Waiving the White Flag

Cleveland Browns Stadium

Photo credit: Cecilia Sherrard – YouShouldOwn.com

Year over year, amateur and professional sports organizations put together a schedule of creative, fun and sometimes outrageous promotions to generate higher attendances. I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of the time the planned promotions are a success. But every now and again, the plan backfires. From a concept that seemed foolproof to a complete and utter failure. Two of those promotions were planned right here in my home town, Cleveland. Allow me to elaborate.

Back in 1974, the Cleveland Indians scheduled a promotion dubbed, Ten Cent Beer Night. The Texas Rangers were in town on the heels of a bench clearing brawl six days earlier. As you’d imagine, the wheels fell off pretty quickly. It started in the fourth inning with some aggressive play by the Rangers. The crowd continuously stirred as the game wore on, disruption after disruption. Between fans charging the field, to fireworks being shot at the Rangers’ dugout, the game never even ended. It was called late in the game with the Texans on top 5-1.

The moral of the story, well, there are two. Don’t host a Ten Cent Beer Night but if you do, be sure there are adequate amounts of police on duty. Going one step further, maybe giving away bobble heads would have been plenty to keep the crowd in a submissive state.

More recently, the Cleveland Browns were planning a promotion against their biggest rival (if you can call them that) the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dating back more than eight years, the Browns had lost 16 of the past 17 games to the Steelers. The rivalry was nearly dead, and the Browns were in a state of transition while under new ownership. The giveaway you ask? Inflatable White Flags. If you’re unfamiliar, white flags have long been known as the symbol of surrender. Dating back to 25 A.D., white flags first originated in battle and have continued to pop up throughout history.

Needless to say, the immediate reaction of Cleveland Browns fans everywhere was disappointment. How could our home town team show such little confidence in the product they put on the field each week? Or was this a complete oversight? Did the marketing department not recognize what white flags represented? The point became mute. The Browns decided to drop the promotion entirely as to not face any further media and fan scrutiny. And a good thing they did. The Browns overcame all adversity and beat the Steelers for the first time in years of play.

By now you’re wondering what you should take away from these two blunders. Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy. There’s a lot to be said by the lack of research that went into these to promotions, and the lack of execution. Here are a few pointers so you don’t have to waive the white flag anytime soon.

1.    Research – Do some digging before you plan a promotion. Does history tell you that the promotion could backfire? Learning from our predecessors can help avoid a PR nightmare. After all, have you seen any Ten Cent Beer nights recently?
2.    Target Audience – Think about who you’re targeting. If you want 100,000 alcohol-induced men to attend your ballgame, promote inexpensive alcohol but expect there to be pandemonium. Or if you want to rile your hometown fan base, giveaway white towels that signify surrender. Either way, pick a promotion that works for the people you’ve targeted as your customers. T-shirts might be a safer bet.
3.    Execute – Unlike the Indians, the Browns did a great job of avoiding complete and total recklessness. Had they given away white flags to an already rabid crowd, the SWAT team would have been sweeping the streets of Cleveland. They wisely pulled the promotion. Other avenues could have been pursued which would have rallied the crowds such as Browns winter hats, dog masks, or even brown rally towels.

Sources:
•    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/142952-ten-cent-beer-night-the-worst-idea-ever
•    http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000099794/article/cleveland-browns-surrender-whiteflag-giveaway-promotion 
•    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_flag

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