When Gypsy Rose Lee said, “You gotta have a gimmick,” chances are she didn’t have minor league baseball in mind. But she could have, because the way to draw the crowds at minor league action is to spice up the games with plenty of promotions. Brandon Puls, director of promotions for the New Orleans Zephyrs, is well-aware of that fact, so he and his colleagues spend a good part of every off-season planning out activities for before, during and after the games.
“We’re selling a show,” Puls says. He visits with his counterparts at other teams to see what’s new and popular, trading suggestions for what works and what doesn’t.
The current season, which began April 12 with a welcome mat giveaway and runs through Sept. 2, includes lots of tried-and-true favorites plus some new promotions that should really appeal, says Tim Grubbs, who broadcasts the 144 home and away games for the Zephyrs.
“You need to have something for everybody,” Grubbs says. The Zephyrs staff has to use its imagination to pull in a crowd in a town that also offers the New Orleans Saints, the Hornets and parades and parties for everything from Mardi Gras to St. Joseph’s Day. Their ideas must be working, because the team draws some 380,000 fans each season.
Fireworks remain the No. 1 attraction, Grubbs says, and they’re on the schedule every Friday. Sometimes the fireworks coordinate with the game’s other offerings; for example, on June 21, Star Wars Night features half-price admission for those wearing Star Wars costumes or shirts, the opportunity to take pictures with the movies’ characters and a Star Wars-themed fireworks display. Elvis gets his due on Aug. 16 with a “Salute to the King” that includes music, trivia, prizes and a king-sized Elvis-themed fireworks show.
Other times, an after-game concert reinforces the theme. On June 8, the team salutes the Fab Four with Beatles trivia and prizes and a performance by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Tribute Band. Some games combine the music with the sparklers for major effect. The 4th of July game against the RedHawks includes a patriotic fireworks display plus a post-game concert.
Giving away “something for nothing” is probably the world’s oldest marketing technique, and Zephyrs games are great opportunities for freebies. In addition to the welcome mats at the first game, this season the team gives away hats, T-shirts, baseball cards, mini-flags, flowers, backpacks, team photographs and a slice of cake on Boudreaux the mascot’s birthday. Sometimes giveaways bear the logo of the team’s corporate sponsors. Other times, the gift has a Zephyrs logo. Grubbs calls this a form of “guerilla marketing.”
“We can’t control the wins or losses, but we can control the promotions,” he says.
Keeping kiddos happy
Minor League ball truly is a family-friendly event, and many Zephyrs promotions are geared toward children. On Kids Days, admission for youngsters aged 2 to 12 is discounted, there are Space Walk inflatables for jumping fun and wanna-be baseball stars get the chance to play catch and run the bases on the field after the game.
Youngsters also like appearances by popular characters such as SpongeBob, Yo Gabba Gabba, Peppa Pig and Wow Wow Wubzy, each of whom will be visiting Zephyr Field this season. The trick here is to book the acts before they become too famous – and too expensive – Puls says. Saints mascot Gumbo will make an appearance on April 14, and Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan visits in May.
A new promo this year is an appearance by the Half-Pint Brawlers, a “midget wrestling company” with a popular TV series. Grubbs says the act follows up on the success of last year’s visits by mini-Britney Spears and mini-Madonna. Making a return appearance on Aug. 3 is wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, who’s popular with both kids and adults, Puls says. On Medieval Times Night, members of the Louisiana Renaissance Festival will give demonstrations, and on Princess Day, Prince Charming will make an appearance.
Promotions can also promote learning: on May 26, youngsters who participated in the Zephyrs Reading Club receive free admission. Science Day features Prof. Steve and his Amazing World of Science, with science demonstrations after the game.
Charities, holidays get salutes
Kids brought their canine friends to Bark at the Park on April 14. Dogs and their owners took in the game from the levee, where there ere pet-themed vendors and activities. Owners even walked their dogs around the field before the game started. The event benefited the SPCA.
The Pink in the Park event in May benefits the Mary Kay Foundation’s cancer research. People wearing pink get discounted admissions, and after the game spectators can bid on pink jerseys worn by Zephyr players during the game. Catholic Charities Night, which includes $1 hot dogs and discounted admission for those with Catholic Charities coupons, benefits the charity’s educational and Hispanic Apostolate programs.
And just because they can, the Zephyrs declare May 30 St. Patty’s Day in May, complete with green beer and half-price admission for those wearing the green.
Moms get their turn in the spotlight on Mother’s Day, when Villere’s Florist presents the first 500 mothers through the gate with a flower. Those in the military and people in the medical profession get discounts on Military Day and Salute to Scrubs, respectively.
Refreshments play a role in many of the Zephyrs’ promotions, which is no surprise in a city that loves to eat and drink. Triple Play Taco Tuesday is a real bargain: $10 gets you an upper deck ticket, a soda and a taco. On Thirsty Thursdays, sponsored by Budweiser, sodas and draft beers cost $1 and canned beers are $2. Drink specials are available at many locations in the park on Pub Crawl nights.
The fun has to also take place during the game, not just before and after, Grubbs says. That is why they have such events as Baseball Bingo, the Dizzy Bat race and the Build-a-Burger Contest, which features two couples dressed as the heel and top of hamburger buns. On Web Wednesday, social media joins the lineup, with those following the Zephyrs on Twitter or Facebook receiving special offers for the game.
In what might be the team’s most elaborate promotion this year, the Zephyrs’ will be holding a “Country Wedding” right at the ballpark. A Zephyrs staff member is taking an online class to be an ordained minister, and will tie the lucky couple’s knot right before the game. The reception will be held post-game in one of the suites, and there will even be a “first dance” at the post-game concert.
The wedding is a follow-up to one of the team’s most successful promotions, Puls says: the wedding of mascot Boudreaux and his sweetheart, Clotile, years ago.
And for that other action taking place on the ball field, Zephyr General Manager Mike Schline is predicting a successful year. The team has a lot of great players, he says, and there will be lots of good hitting and pitching mixed in with those promotions.