The Corpus Christi Hooks (Class AA; Texas League) will ask fans to disconnect from their devices Thursday, when the team hosts a phones-free game at Whataburger Field.
Smartphones have proliferated society, a trend that is plainly evident during games at just about any ballpark. Fans can be seen throughout games using their phones for a variety of purposes, whether it is texting, social networking or using apps to get more information about the action unfolding on the field right before their eyes. Ballpark operators have, for the most part, embraced this trend, whether it is by incorporating the use of smartphones into promotions or by integrating selfie spots into their facilities to create a unique backdrop for fans as they showcase their experiences on Instagram and other social networks.
For fans attending Thursday’s game between the Hooks and Springfield Cardinals, however, there will be a different experience all together, as the Hooks host a no-phones promotion. The no-phones game kicks off Coastal Bend Conservation Weekend, a promotion the Hooks are staging to raise awareness for conservation efforts. As the only minor-league team playing on the Texas Costal Bend, the Hooks management feels it is important to show appreciation for their surrounding environment. On the surface, a phone-free night might not seem like a natural tie-in for a conservation effort, but the Hooks view it as a way for fans to become more aware and appreciative of Whataburger Field’s surroundings.
“The idea behind that is not necessarily about conservation as a whole, but just showing appreciation for our environment,” said Hooks communication coordinator Dan Reiner. “Whataburger Field is on the Corpus Christi Bay, you have the Harbor Bridge that is directly in center field, you can see the USS Lexington just across the bay, and we wanted fans to take a night and be able to appreciate their surroundings and appreciate the environment in which we live in down here on the beautiful waterfront.”
The 2019 season has already yielded one similar promotion within baseball—the Kalamazoo Growlers (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) staged a phone-free night earlier this month—but this will mark the first event of this type in Minor League Baseball. To execute the promotion, the Hooks will partner with Yondr, a San Francisco-based company that uses lockable cases to create smartphone free environments for events such as concerts, shows by stand-up comedians, and other major entertainment acts.
Plotting a no-phones game has required a proactive approach on the part of the Hooks, including consistent promotion through social media and plans to have signage reminding fans of the promotion outside of the ballpark. Any fans with tickets that opt not to enter the ballpark because of the promotion will be accommodated by the Hooks with a voucher for a future game, though a difference could be charged for a premium game, but the phone-free experience will begin as soon as fans have their tickets scanned.
“Once a ticket is scanned, they’ll go to a table and Yondr’s going to have representatives on site and they’re going to train a whole bunch of staff,” Reiner explained. “It’s a pretty simple process. The fan will get their case, they’ll drop their phone right in, they’ll close the top and it’s closed with a hard magnet that you can’t really just pull open. Then, you just put it in your pocket and off you go to your seat.”
Fans that need to use their phones during the game will have some options, as the Hooks will operate four phone zones around the ballpark. Those will comprise of two zones on the concourse, one on the suite level, and one in the outfield. Fans will have their pouches unlocked upon entering the zones but will have their device secured back inside the case before exiting.
Other areas of the ballpark will be completely phone free, which the Hooks hope will foster more face-to-face conversation among fans.
“We want to encourage people to converse with the fans around them, whether it’s your family and friends, or strangers that you’re sitting next to, just to spark conversation,” Reiner said. “It really just comes down to appreciating the ballpark, the game itself, and take a look around to see what we have to offer around the ballpark, around Corpus Christi, whatever it may be.”
Thus far, the feedback for the promotion has been positive, according to Reiner. Hooks’ fans have by and large responded positively to the idea of a phone-free night, and even social media users beyond the team’s fanbase have been complimentary of the promotion.
“Locally, nationally, we’ve actually seen overwhelmingly positive comments for the most part,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of good feedback from fans, or people who aren’t even fans of Corpus Christi but seem to want to encourage this. We’ve seen comments like ‘when I leave my phone home for the day, I feel so free.’”
As part of the promotion, the Hooks will have provide some unique offerings to fans, including a photo booth on the concourse to help capture their night at the ballpark. Coastal Bend Conservation Weekend, meanwhile, will continue through Saturday, with the three-day long promotion to include specialty jerseys that will be auctioned off to benefit a local conservation group.
The multi-day event will begin with the phone-free game, which the Hooks feel could become a model for similar efforts around Minor League Baseball.
“I think it’s a good test for all of Minor League Baseball, because if we’re the first ones to do it, I think a lot of other teams will be waiting to see the results,” Reiner said. “I think there’s a lot of good possibilities that can come from this particular event, whether it be a throwback night or whatever, to see if fans are willing to disconnect for the night and enjoy the game without their phones.”
Image by Olivia Rook/CC Hooks.