On putting butts in seats: Behind the bleachers with the Sea Dogs
In the annals of minor-league baseball promotions, having an all-mascot band play out front of the stadium doesn't exactly count as outrageous. Heck, there's a team down in Reading, Pennsylvania, from which Sea Dogs general manager Geoff Iacuessa just may have taken some inspiration.
It certainly doesn't stack up with things like the West Virginia Power's "Salute to Indoor Plumbing," which included a "poo toss," or the Brooklyn Cyclones' "Bellies and Baseball: A Salute to Pregnancy Night," which featured a "cravings station" (pickles and ice cream) and a Lamaze class on the field before game time.
The Sea Dogs aren't the Red Sox, though. They can't count on a guaranteed sellout every night just because they scheduled a game. "Of every four fans that come to a game," Iacuessa reasons, "one person might come for the baseball, but the other three might come for another reason, and that might be the food, the entertainment, a promotion; everything is just another thing to make it fun to be at the game."
Have no doubt, the non-baseball promotions are important to the bottom line at every minor-league park and the Sea Dogs are no different. But each management team has a different philosophy. "There's people who will take it to an extreme," Iacuessa says, referring possibly to those who've put on a "Free Liposuction Night," or an "Office Space Night," where everyone wears short-sleeved shirts and ties.
Legendary baseball promoter Bill Veeck famously said, "I try not to break the rules but merely to test their elasticity." That's not the Sea Dogs.
"We like to preserve the tradition of baseball," Iacuessa says. "We want to entertain the fans. The crazy gimmicks work in some markets, but it's not what we build ourselves on. We don't embarrass anyone, but we want to give people a reason to come, and to come back."
That doesn't mean the Sea Dogs don't get creative. On the day of the Kastaways debut in front of Hadlock, who do you think threw out the first pitch? Yeah, some guy who was in town for a bachelor party, whose buddies paid for him to have the honor. About 10 minutes later three lucky kids got to come out on the field, be introduced, and then jog across the infield. Why? It was a birthday party. Just about everyone's probably seen the between-inning stuff like kids playing musical chairs on the field or trying to toss rolled-up newspapers into a carrier's bag.
"We've got 71 games," says Iacuessa, "and we've got 284 days to prepare for those 71 games. We're constantly evaluating what's working; we're trying things out to see how they take. The band is just one more item in that."
>> SLIDESHOW: The Kastaways <<
So, what's new on tap for 2012 other than the rocking mascots? Bruins forward Shawn Thornton will be making an appearance. As will Patriots safety Patrick Chung. That's because Patriots now-uberstar Rob Gronkowski worked out so well last year. July 13 is Halloween at Hadlock with the Portland-based International Cryptozoology Museum. On July 17 you can take your dog to the game. August 17 will be a salute to Elvis, commemorating the 35th anniversary of the show-never-played in Portland. There are dozens of other events.
And, of course, the Field of Dreams promotion on the last Sunday of the year isn't going anywhere.
"We do our best to give everyone a reason to come to the game," Iacuessa says, "even if you're not a die-hard baseball fan. Maybe it's Slugger. Maybe it's the trash monster. Maybe it's the band."
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.