*This piece is part of John Collins’ ongoing article series called, “It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)” where he focuses on the lighter sides of sports business while tying it back into the topics driving the conversation in the industry.
“Goat Tee’s for Goatees,” “Welcome to Crabtown,” “Throwback Day: 1893…” who knew the Navy knew how to have this much fun? (Aside from McHale’s, of course, but we’re pretty sure that wasn’t the same caliber academically…).
As part of the Patriot League, Naval Academy Athletics may not be thought of as an athletic powerhouse known for the popularity and prominence of their sports program, but that doesn’t mean they get any less effort from the marketing department supporting their teams.
Of course, this notoriety may come easier to some of the school’s programs than others, as Alexander Toltzis of the Naval Academy Athletic Association Marketing and Promotions Department noted. “Of the sports, football, and basketball in the fall/winter, and lacrosse, and women’s lacrosse in the spring are definitely the most well-known; with Women’s Lacrosse even reaching the Final Four last year.” While these programs are certainly the biggest draws, that doesn’t mean Toltzis and the Marketing Department aren’t going to try elevating the popularity of the other teams.
That effort is particularly true for the Naval Academy Midshipmen Baseball program this spring. Toltzis mentioned, “As a non-ticketed sport, Midshipmen baseball doesn’t have quite the same exposure as other well-established programs,” which poses unique challenges in getting fans and students to the games. Toltzis and the marketing team certainly seem up to the task, as they continue to come out with innovative partnerships, promotions, and ideas.
Last season, Navy Baseball held a “Goat Tees for Goatees,” promo at their stadium drawing on the popularity of their mascot, Bill the Goat with an entire themed day. The Midshipmen gave away free goat-tees to the first hundred fans with a goatee (real or fake), and even set up a goatee-painting station for the more hirsutely challenged that wanted to partake in some of the festivities. Also included in the day were goat-themed trivia games, prominent attendance from “Bill the Goat,” and goats announcing foul balls during the game (Mr. Ed, you’ve got company…).
This year, the Midshipmen have already staged a successful “Welcome to Crabtown” game based on Maryland’s notoriety for their crab-based food fare that we were sadly not present for. Not only were there “crabby products featured at the concession stands,” but prizes were given to the crabbiest looking fans, crabby-curing jokes were told between innings, and there were plenty of crab-themed games.
The first hundred fans also received free Navy Crab mallets, which Toltzis said were all gone by first pitch, which is somewhat unusual for an early spring baseball game. “Fans tend to wander in, based on the weather; arriving sometime over the course of the game. On Crabtown Day, there was a significant crowd right from the start.”
Next on the agenda for Navy Baseball is “Throwback Day: 1893,” celebrating the birth of baseball at the Naval Academy. “We were searching for some throwback ideas, and my interns suggested things like 90’s Night, but I wanted something more unique,” Toltzis explained. That’s what led to the promo coming up on April 14th. During their doubleheader with Lehigh, the Midshipmen will be holding a blast from the past for all fans in attendance based entirely on that year (1893).
Known as the “Mauve Decade,” fans will get mauve-colored baseball shirts honoring fashion from the 1890s; Dvorak, Brahms, and other popular composers from the year will have their symphonies played; birthdays of famous Americans born in 1893 will be announced, and much more! “As we looked further and further into it, the coincidences just kept coming, which we’re eager to incorporate into the game.”
Toltzis is particularly excited about a partnership being staged with PepsiCo, which will be giving out free samples of Cracker Jacks, Lipton Tea, and Pepsi, all of which made their debut in 1893. Other interesting Navy-related tidbits from the year include Bill the Goat being introduced to the world at the Army-Navy football game (Navy won 6-3), the rank of Chief Petty Officer being established, and the Navy’s first battleship (USS Indiana) getting commissioned.
Professional teams in Major League Baseball have taken notice of the Midshipmen and their innovative marketing, elevating the program even further with a few notable partnerships. Thus far, the Naval Academy has partnered with the Orioles, who will now hold an official “Navy Day” during their season, already hosted an Army-Navy rivalry game at Camden Yards on March 25th, and will play an exhibition game themselves at the Naval Academy’s Max Bishop Stadium.
The Midshipmen are also being given a chance to bring the Army-Navy rivalry to Fenway Park this year, where the game is sure to generate excitement and intrigue that regular-season fare might not typically receive. These creative promos and innovative marketing campaign are all designed to make Naval Academy Baseball more of an “event” than just a game, which is precisely what sports teams have to do to compete with the plethora of entertainment options clamoring for fans’ attention today. With that, Toltzis and the Naval Academy Athletic Association’s Marketing and Promotion crew are doing their best to stay ahead of the curve.