Best of 2021

The Best of 2021 Awards. COVID changed the way teams present game entertainment and these winners have adjusted and excelled.

Best Entertainment Group:

Performance Group whose work was fresh, creative and interesting, serving as a valuable tool for their team and in their community. Providing quality entertainment and additional value for fans. All sports team performance groups are eligible. Consider quality, uniqueness, and marketplace value.

Winner: Savannah Bananas’ Players


Best Entertainment Group won by the players!? Nearly everything the Savannah Bananas do is without precedent, which is what makes their entire show a must see spectacular.

One industry insider explained: “The Savannah Bananas have the unique opportunity to make up their own rules. This is applied to the dancing players, who can just break out in a dance in the middle of a game. They take what they have, and in this case the actual players on the field, and create an entertainment element with them… I love it.”

Players dance, celebrate, introduce themselves for their walk-up and are interviewed post-game in the showers.  It’s all a spectacle for fans. They are changing the rules, changing the game, and their fans love it.

Ben Hill explained on the Best of 2021 Roundtable podcast this college summer league plays by very different rules, so don’t expect to see Bryce Harper start a slow clap on his way to the plate next year… however this could open doors to more playful interactions by players in the future.

Meanwhile, prepare to be entertained in a completely unique way by the Savanah Banana Players.

And the team is taking its act on the road. Often mentioned in the same breath as the Harlem Globetrotters the Bananas have started to tour with their playful take on America’s pastime.


Honorable Mention: Warriors Dance Team and 216 Stix

Two other teams were at the top of a crowded field of sports entertainment teams in 2021: Cleveland Cavaliers performance drum team, the 216 Stix, and the Golden State Warriors Dance Team.

The 216 Stix are innovating sounds and redefining drumline performance with performances that have gone from buckets to garbage cans, ladders and scaffolding. Their infections energy transforms Cavalier home games and they connected with the community with school assemblies and youth clinics.

The Warriors Dance team did not shrink during the pandemic, rather they embraced the blank canvas of having no fans and produced a season long series of video performances. These videos combined unique out-of-venue settings, incredible variety of dance and high-level video editing  into entertainment showcases.  While many teams worked smaller crews into cramped off-court stages during the pandemic the Warriors reimagined the space and produced epic routines that could become a model for dance for years to come.

Category Winners:

Listen to the Best of 2021 Audio Round Table discussing all the categories and winners with out panel of Jon Cudo, Amanda Greco, Chris Grosse and Benjamin Hill. – December 2021 Party in the Back Podcast

Best Game Night Promotion:

What single game or series promotion was most effective and creative, serving as a tool for teams to entertain and draw more fans. Consider creativity, entertainment value, media exposure, drawing power, and execution of the operations. We also level the playing field by considering budget constraints to minor league teams. A promotion with the ability to positively affect the entire fan experience by touching multiple areas of marketing and presentation. For example: A Military Appreciation Night which positively pays tribute to the military with a camouflage hat giveaway, military ticket discount, use of military families for in-game promotions, video package of players speaking to their appreciation for military families, and a surprise reunion of a soldier and their family.

Winner: Hershey Bears COVID Teddy Bear Toss

In 2020 the Hershey Bears won the category for their pre-pandemic Teddy Bear Toss, and claimed a world record of 45,650 stuffed toys collected in a single game.  In 2021 when most teams were either not playing game or cancelling their Teddy Bear Tosses the Hershey Bears were determined to keep their tradition alive.

With no game night the team opened the parking lot of the GIANT Center from 10-2pm and asked fans to drive through and toss a bear.

And they still managed to collect over 31,000 bears.

A promotion so strong it literally it becomes a stand alone event when the team is not allowed to play game. Many other teams held similar drive by Bear tosses, most collecting a small fraction of their usual bear haul. The Hershey Bears 2021 collection would still be in the top 10 ALL-TIME for amount of bears collected by hockey teams.

It was an amazing testament to the promotion and a smart move to show the importance of the event to maintain the annual tradition despite the AHL early-season shutdown.

A panelist added “The sense of semi-normalcy and doing something great together made this promotion a winner.”

Things return to normal again this year as the Bear host their Teddy Bear Night on January 22, 2022 against the Hartford Wolf Pack.


Honorable Mention: Erie SeaWolves’ One Hit Wonder and Chicago’s Mascot Swap

Two promotion earned honorable mention this year.

First the MILB Erie SeaWolves Wonders Night.

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the movie That Thing You Do!, the SeaWolves changed their name to the Erie Wonders and presented a well-rounded tribute to the film

  • The SeaWolves wore custom Wonders jerseys which were auctioned off to benefit NoticeAbility, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students with dyslexia.
  • The Wonders threw out the ceremonial first pitch
  • The actors also sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and participated in game-day activities inspired by the movie.
  • The four stars from the film participated in a charity autograph session.
  • The First 1,000 fans through the gates received SeaWolves sunglasses in honor of the “shades” that Guy Patterson wore in the movie.
  • A VIP offer for fans included a meet and greet with the actors, a panel discussion, buffet, T-shirt, game ticket and more.
  • See more in this Water Cooler Post: That Thing They Did in Erie

Next, the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks swapped mascots for home games.

Chicago’s two star mascots Benny the Bull and Tommy Hawk were trading places in 2021.  The concept included the mascots swapping sports for a game and was a viral sensation for both.  The characters were able to inject their own trademark comedy into another sport and give an added boost of creative energy to the limited-capacity audience of the United Center.

Also featured in this Water Cooler Post: Tommy Bull and Benny the Hawk Rock Chicago

Category Winners:

  • Best of 2023 – Ref Appreciation Night (Vancouver Giants)
  • Best of 2022 – DIY Jersey Night (Pensacola Blue Wahoos) – Dances with Wolves (Rapid City Rush) – Noche Mexicana Night (Dallas Stars)
  • Best of 2021 – Hershey Bears COVID Teddy Bear Toss
  • Best of 2020 – Hershey Bears Teddy Bear Toss
  • Best of 2019 – Helen McGuckin Night (Charleston Riverdogs)
  • Best of 2018 – Joseph P. Reilly and the Amazing Technicolor Ballpark – Charleston Riverdogs
  • Best of 2017 – Total Eclipse Game and Bob Ross Night
  • Best of 2016 – Purple Game, Purple Game
  • Best of 2015 – Swipe Right Night – Atlanta Hawks
  • Best of 2014 – Seinfeld Night – Brooklyn Cyclones
  • Best of 2013 – Star Wars Night – Toledo Walleye
  • Best of 2012 – Silent Night at Taylor University
  • Best of 2011 – Boston Bruins Military Appreciation Night
  • Best of 2010 – Salute to Bubblewrap (Lowell Spinners)
  • Best of 2009 – LeBron’s Powder Toss Night (Cleveland Cavaliers) and What Could Have Been Night (Bowling Green Hot Rods)
  • Best of 2008 – World’s Largest Pillow Fight (Kane County Cougars) and Fan Bailout Plans (St. Louis Blues)
  • Best of 2007 – Bob L. Head Bobblehead Giveaway (Portland Beavers)/150 years of Toilet Paper (Pensacola Pelicans)
  • Best of 2006 – Brazilian Carnival (Cleveland Cavaliers)
  • Best of 2005 – Michael Jackson Tribute (Lake Elsinore Storm)
  • Best of 2004 – Mullet Night (Manchester Monarchs)
  • Best of 2003 – Awful Night (Altoona Curve)
  • Best of 2002 – Hawks Playoff Guarantee (Atlanta Hawks)
  • Best of 2001 – Red, White & Blue Out 9/11 Tribute (Texas A & M)

Listen to the Best of 2021 Audio Round Table discussing all the categories and winners with out panel of Jon Cudo, Amanda Greco, Chris Grosse and Benjamin Hill. – December 2021 Party in the Back Podcast

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