Inject Interest Back Into The Derby: Integrate Community and Sponsors

News circulated late this week that batches of empty seats remain on sale for Monday’s Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, despite baseball stating that the event is sold out. Especially with the ultra-inflated prices of this year’s All-Star week festivities, why would 55,000 people want to buy through the roof to watch a handful of players the casual fan needs an introduction to.

Star players shun the Derby, of the 7 confirmed participants only two are repeat All-Stars. What happened to the days when the stars came out, Junior Griffey off the warehouse in Baltimore, McGwire bombing away at Fenway, Bonds with his walk-off win, Giambi back in his hay day. All memorable moments. ESPN says its the highest rated event of the year outside football season. Ratings aside, the event needs fresh blood or it’s at risk of hitting a downslide.

State Farm currently sponsors the entire event, however with 8 individual players hitting, additional marketing and sponsorship opportunities exist. One idea that may entice more players to participate is allow them to play for their chosen charities. Most players already work with a charity or run a foundation, the opportunity to publicize their message and earn corporate dollars could bring more stars to the table.

Taken a step further, get a sponsor for each player. Talk about valuable marketing. The five or ten minutes that a player bats, then gets interviewed, is valuable advertising time. SInce most players already have marketing deals, using one of their pre-existing sponsors would make the most sense, and an arrangement must be made with State Farm to not infringe on their sponsorship of the event.

Tying the two ideas together, the sponsor for each player can donate a set amount of money per homerun to the selected charity or foundation. Another twist on this is to select a team from 8 local Little Leagues to be on the field, each supporting one of the players. That player could play for the Little League supporting him. A great community outreach opportunity. Baseball can’t provide on-field incentives for home run derby, as they do for the actual game to entice players to play hard, however a few other ideas could help generate interest.

My mantra with sports is always interactivity. Fantasy games are everywhere else, why not integrate the in-stadium and home viewers with the event. Start fantasy homerun derby game, pick the winners, pick a team with the most home runs given a set salary cap (obviously each player will have a fictious salary number attached based on home run prowess). Play against your friends, play against all fans, or play against other All-Stars not participating. They always sit on the field and cheer for fellow All-Stars, have them involved online with the fans. Perhaps even a live blog by a player sitting on the field.

A lottery promotion could be interesting. Fans submit a set of numbers as their guess for either the home runs by round of the champion, or total home runs hit in each round, or most home runs hit by an individual in each round, possibilities are countless. Of the winners, pick a grand prize winner to get a signed bat from the champion and a promotional gift from one of the sponsors.

Home run derby needs an infusion of energy. While it’s great to introduce Evan Longoria and Ryna Braun to the world, the fans want to see A-Rod go head to head with Pujols, get Ryan Howard against Prince Fielder in a heavyweight battle – that brings up another point, throw out the rule that only All-Stars can participate. If the big names don’t want in, open it up to the best home run hitters period. Fielder and Howard are names that draw interest.

Now that I think of it, one-on-one matches, like the old school home run derby show from the ’50’s and ’60’s would add spice to the event. Set it up tournament-style, AL players face off against each other, NL players likewise, then winner of each league in the Derby Series. It opens a whole new world of outside interest. Heck, Vegas can even put a line on each matchup – not that gambling spurs any interest.


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