The Most Successful Promo in Sports History

As the Chicago White Sox entered their farewell season at Comiskey Park, 15-year-old Ken Adams, the son of the club’s media relations chief had an idea… what if they turned back the clock and made it feel like a game from when the stadium first opened.

A brilliant idea, and when Rob Gallas, the team’s marketing head heard about it he sprung into action to turn young Ken’s vision into reality.

Thirty years ago today, July 11, 1990, the Chicago White Sox took the field against the Milwaukee Brewers that Wednesday afternoon wearing the uniforms of the 1917 White Sox, at the time the most recent Chicago club to capture a World Series.

With that the “Turn Back the Clock” promotion was born.

Tickets were 50¢ for general admission, popcorn was a nickel. Ushers and the grounds crew dressed in suspenders and straw hats. The electronic scoreboard was disabled, replaced with a one-day-only manually operated version. The speakers were also turned off, players were announced by staff who were holding megaphones. There was no walk-up music for the players, no prompting of the patrons to “get loud”, it was up to them to know when the time was right.

“Everyone said the uniforms wouldn’t fly, but when we went to Major League Baseball they said, ‘Sounds like fun. Go ahead,'” Gallas told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Then we approached Jeff [Torborg], Pudge [Carlton Fisk] and Ozzie [Guillen] and they said great!”

And while the White Sox ended up blowing a six-run, eighth inning lead the promotion was by all reasonable measures an unimaginable success.

“A game like today, a makeup game, might draw 5,000 or 10,000 normally”, Gallas said at the time. “We hoped for 20,000 [today] and we’re getting over 40,000!”

Players and coaches were concerned when first presented with the idea, not so much with the environment surrounding the game but the actual 1910s style throwback uniforms.

“When they first talked about [the throwback] uniforms I was worried about the long sleeves and heavy cloth”, said White Sox manager Jeff Torborg to the UPI. “But then they showed us them, I really like them. Our marketing department has done a great job.”

“The thing to remember is we’re not trying to be historically correct. The uniforms aren’t made of the old flannel-wool material and they aren’t as baggy as they were because we said we don’t want to get in the way of the game”, Gallas said. “It’s more a nostalgia thing. We said, ‘Let’s have fun and do things that remind people it’s the last year of the old park.'”

Following the game, the Pale Hose players couldn’t help but agree that the uniforms were a welcome change over what the team usually wears.

“I like these uniforms better than the uniforms we’re wearing,” said White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen. “Did you see the All-Star game? The White Sox uniforms were the ugliest uniforms there!”

A look at the MLB uniform matchups on July 11, 1990

Guillen’s double play partner Scott Fletcher agreed, “a lot of the players have commented how much they’d like to wear the uniforms for the rest of the season.”

Those comments and the overall success of wearing a throwback-styled uniform may have been what prompted the White Sox to debut their re-designed 1991 uniforms before the 1990 season even ended. On September 25, 1990, as they entered Comiskey’s final homestand, the White Sox began to wear their new uniforms, black cap, white pinstriped uniforms. From that point on, the new 1991 uniform set was worn for the remainder of the 1990 season, in total, they were worn for six games at home and three on the road at Boston’s Fenway Park. A very traditional look that proved so popular the team still wears it to this day 30 years later.

Image via Bill Henderson’s Game Worn Jersey Guide

Following the White Sox experiment with throwing things back to the past, other teams jumped on the idea. On June 16, 1991, the Phillies threw things back to 1957 – this time both them and their opponents, the Reds, wore the throwback threads. Two days later the Orioles did the same, wearing uniforms from 1966 and reducing ticket prices to 75¢.

Today “Turn Back the Clock” promotions are commonplace, some teams making them a regular weekly feature. The Milwaukee Brewers wore throwback uniforms for their first Friday home game each month for 13 years — the Blue Jays had Flashback Fridays for 3 seasons a decade ago, the Phillies, Pirates, Twins, Padres, and yes, even the White Sox are just a few of the teams all doing so regularly in recent seasons as well. Heck, even the Arizona Diamondbacks who didn’t even exist when the White Sox turned things back for the first time, have their regular throwback games when they wear the purple and teal of their 2001 championship season.

The previous paragraph just shows some of the baseball examples of this, the promotion is of course seen throughout every sport around the world. The Los Angeles Kings wearing purple and gold, the Rams in their classic blue and yellow, or the Raptors wearing their giant dinosaur uniforms, all glorious, and all thanks to the bright mind of that 15-year-old kid over 30 years ago. Much respect.