Dogs, beer, gas prices and election on ice

November 3, 2008
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Marketing can be fun at times, especially when it directly reflects events in everyday life. And the chances are good that no one around here is enjoying himself more today than Tim Gortsema, and not just because it’s an election year.

The senior vice president of business operations for the Grand Rapids Griffins helped get the early presidential voting process started last Saturday night with “Bobble the Vote ’08.” The timely promotion consisted of giving away 1,000 bobbleheads each of John McCain and Barack Obama draped in Griffins jerseys — over white shirts and ties, of course — to the first 2,000 ticket holders through the Van Andel Arena turnstiles. Whichever candidate was “bobbled up” first “won the election.” But the real winners were the American Hockey League franchise’s paying customers and the team’s marketing department.

Gortsema said he learned of the bobbleheads at a July meeting with a vendor, who had captured the copyrights before the nominating conventions, and he knew that Nov. 1 was one of the six early-release dates the league had given the team for a home game.

“That was key because there is lead time for getting these produced and shipped, and you really only have this chance once every four years,” he said.

“It’s a cool, fun and unique concept to do, and the stars seemed to somewhat align for us because we got the date and we could get them produced and shipped on time to be able to promote it.”

The pump price of an unleaded gallon is fueling another promotion. For eight games, starting with the one set for Wednesday, ticket prices in three sections of the lower bowl will be cut by the national average price of a gallon of gas. Gortsema said that idea came about because high gas prices were having an adverse effect on people’s budgets, and the franchise wanted to remove one of their expenses to attending a game.

“That’s a cost to come to a game, just like parking and concessions. Concessions are discretionary spending, as someone doesn’t necessarily have to get concessions. But they do have to figure out a way to get here,” he said.

“Although gas prices have come down in the last month or so, gas prices were an inhibitor to peoples’ pocketbooks in terms of what they can do and how much they can spend. We wanted to take the objection out of the equation,” he said.

The Griffins are doing the same with concessions. Like last year, the franchise is selling hot dogs and draught beers for $1 each on Friday nights from 6-8 p.m. The promotion was widely popular last year, as it not only boosted attendance figures but also drew a younger crowd to the games that the team can build on for this season and for years to come.

An average of 4,500 dogs and 6,500 beers were sold at each of the six games at which the promotion was offered last season. After the season ended, Gortsema said he hoped to make “buck night” a Friday night staple, and he has — for all 15 Friday home games this season.

“We had to work with SMG, as our landlord, but also with our concessionaire because all three parties have to agree and understand that everybody is contributing and everybody has got skin in the game,” he said.

“But I certainly feel that there is a strong benefit with the consistency of a promotion, and it worked out this year that we have as many or more Friday nights than we’ve ever had. We’ve got 15 Friday nights, so it’s 40 percent of the schedule.”

Team posters, player figurines, game-worn jersey cards and card strips are also part of the loot the franchise will offer fans this season. Appearances by former Detroit Tigers starter Jack Morris, pro wrestler Sgt. Slaughter, Detroit Red Wings anthem singer Karen Newman, and Emily Osment of Hannah Montana fame are also scheduled.

“When you look at 40 games and you break down the schedule from 15 $1 dog/$1 beers, the player jersey card giveaway, card strips, other giveaways like the McCarty figurine and the Filppula Superman goal and the lunch boxes, it ends up being that almost every single night we have something going on,” said Gortsema.

“So it’s a packed promotional schedule this year.”

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