Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of being invited to make the 2-hour trek down the QEW and see the International League’s Buffalo Bisons host the Durham Bulls for their annual Star Wars promotion. Now, admittedly, I’m not much of a Star Wars fan but I figured with the team wearing special uniforms and Jose Reyes playing a rehab stint there, sounded like the perfect opportunity to catch a game.
The Bisons have been holding an annual Star Wars night for six years now and the event has increased in popularity with each passing season, having added scripted video sequences involving Bisons staff acting out an entire custom movie storyline and players wearing special uniforms. This year’s event was the first time during the 2013 season in which the Bisons played to a sold-out crowd at Coca-Cola Field – and it all started because one Bisons employee is a hardcore Star Wars fan…
“We’re always thinking of events we’re personally passionate about and ways to make it work with the baseball atmosphere”, recalled Anthony Sprague, the Bisons director of sales, a self-described “lifelong Star Wars fan”. “We met with some of the local Star Wars groups and started spitballing ideas with them, it was such a small thing at the time but it just continued to grow and grow each year”
The Bisons may not have been the first to incorporate Star Wars into the ballpark experience (that honour belongs to the West Michigan Whitecaps, who held their 7th annual event yesterday), but they’ve certainly been the ones to bring the idea to the mainstream. In the past two seasons alone fellow AAA clubs in Rochester, Omaha, and Toledo have held promotional nights in which their players wear Star Wars themed uniforms.
“Fans have really grabbed onto this idea, when we put tickets on sale in March our Star Wars Night now rivals Opening Day and July 3rd as the most popular events of the season. The fans are great and it shows that the work that goes into it — the script, the costumes, changing jerseys every year, getting the support of local Star Wars fanclubs like The North Ridge, The 501st, and the support from Lucasfilm — has all been worth it.” – Sprague
That’s right, Lucasfilm is on board with the Bisons and their Star Wars nights, their only stipulation was that any profit made from the promotion go to the American Heart Association – something the Bisons were more than happy to do.
“They’ve been fantastic, very good to work with. We like to work with them to help promote their brand the way they want to and to be as authentic as possible.” – Brad Bisbing, Bisons Director of PR
Auctioned game-worn jerseys, ticket packs involving this game, lazer swords, t-shirts featuring the Bisons Star Wars logo… All of the money generated through the sale of those items went directly to the AHA, “without question the most successful year ever” for money raised toward the American Heart Association.
As for the jerseys, I mean that’s why you’re all here, the Bisons worked with the local Lucasfilm groups on the uniforms and the special logos used by the club.
“We worked hand-in-hand with them, it allows us to be authentic and introduce our own custom logos, makes it a little more official than the other Star Wars nights throughout the league”, said Bisbing.
The custom logo, which was worn on the special uniforms the club wore that night, features the Bisons new 2013 primary logo but with the Imperial Death Star replacing the baseball in the back, and with Buster wearing a Jedi robe while wielding a Lightsabre.
For the uniforms, red with the custom Bisons Star Wars logo on the chest, the Empire logo on the back – no player numbers. Wait, no player numbers? That can’t be legal can it? Well no, it isn’t.
“We had to get permission from International League President Randy Mobley to go ahead and have no number on back, we had to add a number on the sleeve and lower right of front, but only for the one day”, Bisbing told us.
What’s next for the promotion? They’ll start planning the 2014 event next month, but they’d like to get special Star Wars caps to go along with the uniform. No additional movie themed events are in the works but they’re open to all ideas especially after how successful this has been.
“Movies are cross-generational, like Minor League Baseball”, said Bisbing, “You come to a game here and there’s something for everyone, there’s the ballgame for the adults, the mascot for the kids, dancing, promotions, something for fans of all ages. We always like to talk about now we’ve been in this park for 25 years, you were here back then as a young kid when this park first opened and now you’re bringing your children to the park… same with Star Wars with the prequels, the video games, the cartoons. As a young adult you enjoyed it, now your kids do, just like Minor League Baseball. I think just as many adults dressed up in Star Wars costumes as kids did this year, just as many were posing with the characters. I really think that’s what makes this event so successful at this level.”
You can’t argue with what Mr. Bisbing says: The results are right there in the stands, in the money raised for the AHA and the smiles in the stands across the faces of fans of all ages.
It was absolutely fantastic to be a witness to the event and I’d like to thank the Buffalo Bisons staff for their time and hospitality during my weekend in the city. I may not have yet been converted to the Star Wars franchise but I’m certainly much more of a Bisons fan now.