Results tagged ‘ Kane County Cougars ’

Wilco Warmly Welcomed in Kane County

Let’s start this blogging week where the last one ended — in Kane County IL, home of the Cougars.

The team staged a fireworks show following Saturday’s game, which in and of itself is of course nothing new. But what set this particular show apart was that it was accompanied by the music of local alt-country heroes Wilco.  Cougars director of public relations Shawn Touney, who estimates that he’s seen over 200 fireworks shows during his time with the team, writes that Saturday’s show was “real, authentic Americana at its finest.”

It’s easy to say “Who cares? Fireworks are fireworks,” but that’s missing the point. The Wilco-themed show generated local and national press (yes, I just linked to myself), and the band promoted it to their 400,000+ fans on Facebook. Wilco also sent over shirts and tote bags to be distributed at the ballpark. Writes Touney:  “[W]e asked fans walking by our Customer Service Booth if they had heard of Wilco. Many had not and gave us a quizzical look….The ones who were enthused at the mere mention? They got a free t-shirt and/or reusable grocery bag.”

The endless variety of music available on the internet, and the ease with which it can be obtained, has led to an unprecedentedly fragmented pop landscape. As such, there are many bands (like Wilco) who have built up large followings without quite becoming household names. The Cougars’ success with their Wilco show will hopefully inspire other teams to think beyond “Popular” and “Patriotic” soundtracks, instead recognizing artists that can be easy to overlook in a mainstream sports context. Music fans are nothing if not passionate — why not tap into that passion and establish some “indie cred” in the process? (Just keep it family-friendly, of course. Maryland has a rich doom metal history, but I don’t think we’re going to see a “Salute to Spirit Caravan” night at a Bowie Baysox game anytime soon.)

Perhaps the ultimate in fan-friendly is Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman, who has made a habit in recent years of serenading fans with his signature ballpark tune.

It is called, appropriately enough, “The Loyal Fan”. Here he is in Myrtle Beach last week, backed up by an easily-distracted cadre of players. Great stuff!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

A Wand-erful Night At the Ballpark

For the Kane County Cougars, the Friday leading into July 4th weekend has traditionally been a slow one at the gates. Fans have been reluctant to attend, opting to wait until the team’s Independence Day celebrations.

So this season, they generated excitement by staging a tribute to Harry Potter. ‘Tis the time to do that sort of thing, of course, as the eighth (and final) installment of the film franchise opens on July 15.

Heather Mills, who organized the event, writes that Some of the activities of the night included a wand making station (fans could decorate a dowel rod with markers, crayons, and ribbon), a Harry Potter scavenger hunt, costume parade, trivia contest, and a fireworks show to Harry Potter music….It was quite a hit with fans as we had several hundred show up in costume….We also had the ballpark decorated in the Hogwarts house colors, house banners, and other recognizable things from the books/movies…. Another activity that spontaneously broke out during the night occurred after the kids visited the wand station.  Several kids were dueling each other with magic spells on our lawn area. 

The festivities helped contribute to a strong crowd of 5745, a number of whom battled for on-field costumed supremacy.

Another successful theme night of recent vintage was the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ “Great Outdoors” celebration, sponsored by the Virginia Wildlife Foundation and featuring special guest Josh Harris from the show Deadliest Catch.

I am not familiar with Harris, but apparently he’s quite the celebrity. Flying Squirrels director of promotions Christina Shisler writes that Harris “signed autographs the entire game, tossed a first pitch, led the crowd in take me out to the ballgame and even recorded a PSA for our sponsor.”

An even bigger celebrity is set to be honored in Reading this weekend — the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. One fan will win a 550-lb replica of the man and his ostrich.

I’ll conclude this blogging week with a simple reminder that, yes, I still need you to send me photos of introspective mascots. Please, this is important to me.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Teaching the Business of the Ballpark

Thumbnail image for cougars.gifI recently dedicated a post to the topic of using Minor League Baseball as a tool to teach sports marketing. This was inspired by the fact that high school teachers and college marketing professors regularly link to my blog, using the content therein to explain how the industry operates and why.

But my blog operates strictly in the digital realm. Offering a more hands-on experience are the Kane County Cougars, who last season began to offer a series of high school sports business seminars. Cougars director of public relations Shawn Touney writes:

[W]e provide a presentation at the ballpark and tangibly show them our operation and answer any questions they might have about how we market our product, career opportunities, and nearly everything in between. And obviously, it drives some revenue our way and taps into a demographic that goes unnoticed in many Minor League parks.

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I never would have guessed the response we would get…What began as setting aside a single seminar session time for an April noon game became a series of three dates, with 2 seminars scheduled for each of those 3 dates, to accommodate the schools who were interested in attending. When it was said and done, we had just under 1,000 students representing nearly 30 high schools throughout Chicagoland. Marketing classes, business classes, entrepreneurship classes, accounting classes – it ran the gamut. I couldn’t believe how many teachers were appreciative that something such as this was offered, which tells me that a lot of teams (big league clubs included) have not considered this.

This year, we’re offering something similar for each of our 7 noon games in April/May, with a staff-led seminar and ballgame to follow at noon. We will surpass last year’s numbers in terms of total attendance, number of participating schools, and revenue generated. The geography of the schools amazes me – we have schools  coming from a 75-minute driving radius for this. We will also be hosting some fall sports business seminars in late August/early September for fall semester classes, and actually have set aside a few college nights for sport management clubs and majors who are interested in learning more.

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After the presentation, the students are given supplementary materials that guide them toward viewing the ballgame from a business perspective. A sample problem:

You are a new business owner who is looking to make a splash in the Chicagoland area, bringing new customers and revenue to your business. You’re at the game this afternoon, and observing how many different opportunities there are to market your product to an audience. Here are two examples you notice:

Souvenir Giveaway

Outfield Billboard

List any other marketing opportunities for your business that you see or hear during the game.

And in 2011, the program will expand even further. Writes Touney:

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Reading your blog helped spawn an idea to make the event even more interactive, by having the schools, upon returning into the classroom, create a video presentation where they essentially come up with a between-innings promotion and explain not just how they’d market the promotion, but how they’d execute it as well. I don’t think we give high schoolers enough credit; their knowledge of popular trends, fads, insight on social media are just a few examples that come to mind.

Touney’s final point is one I agree with wholeheartedly — in addition to exposing the students to new concepts, the teams staging such seminars could benefit from the creative and culturally-relevant ideas offered by the students.

So how is else is doing/might do something of this nature? Let’s hear it!

Apologies that today’s post has been wonkier than Willie’s chocolate factory. To make up for it, here’s an artist’s rendering of the Reading Phillies’ highly-anticipated Carlos Ruiz “Chooching Owl” giveaway. Remember, this thing is actually going to say “Chooch.”

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Oh, so it’s more you want, is it? Well, here’s footage of Charlie Sheen spoutin’ his bull to a Bull. Hornsby, the soon-to-be-revamped mascot of the Tulsa Drillers, really shows his range here.

As usual, I implore anyone to get in touch for any reason.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

I Believe the Children Are Our Future Promoters

edbird.jpgLike any self-obsessed writer, I regularly check to see what websites have recently linked to my blog. Most of the time it’s random message board posters with an affinity for giant hamburgers, but occasionally the results are more interesting.

For example, last week I received several dozen hits from a high school teacher’s sports marketing blog. He asked his students to read my recent post on the Lowell Spinners’ “Human Home Run” stunt, and then write a two paragraph response explaining their thoughts on Minor League promotions as well as what sort of promotions they themselves would stage if put in a position to do so. The students’ answers, in the comments section, were not always feasible but certainly creative. A sampling:

I would bring a monster truck to my stadium/arena and it would go flying off a ramp. It would have to jump 6 school buses lined up next to each other. There would also be a huge ring of fire right in front of the ramp to make everything look crazy. The monster truck would have my team’s logo on it. It would be crazy and the place would be sold out.

Seeing that people will pay to watch risky situations. I would promote a pet skydiving. Idogdive.jpg would let dogs/cats land in the middle of the field before the game. This will honor animal abuse and will also bring fans to the stadium.

My idea would be to have player vs fan game. When the fans buy a ticket for the game they have a chance to enter contests. Then the fans will be picked at random to play a mini game with the players. I think if you give the players a chance to interact with the players it will attract more people.

I think it’s great that teachers are introducing such sports marketing concepts to high school students, as it could potentially get them interested in a Minor League Baseball career. To any high school teachers or college professors who read this blog — I will gladly assist your educational endeavors. Get in touch anytime.

Thumbnail image for milblogo.jpgAnd even more beneficial would be for teams to get involved. Wouldn’t it be great to invite students to the ballpark to take part in the conception and execution of a Minor League promo? While animal skydiving is probably not going to happen any time soon, it would be very interesting to see students’ ideas incorporated into gameday entertainment.

Just a thought. I’ve been known to have those once in a while.

And young promo progenitors would be more likely to come up with social media innovations, such as the Bowling Green Hot Rods’ Facebook Fan Night. This first-of-its kind promo is rolling right along — Facebook fans have selected the game time (6:35) and are now in the midst of picking the uniforms the team will wear that night.

And, predictably, the idea is catching on. Kane County and Stockton have recently announced their own version of the promo. Who’s next?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: The Season Goes Kaboom in Kane County

My Midwest meanderings concluded yesterday, as did the 2010 regular season. Empty dugouts are going to be the norm from here on out. Get used to it.

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Before saying goodbye, I spent an intermittently rainy Labor Day afternoon at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva, IL. The Kane County Cougars reside therein.

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The players were clearly in a hurry to bring things to a close, as the game was played in just two hours and five minutes (with visiting Wisconsin cruising to a 7-0 win). But it was an action-packed two hours and five minutes, filled with many memorable moments.

For starters, I got to meet Jack “Mr. Kaboom” Phelan. For the last 10 years, this one-time usher has been responsible for shooting off in-game fireworks. He resides on a small platform next to the right field picnic area, launching pyrotechnics during the National Anthem, Seventh Inning Stretch, and after every Cougar home run (read more about “Mr. Kaboom” on MiLB.com, coming soon).

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During the seventh-inning stretch, Mr. Kaboom gave me the honors of launching the fireworks. I was psyched.

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All I had to do was flip three switches in quick succession on the trusty ol’ Delcor-MP20 control board. 

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The Delcor MP-20 is connected via cable to a blue wooden box approximately 150 feet away. In this box, fireworks can be found:

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Walking even further behind the ballpark, toward centerfield, Mr. Kaboom showed me where the team shoots off fireworks for its large-scale post-game shows (these are handled by the folks at Melrose Pyrotechnics).

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My meeting with Mr. Kaboom was arranged by Cougars media relations director Shawn Touney, who was a gracious host throughout my Kane County cameo. Touney coordinates between-inning games and contests throughout the game, and brought me onto the field for a closer look at the action.

Here, contestants are briefed for the upcoming shopping cart race as a member of the Timber Rattlers looks on.

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The racers in action:

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An even more unique between-inning race involved these, parked directly beside the third base dugout.

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The Bed Race involves two teams of racing families navigating this unwieldy piece of furniture across the outfield, stopping along the way to don bedclothes. It’s a bit chaotic, but I tried my best to capture the action:

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While on the field, I tried my hand at being an actual photographer.

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And what do you know? I succeeded at an honest-to-God action shot:

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But I didn’t have time to pat myself on the back. Touney gave me a brief tour of the upstairs area, added as part of a $10.5 million renovation project in 2009 (more on that HERE).

The spacious interior of the “Super Suite”, which seats 200 and hosts events year-round.

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Views from the top:

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Of course, I also did my best to document the scene from down below.

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Options:

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You can wash down concessions with a regional beer whose name I can’t pronounce:

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The grass berm down the third base line slopes down to the home bullpen:

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One of the most striking aspects of Elfstrom Stadium is how much land the team has to work with. The facility is located within the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, and named after one of the preserve’s former presidents.

The sheer acreage is apparent almost right away. Here’s a parking lot view:

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Walking past the third base line, beyond the stadium, one truly gets a sense of how large the stadium grounds really are. How many other teams would need to display a map of the area?

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There’s plenty of room for group outings.

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The most scenic play area in the Minors?

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This wilderness adventure offered a welcome respite, but soon it was time to return to the field for the final post-game “Run the Bases” of the season. The Cougars allow all fans to run the bases, after every game, and many took advantage of the opportunity. Fans enter the stadium from center field, and the line snaked from there all the way to the basepaths.

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Another action shot!

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Doing my part to enforce the rules:

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After the last runners had crossed home plate, the b
eds were wheeled into storage and a silence descended upon the stadium.

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Rest in peace, 2010 Minor League Baseball season.

It was fun while it lasted.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

In Which We Bravely Enter A New Decade

dadtime.jpgHello, and Happy New Year.

As many teams are pointing out via various social networking applications, Opening Day is only 94 days away. In my own world of self-contained, obsessive-compulsive rituals, this means that there are 94 days until my next haircut.

But that is neither here nor there (it is “hair”). What is “here” is that the holidays are over and my benevolent overseers expect me to work on a regular basis. So hair here goes!

I’m going to start 2010 with — what else — a team-produced video. This, which escaped my attention when it was first released, comes courtesy of the Yakima Bears. Witness the “Superfans” of Yakima, hardy denizens of the Pacific Northwest who have nonetheless mastered the proletariat patois of the Second City:

And speaking of the Second City, the Chicago-area Kane County Cougars have posted what I believe is the best mascot photo to come down the pike in at least three weeks. Behold, Ozzie, a young girl, and a boa constrictor:

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That will do it for me on this chilly January day. Here’s to a stellar (or at least “acceptable”) 2010.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

Simply the Best

best.gifEach year, the indispensable Gameops.com announces its “Best of Awards”, which recognize the year’s highest-performing teams when it comes to game operations, promotions, and entertainment (my post on last year’s awards can be found here).

The winners (all of whom were awarded the coveted “Golden Steagle”) hail from throughout the world of sports, but the affiliated Minor Leagues are particularly well-represented. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows this industry, as there are many teams that walk that fine, beautiful line between genius and insanity.

The full awards listing is well worth checking out. However, due to my unquenchable compulsion to distill, condense, and summarize, I will now highlight the Minor League teams and personalities that were recognized. 

Myron Noodleman recieved an “honorable mention” in the “Best Act” category. I have a lot of respect for this clown prince uber-nerd, as he bases a large part of his routine on improvisational antics from the crowd. It’s tough to stay “on” and focused throughout the duration of a ballgame, but he has found a way to pull it off.
 

Moving on, the Kane County Cougars were co-winners in the “Best Promotion” category for their “World Record Pillow Fight Night”. This promo was also nominated as one of my 10 best of the year, and was covered in this post as well. Here’s the video:

Those who have been following the Minor League “scene” this season will not be surprised to learn that the Fresno Grizzlies were named co-winners of the best team operations award. If you were somehow surprised by this, then click here, here, or here to get at least somewhat up to speed.

Finally, the indomitable Reading Phillies received an honorable mention in the “Best Team Operations” category as well. The R-Phils are a fantastic franchise in many ways, but gameops.com chose to highlight the mascot band. Far from just being a gimmick, these costumed characters are genuinely good at playing rock and roll. The following video contains performances of “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Rocking in the Free World”, but it got me thinking about other songs I’d like to see them cover. Such as:

Black Sabbath — “Hole in the Sky”
Creedence Clearwater Revival — “Born on the Bayou”
Neil Young and Crazy Horse — “Hey Hey My My”
Guns ‘N Roses — “Night Train”
Deep Purple — “Speed King” (or anything off of the masterpiece that is “In Rock”)

Make it happen, mascots!
 

So, there you have it, folks. Congratulations to all the clubs that were honored by that illustrious online vessel of industry info which is gameops.com.

In other, more narcissistic news, this fine blog has once again cracked the Top 30 on MLBlogs most-viewed “Pro” blogs. Keep spreading the word about Ben’s Biz, because I’m gunnin’ for that number one spot.

That would show them. That would show them all!

Kane County Able to Capitalize on MLB's Skyrocketing Cougar Population

cougars.gifAs regular readers of this esteemed blog are well aware, there is nothing I like more than writing unsolicited commendations of Minor League PR innovations in exchange for little or no recognition. That’s what I was put on this Earth to do, and who am I to argue with my cosmic destiny?

Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I direct your attention to a novel and interesting contest that was staged by the Midwest League’s Kane County Cougars. At the start of the 2008 campaign, 96 former Cougar players had appeared in the Major Leagues. I’ll let the press release take it from here:

This past March, the Cougars began a “100th Cougar Contest” in
conjunction with the organization potentially reaching the milestone
this season. Fans were encouraged to submit a guess from a preselected
ballot of nine former Cougars who were on the verge of becoming
gray.jpg Major
Leaguers this season.

One of these pre-selected Cougars was right-handed reliever Jeff Gray, who played for Kane County in 2006. Gray made his Major League debut with the Oakland Athletics on September 8, and in the process became Cougar #100 to make it to the bigs.

Take it away, press release:

Cougars fan Kerry Palmiter of suburban Romeoville was the randomly
selected entry winner. Palmiter submitted the correct guess earlier
this summer and will receive an authentic Cougars home jersey with
special #100 embroidery.

This is the first time I have ever heard of such an innovation, and it is definitely a good one. Focusing on alumni success in the Major Leagues encourages the team’s fans to follow former Cougars as they climb the Minor League ladder. Perhaps more importantly, it drives home the point that fans are watching future Major Leaguers each and every time they attend a Cougars game. Perhaps this is obvious, but it is a distinction that can be lost on casual fans, due to the fact that the level of play at Class A (and lower) often seems worlds away from “The Show”.

In Other News: Congratulations to the Fresno Grizzlies for winning MiLB.com’s “Promotion of the Year” for 2008. The club’s Mascot Showdown netted more than half of the 9,149 total votes cast, while the Lancaster JetHawks came in second with 23% of the vote.

Featherweight Fighters Do Battle In Kane County

Thumbnail image for kcc.gifAccording to the fine folks at Guinness World Records, the largest pillow fight ever occurred at the University of Albany in 2005, and featured 3,648 combatants.

Last season, the Kane County Cougars attempted to break this record by staging a “World’s Largest Pillowfight” promotion. They made a good show of it, but ultimately fell short as they were able to entice “just” 3,085 fans to engage in post-game cushion combat.

In a display of the indomitable spirit that characterizes those from the great Midwest, the club simply decided they needed to try a little harder this season.

“After coming so close last
season and seeing the tremendous response towards the event,
PerfPillow.jpg there was
no doubt in our mind that we were going to take another crack at
breaking the world record this season,” Cougars Assistant General
Manager Jeff Ney said in a press release announcing this year’s feather-filled battle royale.

And break the World Record they did, as 3,872 fans took part in a post-game pillow fight on July 19th. The aforementioned fine folks at Guinness have not officially confirmed the Cougars’ triumph over the University of Albany, but hopefully they will legitimize the proceedings in the very near future.

In the meantime, the Cougars’ website features a video of the event as well as a post-fight wrap-up. Click here.

If Guinness confirms the record and the Cougars achieve pillow fighting immortality, it will be interesting to see if they can break their own record next year. Perhaps they could generate further interest in the event by snagging an endorsement from Speaker of the House Nancy “Pillow”-si.

It’s worth a shot.

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