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Promotions Watch: Football Night

Benny Friedman, University of Michigan

Within a matter of weeks, the NFL and college football seasons will begin, signaling the end of the Minor League Baseball for 2015. Over the few weeks, teams around the minors will celebrate the return of football with Football Night, a promotional staple that features several standouts worthy of inclusion in this week’s Promotions Watch.

Football Night blends the interests of fans. While it is in some ways bittersweet that baseball ends as fans turn their attention to the gridiron, it can spark some creative ideas, especially for teams that have a built-in connection to football.

The State College Spikes (Short Season A; New York-Penn League) are one of the best examples of this trend, as they are not only across the street from Beaver Stadium—one of college football’s most hallowed venues—but are owned by a group that includes Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis.

Bettis, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, was honored by the Spikes on Sunday with an elaborate promotion that featured a Bettis bobblehead giveaway and a specialty gold jacket jersey. The Spikes’ turn at football night comes exactly a week after another interesting tribute to the pigskin, as the Potomac Nationals (High A; Carolina League) welcomed former NFL and Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon to their game on August 2.

With these two events in the rearview mirror, the remaining slate of Football Nights offer plenty of intrigue. On August 14 the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League) will feature one of the most elaborate football nights of the season, as the first 1,000 fans 13 and older will receive a free Keven Smith football jersey.

Smith was the Barons catcher last season and is currently a member of the Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) but has a football background, as he was quarterback in six games over two seasons for the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. In addition to receiving a jersey, fans in attendance at Regions Field might be able to see their favorite college football mascot. The Barons have said that the mascots will be available on the concourse during the game.

If a t-shirt is your preference to a jersey, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League) will have something in store on August 25. The team’s final t-shirt Tuesday of 2015 will feature a football theme as it coincides with Football & Cheer Night. Shirts will be available to the first 3,000 fans 18 and older.

Of course, a jersey or t-shirt can always be paired with a good football, and many teams are looking to give away their own pigskins. The Aberdeen Ironbirds (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) will give out a football to the first 1,200 fans in attendance at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium on August 23. As part of the promotion, the Ironbirds will welcome Poe, the mascot of the Baltimore Ravens.

The Reading Fightin’ Phils (Class AA; Eastern League) will put an interesting twist on the promotion by giving out a football that features baseball stitches, which will be available to the first 2,000 fans 14 and under. Along with the giveaway, the Phils will stage a free pregame football clinic and a youth cheerleader appearance at 4 p.m., adding to a busy night that includes a pre-game concert, dollar hot dogs, and a post-game all fans run the bases.

In one of the final days of the season, the Frisco RoughRiders (Class AA; Texas League) will give away footballs in the first 2,000 fans in attendance on September 5. Those in the mood for unique specials and events will be in luck on this night, as the RoughRiders are also planning specials for anyone with a beard as part of World Beard Day, along with college night and a post-game party.

While many teams are going with the apparel options in their giveaways, the Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League) are allowing some lucky fans to walk away with free tickets. During College Football Night on August 23, the Lookouts will be handing out free tickets to registered fans for several college football games, including the SEC Championship Game.

For that pre-game tailgate, the West Virginia Power (Low-A; Sally League) are supplying one of the most essential supplies. On August 22, the first 1,000 fans through the gates of Appalachian Power Park will receive a free backpack cooler that features the Power logo.

The giveaway is part Football Night in Charleston, which will include two special appearances: former West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback and College Football Hall of Famer Major Harris, as well as one-time Marshall Thundering Hurd quarterback Michael Payton. For those who are not football fans, the Power will have plenty of other promotions in store, including an appearance from BirdZerk.

Rounding out the slate of football nights is one that was announced months ago to honor what was, at the time, a hot news story. While it may have looked at the time that this football controversy would eventually go away, it has remained in the news, and should still be a polarizing topic in early September.

That promotion comes courtesy of the Trenton Thunder (Class AA; Eastern League), who on September 2 will give out deflated footballs to the first 1,000 fans six and older. The football is of course a nod to the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, both of whom have been sanctioned by the NFL for their apparent role in using underinflated footballs during January’s AFC Championship Game.

Given that the fallout of the investigation and the subsequent Wells Report, which included the suspension of Brady for four games, is far from over, deflategate is not disappearing from the news any time soon. That should give the Thunder a nice boost as they wind down their season, as this promotion headlines a final home stand that includes three firework shows and a Bernie Williams bobblehead giveaway.

It should be noted that the Thunder are not the first team to spoof deflategate. Back on April 15, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High-A; Carolina League) gave out deflated baseballs as part of #DeflateCancer night. That promotion—which was scheduled for April 15, but pushed back to May 6 because of a rainout—attracted over 2,000 fans.

While it is sad to think that the minor-league season is drawing to a close, these Football Nights add some buzz to the end of the promotional schedule and appeal to the two pastimes of many fans.

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