There are times when a Minor League Baseball team uses a promotion to go above and beyond for the greater good. That was certainly the case this year with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A; Carolina League), whose Deaf Awareness Night has been chosen as our 2018 Promotion of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” said Pelicans general manager Ryan Moore. “Ballpark Digest is a respected medium for everyone in the industry, so to be recognized with this honor is truly humbling.”
Held on August 19, Deaf Awareness Night shows how a promotion can succeed on multiple fronts. It was built through an effort of community outreach, increased its impact through social media, and worked the normal aspects of the MiLB gameday experience toward a good cause.
Building Community Outreach
Before it grew into to an ambitious concept, Deaf Awareness Night had its origin in an appearance at a community event by Pelicans executive Ryan Cannella. Cannella spoke about the Pelicans’ role in the community through their fundraising program, and was approached afterward by Michael Sokolik, who mentioned that he had a daughter that was deaf and said he would be interested in doing a Deaf Awareness Night at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark. From there, an elaborate idea took shape.
“That was really the genesis of the night,” Moore said. “Ryan came back to the ballpark and said ‘Hey, I got a brand-new fundraiser idea, I don’t think it’s been done to the level that I’m thinking of.’ We started brainstorming different ideas, and the jerseys with the American Sign Language lettering was one of the first ideas that came to pass.”
When the Pelicans first announced the promotion in July, it was the jerseys that made a striking first impression. By tweeting out photos of the jerseys, the Pelicans built a strong response to a promotion that was initially elaborate in scope and grew over time.
One of the key features of Deaf Awareness Night was the involvement of Curtis Pride, a former major league outfielder who was born deaf. Pride helped run a free youth baseball clinic for members of the deaf community and participated in a private meet and greet for members of the deaf community.
In addition, the Pelicans also brought in Jason Hurdich—the only Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) in South Carolina—to sign the national anthem. Among some of the other elements that were included were a silent inning, ASL interpreters throughout the ballpark, a free jersey raffle for members of the deaf community, and jersey auction to benefit charity.
The scope of Deaf Awareness Night ultimately grew beyond the ballpark. As interest from baseball fans and members of the deaf community around the country poured in, the Pelicans turned to partners in the Myrtle Beach community to create what became known as the Weekend of Fun for those traveling to Myrtle Beach for the promotion. The Weekend of Fun gave members of the deaf community access to free tickets to several area attractions, including Sky Wheel, Ripley’s Aquarium, and WonderWorks, as well as discounted room rates.
“That came off the demand from our fans and supporters of Minor League Baseball across the country,” said Moore. “We went into this really not knowing how big it was going to be. We thought we had a pretty good promotion on our hands, but we were blown away with the response to it. The response grew, the demand grew, and we grew the promotion in kind. It was really cool to see everybody come together for the greater good.”
Growing the Promotion
The promotion also grew in another way. Through the initial reaction to the Deaf Awareness Night jersey, the Pelicans saw a demand for an American Sign Language merchandise line. By working quickly with merchandise partners, the Pelicans were able to produce products that resonated well beyond Myrtle Beach.
“To kind of tease the event, we tweeted out and used social media to push out the image of our jerseys,” Moore said. “The response to those was unbelievable, and people were saying that they wanted a jersey, they wanted a hat, they wanted a shirt. We worked with our merchandise providers to expedite hats, t-shirts, sherseys, and also authentic and replica game jerseys as well. We saw purchases come from all across the country.”
Deaf Awareness Night is something that the Pelicans themselves plan to grow down the road. Moore said to expect a second promotion in 2019, but that the Pelicans are working on ideas to alter and grow the promotion in its second iteration.
“We don’t want to do a carbon copy of what we’ve done, so we have a few ideas to enhance the night that we’ll release at a later point,” he said. “We saw the response, and saw the need for this type of promotion, and it will become something that we continue to do. I look at it as a potential staple for the franchise moving forward that, once the promotional schedule rolls out, you know that there will be a deaf awareness night on it.”
The Pelicans are also being awarded with a spot in Cooperstown, as a game-worn jersey from the promotion will be added to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s exhibit on diversity and inclusion. This will be celebrated with a day of programming at the Hall of Fame on Friday, October 5 that will include a Q&A with multiple representatives from the Pelicans.
The Frisco RoughRiders (Class AA; Texas League) have long been known for unique promotions and added to that trend this season with the weekly Party @ The Yard. Serving as a twist on the traditional Thirsty Thursday drink special, the promotion succeeded in attracting millennial fans to Dr Pepper Ballpark. “Party @ The Yard was one of the most unique ballpark experiences I’ve been a part of during my long career in baseball,” said RoughRiders president & general manager Andy Milovich. “It was a blast to plan the biggest party in North Texas for our fans every Thursday night.” The RoughRiders also extended the promo with their own Deaf Awareness Night.
The Lansing Lugnuts (Low A; Midwest League) honored a beloved videogame with their Backyard Baseball Night. Complete with a name change to the Mighty Wombats and a bobblehead giveaway of Pablo Sanchez—one of the characters from the game—the promotion proved to be a success. “This is a tremendous honor for our organization and our creative team,” said Lugnuts general manager Tyler Parsons. “It was great to see Backyard Baseball Night come to fruition, and we were blown away by the national response it had. It created such nostalgia for fans of the game, and we had fans travel in from 17 different states just to be part of it. It was a special night and we thank our friends at Ballpark Digest for the amazing recognition!”
The St. Paul Saints paid homage to the 40th anniversary of Animal House with their Food Fight promotion. Aside from serving as a fitting tribute to a memorable scene from the film, it also attracted plenty of attention through viral videos, and had tie-ins that benefitted local charities. “It’s an honor to be recognized by Ballpark Digest for the lifeblood of our organization: our promotions,” said Saints director of marketing & promotions Sierra Bailey. “The 40th Anniversary of Animal House allowed us to throw all the rules out, or in this case all of the food. This was one of the more fun and messy promotions the Saints have done in their 26-year history and it allowed us to partner with two local food shelters and give back. Any time you can make your fans laugh and your community partners smile it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The Staten Island Yankees (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) found success with the Staten Island Pizza Rats, an alternate identity taken from a 2016 name-the-team contest when the Yankees considered changing their name, but ultimately did not. Along with a weekly Saturday night promotion, the Yankees leveraged the Pizza Rats branding into strong merchandise sales. “We always believed in the Pizza Rats,” said Staten Island Yankees President Will Smith. “We were excited to share the brand with the world in 2018. It resonated with many people, including Ballpark Digest, and we’re very thankful for the support so far. Stay tuned for more from the Staten Island Yankees!”
2018 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
MLB Broadcaster of the Year: Pat Hughes
MiLB Broadcaster of the Year: Tim Heiman
Commitment to Charity: Hartford Yard Goats
Team of the Year: Indianapolis Indians
Executive of the Year: Doug Scopel
Ballpark of the Year: SRP Park
Past Ballpark Digest Promotion of the Year Winners
2017: Bacon vs. Tacos (Fresno Grizzlies and Lehigh Valley IronPigs)
2016: My Big Fat Fresno Wedding Show
2015: Ambush Baseball, Brooklyn Cyclones
2014: MiLB Promo of the Year, Myrtle Beach Pelicans
2014: Summer-Collegiate Promo: Kalamazoo Growlers
2013: Promotions of the Year, Lehigh Valley IronPigs
2012: Home-Run Derby, Charleston RiverDogs
2009: BPD Promotions of the Year, Trenton, Lakewood and Quad Cities
2008: St. Paul Saints, Fresno Grizzlies