5 Sports Promotions that Backfired

by Rob Joyce

If you missed it over the weekend (and if you watched, clearly you’re a fan of torture), Michigan beat Rutgers in ways rarely seen in conference play. The Wolverines allowed 39 total yards, two first downs and made the Scarlet Knights go 0-17 on third down conversions in a 78-0 beatdown. It was Michigan’s most lopsided win since 1939, and Rutgers’ worst loss since 1888 – that’s 128 years ago for those keeping track at home.

But among the quirks of the blowout came at a local steak house. Chris Ann Steak House in Ann Arbor introduced a promotion last week – however much Michigan wins by, that’s the percentage off your meal. So if it’s a 10-point win, it’s a 10 percent discount. They capped it at 50 percent… and it’s a good thing. A 78 percent discount is bad for business, after all. It’s a promotion that appeared to backfire, but in reality the promotion-gone-wrong created more press for the restaurant than they’ve ever had before.

But it does bring to mind other promotions within sports that didn’t quite go as planned.

UCF football:

(Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages)

(Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages)

A bar in Orlando was always packed when Blake Bortles and UCF were dominant, eventually going to and winning the Orange Bowl. But as the Knights limped to a winless start to the season and attendance was dwindling, the bar needed to attract customers. So they came up with an idea: on game days the bar would give away free beer until UCF won. Only one problem – they never did come away with a win. So for eight straight weeks it was free drinks for everyone. The final total: 15,000 beers consumed, all free of charge.

10-Cent Beer Night:

Speaking of beer, the Indians tried to attract fans to a June 1974 contest by offering 12-ounce beers for just ten cents. Though they capped the number of beers you could purchase in a single transaction, there was no limit to the number of times you could make a purchase. The result was, well, exactly what you’d expect – thousands of drunk fans eventually rioted in the ninth inning, forcing the Indians to forfeit the game because the crowd couldn’t be controlled.

Disco Demolition Night:

Staying in the category of failed 1970s baseball promotions, the White Sox held Disco Demolition Night in July 1979. The idea was that fans could bring old disco records and play just 98 cents for a ticket. In between games of a doubleheader all of the records would be destroyed. The first game ended, with about 50,000 people in attendance (they expected 20k), and they did in fact detonate all of the collected records… then chaos ensued. Fans rushed the field, the records that weren’t collected were thrown like Frisbees from the crowd, and riot police had to come in. The second game was postponed, but the next day the White Sox had to forfeit the game.

1984 Olympics:

Photo Credit: Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Tony Duffy/Getty Images

When the Olympics were in the U.S. in ’84 with the Los Angeles Games, McDonald’s was among the biggest sponsors. Among their marketing ideas was a giveaway: anytime an American won a medal, customers would get a free Big Mac, fries or Coke, depending on if it was a gold, silver or bronze medal. But the fast food giant got more than it bargained for, as the Soviet Union boycotted the Games. That meant all the 100+ medals they usually won were now up for grabs. Enter the Americans, who won 96 total medals in the 1976 Games. In ’84, they brought home 174 total medals and 83 golds. That’s a lot of McDonald’s… all for free.

West Michigan Whitecaps:

Promotions in minor league baseball are as common as foul balls and home runs. The Whitecaps’ idea in 2006, though, backfired. Their idea was to have a helicopter drop $1,000 in cash onto the field and have kids run around and grab what they could. What could possibly go wrong? In short, exactly what you’d expect with children running around grabbing money. Two kids had to go to the hospital because of injuries suffered from trampling.


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