Madison Mallards don’t duck away from zany promotions
MADISON, Wis. — On a given night out at the "Duck Pond" in Warner Park this summer, you might come across former WWE wrestler Diamond Dallas Page giving yoga lessons on a baseball field to hundreds of mat-toting fans. Or perhaps you’ll see a 49-year-old Jose Canseco swatting baseballs in a home run derby on ’80s night at the ballpark.
Then again, you could find yourself taking a baseball bat to an old printer or fax machine, smashing it to bits in homage to the 1990s cult film "Office Space."
Sounds kind of nuts, right?
All in a day’s work for the Madison Mallards, home of the zaniest promotions in baseball, the highest-attended games in the entire Northwoods League and the defending league champions on the field.
"The buzz has never been better," said Mallards general manager Conor Caloia. "We had a great year on the field and a great year in the stands. We’re excited to just kind of take that momentum off last year and continue it. I think it’s probably our best promotional schedule ever."
The Mallards have been playing on the northeast side of town since 2001 as part of a summer baseball league that features primarily college freshmen and sophomores from programs across the country. And thanks to a front office that considers no idea too grand or outlandish, legend of the team’s promotions has grown as fan attendance has swelled.
Last year, Madison led the Northwoods League in average attendance with 6,110 fans. The La Crosse Loggers were second with an average of 2,979 fans, while no other team eclipsed 2,000 fans. In fact, Madison has paced the league in attendance every year since 2002.
Part of that attendance surge has to do with the fan-friendly atmosphere created at the ballpark. Every Sunday home game this season, for example, will feature a petting zoo for kids.
"Every night there’s going to be something that keeps you entertained for three hours or more," Caloia said.
In addition to petting zoos, the team also will feature seven bobblehead nights and five fireworks shows. One of the bobbleheads is a Star Wars-themed Maynard the Mallard doll in which there are two sides — one the regular Mallard with a brown Jedi cloak and green light saber and the other a Darth Vader (or Darth Maynard) head with a black Vader suit and a red light saber. That giveaway takes place Aug. 1.
"We unveiled that one a couple weeks ago," said Tyler Isham, who is in charge of the Mallards’ marketing. "I think we had a couple hundred people there. We got a lot of oohs and aahs."
Three of the most noteworthy promotions involve Page, Canseco and the movie "Office Space."
Page has released a series of yoga DVDs since his wrestling career ended and recently was featured on the TV show "Shark Tank" to promote his new venture. The postgame yoga session will take place after a June 4 game.
"Hopefully, there’s hundreds of people with their yoga mats on the field after the game," Caloia said. "It’s something very Madison and something very Mallards and something very unique. So I think that’ll be fun."
Canseco, meanwhile, has a brief history with baseball in Madison. In 1983, Canseco actually played for the Madison Muskies, then a Class A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. He played 34 games with the Muskies and batted .159 with three home runs before moving on to the Medford A’s of Oregon in the Northwest League.
As part of the ’80s night on June 28, Canseco will participate in a home run derby against fans and perhaps some of the Mallards players. He also is expected to take pictures and sign autographs for fans.
"Office Space" night will take place June 13 and feature actor Richard Riehle, who played Tom Symkowski, the creator of the Jump to Conclusions Mat in the movie. Fans are encouraged to bring old printers or copiers to smash on the field after the game.
The Mallards, of course, are no strangers to zany game day promotions.
Last year, the team’s promotions involved a group of "worm charmers" trying to coax worms out of the ground and postgame trick-or-treating on the field. Minor celebrities brought to Madison included Mountain Man from the TV show Duck Dynasty, WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Mick "Mankind" Foley and Larry Thomas (he of the "Soup Nazi" fame on Seinfeld).
Isham said what makes the Mallards’ promotions so successful, in part, is staying ahead of the curve.
"I think we were one of maybe two or three teams in the country that had Mountain Man first," Isham said. "I’ll bet if you called his agent today and tried to get him booked, you couldn’t get him booked because he’s so popular this year. We always try to be that year, two years ahead of the game of what’s popular and get it to Madison first and get it to our fans first."
Isham recalled his favorite promotion took place in 2012, when the Mallards brought in workers from a local tattoo shop to give away free tattoos with the Mallards logo on it. Isham said more than 40 people stood in line for the tattoo.
"It was crazy," Isham said. "The artists actually didn’t have enough time to even do everyone. They had to give people vouchers to come into their store and do it. It was crazy. To think 40 people left that night with a permanent Mallards tattoo was pretty awesome permanent branding for us. Anywhere they go, they’re telling the story of getting two free duck blind tickets for getting the Mallard head tattoo."
Madison opens the season May 27 with a home game against Kalamazoo. The game will feature attendance by the ZOOperstars, a group of inflatable animal mascots that do tricks and comedy routines. The ZOOperstars claim to have the "world’s best sports entertainment act" and include characters such as Tiger Woodchuck, Elephant Presley, Shaquille O’Seal and Barack Ollama, among others.
Single-game tickets range from $8 to $33 for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink package.
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