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Veeck's mission is simple: Bring the fun
Promotions guru Mike Veeck
Mike Veeck and other members of the Goldklang group met in Fort Myers, Florida, to plan next season's wacky promotions.
By Chuck King

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Fun is good, and so is business for the minor league's premier ownership team, the Goldklang Group.

Guided by minor league promotions guru Mike Veeck, four of the five teams fully-owned by the Goldklang Group - Charleston, Fort Myers, Hudson Valley and flagship St. Paul - set attendance records this season. The Saints, who play an abbreviated schedule in the American Association of Professional Baseball, led the way, drawing 377,078 fans.

Unwilling to rest on their success, the Goldklang Group held their winter meetings Sept. 18-20 in Fort Myers, Fla, home of the Miracle.

"The kids [staffer members] think it's for them to get together and share ideas, but Marv [Goldklang] and I really do it because we love being surrounded by the energy," Veeck said. "The kids are, not just in my opinion but if you ask around the country, the best in the business."

Goldklang teams have earned a reputation as champions of the over-the-top minor league promotion, and they did little to tarnish that title this season. The teams responsible for Pickle-in-a-Pouch night (Hudson Valley), A Salute to the Cardboard Box (Charleston), Free Gas Night (Fort Myers) and VHS Demolition Night (St. Paul) - all chosen as's "Promotion of the Day" during 2006 - are already looking toward 2007.

Veeck provided a sneak peek at what he predicts will be the next big minor league - and, eventually major league, marketing idea. Goldklang teams are asking local celebrities to turn their artistic talents toward creating home plate art.

The art projects, which use an actual home plate as a canvas, will be hung throughout the ballpark and, when possible, throughout the cities. At the end of the season, the art collection will be auctioned with the proceeds going to a yet-to-be-determined charity.

In another upcoming promotion, St. Paul will continue its effort to redefine Small Ball. During the 2006 season the Saints honored Ed Gaedel, the midget used as a pinch hitter by the Bill Veeck-owned St. Louis Browns, by fielding a team of midgets for a simulated game.

This season, "Small Ball" will refer to treating Little League games as though they were minor league productions. The Saints are taking their entire game entertainment crew on the road to local kids' games.

"Ideas are the currency with which we trade," Veeck said. "If you have a great idea, the money will follow that - you can figure out how to market it. But the bed rock of the business is new ideas, promotions; quite frankly things that we create that we can sit around and pat ourselves on the back when the major leagues steal them."

Veeck and his crew constantly scan the news for topical ideas. He still kicks himself that Newark beat his guys to Brittany Spears Child Safety Night.

And on Sept. 14, he presented an award on behalf of the St. Louis University Bill Veeck Sports Marketing Awards to the Gateway Grizzlies for their "Baseball's Best Burger" promotion that resulted in a bacon-cheddar burger served between two Krispy Kreme donuts.

While Veeck seems noticeably proud that his type of guided-by-fun marketing has taken hold across the county, he still yearns to be the guy who creates the next great minor league promotion.

"The real competition is when you wake up in the middle of the night and you've got one," Veeck said. "It's always with yourself. It's never against any clubs in your market or any of your bother and sister clubs."

And it's not all about publicity, either. Veeck cautions that the stunts his teams pull are geared toward fan enjoyment, not headlines.

"I don't think any coverage is good coverage," Veeck said. "There are times when I've stepped over the line and I wished that they wouldn't print it. I'm not in the entertainment business. I loathe the people that compare the family [to carnival barkers]. My family was not anything like P.T. Barnum because he believed a sucker was born every minute. My father never believed that. My father was a fan who ran his marketing for the fans."

He points to this season's Schaumburg Flyers promotion where fans managed the team for the second half of the season as an idea that went too far.

When Veeck's father, Bill, owned the Brown's he held a "Fans Managers' Night," allowing fans to vote on game decisions. He says the one-time stunt was positive because it got the fans involved. Having the fans determine who plays, Veeck argues, takes the game away from the players and managers.

Veeck said the company in charge of the promotion, LivePlanet, brought the idea to St. Paul first, but the Saints rejected it.

As the man responsible for the Chicago White Sox' "Disco Demolition" in 1979, Veeck is familiar with crossing the line. But he doesn't dwell on it.

The Goldklang Group encourages its staff to dance around that line in an effort to make America's pastime even more enjoyable for the fans.

"People admire minor league operators for the things that they try even if they think that they're stupid, and I've been guiltier of that than most people, or if they don't work," Veeck said. "I love the failures because tomorrow morning, when I speak in Washington D.C., no one wants to hear about a promotion that works. But man you tell them about one that fails and it lights them up."

Whether they succeed or fail, there is little question that the wacky minor league promotions that Veeck champions contributed to affiliated Minor League Baseball drawing more than 41 million fans in 2006, a new record.

By carrying on what his father started, Veeck and his home-grown troupe of creative entertainers continue to expand upon a proven record of making America's pastime more enjoyable for the ever-growing masses.

"Get you computer fixed, where do you call? India," Veeck said. "Everything is being outsourced. But suddenly there's this merry little band of ne'er-do-wells and guttersnipes, in our case the Goldklang Group, and 200 other minor league teams, where people kind of have a devil-may-care and let's-try-it-and-see-if-it-works attitude. I think people admire it."

Check out my blog for more on Mets minor league prospects and Minor League Baseball.

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