Innovative promotions draw in Saints fans

The St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team is touting it as the wedding of the year. On Friday night, after the Saints play the Sioux Falls Fighting Pheasants, a ceremony will take place, uniting the bride and groom at Midway Stadium.

The lucky couple? Kim Lardashian and Kris Hamphries.

Yes, it’s a spoof of the famous celebrities whose marriage last year was shorter than the Saints’ season. A silly gimmick, sure — the team’s two pig mascots are even registered for their wedding, and fans can bring gifts and sign the guestbook upon arriving at the park.

But in the world of minor league baseball, these are the kinds of promotions the Saints and other teams must employ to keep the fans coming back for more.

“I honestly feel like we’re almost competing with ourselves more than other teams, just because the Saints have always been known for our crazy promotions,” said Brian Kaufenberg, the team’s director of promotions. “We’ve always been a standard for minor league promotions.”

Setting that standard has helped keep the Saints in business for two decades, as they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary this season with crowds averaging around 4,500 per game. But now that the club has set the bar high for wacky promotions, unique giveaways and creative theme nights, the Saints often are trying to outdo themselves.

The promotions at a Saints game, or at other minor league parks for that matter, are in a different league from those you’d find at, say, a Minnesota Twins game, and there are several reasons for that.

“I think we have a little bit more freedom, especially since we’re an independent ballclub. We don’t have to be too concerned with upsetting the higher powers that be,” Kaufenberg said. “But it’s also the fact that we’ve got to be creative to get our fans to come out. We are a minor league ballclub, so we can’t solely rely on the baseball. The baseball’s great. It’s professional baseball. But it’s these fun ideas that people have kind of come to relate to Saints baseball.”

The Saints have already had several unique promotions since the regular season began May 17, and they’re often related to current events or stories in the news. So far, they’ve included an Invasive Species Night and a Carp-No-More giveaway (a full-size bat) to promote awareness of the Asian carp problem in Minnesota’s lakes. Upcoming current event-related promotions include Octopi Minnesota night, a play on the Occupy movement. The tagline for that night’s game: “1% of the Mollusks have 99% of the Legs: Octopi Minnesota.”

The Saints will continue with the Minnesota theme Aug. 1, poking a bit of fun at the state with the theme “Don’t be Minnsecure.”

“Basically the tagline on that is: ‘We’re good enough. We’re smart enough. And doggone it, people like us. Don’t be Minnsecure,'” Kaufenberg said. “It’s also poking a little bit of fun at the fact that Minnesotans feel a little insecure when it comes to national attention. The East Coast and the West Coast, New York and Los Angeles get a lot of press for the cultural, cool things going on. Minnesota sometimes gets overlooked, but we’ve got some cool stuff going on here, too.”

The ideas for each promotion and giveaway are generated before the season, as Kaufenberg and the rest of the team’s staff — the Saints have 14 full-time employees working year-round — sit at a table and throw out ideas, trying to one-up the promotions they did a year ago.

“We group everybody up and we sit around and start talking about stuff that’s happening in the news or just funny ideas that we’ve been mulling and seeing what we can come up with,” Kaufenberg said. “We sit around in these brainstorming sessions just trying to come up with the most ridiculous ideas that we can and then try to morph them into great ideas that would make for a fun baseball game.”

Among some of the other highlights already this year were a Mighty Ducks theme night, in which the Saints players wore jerseys similar to those worn by the Ducks in the movie series, and a “June-toberfest” that included a pregame craft beer festival.

Still to come, the Saints will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in July, will have a Conehead giveaway and hold an Auction Night at the stadium. The Saints’ final home game this year is Sept. 3, and there surely will be plenty of crazy promotions between now and then.

“It’s just really neat to know that we’ve survived 20 seasons and we’re still going strong and people are still coming out and checking out what we’re doing out here,” Kaufenberg said. “There’s always something going on at the ballpark any given night. It’s always something different. We put a lot of time and effort into each specific night to make it unique. I think that’s the fun part about going to a Saints game. You’re never going to see the same show.”

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