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Best of 2022

The Best of 2022 Awards. Innovation, variety and creativity shine in this year’s look at the Best in Game Operations and Entertainment.

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: Ushertainers (St. Paul Saints)

The Saints roster of improvisational actors is an impressive lot.  The Saints define them this way:

USH·ER·TAIN·ER
/ˌəSHər ˈtānər/
noun: ushertainer; plural noun: ushertainers.

    • A person, such as a singer, dancer, or comedian, exclusively found at CHS Field, whose job it is to entertain the crowd.
    • A cheerleader, whose job it is to get St. Paul Saints’ baseball fans engaged and keep them smiling and laughing, rain or shine.
    • A character who brings joy and laughter to everyone, young and old, to make their Lowertown ballpark experience even more memorable.
    • An entertainer who plays a larger-than-life version of their real-life counterparts!

A whopping 80% of our panel defined them as “Winners”.  Made up of characters from the absurd to the ridiculous they roam the stadium creating magic and mischief.  A nerd, a flirt, a coach and the belle of the ballpark are part of the ensemble, with new characters in development every year.  This cast of character provides the Saints with countless options and variations to create their show.

Perhaps more interesting than the cast of characters is that this group is completely unique.  Drumlines and dance teams fill stadiums and areas, but a troupe of improv actors interjecting themselves into the game night experience is a uniquely “Saints” experience.

 “The Saints are best in class.”

-Ben Hill

One panelist explained: “It’s refreshing to see when teams take risk and do something different. Their roster of characters and promotions are exactly what an entertainment act is supposed to be – entertaining, unique, and fun.”

Another panelist had this lasting impression imprinted by an Ushertainer years ago: “I will never forget GERT the FLIRT. She had an inflatable baseball bat and went around the stadium slapping men on the rear.”

Panelist and Audio Roundtable guest Ben Hill who has been to every minor league ballpark finally visited the newly reassigned Saints team in 2022.  His assemennt of their entertainment team: “The Saints are best in class.”

Others receiving support included the Miami Heat Dancers – really impressed with their “Advancing through Dancing” program that includes dancing workshops, mentorship, and grants, and the Newfoundland Growlers Black & Gold Crew.

Category Winners:

Listen to the Best of 2022 Audio Round Table discussing all the categories and winners with a panel of Jon Cudo, Amanda Greco, Rich Meyers and Benjamin Hill. – December 2022 Party in the Back Podcast.  Also don’t miss our interview with Saint’s Marketing VP Sierra Bailey on the June 2022 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:

DIY Jersey Night (Pensacola Blue Wahoos) – Dances with Wolves (Rapid City Rush) – Noche Mexicana Night (Dallas Stars)

DIY Jersey Night (Pensacola Blue Wahoos)

Themed-designed jerseys are not new to sports, but a MILB team dropping that opportunity on fans is.  And that is exactly what the Pensacola Blue Wahoos did for their fans in 2022.

Ever wanted to design a jersey for a professional baseball team? Fans will have the opportunity to do just that at DIY Jersey Night on Saturday, August 13 as the Pensacola Blue Wahoos become the first Minor League Baseball team ever to offer fans the opportunity to fully customize the jerseys worn by the team on the field.

On DIY Jersey Night, every player and coach on the Blue Wahoos will wear a different jersey custom-designed by a different Blue Wahoos fan.

“We’re very excited to offer our fans this first-of-its-kind opportunity,” team president Jonathan Griffith said. “Never before has a team had every player and coach take the field in a different uniform created by a different fan, and it will be a lot of fun to see the creativity and unique ideas of our fans come to life and take the field.”

Fans have the opportunity to purchase a jersey now at MiLBAuctions.com. The all-white uniforms feature the outline of the Blue Wahoos logo on the chest as well as a jersey number on the front and back in which fans can add their designs. After purchasing a jersey, fans will be invited to Blue Wahoos Stadium to custom-design their respective uniform. Once designed, the one-of-a-kind custom jerseys will be worn on-field by the team in their August 13 game against the Birmingham Barons. After, the game-worn jerseys will be signed by the player that wore them and returned to the fan who designed the uniform.

Fun, inclusive, interactive and memorable…just as any promotion aspires to me.

One team executive on our panel added “Fans are constantly tagging us in posts on social media with their fan art of what they’d like our uniforms to look like. Giving fans the opportunity to design the uniform for a game is brilliant and I’m sure they took great pride in seeing their work on the field.”

  • Fan Designed Sweaters Across Hockey – The crowd-sourcing isn’t because they don’t have great graphic departments, it’s build affinity for their teams and brands. Giving fans a chance to be engaged connects the fans and teams in a powerful way….especially the winners who are invited to the game their jerseys are worn.

Noche Mexicana Night (Dallas Stars)

They had me at “The first 5,000 fans in attendance will also receive a Lucha Libre mask!” explained one panelist.

But this Dallas Stars promotion was much more than just a giveaway night. The promotion touched all levels of the show from pre-game, including:

  • The dance team worked with a local dance school to learn La Negra, a traditional Jalisco Folklórico dance.
  • The first 5,000 fans will receive a Lucha Libre Mask
  • The ceremonial puck drop will feature Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Isaac Alarcón a Monterrey, Mexico native.  Alarcón has spent the last two seasons with the Cowboys and began his tenure with the team through the
  • NFL’s International Pathway Program.”
  • Monica Saldivar and Mexico 2000 Ballet Folklorico performed on the outdoor Plaza
  • Plus custom Dallas Stars quesadillas from Tortas Insurgente.
  • Pre-game Warm Up Jerseys with Mexican Flag-theme (auctioned off in-game)

This top-to-bottom night took the theme to new levels and celebrated the local culture in a compelling and respectful way.

Dances with Wolves (Rapid City Rush)

The Rush hosted a special night including Academy Award-nominated actor Graham Greene speaking with the team, Native American Drum performance, ceremonial puck drop, special anthem performance and Native American Dance performance.

They also brought back popular player and captain Winston Day Chief.  Day Chief played four seasons for the Rush from 2012-16 and was Rapid City’s captain for the 2015-16 season. An indigenous Canadian forward, Day Chief connected with the Native American population during his time in Rapid City and was a fan favorite over his time with the Rush.

One panelist was impressive with this inclusive outreach night, noting “I’ve seen more NHL teams (Edmonton, Winnipeg) honoring Native American heritage, nice to see that it’s continuing to other leagues/levels as well.”

Honorable Un-Mentionable:

18+ Night (Lake Elsinore Storm) and Cathartic Scream Night (Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp)

There were two really interesting promotions that earned a lot of interest and praise in the nomination process and from our panel. However they both had an interesting dilemma.

The Lake Elsinore Storm’s Over 18 Night and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s Cathartic Scream Night were interesting attention grabbing promotions, but neither promotion left many breadcrumbs.

Speculation for the Storm’s limited outward distribution may have stemmed from a hesitancy from their parent club to support the “Rated R” theme, even if the night was more playful than racy.  In Jacksonville the limited documented details may be as simple as the Game Director was out sick on the day of the event and the full execution (and capture) of the 7th-inning mind-cleansing scream were lost in the shuffle.

In either case the panel loved the concepts, but couldn’t go all the way in with the award without seeing more of what happened.

More from the panel:

“I have never heard of an 18 and Over night at a sporting event, so the novelty of it really appeals to me. Another thing that really appeals to me is the guts it took for the organization to pass off on this idea – they really went out of the comfort zone for this one, and that rules.”

“Cathartic Scream Night my favorite in concept, but team didn’t have documentation of how it went down,” explained one panel member.

UPDATE: 12/15/2022: The Storm sent this video recap from their promotion, including twerking contest, a make out contest, a wet t-shirt contest (featuring 4 guys), bead tossing, a dating game, and a “one bite” hot dog eating contest.  All living up to the Rated R night of fun.

Category Winners:

  • 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 2022 Audio Round Table discussing all the categories and winners with a panel of Jon Cudo, Amanda Greco, Rich Meyers and Benjamin Hill. – December 2022 Party in the Back Podcast

Also on Gameops.com

Water Cooler Moments are those that create conversation.  Mascot skit, theme night, giveaway or wacky contest.  We seek them out and serve them up on Gameops.com DAILY Monday through Friday.  Click on the Water Cooler on our home page to see this fresh daily content.  Gameops.com Water Cooler Pages.  Memorable promotions like Noche Mexicana and Copa Night in Portland are featured every day.

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