Every year, 71 times a year, the minor league baseball team Trenton Thunder puts on a show for a crowd of 5,000 on their home turf at Arm and Hammer Park.
“There’s a different experience here every time you come. We have 71 home games here a year, and we put on 71 different shows, every single time,” says Lydia Rios, the director of marketing and sponsorships at Trenton Thunder, which is a Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
“We combine a baseball team spirit with family entertainment,” she says.
Rios speaks at a panel discussion titled “Create. Promote. Protect Your Brand” organized by the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, September 30, at 8 a.m. at the New Jersey Hospital Association’s Conference Center at 760 Alexander Road. Other panelists include Jeffrey Barnhart and Kenneth Hitchner of Creative Marketing Alliance and Richard A. Catalina and Lionel J. Frank, attorneys with Szaferman Lakind. For more information, visit www.midjerseychamber.org.
What fans can expect from a Trenton Thunder home game is not only baseball, food, and drink, but also “entertainment before, during, after, and in between games.”
At every single game, the team’s mascot — a giant blue bird named Boomer — makes a highly anticipated appearance. Children love him for being so fuzzy and loving, Rios explains. “During every game, there’s a chance for one child to run around the bases with Boomer, and that provides entertainment to see who’s going to win.”
In 2014, coinciding with the release of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” Spider-Man wowed the crowds when he threw out a first pitch while flying in midair.
Earlier this year the team also brought in NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano to face off in a celebrity softball game.
Even with the baseball season over, the marketing team is finding ways to keep the Thunder in the public mind. On Saturday, September 26, the team will host a pork roll eating championship, sanctioned by Major League Eating. “We do pork roll because, of course, we’re in Trenton,” says Rios. And again, the team will be bringing in a heavyweight celebrity for a special guest appearance: Joey Chestnut, a world champion competitive eater most famous for his ability to down more than 60 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, will be competing.
But perhaps the most successful publicity scheme by far for the Trenton Thunder is the team’s famous bat dog, who shoulders the responsibility of retrieving bats from home plate. The three-generation legacy started with the late golden retriever Chase, who carried bats from 2002 to 2012. Chase is survived by his son Derby, and Derby’s son Rookie, who are the team’s two current bat dogs.
“Our bat dog is as much the face of the Thunder organization as the baseball team is. Everyone knows who Chase was. They know that there are three generations of bat dogs with us now, and that’s a nice story to tell,” Rios says.
“These three golden retrievers are just so lovable and talented at picking up the bat. Who doesn’t love a beautiful golden retriever running out onto the field?” Rios says. “It’s just a very warm and fuzzy feeling, and it was an instant success. That is when we decided to bring a batdog here and pick up bats 71 games a year.”
The idea of having a bat dog has its origins in Jake the Diamond Dog, who in the late 1990s traveled around the U.S., retrieving bats for the Louisville Bats, and also made appearances at other Minor League ballparks, as well as nursing homes. The owners of the Trenton Thunder and the director of corporate sales were intrigued by Jake the Diamond Dog and thought, “’Why can’t we do that every single game?” Rios explained.
And so the bat dog dynasty was born. Trenton Thunder was the first team ever to have one, and since then other teams have developed their own bat dog traditions.
“You send the dog out into the field and the crowd loves it. But then you bring the dog into the crowd for the rest of the game, and everybody just wants to pet, kiss, hug, and get a picture with the dog. It’s very heartwarming,” says Rios. The story is so endearing, in fact, that ESPN just last month did a feature on the bat dog family in a episode on E:60.
Rios, who joined the Trenton Thunder this year as the director of marketing and sponsorships, has more than 20 years of experience in sales. She graduated from the College of New Jersey (then Trenton State) in 1991 with a degree in public relations, marketing, and communications.
She grew up in Hamilton Square, where she now lives with her three sons and husband, who is a district manager for the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Rios’ father worked in retail sales, and her mother was an administrative assistant. But it was the constant advice from others that she should go into sales because she had a natural talent for talking to people that convinced Rios to jump into the field.
“I’m just out there making friends. And when I make friends with people, and then do what I say I’m going to do, it’s just easy,” she says.
Before joining the Trenton Thunder, Rios spent 14 years in sales at WPST radio, and before that, she spent seven years in sales at the Trentonian. Are there marked differences between marketing an ordinary company and a sports team? Nothing fundamentally dissimilar, says Rios. “There are various differences to every company and business out there. Everybody has their own nuance and what makes them special.”
One of the most important lessons Rios has learned from her two previous jobs is the importance of protecting one’s brand. “Not only are you protecting the brand of your company, but when you’re a salesperson the brand of yourself as a salesperson,” she says. “Your reputation is your brand.”
“We want to help businesses do the right thing when they open their doors,” she says. “It’s very important to build the brand of your company, protect it and market it in a way so that you can sustain it.”