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Minor league baseball: the power of team promotions

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When sci-fi, baseball, and hot dog guns collide
When sci-fi, baseball, and hot dog guns collide
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Power of the Promo and Dizzy Bats: Fans, Players and Staff Weigh in on Minor League Baseball Entertainment

In a recent story here on SB Nation, Rodger Sherman declared that MiLB teams needed to rid themselves of those wacky promotions that they offer. He declared the marketing teams coming up with them have "no new ideas" and that failure is guaranteed. He makes fair points, and clearly just dislikes how far teams have taken it. But readers had plenty to say in defense of those promotions and between innings entertainment.

I decided to "take it to the streets" by asking fans on Twitter, under my own account @heelsonthefield, who regularly attend minor league games what they think. Team staff members and players chimed in as well.

MiLB won’t trash those promotional nights and any of us that have worked in the minors for many years understand why. When you look around at games, you see families that want to be able to bring their kids to baseball games. The expense of taking one or two kids has increased over the years, and many longtime fans have turned their backs on the big club in favor of the little team affiliate with a few future major leaguers on the roster. It’s a misconception that fans are being enticed to come to games and spend money when wild promotional nights are announced. It’s simply part of the experience.

"Its what distinguishes Minor League baseball. It helps the fans to feel like they are more a part of the team", tweeted Jason Green, a Sports reporter for The Prospector that goes by @greenevansj.

Distinguishing minor league baseball from major league baseball is necessary. Stating the obvious, fans are seeing the top players in the game in the majors. They’re getting what they paid for. Minor league teams aren’t just selling a ticket to baseball, but a day of entertainment that’s unique. Let’s not assume fans aren’t there for the baseball just because they enjoy that aspect.

Here are a few fans thoughts on promotions:

Casey Knapp @cubstowin47 I only go to maybe 2-3 games a year tops (Beloit Snappers) but I love all that stuff, brings unique fun to the games. Occasionally on Opening Day they'll have a couple HOFers there and I’ve gone to that a couple times, otherwise no [I don’t attend for the promos]. I usually go just because it’s easier and more convenient than Milwaukee or Chicago.

@jimmiebjr I love it. It’s all a MiLB tradition that’s ever bit a part of the game as hot dogs. I mean, how could you not want to see an adorable frisbee-catching dog?

@stpetetoyou I love quirkiness in promotions. The weirder, the better! (I asked him a bonus question about cheerleaders and asked him to be completely honest) "In baseball, cheerleaders/dancers are kind of weird. I see those teams appealing to the football crowd."

Charles Friedman, who goes by @TnEguy on Twitter, sums it up: "When little kids race against the mascot. Who doesn't like a seeing a happy kid?"

Fans have gotten more prospect-savvy and MiLB coverage has gotten bigger with social media, plus MLB Network televises the MLB Draft. There’s more awareness, more interest. Fans are now attending minor league games armed with tons of knowledge about a low-level prospect, because information is so accessible these days. Those fans are going to be at games, regardless of what bobble head the team is giving away.

"Personally, I have no problem with it. Those promotions especially help minor league teams who don't have star players", said Philadelphia-based WMGK DJ Arthur Shimko (@artshimko on Twitter)

It is a business, of course. But even without star players, teams are still creating fan connection. Teams regularly feature giveaways involving a player on the team and fans in attendance are always enthusiastic. It doesn’t matter how much of a ‘star’ a player is. There is power in being a ‘fan favorite’. Players are more visible than ever, and with every game, particularly if a player is there all season, they become as much a part of the fandom of the diehard fan as the big league players. Minor league teams are smart to capitalize on anything they can to make fans feel that while it isn’t the big leagues, it’s also not the local men’s league team. They have to bridge any disconnect.

Here are some alternative thoughts on the power of promos:

Kevin Watterson @kwatt Monstrously "Annoying but they have to do it."

David Huzzard, Co-host of Citizens of NatsTown podcast, who goes by @DavidHuzzard on Twitter. "The more people I see making fools of themselves doing dizzy bat races and sumo wrestling the better." So he gets perverse pleasure out of other people’s falling on their faces before the next inning starts.

Charles Friedman "Sometimes games, at any level, can be boring. I am usually not familiar with the players unless it is the Mets farm team. "

@moose_tography "If both MiLB and MLB got rid of the between inning promotions and walk up songs, they wouldn't need play clocks."

Steve Crute @NCAngelsfan "I use those as a great time for restroom or concession run. Still love when Muddy Mudcat races a little kid." For him, there’s the added benefit of being able to run to the men’s room, while also enjoying a childhood pastime.

If anything has ever crossed my own mind about between-inning entertainment, it’s what the players are thinking.

Todd Van Steensel (Twitter handle @toddvs35), who’s spent the last few years in the Twins organization, had a unique take on one game activity. "I like it when teammates girlfriends are pitted against one another in an on-field game. Clubhouse bragging rights are at stake. In Cedar Rapids a bunch of girlfriends visited at the same time, and somehow all found their way on the field for games.

Rays prospect Brent Honeywell (@brent_honeywell n Twitter) "The players watch too. Personally I like them. I can laugh and watch young kids do it. The ones we had in Princeton I though we're pretty cool. All of them were funny."

Passing the time in the dugout isn’t just for studying, observing and waiting. They have to have some fun, right?

Players know the deal. They know where they are and that the minor leagues operate with the fans in mind. Staff members efforts are geared toward giving fans a show, but also to strengthen the familiarity with the guys in uniform, and bring everyone together. Teams serve the community, as they have to.

David Ruckman, @RuckmanCreative on Twitter, is the video director for the Charlotte Knights, Triple-A affiliate of the White Sox: "Promos and entertainment are a life force of their own. Enhancing the game isn't all. Bringing a community together, celebrating history, raising money for worthy causes, and calling attention to social issues. I don't see it as augmenting the game but giving people more reasons to cheer."

Kirsten Karbach (Twitter handle @Kirsten_Karbach), former play-by-play announcer for the Clearwater Threshers, puts it another way. "Especially if teams struggling, watching coworkers face off can be most intense and entertaining part of the night #WawaMeatballSling" (What is that? How did I miss that one?)

There’s no doubting fans attend minor league games for the baseball, but the overall experience is loved by many. It helps keep the ebb and flow of the community-focused teams going strong. And if you look at MLB teams, they do plenty to get fans involved beyond the field. Fan Fest is designed to give the faithful a more personal moment with players. And bobble head love is a force in the majors. For a lot less money, minor league fans get a dose of that, and a glimpse of players that could be on their favorite MLB team sometime soon.

bobblehead

photo by Mark Cunningham, Getty Images

Some final fan thoughts:

Annette Baesel , known as @abaesel2 n Twitter. "I like baseball without it, but it makes the in stadium experience fun; broadens the appeal. I do try and make the games that have the promotions I want. But it isn't critical. It definitely tends to get people [to the stadium] and that's good for baseball."

John T. @john_econ_71105 " I come to MiLB for the baseball, but I enjoy the between innings stuff, especially when it's fun / silly / unique / entertaining."

And @gonski43 with perhaps my favorite answer: "It adds to the atmosphere of the game, MLB teams should learn they need the fans in the stadium. Don't take us for granted."