In the first of a series of pseudo-investigative reporting, we take a look at the marketing promotion that nearly hit the KC airwaves this summer.
We regret that this article is about as well referenced as a Selena Roberts biographical work, but when you're talking about a subject as touchy as this, it's hard to get sources to go on record.
The year was 1988. Kansas City was in love with it's major league baseball team, just three years removed from a World Series Championship. The marketing department, upon a stroke of genius, came out with a new slogan: "Royals Baseball: Catch the Fever!". The slogan was popular throughout the area, and now, in 2009 with a rejuvenated stadium, a payroll at an all-time high, and a team that shocked baseball by jumping out to an 18-11 start, the Royals hoped to revive the slogan.
Numerous discussions were held concerning when to begin advertising the new slogan -- team officials thought it was a fantastic idea, but didn't want to use it too soon; they wanted to save the slogan for when the team would remain near the top of the standings for a long period of time. In the meantime, promotional paraphenalia was printed - new calenders containing the slogan, promotional hats and shirts, and TV commercials with various local celebrities like the fake Guy Fieri were produced. "We had everything set and ready to go, we were just waiting on the team to get another couple of games out in front before rolling everything out" said one team official.
Fake Guy Fieri, you were nearly a Kansas City icon.
Then, in the words of a team executive: "All hell broke loose". Team officials turned on their TVs to find that the World Health Organization and US Government officials were warning of the impending H1N1 influenza outbreak, more commonly referred to as the Swine Flu. News reports came flying in, warning people to take extra precautions and to report to a doctor if feverish symptoms were seen. It didn't take long for the team to realize that having a marketing strategy that involved "catching a fever" was not a welcome idea in a nation that was paralyzed with fear regarding catching the Swine Flu.
The Royals held emergency meetings regarding the upcoming promotion and unanimously agreed to shelve the idea indefinately. "That pretty much means it was never coming back - once you pull a marketing promotion, you don't bring it back" said one team official. Despite their best efforts to pull the plug quickly, too many people had been in the loop, and soon the gossip of the Royals fever promtion made its way through Kansas City.
Word of Royals fever catching on spread amongst the youth of Kansas City like wildfire. Soon the schoolboard was inundated with questions from worried parents. Would the area schools be closing down due to the fever scare? Would students need to wear protective masks? Due to the pandemonium, the superintendent was forced to issue a statement: "At this time, the School District has no plans to shut down or let students out early due to the the Royals Fever. Obviously, we will continue to monitor the situation, and will update you as appropriate, but the school district is not in favor of letting school age children miss school due to professional sports." We left voicemails for the office asking them to comment on how this policy fit in with the 'Kids Day at the K' promotion, but as of the publication of this article, have not received a response.
The marketing department had over 20,000 shirts printed with the new slogan. Due to the potential outrage, they did the only sensible thing - they tried to send them overseas. They got in touch with the same agency that handles the leftover "misprint" shirts from the Super Bowl. The shirts are usually packed up and given away for free to residents in distant African countries, making it unlikely they will ever be seen in the Western world. In yet another mixup, the agency saw that that shirts mentioned catching a fever, and refused to ship them overseas. They now sit in a warehouse in East New Jersey. Major League Baseball doesn't want them released in America and other corporations don't want them shipped overseas. For now, the Royals are paying the bill to store the shirts, although team officials privately note that the shirts will eventually need to be destroyed if a charity to accept them can't be found.
Boxes and boxes of unusable promotional shirts.
A source from within the organization who wished to remain anonymous said: "Look, how were we supposed to know this swine flu thing was going to happen? Everything was going fine until that popped up -- it's just seems like we've been cursed lately. You know?"
This promotion was nearly brought to you by the same marketing department who dreamed up giving away Tony Pena Junior bobbleheads late in the 2008 season. Despite falling off terribly during the second half of his 2007 rookie season by hitting a meager .246/.264/.332 for a .596 OPS, the promotion was set for September 6th. By the time the promotion rolled around, Pena Jr. had been relegated to a backup utility role, and it caused mass speculation among the fans that Pena Jr. had kept his roster spot solely because of the night.
There was also the "Generic White Guy Bobblehead night" (also known as Alex Gordon Bobblehead Night)
They could re-brand the leftovers as Mitch Maier bobbleheads, and no one would know the difference.
There was also the unfortute Mike Sweeney Bobblehead night, in which Mike Sweeney is standing on the wrong side of the plate (or the plate is backwards, depending on your perspective). However, the marketing guys deserve credit, as true to life, the bobblehead Sweeney couldn't stay healthy. Multiple fans reported problems with the bobblehead, many involving neck and back injuries. The right arm on this reporter's personal bobblehead just fell off one day -- I came home from work, and the arm was laying on the table next to it. The glue holding it together had just given out.
Unfortunately, this was just the largest in a series of promotions mishaps at Kaufman Stadium this summer. There was also the ill-fated "Dysentery Awareness Night" in which fans would receive a shirt promoting dysentery awareness (and Pepto-Bismol and Laughing Clown Malt Liquor), and one random hot dog would contain a low-grade dysentery virus. The "lucky" fan who found the hot dog would receive a 4-pack of tickets to any remaining non-premium game, as well as a free stomach pump. "We hoped to raise awareness of a terrible disease, but due to reaction from the fanbase as well as local doctors, have decided to pull the promotion........We still fully believe that the virus would have been harmless due to the low-grade nature - at worst, it would've resulted in flu-like symptoms for 24 hours" read the statement released to local media outlets after the promotion was shelved.
In order to fix these problems and to drum up good will amongst the fan base, the Royals marketing department solicited replacement promotions from the fans. Sadly, this couldn't have come at a worse time, as the good will from starting out 18-11 was long gone, and the team was mired in a slump, having lost 16 of the last 21 games. They were overrun with comments like: "Billy Butler / Sidney Ponson hot dog eating contest", "All fans that can run around the bases faster than Jose Guillen get free admission", and "Good pitching Fridays: Fans get to witness a games that is guaranteed not to feature Ponson, Horacio Ramirez, or Kyle Farnsworth".
When put to a fan vote, it looked like one idea was pulling away: "Popped collar night at the Kougar". In an awkward twist, this potential promotion was pulled as well when it was discovered that nearly all of the votes were coming from an IP address at the local newspaper, the Kansas City Star. To date, no replacement promotion has been found.
So that's where the Royals currently stand. Two smothered promotions, and another fan submission killed during the fan vote. Publicly, team officials remain confident that the promotions still on the schedule are top notch and will continue to draw fan support, although privately they remain skeptical. They seem to be placing their remaining hope on the upcoming national media and fan frenzy that they anticipate will occur as Mike Jacobs come closer to smashing the franchise Home Run record, currently held by Steve Balboni.