Even if you've never heard of Mike Veeck, you probably know his work On July 8 the baseball impresario's Nobody Night made something out of nothing. He generated a ballparkful of publicity for his Charleston RiverDogs by locking the gates of Riley Stadium, holding a party in the parking lot and not letting fans in until the sixth inning-after the team had set a record for lowest paid attendance (zero). Despite playing sub-.500 baseball last season, the RiverDogs, who had promotions at 60 of 70 home games, drew 242,000 fans, the most in team history.
The president of a South Carolina ad agency, Veeck is a consultant for the Detroit Tigers and also oversees a consortium of six minor league ball clubs that include the Evansville Otters and the Sioux Falls Canaries. "He's the Grand Pooh-Bah of minor league marketing," says Orlando Magic vice president Pat Williams, a disciple of Veeck's father, Bill, the baseball showman who dreamed up exploding scoreboards and sent 3'7" Eddie Gaedel to bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. "Mike has a real genius for drawing attention to his teams and increasing their fan base," Williams says. "His hustles are the future of minor league sports. When he speaks, everybody listens."
And not just baseball people. Williams was among 260 front-office executives from every major team sport who came to j" Tampa last week to hear Veeck bat around the marketing concepts behind some of his successful pro-B motions at a three-day seminar. Rally Monkeys and Thunder-Stix are fine when your club's in the World Series, but Veeck shows that good times are possible even when your team is 20,000 leagues under the national radar. "My philosophy is simple," he said. "Make 75 percent of the crowd laugh, annoy 15 percent, and who cares about the other 10 percent?"
Among Mike's brighter brainchildren are Call in Sick Day (fans cut work; team faxes excuses to their bosses), Mime-O-Vision Night (mimes re-create game action atop dugouts) and Race the Mannequin Night (base path dash between spectators and department store dummy—the joke being that the mannequin doesn't move). He has had a pig deliver balls to the home plate ump, a nun give massages atop the dugout and, before this summer's big league strike deadline, seat cushions imprinted with the mugs of Bud Selig and Donald Fehr. Fans were instructed to vote with their cheeks.
Marriage Counseling Night was a symposium favorite. Spouses air their grievances to the crowd, which sides with husband or wife by holding placards aloft. "If the relationship can't be healed," Veeck explained, "the team pays for a divorce." Equally popular were Fan Bobblehead Night (lucky customer gets doll made in his image), a fun-house-mirror experiment (size-exaggerating mirrors placed next to urinals) and Protest Night, in which each spectator gets a sheet of cardboard glued to a tongue depressor. By doubling as a fan and a picket sign, the giveaway provides ventilation and hyperventilation.
Man Living at the Ballpark—Veeck brought in a law student to be a squatter for the entire 2001 season at St. Paul's Midway Stadium—inspired Vince Spinks of the Johnson City Cardinals. "I'd like to stage Big Brother in one of our unused corporate suites," he said. "We could show it on cable access."
Still, Veeck cautions that "even the canniest innovation can't save a lousy team." He proved that last season in Detroit: The Tigers lost 106 games, and despite such promotional wizardry as Octopus Toss Night, attendance fell 20%.
Sadly, some of Veeck's canniest innovations never leave the can. He most mourns Vasectomy Night, which the RiverDogs had planned for Father's Day. "We'd hoped to give away a vasectomy^' he recalled. "Complications arose, and the idea got snipped."