This is the fourth article in a multi-part series detailing the evolution of the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp's 2020 promotions schedule. To read the first installment, click here. For the second installment, click here. For the third installment, click here.What do hot air balloons, Guns N' Roses, Hanukkah, waffles, Ray Charles and gender
This is the fourth article in a multi-part series detailing the evolution of the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp's 2020 promotions schedule. To read the first installment, click here. For the second installment, click here. For the third installment, click here.
What do hot air balloons, Guns N' Roses, Hanukkah, waffles, Ray Charles and gender reveals have in common?
All of the above -- as well as many other disparate items and entities -- play a key role in the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp's 2020 promotions schedule. As covered in previous editions of this article series, the Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins began devising the promo schedule as soon as the 2019 season ended. On March 4, it was finally revealed.
Jumbo Shrimp promotions director David Ratz values not just in the promotions themselves, but the way they are disseminated and described to the ticket-buying public. Following standard operating procedure, the team announced its promotional schedule via a press release and corresponding social media blitz. A link to a full promotional calendar was included in the release, featuring detailed write-ups of each game's events. These descriptions, often irreverent in tone, are buttressed with photos, links, puns and myriad Easter eggs for the discerning reader. (For example, the May 15 celebration of Beethoven's 250th birthday lists Charles Grodin as a presenting sponsor. Grodin starred in the movie "Beethoven," which is about an adorable dog named after the composer.)
"Of course we needed a press release, but honestly, 90 percent of our fans aren't going to read it," said Ratz. "But the promotions calendar is all about telling fans what's going on and getting them to the ballpark. It's something our team really takes pride in, our calendar descriptions. It should provide just as much entertainment as anything else. From hidden YouTube links to obscure references, it's all there. The more excited I can make a fan over a theme night, the better. You're selling your promos and these descriptions are the taglines to sell them."
As with most Minor League teams, the Jumbo Shrimp's promotions are a mix of the traditional and the bizarre. Some, like Friday Night Fireworks, pretty much sell themselves. Others require quite a bit more explanation and persuasion. Ratz, in conversation with this writer, took the time to expound on some of his team's most unique 2020 offerings. How'd they come about and why?
Best Seat (Over) the House (April 17) -- In their calendar description of this endeavor, the Jumbo Shrimp ask fans a question rarely, if ever, posed by a Minor League Baseball team: "Who wants to get high? I mean really high?"
"This is Day 3 [of the home schedule]. We wanted to do something interesting right out of the gate," Ratz said. "There will be a hot-air balloon in the parking lot behind the batter's eye for the first six innings of the game. Each inning, a fan and their companion will get to watch baseball from this hot-air balloon. I'm not sure how we'll select them. Maybe a social media drive, maybe a charity auction.
"This was just one of those things that popped into our heads, asking, 'What hasn't been done?' We've done seat upgrades to the 'Best Seat in the House,' so why not over the house? The weird backstory to this is that my next-door neighbor when I first moved to Florida, he's a Goodyear blimp pilot. He's a buddy of mine. So we were texting back and forth, like 'Any chance we can get our fans in the Goodyear blimp?' He put me in contact with their PR department, but they couldn't commit to our schedule. So, OK, no blimp. But what about a hot-air balloon?"
Say 'Yes' To Crack Night (April 30) -- If a promotion sounds particularly strange or boundary-pushing, there's a good chance that it is scheduled for a Thursday night. These are, of course, "Thirsty Thursdays," featuring $1 beers and a correspondingly younger and more raucous crowd. Despite the title of this promotion, the Jumbo Shrimp aren't encouraging consumption of any substance stronger than the aforementioned discounted beer.
"Say 'Yes' to Crack Night is our salute to plumbers and chiropractors," said Ratz. "Nothing more, nothing less. We have a couple chiropractors and plumbers signed up. They'll be there to talk to people on the concourse. [The title] is just about getting people to say, 'What are they talking about?' and click on it. Some secondary promos, it's just about clever wordplay. It is what it is."
Deaf and Blind Awareness Night (May 12) -- The Myrtle Beach Pelicans received national acclaim with their 2018 Deaf Awareness Night, which featured sign language jerseys, a "silent inning" and a baseball clinic conducted by deaf former Major League Baseball player Curtis Pride. The success of the Pelicans' promotion inspired several other teams to follow suit.
"Hat tip to Myrtle Beach for doing a great job. It was awesome," Ratz said. "We were looking for a local tie-in, and that's Ray Charles. He went to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, which is 30 minutes down the road. We reached out to the Ray Charles Foundation, and this was done with their blessing. There'll be a Ray Charles bobblehead giveaway, with students from the school performing the National Anthem and 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.' We'll have interpreters in the stands.
"The band from the school is called the Outta Sight Band. Yes, it's OK to laugh at that. They're in on the joke -- the kids think the name is hilarious. The bobblehead giveaway is on a Tuesday because it's a boarding school and all the students go home on the weekend. We wanted to make sure they were all included. And a fun fact about Ray: He was kicked out [of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind] because he kept ditching school to take the train to Jacksonville to play in jazz clubs."
Appetite for Crustacean (June 4) -- "Appetite for Destruction" is, of course, Guns N' Roses' classic debut album. On the first Thursday in June, the Jumbo Shrimp are paying tribute.
"We took an innocent, run-of-the-mill Guns N' Roses Night and rebranded it as 'Appetite for Crustacean,'" said Ratz. "One of our local licensees, I told him what I wanted for the artwork, taking the album cover and replacing the band members' skulls with shrimp skulls. The graphic is super-cool. We're turning it into a 500-person T-shirt giveaway. Oh, and we took the lyrics for 'Welcome to the Jungle' and turned them into 'Welcome to the Ballpark.'"
Hence, an evening at the ballpark where fans can "Watch a slide bring a runner to his n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-knees, knees." The listed sponsors are Saul Hudson and Bill Bailey, the birth names of Slash and Axl Rose respectively.
The Ocean Called ... bobblehead giveaway (June 13) -- In the "Seinfeld" episode "The Comeback," George Costanza gorges on shrimp cocktail during a work meeting. This inspires co-worker Reilly to say "Hey, George, the ocean called; they're running out of shrimp." This moment will be immortalized in bobblehead form.
"Everyone does a Seinfeld Night. We needed to figure out a way to tie it us," Ratz said. "One of our staff members reminded me of [the ocean called], so we're doing a bobblehead of George stuffing his face with shrimp."
Gender Reveal Night (June 19) -- Scampi, one of the Jumbo Shrimp's mascots, is of an indeterminate gender.
"We always get questions as to whether Scampi is a boy or a girl," said Ratz. "So we'll reveal it to the world on Gender Reveal Night. We'll have some couples on the field revealing the gender of their baby, and then the last reveal will be Scampi."
Dropping Our Drawers on Father's Day (June 21) -- The Jumbo Shrimp have made a tradition of irreverent Father's Day promotions. Previous editions include a pregnancy test giveaway for You Might Be the Father's Day and fortune cookie giveaway for Everybody Gets Lucky Day. This time around, the team is raising prostate cancer awareness by encouraging dads to "drop their drawers."
"We're dropping hundreds of blue boxer shorts out of a helicopter," Ratz said. "For kids, we drop candy on the field. Dads get boxer shorts."
Hanukkah in July (July 2) -- Christmas in July is a Minor League Baseball promotional staple. The Jumbo Shrimp, which are not kosher, nonetheless have decided to switch the focus this year to Hanukkah.
"There'll be menorah-lighting contests, latkes and dreidle-spinning games," said Ratz.
National Drive-Thru Day (July 24) -- If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
"We were going to do this last year, but we had torrential rain," Ratz said. "It's National Drive-Thru Day, and our entry gates at the right-field corner and center field are large enough for a vehicle. So every inning of the game, we'll open the gates and drive a vehicle from right field to center field. Someone will then run out and hand the driver a bag of food. It's just gonna be random. Maybe later on we'll announce that it's National Drive-Thru Day. But, really, we're going for that moment, people going, 'Why is there a car in the outfield and why is someone handing the driver a paper sack?'"
Will It Waffle? (Aug. 4) -- Some questions are just too unimportant not to answer.
"Will it waffle? We'll bring all kinds of stuff onto the field, put it into a big waffle iron and see what happens," said Ratz. "From shrimp to baseball jerseys to turf to baseball gloves to cookies. Will it waffle?"
Topless Appreciation Night (Aug. 20) -- This one isn't what you probably think it is, but it probably did get your attention.
"It's a salute to bald people. And they'll be people parading around in convertible cars and we'll sell hamburgers with no top buns," Ratz said. "And no hats will be on sale that evening, because hats are evil. But this is on a Thursday, so if anyone wants to interpret topless in a different way, then so be it."
Psychic Night (Aug. 25) -- The Jumbo Shrimp don't feel the need to tell you about what they're doing on this night, because -- of course -- you already know.
"We'll have fans predict the number of runs, hits and errors for both teams, as well as the winning pitcher," said Ratz. "If someone gets everything right, they'll win $10,000."
Shrimp Fanny Pack Giveaway (Sept. 5) -- Two years ago, the Jumbo Shrimp staged a shrimp neck pillow giveaway. It was a big success, and since then the team has continued to brainstorm new ways in which to incorporate shrimp into giveaway items
"It's a shrimp fanny pack," Ratz said. "Just a big ol' shrimp around the waist."
Some of the above promos will likely go on to become recurring ballpark staples. Others will inevitably be banished to the dust bin of history. But, as with all human endeavors, you don't know until you try.
"I'm hoping for at least one spectacular failure, just to learn something," said Ratz.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.