Finding ways to draw fans is essential for any professional sports team. But the challenge is more acute for some teams than others. For the New York Night, fighting for attention in a market with three NHL teams and without a title (or even a pennant chase) to their name, the fight for fans and attention is a real struggle. As such, the team’s marketing department is always looking for creative promotions that will draw crowds to the Neon Sky Center.
This season, the Night came up with a giveaway sure to be a hit with children and adults alike: fidget spinners. The stress-relieving toy has become a great fad this year; spinners are ubiquitous in schools and an increasingly common desk accessory for bored office workers. The team decided to give away spinners in black and purple (the Night’s colors) with the team logo on the center pad.
Unsurprisingly, the promotion was a smash; tickets for Wednesday’s game against Saskatchewan, when the spinners were to be given away, sold out in a matter of hours. “Given the lead times involved with promotions like this,” said New York GM Royce McCormick, “it’s hard to hit these trends when they’re really hot. But I think we’ve really done it this time.”
There was a bit of grumbling at the door when, rather than handing out the spinners, the team handed out coupons that could be redeemed for the toys on the way out the door. According to the team, this was done for safety reasons: since fidget spinners are relatively small and easily flingable, they could become a hazard if flung onto the ice en masse to protest a bad call or a poor showing by the Night. Most fans accepted the coupons without complaint, but some who were more interested in getting the collectible than watching the game complained vociferously.
Grumbling turned to outright anger at game’s end, when the fans came to redeem their coupons only to be told that the spinners were gone. Apparently, at some point either before or during the 7-4 Night victory, the spinners were stolen from their storage area within the arena. The Night believe that the culprit was a disgruntled, recently terminated employee, working in concert with some friends, possibly including current team employees.
Needless to say, the fans reacted with outrage and disbelief. “This is ridiculous,” said 37-year-old Steve Schneckel of Nyack, surrounded by his three crying children. “I brought these kids all the way into town to watch a bad game, all because they wanted the damn spinners. And the team can’t even manage to keep them from getting stolen during the game? I can’t believe it.” Other fans turned to social media to voice their displeasure, flooding the Night’s Facebook page and Twitter feed with complaints. One fan even posted a review of the team on Yelp just to protest; within 24 hours, over 500 other fans had posted their own negative reviews.
Some fans were suspicious that the whole thing was a stunt, that the team never had the fidget spinners and had fabricated the promotion to draw crowds. “So a ‘professional’ team in an arena full of cameras and security people cant keep 1000s of spinners from getting ‘stolen’…. sounds like a scam to me!!!” said one Yelper.
McCormick was quick to deny rumors that the promotion was a hoax. “We’re really upset about what happened,” the GM said, “and this absolutely was not a hoax or a scam of any kind. Why would we want to cheat our own fans?”
The stolen spinners were still at large as of press time. Team officials are confident that they will be returned promptly. As a backup plan, the Night are working with the manufacturer to make another run of the spinners. The team asked that fans hold on to their coupons and game tickets; once the toys are available, the team will issue the spinners to any fans who present their coupon or ticket at the box office. By way of apology, the team will also provide free tickets to a future Night game.
It’s unknown whether this will placate angry fans. “I had a bad enough time at this game,” said one fan on Twitter. “Why would I want to go back?”