Over the past several years, the Mega Candy Drop has become a promotional staple across MiLB. The prospect of hundreds, or even thousands, of kids sprinting onto the field for a free treat is one thing, but there is something about seeing candy fall out of helicopter that makes it all the more unique.
This year approximately 10 teams in the minors either already have, or will, host a Mega Candy Drop. The clubs to have already featured this event include the Frederick Keys (High Class-A; Carolina League), Palm Beach Cardinals (High Class-A; Florida State League), Charleston RiverDogs (Low Class-A Sally League), Cedar Rapids Kernels (Low Class-A; Midwest League), and the Bowie Baysox (Class AA; Eastern League). This past Sunday included a Mega Candy Drop from the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class-A; Midwest League), who hold a claim as the first team to host the promotion.
The idea has its origins in Main Street Baseball’s purchase of the River Bandits in 2008. Dave Heller, the president and CEO of Main Street, immediately began looking for unique promotions to bring to Modern Woodman Park, the River Bandits’ ballpark in Davenport, IA. He found his inspiration in a neighborhood park in Miami, where he lives with his family.
The park hosted a candy grab in which children would collect candy from scattered locations. Considering this concept, Heller thought “What would really be cool is if you could drop the candy from a helicopter.” By collaborating with the front office staff, Heller came up with a few key concepts, including how to split the children by age groups, the timing of each drop, and how to gather the necessary materials. In order to obtain the sweets, the River Bandits partnered with local grocer Hy-Vee, which donated 1,000 pounds of candy.
The initial run—which took place in 2009—was a success, with the exception of one hiccup. “There was so much candy in the helicopter,” Heller recalled “that it didn’t get more than 10-12 feet off the ground.” The River Bandits’ solution: get a bigger helicopter.
Even with a low-flying helicopter, Heller could see that the Mega Candy Drop was ripe for future success. Along with a turnout of several hundred kids and positive feedback from the fans, he also noticed involvement from the team. “As a Low-A team, we had a lot of players who were still teenagers,” said Heller. “They loved it. They went out, and they started grabbing candy and taking pictures with the kids. It became a thing where, organically, the players got really involved.”
Over the past several years, the promotion has developed in a fashion that Heller and Main Street Baseball could not have planned better. “It’s gotten bigger every single year, that’s really the cool thing,” he said. “The first year we did it, we had about 700 kids. Now we have about 2,000.” He estimated that Sunday’s Mega Candy Drop would attract a major crowd, a prediction that proved correct when the River Bandits drew over 4,500 fans, despite a doubleheader that was forced by Saturday’s rainout. Prior to Sunday’s game, the River Bandits—traditionally one of the Midwest League’s steadier draws—had an average attendance of more than 3,100 fans a game.
There are a few factors that have allowed the promotion to grow. The River Bandits have developed a strategy to build anticipation for the drop by employing what Heller describes as a multi-step approach. Typically, the team will start by playing candy-related music—songs from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory stand out as Heller’s favorite example—before the helicopter begins circling the ballpark. From there, the helicopter is shown the video board, providing one last burst of excitement before the children storm the field.
Along with the game day atmosphere, Heller credits Hy-Vee for being a reliable partner in the promotion. “They not only provide us candy, but also tote bags for the kids. Their marketing director told me, ‘we see those tote bags all over town all year round.’ They love that.”
One last component has been local government. Anytime a team undertakes a promotion along the lines of the Mega Candy Drop, there has to be some consideration of local laws and ordinances, so it would seem that it would face some pushback. That has not been the case for the River Bandits. “The City of Davenport has been such as outstanding partner,” said Heller. “They look for ways for us to succeed, not hold us back.”
The promotion has become a signature event for not only Quad Cities, but for Main Street Baseball’s entire portfolio of teams—which also includes the Billings Mustangs (Rookie; Pioneer League), High Desert Mavericks (High Class-A; California League), and the group’s most recent purchase, the Wilmington Blue Rocks (High Class-A; Carolina League). Heller said he was pleased with Wilmington’s first turn at the promotion—which took place on June 7 and drew over 4,700 fans—and anticipates another success story when the Mustangs host the event on August 23.
If you are not in the area of a Main Street team, there are still a few other forthcoming options. The Visalia Rawhide (High Class-A; California League) will host the event on June 21, while the Batavia Muckdogs (Short Season A; New York-Penn League) are slated to take their turn on August 23.
When asked why he feels that more and more teams are copying the Mega Candy Drop, Heller said that the answer lies in its potential to increase attendance. “It attracts people to the ballpark. If a promotion increases your attendance in a subtenant way, it’s a great promotion.” The component that creates the Mega Candy Drop’s positive effect on attendance has everything to do with its family-oriented approach, as Heller said that if teams attract “the children, the parents will follow.”
Heller also said that the Mega Candy Drop—unlike other promotions that require extensive use of the playing surface—does virtually no damage to the field. “By the time the thing is done, the field is immaculate. Those kids aren’t leaving any candy behind.”
With its ability to attract fans and simple planning process, the Mega Candy Drop will likely grow exponentially over the next few years. Even as more teams copy his idea, Heller insists that it will remain “a signature event” for his teams. “We’ll keep doing it as long as kids keep coming, as long as kids love candy, and as long as God puts life in my body.”