Baseball marketing strategy helps bring in fans

Freiji Bobbleheads. Rubber chickens. Dancing hotdogs. No, this isn't about the dream you had after eating too much from that mystery container of spicy Chinese food. If you've attended a Vanderbilt sporting event this year, chances are you've encountered at least one of these three items. While the average fan may occasionally think something like, "wow, that hotdog sure can shimmy," most fans don't think about the hours of planning behind that hotdog's dance moves.

Vanderbilt's Promotions Coordinator, Brandon Barca, better known to baseball fans as the dancing hotdog, explained that everything a fan experiences in a game outside of the actual competition, is carefully structured and planned. This includes what the announcer says, Jumbotron scripts, halftime entertainment, pep-band cues, and hotdog choreography.

"Once people are at the event my job is to make sure they are entertained," Barca said.

Brandon Barca
Vandy Promotions Coordinator

Barca directly runs game promotions for football and women's basketball and oversees interns who coordinate other sport's entertainment.

Barca received two degrees from the University of Tennessee in Sports Management and interned with the Nashville Predators. After working with the Lady Vols marketing department during graduate school, Barca signed on with Vanderbilt and is about to complete his second full year.

At the time of Barca's hire, Vanderbilt's athletic department was about to undergo some major changes -- rather -- it was about to be abolished. Barca is the only full time marketing employee remaining who was involved with the program before the restructuring.

"Anytime you're in marketing for too long you can tend to get stale. I think we really got a fresh start after the restructuring," Barca said.

To insure that new marketing ideas keep coming, Barca constantly collaborates with Director of Marketing Eric Nichols.

"We always kind of push each other to try new crazy ideas. We're always looking for ideas to market the team and improve everything. We're always looking at how to try and get people interested and make sure they have a good time. We put in a lot of hours doing it," Barca said. "We truly do have a passion for Vanderbilt athletics."

Passion is something Barca has to have in order to maintain the work hours that are required during the season. 6-7 days a week, 60-70 hours per week, sometimes twelve hours a day. On top of the hours, there's added stress that comes with each event.

"If I make a mistake at a basketball game 14,000 people are going to see it. You have to be accurate and you can't slip up. You want to get it right the first time, because once something happens you can't take that back," Barca said. "I love to do it, but you can get burned out on it and a lot of people do."

The marketing department arranges
player autographs sessions and has
a hand in coordinating events
such as the Baseball Banquet.

During Commodore baseball season, Barca is able to relax a little. I mean, how hard is it to dance around in a hotdog suit anyway?

"Everytime I go out there I have to talk myself up to it, I'm so nervous, and I've got butterflies. I mean, I'm wearing a hotdog outfit and I look like.. well.. a hotdog. I have to build up the courage each time," Barca said. "But once I see someone cheer or a kid laughing I forget about it and zone out and I'm good to go."

The idea for the dancing hotdog is one of many that were inspired by Barca's marketing rule: PLSS (People Love Stupid Stuff).

"Anything that you can do that is dumb but you look like your having a good time, I think usually people enjoy it," Barca explained. "When I started last year at baseball, the first couple of games people were like 'why is there a dancing hotdog?' People didn't know what to think of it. But then it started to grow and now hopefully people are entertained by it. It's one of those things that could either flop or become part of game entertainment."

While experience helps Barca determine what stupid stuff people are going to like or dislike, the success of the promotion really can't be known until it's in progress.

"I usually come up with 50 off the wall ideas, and usually only one or two will work," Barca said. "The Freiji Bobblehead was madness. We had to work on that product for close to four months, creating the mold, making sure it looked like him and everything. There was a lot more madness than we excepted at game night."

The intensity that surrounds the Lady Vols athletic program helped Barca prepare for a career at Vanderbilt. But a new set of fans required a new mindset for marketing promotions in Nashville.

"You learn a lot in collegiate athletics, but you have to adapt it to each community. You have to figure out what's best for your fan base," Barca said. "What UT fans like and what Vanderbilt fans respond to might be different. You also have a lot more budget in Tennessee to work with. So you really have to be creative here and manage money."

After two years at Vandy, Barca has adapted to Commodore fans. But the big question still remains: with so many orange marks on Barca's record, which team does he cheer for?

"When we play UT I cheer for Vandy, of course," Barca said. "When you spend up to 70 hours a week working here you want to see it succeed. And our student athletes here are the true meaning of a student athlete. They're educated, they work hard, they are just good people. You want to see them win, I think they deserve it."

For those now dying of curiosity to see the dancing hotdog shimmy, Barca's last hotdog appearance of 2005 at a baseball SEC regular season game is during the Florida series May 20-22. Bring the kids, bring your appetite, and a little Pepcid AC couldn't hurt either. Top Stories