feibisi / 2018年7月27日

Selling a Good Time: Inside the Wild, Wacky World of Minor League Baseball Marketing

Today, arguably the most effective branding in the world is coming out of small towns across America. We’re talking about those places like Binghamton, the Quad Cities, and other hubs of minor league baseball. The league of maybe-someday big leaguers is giving an experience a name. Its kooky marketing ways are branding “fun” in ways that any company–selling anything, even something as objectionably boring as minor league baseball–can use.

First, though, it’s important to understand the legacy of minor league baseball as a business. Historically, MiLB, as the stat nerds taking over baseball call it, was, on its surface, a lousy business model. Minor league teams didn’t really make money. They were money sinks. They were a place to develop talent. A big-league team like the New York Mets would own a minor league team such as the Binghamton Mets as an investment. Players in the minors today may be useful in making the team real money as a major leaguer down the road. Not anymore.

Yes, MiLB is still an investment, in the sense that professional teams develop young talent at the minor league level, but turning a profit in a place like Binghamton is much more important these days. The Binghamton Mets don’t exist anymore. But the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, a minor league affiliate for the Mets, do. They’re the same team, but they’re in the early stages of a marketing experiment, and they’re your teacher for the first of three lessons on how you can market, well, just about anything–even if you’re strapped for cash and talent and looking to bring some buzz to Binghamton.

Lesson 1:  Create an experience (not just a product)

The Binghamton Mets were sold to a new owner in 2016, and the owner, according to Eddie Saunders, director of marketing and promotions at the Rumble Ponies, saw a real lack of enthusiasm in the community. He did see people wearing the gear, but businesses in the community didn’t have signs up in their windows. This was a problem.

The team consulted with a rebranding company, Brandios, and developed an idea to get the community involved right from the start: Rename the team! The fan-generated team names boiled down to six options: the Bullheads, the Gobblers, the Stud Muffins, the Timber Jockeys, the Rocking Horses, and the Rumble Ponies. The last two pay homage to the city’s historical production of carousel horses. Inarguably, this is a more fun legacy to play up than other industrial naming possibilities, like, say, the Big Blues (IBM has played a large role in the area).

Even with this approach of letting fans have a voice, not every voice was one of support. “There were a lot of traditionalists here who said, ‘Hey, the Binghamton Mets have been here 25 years. Why mess with it?’” Saunders says. But the franchise still went through with it, and let’s just say Rumble Pony fever has hit this northern New York hamlet.

Last year, the Eastern League, the league the Ponies play in, had 15 rainouts, a record. Even with all those missed opportunities for ticket sales, the Rumble Ponies set a 10-year attendance high.

Saunders and his colleagues know the work is far from over. “Now we have to continue to build the brand,” he says. And with the new name, the Rumble Ponies’ story is about more than baseball: It’s fun for the whole town.

Binghamton Rumble Ponies

Let’s be honest, this  mascot is way more fun than Mr. Met. Also, the winning name was Rowdy. Image via the Rumble Ponies.

Lesson 2: Make that experience one of a kind

Some people get excited when a team’s playing schedule is released. But for the Charleston RiverDogs, the real excitement comes when they release their promotional schedule. Over the years, it has included such themes as “Prostate Cancer Awareness Night,” where all male fans could get free prostate exams (via a pin prick). Or the time the franchise turned their ballpark into a waterpark for “Big Splash Day.” All this leads to a natural question: What’s the connection to baseball? Nothing, and that’s the whole point. The goal is for there to never be a dull moment in a slow-paced game. 

“We want to create enough of a buzz that our stands will be filled with not just locals but those coming to town,” says assistant general manager Ben Abzug. “We target the homestands and try to get one promo per month that will get national attention.” 

Despite the team’s average record over the past five years–the RiverDogs have lost about as many games as they’ve won–annual home attendance has increased from 254,000 to 305,000, a 20 percent uptick.

Creating national attention isn’t easy, though, and trying to outdo oneself for absurdity is a challenge unto itself. Think we’re kidding? There was once an idea to drop a baby grand piano out of a helicopter onto the field. The groundskeeping crew mercilessly nixed that plan and gave us all a red line to draw on what constitutes going too far in the world of harebrained branding boondoggles.

Lesson 3:  Brand the experience (not just the team)

You’ve heard of Sunday Funday? For some, it’s a boozy afternoon to close out the weekend, but to the Richmond Flying Squirrels, it is now part of their identity. “Funnville is a philosophy of who the Flying Squirrels are,” says Jay Burnham, the team’s director of media, broadcasting, and marketing. “This all sort of started with the Lehigh IronPigs, which have become Bacon, USA. It gives the entire experience a name.”

Just as with the Rumble Ponies, when the Flying Squirrels started their process, half the community hated it and half the community was onboard. But as the team won people over, they were able to slowly sell Funnville (And, yep, it’s spelled with two “n’s.”) This means that on Sundays, the team forgoes its standard uniforms and wears ones lettered with “Funnville.” Don’t get us started on the game-day slogan, “Have Funn, Go Nuts!”

Have the Flying Squirrels taken it too far? “We’ve definitely gotten away from the baseball part of it and are now focused on the experience,” said Burnham. “We are here to sell a good time. The pendulum may swing back one day.”

Be it painting the upper decks crazy colors, doing a “Bobble Mustache Night” for onetime native Edgar Allan Poe, or having baseball legend “Crime Dog” Fred McGriff carry a lucky rabbit’s foot to the pitching mound on Friday the 13th, Richmond residents are getting what they expect. “We don’t have anyone asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’” says Burnham. “It’s easier now that it’s Funnville.”

feibisi / 2018年7月24日

The First Five Years: What Should be in your Portfolio?

Getting started in your creative career is tough. You’ve got boatloads of ambition and energy, but you lack experience, the kind of knowledge that feels like you can see into the future because you’ve been there before. So we’ve introduced a new column that will allow you to get the benefit of hindsight before you’ve actually gone through the experience. Welcome to “The First Five Years” where Mitch Goldstein, a professor of design at Rochester Institute of Technology, answers reader questions related to the unchartered waters of beginning a career. This month, Mitch answers a question about putting together a winning portfolio.
What should be in my portfolio?
A portfolio is not just a representation of skills and abilities, or simply a checklist of things you know how to make. A good portfolio also represents your opinion on design, what you think is and is not important. It is the story about the relationship between you and design. Companies and clients do not hire a portfolio; they hire a person, therefore it is important that you are represented in your portfolio.
Mitch Goldstein what should be in my portfolio

Mitch and his wife and creative partner Anne Jordan showcase book cover designs in their portfolio because this is the work they want to do.

Employers will see a ton of to-do list apps and craft beer labels in portfolios that come across their desks — what makes yours unique? Portfolios should have a few things: first, I want to see that you are capable of creating refined, clear, down-to-the-last-detail work in your portfolio.

I want to see excellent work, which is why you should never add sub-par work just to fill up space — I would much rather see five excellent projects than five excellent projects mixed with five mediocre projects. It is very important that you are able to clearly explain the hows and whys of each project. The portfolio itself might be what gets you in the door, but the conversation about what you did and why you did it gets you the job. Make sure that you are able to justify your decisions and explain your choices.
Julie Campbell what should be in my portfolio

Julie Campell’s portfolio shows bright, visually assertive work that features motion and often references pop culture.

The first set of work helps me understand that you can do the job. Secondly, I want to see you in your work. This is why another key part of a good portfolio is work that is more personal, experimental, and possibly less refined or polished. If you have work that you are obsessed about, work that keeps you up at night, I want to see it. Do not let labels get in your way — it does not have to be “design” to be included, it just has to be something you care deeply about. What work have you done outside of your design classes? Painting, sculpture, photography…all of it counts if it is important to you and your relationship to creative practice.

Finally, you should include the kind of work that you want to do more of, and you should leave out the work you want to do less of. You will get back what you put out — if you do not want to design websites, don’t put websites into your portfolio. If you want to design more book covers, make sure plenty of book covers are included. Having a clear vision of what you want to do as a designer is important, and your portfolio should reflect that in its content. It is always obvious to someone looking at your work which stuff you care about, and which stuff you don’t care about. Part of having an opinion about design is including work that matters to you, instead of including work just because you think that is what you are supposed to do. Always remember: it is not just a portfolio, it is your portfolio.

Got a question for Mitch? Tweet it to us at 99U or Mitch and we’ll tackle one new every month.