The Lehigh Valley IronPigs offer a case study in successful MiLB marketing, making national news recently with their latest initiative aimed at recruiting NBA great LeBron James. As you may have heard, James is set to become the most sought-after free-agent in the NBA if he chooses to opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Where he chooses to play next is going to be the biggest decision this summer since “‘Yanny’ or ‘Laurel?’”
Earlier this month, Lehigh’s Minor League Baseball team brilliantly threw their hat in the ring, unveiling a billboard with the message “Our pitch: LeBron to the IronPigs.” They also sent out a corresponding Tweet to lure the small forward to their ballclub and saw the story go absolutely viral.
Kurt Landes, President and GM of the IronPigs, couldn’t be happier with the positive response his team’s pitch to LeBron has gotten thus far.
“I’m as happy as a pig in mud. It’s who we are….goofy, creative, unique, and funny.”
This is just the latest in one of the IronPigs’ many edgy, innovative promotions that are at the crux of the team’s addictively engaging marketing strategy. During Landes’ time with the team, they’ve also held a cryptically clever, surprisingly popular “Funeral Giveaway”, and had “urinal video games” in place for three full seasons that were so popular fans at the game drank extra just so they could pee/play more. (Coincidentally, in addition to a great promotion, the urinal games were also for a good cause, as they were sponsored by a local urologist to encourage prostate health).
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“Creativity and ingenuity came out of necessity, and just developed into [my] mindset,” Landes said of his unique approach to marketing for the IronPigs. “We like to say we’re a ‘Triple-A team with a Single-A attitude,’ meaning our club is built around being fun, light-hearted, and all about the fan.”
He went on to explain saying, “it’s this [fun] message and experience that really resonates with fans, players, and really the culture around the whole stadium.”
The IronPigs most recent execution of this strategy is the LeBron James Recruitment Campaign that was actually inspired by Landes’ own fandom. Coming from Ohio, Landes mentioned that he’s a huge fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron, so he’s always been acutely aware of past promos and recruitment attempts NBA teams have made for the star player.
“The idea occurred-we could do the same thing, tongue in cheek, and capitalize on the element of humor and uniqueness of coming at it from a baseball angle,” said Landes.
So, the IronPigs put out their billboard and Tweet luring LeBron to Lehigh.
With the initial success of the billboard and Tweet, Lehigh’s marketing department recognized the immediate excitement and opportunity, which they’ve decided to leverage with a full-blown campaign. After the story took off nationally on Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and others, what began as somewhat of a simple idea took on a life of its own, generating into an all-out push for LeBron, which Landes is pumped about.
“Absolutely! And we have an advantage- unlike basketball, we don’t have to wait ‘till July 1st…we get a 7-week head start!”
That’s why the IronPigs have incorporated a letter challenging LeBron to ‘be like MJ’ and take a stab at professional baseball. (Michael Jordan famously tried his hand at the sport with the Chicago White-Sox Minor League team). “That’s become our ‘pitch,’ as they say, which will continue with new additions throughout the summer,” Landes said.
It’s best for MiLB as an industry to remain creative and innovative with ideas like this, but Landes mentioned it’s absolutely crucial for the IronPigs.
“Especially us- it’s the edgy, unique antics that really shapes our culture and is how our ballclub differentiates itself. We want our fans and followers to be compelled to tune in to our Twitter handle and announcements to see what’s next…from the tongue in cheek to the absolutely outlandish.”
This approach by the IronPigs is clearly successful, as Lehigh Valley is consistently in the top 3 in Minor League attendance. As Landes pointed out, “fans enjoy it- we’re all about being a fun, unique, light-hearted experience…with that ‘what are they gonna do next?’ persona.”
That message and approach by Landes and the IronPigs obviously resonates with the Lehigh Valley faithful, and probably wins over new fans (like this writer) every day.
As for where Landes sees the LeBron recruitment campaign headed, he would like it to become a much broader initiative incorporating fans, players, corporate partners, and the local community.
“We’d like to make it not just about the IronPigs, but a Lehigh Valley campaign…it has the potential to have our City of Allentown really stick out on the map!”
Actually, a nearby franchise, the Philadelphia 76ers, would probably be even more eager to land the star hoopster….although Landes seemed reluctant to share.
“I guess if they asked…but the primary goal is to get him here with IronPigs baseball!”
While it may not have quite the same ring as “taking his talents to South Beach”, linking up with Lehigh would certainly bring LeBron into an incredibly fun, creative, passionate, innovative culture.