Countdown To Opening Day 2016

Season Countdown

Our countdown clock reaches zero tonight, as the 2016 Erie SeaWolves home schedule begins against Binghamton. This has become an annual ritual, of sorts, which I’ve been thrilled to be a part of during my five year tenure as the Double-A affiliate of The Detroit Tigers.

When I joined the Erie SeaWolves in February 2011, one of the first things I noticed at the ballpark was a freestanding sign near the stadium. The sign displayed a countdown of the days remaining until the team’s first home game. The team updated (and still does) the sign daily in a fashion similar to how a manual scoreboard operator in baseball updates runs, hits and errors.

The Countdown Sign In Erie

In Erie, Pennsylvania this countdown sign offers passersby a glimmer of hope that the ice and snow will eventually, someday, melt off and give way to spring. The SeaWolves’ Opening Day Countdown sign has become part of Erie’s wintertime experience. Our sales reps will meet with local businesses or attend chamber of commerce functions and hear a chorus of people asking, “So, how many days to go?”

When I arrived in Erie the sign was already a useful tool. It was building awareness for the start of the season. Anticipation would gradually build as the countdown number diminished. The sign created urgency.

Visibility Beyond Standard Signage

Jerry Uht Park, the home of the SeaWolves, is located in downtown Erie. The stadium is easily accessible but it doesn’t have visibility from a major interstate or huge daily traffic counts on nearby streets. The countdown sign was effective, but it was only effective to those seeing it.

In 2013 we started posting photos of the sign on social media. The response was positive, and our fans shared photos of the sign with their friends – thereby getting others excited about the promise of a new baseball season.

Creating The Momentum

In 2014 we decided to build upon that momentum. Every team has key stakeholders – sponsors, major accounts, and longtime season ticket holders. Instead of just posting photos of the same old sign with an updated number, we engaged our sponsors and local leaders. They would gather their employees and colleagues to pose with the countdown numbers at their place of business – in front of their logo or building.

The promotion required little extra effort. Our sales reps would take the numbers with them as they met with our team partners or delivered their season ticket packages.

About halfway through our 2014 countdown we noticed an interesting trend. We had community organizations calling us and asking to hold the numbers. Our sales team seized the opportunity to sell ticket packages and group outings to those leads.

The Opportunity Of Awareness

We built upon the concept again in 2015. We wrapped the sign, photos, and countdown into an Opening Day sponsorship. We partnered with Plyler Overhead Door to sponsor Opening Day and the pre-season countdown. Plyler installs and repairs garage doors, making their sponsorship of Opening Day a nice play on words. The clever pun though, didn’t sell the sponsorship. The ability to have more than two months of exposure and put their name in front of dozens of businesses and community leaders did the trick. The Plyler logo is now on the countdown sign and every countdown photo we post to Facebook, Twitter, or seawolves.com.

Other teams successfully use social media to build excitement for their respective seasons, but there aren’t many using the opportunity to solidify relationships and directly generate revenue. Two of our Eastern League opponents, the Reading Fightin Phils and the Trenton Thunder, are now implementing concept too. The beauty of the idea is that it can be replicated by any team in any sport.

Organizational Questions To Ask

Can you monetize something in your business that you’re already doing?

Can you turn it into an experience and charge for it?

Can you use it to engage and connect with your loyal customers?

We all have opportunities waiting to be seized. Here’s hoping you make yours count. Tonight, when we throw out the first pitch at 6:35 p.m. ET, when our countdown sign is finished, it will be the hard work we placed in the off-season that will be paying dividends throughout the season.

Greg Coleman

Greg Coleman is the President of the Erie Seawolves of Minor League Baseball's Eastern League, a Double-A Affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Coleman will be teaching "Engaging Sports Marketing Sales Tactics" at the Sports Sales Boot Camp in Pittsburgh on June 28, 2016.

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