THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Conjure the worst experience at a baseball game you can imagine.
Really bad karaoke. A cold-Spam eating contest. Tighty-whitey underwear being tossed to the crowd.
Now consider that this "awful night" is offered as a selling point to fans.
Awful Night is in fact a popular minor league promotion that tries to make the gaming experience as miserable as legally possible for patrons. The fun of this dreadful time at the ballpark is to see just how horrible and uncomfortable it can get. But can it be any worse than a Liposuction Giveaway night? Or Silent Night, in which a stadium is kept morgue quiet for several innings? These event nights, by the way, are real examples of the zany promotional ideas brainstormed by minor league marketing teams.
The Toledo Mud Hens have never had an Awful Night -- or a Liposuction Giveaway -- but Mike Keedy, manager of special events for the Hens and Toledo Walleye, is open to just about anything, including today's May the Fourth Be With You 35th anniversary of Star Wars celebration beginning at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third Field.
"We look at every kind of promotion and every kind of theme with an open mind," he said, "as long as it's family friendly."
Promotions are as much a part of minor league sports as hot dogs and beer. They are necessary to draw fans. Without multimillion-dollar star athletes on the roster, the smaller leagues can't compete with the big leagues on player name recognition alone. So it's the dual-marketing strategies of family fun at the ballpark and special events that are used as the bait to reel fans in -- and the wackier the better.
"There are so many minor league teams and so many wild and wacky promotions I read about every day," Keedy said. "It's really fun to see what teams are doing. I often will check out other teams' Web sites and do some research and try and find the most-creative and interesting promotions that are going on.
"We want to make it entertaining for everybody. We understand our product is baseball and a lot of people do like to come out and genuinely enjoy the baseball game. But we also know that families come out to be entertained and spend time together, so we make sure our promotions are entertaining and broad reaching.
"We understand that once or twice a year some families might come for some special event and not necessarily the game itself."
The Star Wars promotion is geared to the film's fans -- hard core and casual. Star Wars characters including Darth Vader, Chewbacca (who will throw out the first pitch), and Stormtroopers will welcome guests when they enter Fifth Third Field, and will be available on the Main Concourse to pose for photos with fans. The first 2,000 patrons will receive LED glow wands, and the first 5,000 will be handed kazoos to participate in a rousing rendition of the Star Wars theme song after the game and just before the fireworks, which also will be accompanied by familiar pieces from John Williams' score.
There will be Yoda Sodas, Darth Chocolate Brownie Sundaes, and the ballpark's Tatoo-wieners (hot dogs), which are named after the desert home world of Luke Skywalker. Star Wars enthusiasts are also encouraged to dress for the game in their favorite Star Wars-themed costume. Prize packages will be awarded to the top three costumes, after all the participants have paraded around the field.
The Star Wars celebration appears to be the most popular promotion of the season.
In a poll on the Mud Hens Web site, mudhens.com, May the Fourth Be With You Night is just ahead of the Cowboy Monkeys appearance on Aug. 30, with 30 percent of the votes to 29 percent.
The Cowboy Monkeys, incidentally, feature monkeys, dressed as cowboys, riding dogs and herding sheep.
Or as I like to call it, "Awesome Night."
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.