5 Disastrous Stadium Promotions That Should Have Known Better
The best way to juice attendance for any sports team is to be a good team that’s enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, that’s a solution that not every team has the good fortune to be able to execute. Some teams can spend decades in athletic squalor, banking on the inherent dedication their fans’ parents’ baked into them like a horrible prophecy. When that fails, though, you can always fall back on good old-fashioned gimmickry.
If you can’t offer a good on-field product, then offer good — or at least insanely cheap — off-field products. That, or just straight up bribe people with bobbleheads and other chintzy home goods that are about 5 percent too high quality to immediately throw away. Sometimes, though, even a promotional event that’s successful in terms of attendance can turn out to be a massive mistake in retrospect.
To that end, here are five disastrous promotional sports nights…
Dollar Hot Dog Night
The most recent one happened less than a month ago, when the Philadelphia Phillies offered fans hot dogs for only a dollar at a game against the Marlins. Despite the fact that hot dogs are among the only foods that you can still make a profit on at a dollar, it was post-sale that the problems started to surface. That’s because the Phillies had forgotten to take a few important things into account.
Most importantly was that this was Philadelphia, home of sports fans that love chaos above all else. Anything ever handed to a Philadelphia fan should have already been evaluated on the mess and danger it would cause when thrown. The second was humans’ latent desire to participate in a food fight ever since seeing one in a teen movie. The last was the exact monetary mark at which both eating and throwing a hot dog equalize in pleasure versus cost. Bored by the Phillies losing 8-4 on the field, those in attendance instead spent the whole time pelting each other with cheap hot dogs.
10-Cent Beer Night
Another ill-advised food and beverage pricing stumble is maybe the most infamous on this list: the carnage of a 10-Cent Beer Night put on by the Cleveland Guardians. Now, it was 1974, so 10 cents per beer wasn’t quite as insane as by today’s standards, and they were only 8-ounce beers, but even with those caveats, it’s not hard to foresee that this ended in the creation of an absolute shitshow. One thing that might have helped is changing the limit on beers per person from “unlimited” to any actual integer.
Instead, the entire crowd came together to produce an ode to sloppy drunkenness for the ages. There were streakers and exposed body parts aplenty. People were shooting fireworks at the dugout. Seats were destroyed. And before the game could come to an official end, a full-on riot broke out, during which, every single base was stolen and never returned. The Guardians learned their lesson, and it’s doubtful we’ll ever see this kind of collective binge again, especially since at modern beer prices, your checking account will give up before your liver.
$1,000 Cash Drop
Even though they were both disasters, at least the first two promotions here tried to be, you know, actual promotions. People love beer and hot dogs, so why not give them a special discount? It’s something that enhances fans’ enjoyment of what they’d normally be doing on gameday, even if the details left something to be desired. Or, you know, you could give up on creativity and goodwill altogether.
That’s what the West Michigan Whitecaps did in 2006 when they said, “Fuck it, we’re just going to throw a thousand dollars on the field at some point, and let people scramble for it.” The people in question being 5- to 12-year-old kids, presumably because if it had been adults, people would have brought lead pipes and done their best Gladiator impressions. Still, with the promise of a brand new PlayStation game in front of them, the kids went fairly feral, and two were trampled and had to be treated for injuries.
Free souvenirs are another popular promotional tactic. Bobbleheads or stadium cups are beloved bits of sports memorabilia that can be treasured far longer than anybody expected. But the Los Angeles Dodgers decided to switch it up, and thought, hey, what better souvenir for a baseball game than a baseball? In 1995, they did just that, handing out souvenir balls to fans attending a game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
You would think, though, that people in the baseball business would understand just how perfectly suited baseballs are for throwing. But this thought did not make it across their mind, and when fans started to disagree with the calls during the game, they were delighted to realize that they had a perfect little sphere of discontent in their hand with which to make their opinion known. It backfired for everybody involved when, after the third instance of a wave of promotional balls being tossed onto the field, the umpire called the game as a forfeit by the home team Dodgers.
The last entry here is a delightful twist on the horrible promotional night that’s so fun, it’s probably the first time I’ve ever had any desire to visit Altoona, Pennsylvania. The promotion in question is the simply named “Awful Night” put on by the Altoona Curve. Instead of a good-intentioned promo gone bad, Awful Night was an exercise of revelry in pure, terrible chaos. It was a beautiful tribute to Murphy’s Law as they made sure that anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
Let’s look at it from the perspective of a fan attending either without the knowledge it’s happening, or not yet knowing exactly what Awful Night entails. First, you’d notice that they’d mispronounced a player’s name, only to realize that every name was going to be mispronounced for the entire night. Then, you’d see an unfamiliar face on the Jumbotron as you realize that the headshots for your beloved Curve have all been swapped out for baby photos. Finally, if you were flying solo for a nice relaxing baseball game, you might have found yourself featured on the Jumbotron yourself as part of the devastating Kiss Cam alternative, the “Alone Cam.”