If you're a Twitter-using Minor League Baseball fan, chances are you've seen plenty of tweets with this hashtag this week. #MiLBPS, utilizing the brevity that is Twitter's modus operandi, stands for "Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar." The seminar is an annual idea-sharing event in which industry executives deconstruct their recently concluded season. This year's iteration took place at the Renaissance Hotel in Oklahoma City from Oct. 1-3, and what follows is a brief overview of the week that was.
Around the horn
A long-running staple of the Promo Seminar is the "Around the Horn" session, in which a microphone is passed around the room so attendees may share a singular success from their team's recent season. Many of these successes are then co-opted (or "stolen" if you prefer) by other teams.
Recent examples of this phenomenon include the ubiquity of peripheral Duck Dynasty character Mountain Man at Minor League ballparks (he had been a huge hit for the short-season State College Spikes in 2013) and military trading card giveaways featuring area veterans (a short-season Lowell Spinners' creation). Here are a few things to look out for in 2015, culled from Tuesday's "Around the Horn" session.
• Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans general manager Andy Milovich is the originator of the "Two Knuckle Challenge," which consists of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" while undergoing a press box prostate exam. While some may view this as a distasteful publicity stunt, it is, at the very least, a distasteful publicity stunt that could save lives. Milovich said that idea to do the "Two Knuckle Challenge" originated as a joke during a radio interview, but as soon as he got back to the ballpark he told his staff "we have to do this."
"I've gotten feedback from all over the country. … People told me that 'I scheduled my first prostate exam because of you,'" he said of the stunt that received nationwide media coverage. "If you're not using your team for things like this, then you're missing the boat."
• Though most Promo Seminar attendees work with affiliated Minor League teams, there are a smattering of wood-bat collegiate league representatives as well. Jesse Cole of the Coastal Plain League Gastonia Grizzlies said that, after experiencing an inordinate amount of bad weather, his team recruited a restaurant to sponsor each of the team's rainouts. Then, when a cancellation did occur, fans calling the team to inquire about the status of the game would hear a message regarding a food and beverage deal at the sponsor's establishment.
• Millennials, young as they may be, are still prone to nostalgia. Billy Harner, director of communications for the short-season Brooklyn Cyclones, said his team had great success by partnering with Nickelodeon for their "The 90s Are All That" celebration. Highlights included a pregame live taping of Double Dare, a guest appearance by Kel Mitchell (of the shows All That and Keenan and Kel) and a charitable front-office "slime bucket challenge" in the style of You Can't Do That on Television.
• Making fun of the opposing team and raising money for charity is a win-win proposition. The Triple-A Reno Aces did just that, via their "Bad Songs for a Good Cause" promo. Fans donating $5 to the Ronald McDonald House were able to select from one of 100 "bad" songs that would then be played when an opposing player came to the plate. Those pitching in $10 or more would have the option of nominating a song themselves.
• The Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm staged a Live Action Role Play Night as part of their three-day "Geekend" celebration, during which area LARP enthusiasts staged a medieval-themed battle on the playing field. To help them get in the mood for this literally fantastical endeavor, mead and turkey legs were sold at the concession stand.
Who is the next mountain man?
On Tuesday, I moderated a "Group Therapy" discussion dedicated to celebrity appearances at the ballpark, and unfortunately, it appears that no one is poised to become this year's Mountain Man (who made dozens of appearances this season at some $5,000 per). What then, can fans expect? Alfonso Ribeiro, who played snooty cousin Carlton on the popular '90s sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, continues to elicit strong responses from the aforementioned nostalgia-minded millennials. (Just don't expect him to do his signature "Carlton Dance" without a significant increase in his appearance fee.) Retired wrestlers remain a popular draw -- Jerry Lawler, in particular, was praised for his willingness to go above and beyond for the fans -- as are actors affiliated with Star Wars and Star Trek. And while his appearance fee might be beyond what some teams are willing to pay, the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings found great success by bringing Burt Ward (Robin to Adam West's Batman) to the ballpark for a Batman theme night.
Fire damage to Fifth Third Ballpark in January stretched across the first-base side of the stadium. (WOOD TV)
The unthinkable becomes reality
One of the most poignant presentations of the seminar was "When 'It Will Never Happen' Happens," by Class A West Michigan Whitecaps vice president Jim Jarecki. Jarecki talked about the aftermath of a significant fire that caused tremendous damage to the team's home of Fifth Third Ballpark, emphasizing the need for each team to have a crisis communication plan in place and to ensure they have good relationships with their lawyers, insurance agents and general contractors. As devastating as the fire was, the team quickly instituted a "Never In Doubt" slogan regarding its ability to play on Opening Day as scheduled.
Positive scenarios eventually emerged from the devastation, as the Whitecaps were able to make stadium improvements (such as a significantly expanded team store) that otherwise wouldn't have occurred for several years. And buoyed by an uptick in fan support in the wake of the fire, the Whitecaps went on to record their highest attendance figure since the 2002 season.
Crunching the numbers
Triple-A Reno Aces marketing director Brett McGinness gave a presentation entitled "Attendance Drivers, By-the-Numbers," based on an ongoing database project he is detailing on his new blog. His intent is to determine the factors that drive (or are detrimental) to a team's attendance, based on factors such as weather, start times and promotions. As part of his methodology, he has "normalized" attendance numbers so all games (and their corresponding promotions) are treated with an equal weight. This project should help teams make data-driven decisions so they can appeal to the most fans as often as possible.
The greatest of all time
Since this article is about the Promo Seminar, it only seems fitting that I should promote myself. On Thursday I gave a presentation, "From Albuquerque to Zebulon: Another Season on the Ballpark Circuit" which highlighted my Minor League travels during the 2014 season. Those interested in the innovative, humorous and just plain weird things I saw are encouraged to read my 2014 "On the Road" articles and blog posts. You will not regret it.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.