There’s a fine line between “gimmick” and “promotion.” Most businesses stay safely on the promotional side of that line. Minor League Baseball, on the other hand, embraces the line – sometimes blowing past it like an out-of-control baserunner speeding through a third base coach’s “stop” sign.

The two approaches could not be more different.

For example, your local bank may run a promotion that promises to give new customers a $25 credit when they open a checking account.

In the Minors, they give away the same $25, but instead of executing an electronic transfer or handing someone a check, they have fans step into a phone booth full of swirling, wind-blown cash and urge them to grab all they can in 30 seconds.

Another example.

Your local bank probably puts suckers at the teller window for everyone to enjoy. (I personally enjoy the Blue Raspberry ones).

In the Minors, they hire helicopters to drop buckets of candy and marshmallows onto the playing field.

I’m not saying that either approach is wrong. When we go to the bank, we expect a certain degree of professionalism. Most people would not enjoy seeing their loan officer brandishing a squirt gun while sporting a cartoonish mascot outfit.

However, when we go to a ballgame, we expect to enjoy the experience. That’s why the tongue-in-cheek, don’t be afraid to laugh promotional style used by many Minor League franchises is so successful. It’s the right approach in the right environment.

High school athletics could be marketed in that same vein. Unfortunately, local amateur sports are either a). marketed like banks as opposed to family-friendly entertainment or b). not marketed at all.

A little creativity can go a long way towards changing that, and a good place for high school athletics to start is by implementing small contests into their game day schedules.

Getting Creative with Contests

As I discussed in mylast post, Minor League teams fill down-time between innings with fun, interactive games that involve the fans. Since these contests are only 1-3 minutes in length, they could easily be integrated into any athletic event (half-time of basketball, between quarters in football, etc.).

Coming up with a good contest idea is surprisingly easy. Just think of your current sponsors and ask “what do they do, and how can we turn that into something fun our crowd can interact with?”

By using this line of thinking, you might end up with something like a Subway “Sing for Your Supper” contest where two fans sing the “$5 foot long” jingle. The best jingle, based on audience applause, would win a Subway gift card (provided by Subway, of course).

Even service businesses can get in on the act. The Cedar Rapids Kernels stage a between-inning eyeball race at every home game. If you’ve never seen an eyeball race, it is exactly what it sounds like. Two fans, each dressed in a huge eyeball costume, race across the field. It’s quite a spectacle. And it’s also quite an advertising opportunity for the local optometrist that sponsors it.

These are just two examples. The possibilities are as endless as your own imagination.

Providing advertising opportunities that go beyond signage on the field and logos on the back of a program provides a unique value for sponsors. It helps make their brand “sticky,” or memorable. When other businesses in the community see this, they will want to develop partnerships with the school.

Getting Creative with Theme Nights

Contests are great, but why settle for a few minutes of fun when you can go the extra mile and provide a whole evening’s worth of memories? That is the idea behind the ever-popular “theme night,” a promotional strategy mastered by the Minor Leagues.

If you’ve never been to a theme night, the premise is simple: the team picks a topic and then weaves it into every aspect of what goes on at the park on that given night.

And, as the Minors have proven, any topic is fair game for a theme night. Here is a short sampling of some of the more popular theme nights from the past year:

• Plumber Appreciation Night(South Bend Silverhawks)

• Awful Night(Altoona Curve)

• Fan Bailout Night(Clinton LumberKings)

• Country Night(Bowie Baysox)

• Salute to Cows(Wisconsin Timber Rattlers)

• “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” World Record Night(Wilmington Blue Rocks)

• Break a World Record Night – Largest Kazoo Rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”(Northwest Arkansas Naturals)

• Face Your Fears Night (Bowie Baysox)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Theme nights like these help Minor League franchises make a connection with fans. Instead of simply being spectators, the fans become a part of something bigger. They also create publicity for the teams involved. People want to know what happens at an “Awful Night,” or a “Face Your Fears Night,” and that curiosity often leads to attendance.

Why Get Creative?

For those involved in high school athletics, theme nights and contests provide an opportunity to do something that’s simply not being done at the amateur level. In Indiana, there will be over 1,000 high school football games played this year. Triple that in basketball and baseball. The approach to these contests is pretty much the same. Schedule the games, and if people show up, they show up.

For large high schools with powerhouse programs, this type of hands-off approach is fine – people will still pack the stands. But, those schools are in the minority.

If the student-athletes at your school are playing in front of more empty seats than filled ones, maybe it is time to get creative.

Next Time

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