Peoria Chiefs hit home run with LeBron promotion
PEORIA– Minor-league baseball marketing departments have some of the most creative folks in the world. They have to be when their job is to attract baseball fans to come watch players with names they’ve never heard before.
Cheap beer, free food and other gimmicks put butts in the seats (my favorite has to be “Office Space Night,” when the Dunedin Blue Jays celebrated the late ’90s comedy film, complete with a “flair” contest and printer-smashing).
But the front office of the Peoria Chiefs, the Chicago Cubs Class A minor-league affiliate, came up with a doozy earlier this week when about 12 staff members sat around three tables for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Like most sports fans, the central Illinois natives had plenty of Miami Heat hate and enjoyed watching LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat blow a 2-1 series lead, losing the final three games to the Dallas Mavericks and failing to claim the first of James’ “not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championship guarantee during last July’s pyro-filled, 11-month-too-early celebration.
Watching highlights of the Heat’s Game 6 loss to the Mavericks on Monday, the Chiefs staff tossed crazy idea around the table.
“We all kind of laughed and we all kind of looked around and each other and it just kind of clicked,” Chiefs spokesman Nathan Baliva said Wednesday.
The Chiefs will have plenty of fun at LeBron’s expense, handing out LeBron James replica rings during Thursday’s 7 p.m. home game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at O’Brien Field. But fans won’t have the chance to take the prizes home, because the replica ring “like LeBron’s is non-existent,” a press release said.
Then the ideas built up like LeBron’s turnovers in Game 6.
One fan will win a replica of James’ Finals MVP award – again a non-existent award because Dirk Nowitzki claimed the 2011 Finals MVP – and fans also will have the opportunity to learn the Heimlich maneuver “to prevent themselves or their colleagues from choking in a big situation,” the release said.
The Chiefs also will honor the ’90s Chicago Bulls, which won six NBA championships behind Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen “to celebrate a true champion,” the release said.
The Chiefs also contemplated skipping the fourth quarter “to honor King James who took off the fourth quarter of every finals game,” the release said. James scored a combined 18 points in the fourth quarter of the six-game series. But Baliva said Wednesday that the Midwest League nixed that idea.
The promotion is not yet a box office hit. “Plenty of tickets” are available for Thursday’s game, Baliva said, adding that attendance usually relies on the weather. But the Chiefs’ gimmick has charmed the mainstream media.
ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, CBSSports.com, USA Today, CNN and the Huffington Post all have posted online stories about the non-giveaway. During nine years with the team, Baliva has never fielded so many calls about a promotion. Not since Cubs great Ryne Sandberg took over as manager in 2006 have the Peoria Chiefs made headline news.
“I don’t know if we thought it was going to do what it has done,” Baliva said.
Not all love the promotion. Chiefs pitcher Cameron Greathouse, a Heat fan, joked with the team that he might not show up to Thursday’s game out of protest.
But for the Chiefs, sitting at 33-31 and 8.5 games back in the MID Western division, any boost to attendance and their Q rating is a win. Peoria has averaged about 2,500, though only about 1,600 came through the turnstiles last Thursday.
Baliva said attendance usually is down during April and May but decreased more this season because of a wet spring. The team averaged 3,300 last year and hopes the ring-less promotion is the spark for the summer.
“If it sells a couple hundred extra tickets, it’ll be a success,” Baliva said. “We see other teams doing stuff like this. Now, we got one.”