplished on their own. For perspective, consider that an appearance by a principal "Duck Dynasty" character is outside the budget of almost all Minor League teams. These are the sort of parameters that most front offices are operating within, and while I'd fully expect "The Office Wrap Party" to win a fan vote, I was surprised that members of the industry chose to enshrine such a pie-in-the-sky event as the year's best.
My pick, therefore, would be something that literally every team can and should do -- the Tri-City ValleyCats' "Show on the Road." The team's front office visited a local youth league game and turned it into a true Minor League experience with pregame introductions, mascot races, between-inning contests and more. This is a great way to promote one's product while providing members of the community with memories that will truly last a lifetime.