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Trenton Thunder giving fans bang for bucks

Thunder's 2012 schedule features a slew of promotional giveaways
07/11/2012 10:57 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

July 8's "Robinson Ca-Gnome" is one of many promotional giveaways in Trenton this season.(Lou DiPietro)

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With three of the Yankees’ Minor League affiliates within a couple hours driving distance of New York, Yankees fans have quite the opportunity to see many of the team’s top prospects bloom from “Baby Bombers” to Bronx mainstays.

This season, however, the team’s Double-A affiliate down in Trenton has done plenty more to entice Yankees fans (and baseball fans alike) to come out to Mercer County Waterfront Park, with nearly every Thunder home game featuring some sort of fan giveaway, fireworks spectacular, or special event.

Over the Fourth of July week, fans in Trenton were treated to giveaways that included David Robertson Bobblehead Dolls and “Robinson Ca-Gnomes,” garden gnomes bearing the likeness of the Yankees’ affable second baseman. July 5 also saw the team say “happy birthday” to their bat-retrieving dog, Chase, with a night that saw man’s best friend admitted free and every pooch’s owner given a set of Chase trading cards – a set that Thunder Senior VP Eric Lipsman joked “might be the first trading card set devoted to the canine demographic.”

The Thunder have also given away items ranging from magnetic schedules to water bottles to umbrellas this year so far, and have even had appearances by Spider-Man and the original Batmobile – but the bobbleheads have been Trenton’s go-to giveaway, with more than a half-dozen spring-necked likenesses (including those of Robertson, Derek Jeter, and top prospect Manny Banuelos) already on fans’ shelves.

“Throughout the team’s history, we’ve done a lot of bobbleheads; we have a good history and a great partnership with the Yankees, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of significant players come through here, so that helps with those,” said Thunder GM and COO Will Smith, who was the 2011 Eastern League Executive of the Year and one of the masterminds behind this year’s promotion schedule. “For instance, we did the Jeter bobblehead recently (June 22), and that was done to mark his rehab appearance here last year.”

The Thunder, who are in first place in their division, draw a great crowd on any given night, but as Smith also said, sometimes the giveaways can make an “average” night great and a great night even better.

“We had a four game series in May Monday through Thursday. Those aren’t the best days for a Minor League baseball game, especially when kids are in school,” Smith said, “so we thought ‘what can we do?’ So, we decided to do the catchers’ series of mini-bobbleheads; I said ‘let’s do 1,000 a night for three nights and see what happens;’ they were a huge hit, and that run ended up costing us only about as much as a regular run of the full-size bobbleheads. It worked out great.”

And, of course, leading to his last point, Smith says that while the slate of giveaways is great for the fans who come out, it’s also a boost for Trenton’s bottom line.

“When you add the price of the giveaway into the cost of the game – the fact that it adds that much value means we should make it up more in the ticket sales,” the GM stated. “And, on those nights, there will be huge lines out in front of the ballpark early; that tells me there are at least 2,000 people that are interested in getting these giveaways, and it helps the team if people are here earlier too, obviously.”

On July 6, for instance, one of those fans was John Wolf, a lifelong Yankees fan who grew up on Staten Island but now resides in northern suburbs of Philadelphia – just minutes from Trenton.

“I come to probably a dozen or so Thunder games a year, because I love the Yankees,” said Wolf, “but this (Robertson bobblehead) is a really cool thing to have.”

Wolf said he was also planning to be in attendance July 8 for the “Robinson Ca-Gnome,” a giveaway that was an example of one of the other major components that goes into Trenton’s scheduling: sponsors.

“With the gnomes, our sponsor (Dietz & Watson) wanted to try something new and we wanted to do something a little more fun, a little more risky…and so, we have the Robinson Ca-Gnome,” Smith said. “We also had Arm & Hammer sponsor a hamper giveaway this year to promote their OxiClean brand, and they also sponsored our Chase card set, which gave them a chance to promote their name on the back of every card.”

As the EL heads to the second half, the Thunder still have several bobbleheads to give away – including Cano (August 17), Ivan Nova (July 27), and Andy Pettitte (August 29) – but also have a die-cast car giveaway on August 21 that has the brass excited.

“We’re really looking forward to the NASCAR giveaway; it’s very professionally done and has a NASCAR approved hologram sticker, so that should be a cool piece,” Smith beamed.

Trenton also has a second “all-you-can-eat night” coming up on August 27, where a ticket to that night’s game against New Britain means free hot dogs, hamburgers, and cheeseburgers all night long.

“We feed fans all night long for that promotion and there are no added costs,” Smith said, “and it’s all about adding value to those nights and trying to give people more reasons to come. Family entertainment, giveaways, and a good value on the ticket as well.”

After all, cool giveaway or not, what’s a ball game without a hot dog or 12, right?

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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