When it comes to the standings, Major League Baseball (or any other team sport, for that matter) is a zero-sum game.
One team wins, one team loses, and in baseball, by the time August rolls around, from a business standpoint, you just hope that the teams that lose regularly are in cities where the fans attach fewer conditions to attendance than in other cities. St. Louis, Boston, Chicago....those seem like places where tickets still get sold even if the team is ten games under .500.
Unfortunately, many cities aren't nearly as unconditional with their love for their hometown team, so it sends marketing and promotions departments scrambling for solutions to create buzz, fill seats and generate revenue.
Phoenix is one of those passive sports cities.
At 44-57 heading into Wednesday's games, the Diamondbacks are on a long road to nowhere, mired in a battle for third place in the NL West with the equally underwhelming San Diego Padres. So how does Arizona get fans out to the ballpark for a Sunday game against the woeful Chicago Cubs?
Yes, Star Wars Day.
Let me get all of my biases out of the way here -- I am a huge Star Wars fan. When the Sugar Land Skeeters had Star Wars Night at Constellation Field last season, it was one of the handful of "must attend" nights for me, not so much because I get dressed up (I don't), but because I love to watch adults get dressed up and strut around in Han Solo outfits like they think they're total badasses (even though they know full well Solo was saddled with an inferior midichlorian count).
The St. Louis Cardinals had a Star Wars Night earlier this season, which was clearly done out of a massive love for Star Wars (as opposed to being a totally awesome and shameless ticket sales gimmick) because the Cardinals aren't having attendance issues that I'm aware of.
So the D-Backs did their deal on Sunday, and it had all the greatness you could imagine -- Bob Brenly in a Chewbacca outfit that looked as if it were wearing a Rollie Fingers mustache, stormtroopers standing at attention for the national anthem, and fans dressed up in all their costumed intergalactic glory.
If you looked hard enough, there were probably Jawas fornicating in the upper deck.
Now, we all know firsthand that Phoenix is not alone in its need to attract fans to the yard in creative, totally-uncentered-around-baseball ways. We live in one of those towns.
We know that times are tough at Minute Maid Park. They say, "mo' money, mo' problems," but it's also very clear from watching the Jim Crane-led Astros operate "less money, WAY mo' problems."
No TV deal, sparse seat revenue, draft picks falling by the wayside injured or unsigned. And losses. My God, the LOSSES. Times are tough, and as Tony Soprano once told Artie Bucco as Vesuvio was circling the drain, "As a businessman, you do what ya gotta do to keep your dick up...."
Well, take notes, Astros. Gimmicks aren't the end-all solution, but they will help you "keep your dick up," so to speak. Here are a few of my ideas, along with notes off the top of my head (because I'm an idea guy):
BREAKING BAD NIGHT Come dressed as your favorite character from the AMC hit series...announcers dressed up in the yellow HazMat suits that Jesse and Walter cooked in...the train on the left field wall will be filled with the meth liquid and Orbit will rob it during the seventh inning stretch...blue rock candy handed out to the kids...video board between innings will have Heisen-cam, where people place their faces in a superimposed graphic of shades and Walt's black hat...losing pitcher gets a ricin-laced cup of coffee after the game.
GAME OF THRONES NIGHT Come dressed as your favorite character from the HBO hit series....all items in the ballpark and tickets are "buy one, get one free" for brother-and-sister pairings....$5 pigeon pie...left field wall raised to approximately 500 yards in height...ballpark broken down into seven different "kingdoms," each assigned a small army of players, winning section receives replica crowns, losing section gets "Theon Greyjoy-ed"...midgets get in free (Full disclosure: This would be my rule for every game, not just Game of Thrones night.)
POST-GAME ALTUVE TOSS After the game, five randomly selected fans will get a chance to compete in feats of strength involving Jose Altuve....most times able to bench-press Altuve in one minute....who can toss Altuve the farthest....wagering encouraged....all small-size concessions are 54 cents (an homage to Altuve's 5-foot-4 dimensions).
TAL'S HILL EXCAVATION NIGHT Fans are all given shovels on their way into the ballpark....every half inning, a few sections are randomly eliminated, until by the end of the night, there's only one section remaining...this section will be given free booze and use their complimentary shovels to dig up and get rid of Tal's Hill, once and for all.
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....and if all else fails....
STAR WARS NIGHT!!
May the Force be with you.