The Most Ridiculous Sports Promotions of All Time
Sports are a business, and putting butts in seats is of the utmost importance.
There is, of course, the old-fashioned way of doing this: Put together a really competitive team and draw fans to your stadium in order to watch the incredible product on the field.
This is easy for teams like the New York Yankees, who have an infinite supply of money, a century of proven success and a shortstop so beloved he gets a standing ovation every time he comes to bat in his final MLB season.
But what about the little guys?
What about the NBA Development League teams that are struggling to get noticed in their small towns? What about the Single-A Minor League Baseball teams that, by their very design, lose their most interesting players as soon as they get good?
Well, long story short, the little guys still need to put butts in seats, but they need to find far more creative ways of doing it.
We've seen a lot of experimental sports promotions over the years. Some have struck marketing gold, while some—10-cent beer night, anyone?—are embarrassing to even mention.
These are the most ridiculous promotions of them all—the ones that defy logic, that seem too bizarre to have ever actually happened, that were such pathetic acts of desperation that perhaps, somehow, they were subtly genius in their own way.
Ted Williams Popsicle Night
In one of the most bizarre tributes to a deceased legend ever staged, the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings decided to host a "Ted Williams Popsicle Night," which actually ended up being a major success and drawing more national attention than the Independent League club had ever seen.
Williams' body, it was learned, was frozen and kept in Scottsdale, Arizona, after his death, hence the decision to commemorate him with frozen Popsicles, which were handed out for free to the first 500 fans.
I suppose "Ted Williams Popsicle Night" sounds a lot better than "Ted Williams Replica Rotting Corpse Night," so let's all just be thankful for the cryogenics laboratory that has kept him fresh all these years.
Political Correctness Night
The Class-A Lowell Spinners of Minor League Baseball went to a ridiculous extreme on their Political Correctness Night to ensure that nobody was offended, and in the process offended—ironically—all of the fans that champion political correctness.
The bizarre promotion was explained on Minor League Baseball's official website:
Players committing an error will not be identified for fear of hurting their feelings, and gender-neutral terms will be used to refer to the players, for example first baseperson instead of first baseman. Along the same lines, there will be no bat boy, but, instead, a bat person. Additionally the Spinners will make every effort to not demean anyone, referring to the shortstop as the "vertically challenged stop."
In addition, bases will not be identified as first, second or third, and will be treated equally without numerical ranking, the foul lines will be identified as fair lines and instead of having just one fan of the game, every fan will be recognized as Fan of the Game. Finally, trophies will be handed out to each participant in between-innings promotions and all contests will be evenly matched among genders for Title IX purposes -- so there will be no losers and everyone is a winner.
Though it has not been confirmed, it is suspected that the Washington Redskins will not be announcing a similar promotion during the upcoming season.
Salute to Indoor Plumbing Night
Sometimes, if you're early to a baseball game, you get a cool free gift. One of the most popular is a bobblehead doll of a popular player from the team.
While fun and cute and nice on a desk, what purpose does a bobblehead actually serve? How can it directly benefit the quality of your life?
In a very utilitarian move, the San Rafael Pacifics decided to give something away that served a more practical purpose: plungers.
Said general manager Mike Shapiro, via the team's official website: "We're giving our fans who like to go deep a very special toilet plunger to remember us by when bases are juiced, so to speak."
And now, for the rest of my life, I will never be able to listen to someone use the phrase "go deep" or "bases juiced" without instantly feeling sick to my stomach.
Michael Jordan Look-Alike Night
This one was a great promotional idea. The follow-up is what got ridiculous.
The NBA Development League's Utah Flash attracted thousands of fans to a game based on a promise to feature Michael Jordan in a one-on-one basketball game at halftime against former Utah Jazz guard Byron Russell, inspired by some trash talk that had occurred between the two.
The Flash started promoting the idea, but Michael Jordan never actually responded, so when it came time for the duel, a Michael Jordan look-alike came trotting onto the court.
For whatever reason, fans were displeased and were refunded all of their money.
This may have caused some fans to wonder if, perhaps, the entire Utah Jazz team is being populated by look-alikes.
However, it is confirmed that real NBA players have been suiting up for the Jazz every night, and that they are, in fact, just that bad.
Minor League Baseball's Altoona Curve came up with one promotional idea that was so bad, they kept on doing it.
Awful Night was, of course, awful by design, and the Curve staged it year after year after year.
This special evening provides the most terrible experience that the team can possibly give to fans. Players' names are mispronounced, baby photos are used instead of headshots and the popular Kiss Cam is replaced by the Alone Cam, featuring fans with no company.
In addition, players' failing averages are posted instead of their batting averages—so, for example, a player's .300 batting average would be replaced by his less impressive .700 failing average.
Awful Night is apparently not supposed to affect anything that happens on the field. The Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball have experimented with their own version of Awful Night that features an awful on-field product for the last 100 years or so, and to great success.
Britney Spears Baby Safety Awareness Night
While some wacky promotions are just done for fun, this one was for an educational purpose and sent an important message to fans: Do a better job raising your kids than Britney Spears.
The pop star received a lot of negative press when photographed driving around with her baby on her lap, and the Newark Bears decided to capitalize on this to bring fans to the ballpark. According to USA Today, fans "who dress as a baby, bring a baby toy or bring their baby — a child under the age of 4 — get in free."
Quick, everyone—grab the nearest diaper or the nearest child, we're headed to a ballgame!
$1000 Cash Drop
People love money.
Therefore, what better way is there to make your fans happy than by dropping a whole bunch of it onto the field and letting them have at it?
The West Michigan Whitecaps experimented with this by lining a bunch of kids up along the outfield fence, dropping $1,000 from a helicopter and letting the kids gather whatever they could.
In the most obvious result possible, two kids were trampled, one was hospitalized and the whole thing was a disaster.
According to USA Today, spokeswoman Katie Kroft defended the promotion despite the injuries.
In doing so, she uttered the nine words that I desperately hope don't get written on my gravestone: "This is why we have everybody sign a waiver."
Sharknado was such a hilariously awful made-for-TV movie that the Lake County Captains of Minor League Baseball decided to forecast a Sharknado of their own to draw fans to the ballpark.
The promotion was explained on the team's official website:
With the recent SHARKNADO in Los Angeles and another one forecasted to strike New York in 2014, the Captains fired up Classic Park Dual-Doppler Skipper 2010+ to determine if Northeast Ohio was in any danger. After seeing the results, and upon consultation with all of the leading weather experts and marine biologists, the Captains determined that the SHARKNADO will hit Eastlake on August 15 and that sharks will be scooped up out of the waters of Lake Erie and will be falling on fans from the roof top at Classic Park.
Heavy security will be hand as the Captains are preparing for a shiver of sharks in the concourse and on the field during the game. The sharks, which may or may not be humans dressed in shark costumes, will be involved in on-field promos throughout the night.
Allow me to translate:
The Captains will be hosting a Sharknado night. A bunch of people will be dressed up in weird shark costumes, and the game will proceed as usual. Nothing to see here.
Salute to Selfie Night
The discovery of fire, the invention of the wheel, the dawn of electricity, the development of the automobile and the rise of the selfie.
Indeed, few technological advances have played such a crucial role in our human society as the infamous selfie, and the Kalamazoo Growlers of the Northwoods League decided to pay it tribute.
As described by the team's official website:
The [Growlers] will collect selfies [from fans] through April 1. Once the submission period ends, the Growlers will build a unique mosaic-style jersey assembled entirely from the selfies entered in the promotion. The fan that exhibits the most “Growlers spirit” will receive a featured and prominent location on all jerseys. The jerseys will be worn during the game on Thursday, July 24 when the Growlers take on the Wisconsin Woodchucks.
If you weren't already trying to actively avoid purchasing a Kalamazoo Growlers jersey, now would be a good time to start.
The most confusingly paradoxical headline that USA Today has ever printed: "'Nobody Night' promotion a big hit."
And yet, the headline is entirely accurate. At a 2002 game, the Charleston Riverdogs decided not to let anyone into the ballpark before the fifth inning so that the official attendance would be zero.
And it was a big hit.
Fans were sent to a party with discounted beer and flooded the stadium once the attendance became official.
Apparently the best way to attract fans to a baseball game might be to lock all the doors and not let them in at all.
Mike Tyson Ear Night
There are some things that just shouldn't be celebrated—but this didn't stop the Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League from hosting a Mike Tyson Ear Night, in which the first 1000 fans received a fake ear.
To make the evening even more appealing, fans were also given the opportunity to get Mike Tyson face tattoos.
Here's one promotion where I think the team fell short of reaching its full potential. Why not make the ears both wearable and edible so fans could get the full Tyson experience of biting an ear right off a friend's head?
Hopefully next time a team gives out fake ears, they'll get it completely right.
Disco Demolition Night
Maybe a promotion that includes the word "demolition" is taking it just a bit too far.
On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox infamously held a promotion in which fans could get into the game for 98 cents if they brought a disco record, which would then be blown up on the field by disc jockey Steve Dahl after the first game of a doubleheader.
By the time the records were to be demolished, a riot ensued—as if anything else was to be suspected.
The funniest part of Disco Demolition Night?
According to Joe Lapointe of The New York Times, Mike Veeck estimated an attendance of 60,000. Security had been hired for 35,000.
Looks like I know what the Tampa Bay Rays need to try next time they can't fill the seats for a playoff game.
Ten-Cent Beer Night
Perhaps the only promotion in sports history that eclipses the infamous Disco Demolition Night was the Cleveland Indians' equally absurd idea to host a 10-cent beer night.
See, the funny thing about a 10-cent beer is you can buy a whole bunch of them with just a dollar.
And the funny thing about drinking a lot of beer is it tends to get you really, really drunk.
Put it all together, and you get the entirely predictable result of the Indians' misguided promotional idea. Drunken riots ensued. Fans jumped on the field. They ran across it naked. They threw rocks and cups at the players. The Rangers stormed the field with bats to protect themselves.
And the two teams couldn't even finish the game, which was forfeited in the ninth inning.
Next time you're upset about the obscenely high prices on beer at baseball games, just blame the fans in Cleveland. They are the reason we can't have nice things.
There have, of course, been countless other ridiculous and obscure promotions in sports history that did not get mentioned on this list. What are some of your favorites? Let me know on Twitter.