Benefiting from the crossover of former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow's professional baseball debut, the Columbia Fireflies have been squarely fixed in the national spotlight over the last two weeks.
Named the most popular athlete in America as recently as 2012, the phenomenon created by Tebow's brand was difficult for the Fireflies to plan in advance for. They can't even focus their marketing objectives around the presence of a local star like Gene Cone, who patrolled the Gamecocks' outfield from 2014 to 2016. Minor league teams are essentially at the mercy of their MLB affiliate when it comes to the players they get to build around, as the MLB clubs own player contracts and dictate assignments.
The Fireflies do, however, have control over their various promotional events planned for the 2017 season. The organization looks to create a blend of proven traditional promotions popular with other MILB teams while also tailoring their strategy to fit the local culture and desires associated with its fan base.
"The Mets — or whoever your affiliate is, just kind of sends you the baseball players and so we have no idea who is going to be out on that field," Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Abby Nass. "That's why we do all these silly, wacky, crazy things."
"Really what we can control are the promotions that we do," Nass said. "While we can, we're definitely trying to get the word out about these great players that we have on the field. Just because right now we do have the best of both worlds, and at any other time this is an opportunity that most Minor League Baseball teams never get."
The Fireflies' Total Eclipse of the Park on Aug. 21 looks to capitalize on the excitement generated by anticipation for solar eclipse that will be visible from Columbia late this summer. In conjuncture with the city's Total Eclipse Weekend, the Fireflies will create an entire weekend built around related programs including a NASA Night and educational booth for the STEM Festival. The NASA promotion corresponds with the birthday of Columbia-native Charles Bolden, the former head administrator at NASA.
Columbia is the third-largest city where the eclipse can be viewed in its totality and the state of South Carolina's population is expected to swell by one million people.
First pitch for Total Eclipse of the Park is set for 1:05 p.m. and the total eclipse itself is projected for 2:41 p.m.
"People will be able to sit there and watch the partial eclipse happen and then at about 2:30 or so when it starts to get a little bit darker, we're not gonna turn the lights on," Nass said. "Once it gets to a point where, hey, you know, it's dark enough that we can't play without turning the lights on, we're gonna pause the game. We'll do probably a five- to 10-minute delay when everyone can just sit back and experience what it's like to have it go completely dark."
"A lot of people also really like Wag-Along Wednesdays and you can bring your dog," Nass said. "I know that's a big thing here in the Columbia community – people love bringing their dogs everywhere."
The Fireflies look to maximize their location in a college town by appealing to the interests and wallets of college students. The Fireflies host Thirsty Thursdays by offering half-priced draft beer.
"If a college student is 21 they'll love to come out for Thirsty Thursdays," Nass said. "It's a $5 ticket which is the same as if you were to go to a bar and pay a $5 cover charge."
The organization also employs regular firework shows and $2 Tuesdays, traditions that are widely practiced throughout Minor League Baseball. Other specials include Fort Jackson Centennial Night, Star Wars Night, Celebrate Shark Week and Disco Dance Party. A full list of promotions and giveaways can be found on the team's website.