By James T. Reese Jr., Ed.D
Associate Professor and Department Chair, Sports Management
One of the things we repeatedly stress to our sports management students is the importance of creating “experiences” for fans. There is an old saying in sports that “events only last a few hours, but experiences last a lifetime.”
The most memorable sports experiences typically connect with fans on an emotional level. Recently, Major League Baseball did just that and created one of the most amazing experiences in the history of professional baseball.
On August 12, Major League Baseball organizers recreated the iconic 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” played between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. This game, which took place in Dyersville, Iowa, featured players in 1919 uniforms, fields of corn and appearances by the movie’s stars.
The Impact of ‘Field of Dreams’ on Baseball Fans
The central theme of “Field of Dreams” was something we can all relate to: family. Specifically, it depicted the relationship between a father and son. However, the power of the movie is that it applies to all family relationships.
The Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa, remains in pristine condition, and it attracts approximately 200,000 fans per year. Fans come to visit the site and play catch with their sons and daughters on the baseball field. They also tour the farmhouse featured in the film and walk in the footsteps of cast members Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta.
Major League Baseball legends who have made the pilgrimage to the movie site include Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Andre Dawson, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount.
Many viewers connect with “Field of Dreams” on an emotional level (including myself), especially viewers who have strained relationships with their fathers. Major League Baseball did an outstanding job of incorporating historical baseball themes and the main tenets of the movie into the game, and it used emotion to create a unique baseball atmosphere.
Memorable Moments from the ‘Field of Dreams’ Game
The 2021 “Field of Dreams” game created by Major League Baseball had many memorable moments for fans of baseball and movies. These moments involved promotions by Chevrolet, the classic Yankees Roll Call, the customer service and friendliness of the staff, and the game itself.
Chevrolet Activation Promotion
In 1974, General Motors introduced the phrase “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet” as a marketing slogan and jingle. The purpose of the slogan was to imply that Chevrolet was just as much a part of the fabric of American society as other elements that are considered truly American.
“Activation” is a marketing term used to describe additional activities, above sponsorship fees, used by sponsors to make a lasting impression on consumers. General Motors reintroduced the slogan at the “Field of Dreams” game with one of the best activation promotions in recent years.
As soon as fans entered the “Field of Dreams” movie site, they received a free hot dog apple pie created by Food Network host and Chevrolet spokesperson Guy Fieri. In addition, mascots dressed as a hot dog and a slice of apple pie roamed the site, taking photos with fans.
A full-sized, fully loaded Chevy Silverado truck adorned the site as well. The hot dog apple pie was delicious, and few people will ever forget this promotion.
Yankees Roll Call
Since the crowd of slightly less than 8,000 was comprised mostly of White Sox fans, only a handful of fans and the Yankees players understood the Yankees’ roll call in the bottom of the first inning. The Yankees roll call began in the mid-1990s by the “Bleacher Creatures,” who sit in Section 203 at Yankee Stadium. In the top of the first inning of every game, when the Yankees are in the field, these fans chant the name of each player until the player acknowledges them.
Since the Yankees were the visiting team, a handful of fans in section L11 (including yours truly) began the roll call in the bottom of the first inning. One by one, each player acknowledged the gesture by the loyal Yankees fans.
The response by first baseman Luke Voit was my favorite, since he gave us an enthusiastic military salute. Although Voit did not know a representative from a university that serves military students was involved in the roll call, I still appreciated the salute very much.
Customer Service and Friendliness of Local Staff
As we drove to the city of Dyersville, I wondered how the locals would receive us. Although it is clear local residents appreciate the enormous influx of revenue, I also expected some people to be disdainful, due to the inconvenience of so many fans invading a small city of slightly more than 4,000 residents.
To my amazement, every interaction I had with local staff was overwhelmingly positive. The services provided at the game and customer service were outstanding.
All of the staff had a great attitude and went beyond expectations to make everyone feel welcome. Golf carts shuttled fans to and from the parking area for the convenience of fans. The facility included adequate restroom facilities, as well as upscale concessions items from Aramark such as pulled pork nachos, deep-fried Oreos, pork tenderloin sandwiches and an Iowa State Fair favorite, cheese curds.
In addition, heavy rain the night before the game created muddy areas in the parking area, so truckloads of mulch were spread across wet areas to create comfortable walkways. Due to the 110-degree heat index, local MercyOne medical staff provided a hospitality tent to treat those who needed relief from the sun.
Well done, Dyersville residents! You made your city proud.
One of the things we teach students in our online bachelor of science in sports management is how sporting events are unique as compared to other products. One of the features that makes sports unique is the lack of control over the core product: the outcome of the game.
For example, you can purchase a Coke from different places at different times, and the core product will remain consistent. However, two teams can play under the exact same circumstances on two different days, and the results of the game will rarely be the same.
In other words, rather than an experiencing an uneventful “Field of Dreams” game, fans watched a competitive contest, with eight home runs hit into the corn field and a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning. It would have been difficult for Major League Baseball to script the ending any better.
Since the inaugural “Field of Dreams” game featured the two prominent teams from the movie, it will be hard to recreate the same atmosphere with different teams in the future. The symmetry between the game and the movie was powerful due to many factors, including:
- Using throwback uniforms
- Having players and fans walk through cornfields
- Incorporating actors Kevin Costner and Dwyer Brown
- Basing the design of the facility after Old Comiskey Park
- Utilizing an old-style scoreboard updated by hand
- Using actor James Earl Jones to narrate the introduction video for television and on site
Other features such as the intimate 8,000-seat stadium, the ability for fans to watch batting practice, and having the “Field of Dreams” movie site in full view from every seat added to the ambiance.
The 2021 ‘Field of Dreams’ Game Was So Popular, It Will Be Recreated Again
This year’s “Field of Dreams” game was intended to be a one-time event. The temporary facility was created for that purpose. But due to the overwhelming interest in the event from advertisers and nearly six million viewers – the highest rating for a regular season Major League Baseball game since 2005 – the event has been extended for at least one additional year.
Next season, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds will play in Dyersville. Although the novelty of the event will likely fade over time, baseball fans can expect additional games as long as fan and sponsor interest continues. Regardless of which teams play at the site in the future, I doubt any future “Field of Dreams” baseball game will match the emotional experience of the first.