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If You Blow Up Disco Records, They Will Come: Memorable Sports Promotions

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Long live sports promotions, those marketing brainstorms that gave us Ted Turner riding an ostrich around Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and, on another occasion, pushing a baseball on hands and knees around the infield.

With his nose.

Turner won that pre-game contest against pitcher Tug McGraw -- that is if one can be declared a winner after suffering so many facial nicks and cuts he appears to have shaved in a dark room with a machete.

Nobody does kitsch like Americans. And frankly, aside from minor league baseball it's a dying industry at our ballparks just when we need it the most.

In this economy where fans are asked to make a choice -- season tickets or sending the kids to college -- we would survive a return to those unsophisticated days of entertaining the customer at the risk of being called bush league.

Or -- in the case of Disco Demolition Night, which "celebrated" its 30th anniversary this summer -- at the risk that comes with the marriage of strange bedfellows -- record albums and explosives.

That proved a more combustible pairing than Whitney and Bobby. So there's no need to recreate that.

But the Lake County Captains, a Cleveland minor league farm team, did borrow an idea from the 1970s this past week when it held "Nickel Beer Night." For one hour only, there was a limit of two five-ounce cups of beer per customer.

In 1974, the Indians followed a successful "Beer Night" promotion in Texas with "Ten Cent Beer."

The drunk-fest involved streakers, base stealers (literally) and fans who stormed the field and attacked the opposing team. Cleveland players had to wield bats to come to the aid of the Rangers players. Texas was awarded a forfeit.

Home plate umpire Nestor Chylak, who tried to act nonchalant when a woman ran from the seats to home plate and exposed her breasts to him, later called it, "a complete lack of brain power on the parts of some people."

So those are the parameters. Ten Cent Beer Night and Disco Demolition Night.

OK, and Ball Night, a promotion held by the Dodgers in L.A. that proved an axiom: don't give people who may become either drunk or irate anything that can be used as a projectile.

In other words, I would espouse neither "Ball Night" or "Javelin Night."

Even the tackiest of sports promotions (and Ted Williams Popsicle Night commemorating the cryogenically frozen baseball great is my winner in that category) are an acknowledgment that the people who run leagues and teams at least recognize that the product on display is not always enough to keep us riveted to our seats.

v-martI'm not sure when I first fully appreciated that glint of recognition. It was long before this past week for sure when the Cleveland Indians, the team that plays where I live, held the standard-for-the-day giveway: Victor Martinez Bobblehead Night.

Martinez is a popular player and three-time All-Star. Bobbleheads are becoming collector's items and thus commodities.

Victor Martinez Bobblehead Night was held Saturday.

The problem was Victor Martinez was traded to Boston Friday.

Timing is everything. At home plate. And in the marketing department.

Maybe I fully realized that something memorable can be artificially created one night during the 1987 Olympic Sports Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the boxing venue one evening, a man in a tuxedo walked to the middle of the ring and bided his time.

Came the announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, to honor America please rise for the whistling of our national anthem."

I can't remember the Olympic hopefuls who fought. But anthem whistling? You don't forget that.

A writer friend from Boston heard the anthem played on an accordian in Liberace's home town that same year. Together, we were in Moscow for the 1986 Goodwill Games -- a Turner creation -- when women in babushkas raced baby carriages as part of the Opening Ceremonies.

Even the Soviets seemed to understand what Mike Veeck, who inherited the promotional genius of his father, Bill, meant when he said, "I don't worship at the Church of Baseball; if you play to the purists, the park is going to be 35 percent filled."

empty-seatsLook around at the ballparks in Major League Baseball as the summer wanes right along with hopes of contention. This is prime time for organizations calling up young players from the farm system to look to the minor leagues for inspiration in the marketing departments.

Look to the people who gave us Speed Dating Night (exactly what it sounds like) and Silent Night.

That one was a Mike Veeck special. Some fans covered their mouths with duct tape to help fight the urge to talk. They held up signs such as "Boo" and "Hey Beer Man." As a subtle touch, librarians and golf tournament marshalls replaced the regular ushers. [Photo Credit: The Baseball Collector.]

You can argue the minors are the perfect arena for such schtick. But there's no copyright on fun.

Sometime after he took part in a mattress stacking competition and raced motorized bathtubs -- and before he put on a uniform, told his manager to take the night off and led his 16-loss-in-a-row Braves to a 17th consecutive loss -- Ted Turner had a famous exchange with commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

"Why can't you be like everybody else?" Kuhn asked.

Replied Turner, "Because I'm in last place."

And since the only thing being blown to smithereens were Atlanta's pennant hopes, no harm was done in the making of a promotional legend.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for The Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at


10 Surprising Facts About Band of Brothers

In 1998, HBO—then a network that had not yet completely broken through with hits like The Sopranos and Sex and the Citydecided to take on its biggest project ever: a massive 10-hour World War II miniseries executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Three years, more than $100 million, and thousands of work hours later, Band of Brothers was brought to the world. The true story of a single paratrooper company making their way through the last year of the war in Europe, Band of Brothers dwarfed other TV dramas of its era with its budget, its cast, its effects, and its extraordinary attention to period detail. The result was one of the most acclaimed World War II dramas ever filmed.

So, from the sheer scale of the production to the cast’s boot camp to some actors you may have forgotten about, here are 10 things you might not have known about Band of Brothers.


When Band of Brothers began its journey to the screen in the late 1990s, one of HBO’s chief concerns in agreeing to produce the series was its budget. Today, in the age of Game of Thrones, it seems natural for the network to foot the bill for such an epic, but at the time the amount of money called for was almost unheard of. When discussions first began, it became clear that the miniseries would cost at least $125 million to produce, which meant $12 million per episode. That’s a figure that dwarfed even the most prestigious and popular TV dramas at the time, and it didn’t even factor in the massive marketing budget (at least $15 million) the network was considering to promote the event. So, what convinced HBO to put up the money? A number of factors, but having Hanks and Spielberg on board certainly helped.

''I'm not saying they didn't bat an eye,'' Hanks told The New York Times in 2001. ''Oh, they did bat an eye. But the reality is this was expensive. You had to have deep pockets. And HBO has deep pockets."


The promotional campaign for Band of Brothers was almost as massive as its budget, with HBO attempting to draw the curiosity of as many non-subscribers as possible. One of the ways they achieved this was by forming the network's first ever partnership with another company to launch a series of commercials. That company was Jeep, which was celebrating the 60th anniversary of its signature vehicle at the time. The classic military Jeep figures prominently in Band of Brothers—it appears more than 1000 times throughout the series—so it was a natural fit.

Together, HBO and Jeep shot a series of six commercials tying into the series, filmed on Utah Beach in Normandy, France (not a place commercials are usually allowed to shoot). The spots aired on broadcast television, allowing HBO a rare chance (at the time) to get its products before an audience that large.


Though Band of Brothers was largely well-received by audiences both in the United States and abroad, it did cause some controversy in the United Kingdom before it even aired there. According to The Guardian, the furor was stirred up by The Daily Mail, which published a condemnation of the miniseries for its lack of British soldiers. The series, of course, is meant to follow a single company of American troops as they navigate the last year of the war in Europe, but that didn’t stop The Daily Mail from decrying the show’s narrow focus. The publication called forward various British veterans who declared Band of Brothers "an absolute disgrace and an insult to the millions of brave Britons who helped win the war,” the implication being that the series essentially depicted only Americans as winning the war in Europe. The controversy, while noteworthy, was short-lived.


Band of Brothers, a 10-hour miniseries set entirely during World War II, would be a massive undertaking even now, but it was particularly gargantuan when it was produced. Some figures that prove just how big it was: According to the documentary The Making of Band of Brothers, the production required 2000 American and German military uniforms; 1200 vintage costumes (that’s not counting the newly made ones); more than 10,000 extras; more than 14,000 rounds of ammunition a day; and 500 speaking roles. The special effects alone were so massive that, by the time the third episode was completed, the production had already used more pyrotechnics than Saving Private Ryan, which is particularly impressive given that much of the first episode is taken up by boot camp sequences.


A still from 'Band of Brothers' (2001)

The story of Band of Brothers takes the men of Easy Company across half the European continent, through several different countries and even seasons. Despite the vivid depiction of all of these varied places on the journey, the miniseries (aside from certain location shoots) was largely filmed in one place. Thanks to a large tax break from the UK government, the production was headquartered at the Hatfield Aerodrome, an old British aerospace factory that had been converted into a massive, 1100-acre backlot. The various hangars from the factory were used to house the costumes, props, weapons, tanks, and other equipment used to shoot the series, and some hangars even housed various sets.


Because Band of Brothers was mostly shot on the Hatfield backlot, the crew had to make certain accommodations to portray much of Europe in a small space. One key factor was the 12-acre village set constructed on the lot. A set that size is a massive undertaking anyway, but to depict the various places Easy Company visits, the village had to be constantly redressed to show England, Holland, Belgium and other locations. In all, the village ended up playing 11 different towns throughout the miniseries. 


One of the most harrowing segments of Band of Brothers takes place in the sixth episode, “Bastogne.” Caught in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge and low on supplies, Easy Company faces its toughest challenge yet as they try to hold off a massive German force even as they’re starving and freezing to death. It’s a powerful episode, but most of the time the actors were faking the hardship. The sequences in which the company is huddled down in foxholes, scrounging for whatever food and medicine they can get, were largely filmed on a massive indoor set constructed in one of the hangars at Hatfield. The production used real trees and numerous fiberglass trees (which could be broken apart to simulate German shells) to create the forest, and paper mixed with various polymers to create artificial snow. It’s estimated that more than a third of a million pounds of paper were used to make snow throughout the sequence, and it took four weeks to completely cover the set.

“It’s the biggest amount ever used on one set, for anything,” snow effects supervisor David Crownshaw said. “It should be in the Guinness Book of Records.”


Every major character in Band of Brothers wields at least one firearm throughout the entire production, and many of the men of Easy Company are never without their trusty M1 Garand rifles. The World War II-era weapons were key to the production, and Hanks and Spielberg insisted on authenticity, so they went to an arms dealer and picked up 700 authentic period weapons for the production. Numerous other guns (including pistols largely kept in holsters) were made of rubber, but very often when you see the men of Easy Company firing their rifles at the enemy, they were firing the real thing.


Because Band of Brothers includes hundreds of speaking roles, including dozens of American soldiers, the production had to recruit a virtual army of young actors, many of whom were relatively unknown at the time. If you go back and watch the series now, you’ll see several young faces that are now recognizable as major movie stars. Among the now-big names: James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg, Michael Fassbender, Colin Hanks, Dominic Cooper, and Jimmy Fallon.


To develop a better understanding of the military culture their characters were involved in, and to get them in the right physical and mental shape for the miniseries, the cast portraying Easy Company embarked on an intensive 10-day boot camp before shooting, training 18 hours a day under the watchful eye of Captain Dale Dye.

Dye, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran who came to Hollywood after he left the military to become a technical advisor, served as the senior military advisor on the production and also portrayed Colonel Robert Sink in the series. Dye led the boot camp and even helped direct key battle sequences in an effort to get the cast as close to real soldiers as possible. According to the men who portrayed Easy Company, the experience brought them closer together, and made them more like a real unit.

“You hit walls in boot camp," Scott Grimes, who played Sergeant Malarkey, said. "You hit these personal mental, physical walls that you have to go over, basically. There were guys the first night at boot camp that cried themselves to sleep that I was there for, and they were there for me.”

In addition to boot camp, the Easy Company cast also undertook a version of paratrooper training to ensure authenticity. Among the challenges: jumping out of a mock-up plane fuselage, while strapped to a harness simulating a parachute, from a height of 40 feet.

Pop Culture
North Pole Blockbuster Video, One of Chain’s Few Remaining Stores, Is Closing

With streaming quickly becoming the new standard in movie-watching, the majority of today’s youngsters will never know the joy that came with a Friday night visit to the local Blockbuster Video store. Nor will they understand the inherent drama such an outing could bring: “Ooh, look Hocus Pocus is on VHS! Oh no, that kid got the last copy!” That already-tiny number is about to shrink even further with the announcement that Alaska’s North Pole Blockbuster, one of only an estimated eight stores left in the U.S., is closing its doors.

The announcement was made on Monday afternoon via the store’s Facebook page, which thanked its employees for their service:

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner spoke with Kevin Daymude, the store’s general manager, who pointed to declining sales as the reason for the shuttering. “Do we have a great clientele? Yes, without a doubt,” Daymude said. “It just declined.”

While Blockbuster Video filed for bankruptcy in 2010, the brand continued to license its iconic blue-and-yellow ticket stub logo to franchisees, the bulk of which are located in Alaska. Why Alaska? Lack of broadband and high Internet price tags in the state mean that streaming content isn’t as simple as just pointing and clicking.

“A lot of [the stores] are still quite busy,” Alan Payne, a Blockbuster licensee-owner who owns a handful of the few remaining stores in the U.S., told The Washington Post in 2017. “If you went in there on a Friday night you’d be shocked at the number of people.”

Earlier this year Payne was forced to close his Edinburg, Texas store, the last Blockbuster in Texas, which had been operating since the 1990s. But Alaska won’t be Blockbuster-free anytime soon. Even with the North Pole store’s closing, there are still four remaining locations in Alaska.

While the North Pole store ceased its rental operations on Sunday, it will remain open through April while it sells off its inventory of movies and fixtures. The only question is whether there’s a VHS copy of Jerry Maguire somewhere in there.


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