Like other minor league teams, the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals have promoted their product by any means necessary. When owner Harris Turer took over the franchise nearly four years ago, for example, he declared the team needed a jock-strap night called "Admirals Supporter Night."
The team handed out 1,500 athletic supporters to fans. "Someone put a logo on the front of it and wrote, ‘We're nuts about Admirals Hockey,'" recalled Charlie Larson, director of communications for the Admirals, the minor league affiliate of the Nashville Predators.
There have been the strange jerseys, like the one that looked like a picnic tablecloth. There was "Hairiest Back Night," followed by "Biggest Beer Belly Night," in which some of Wisconsin's manliest men doffed their shirts on the ice for prizes. "It was pretty disgusting, but it worked out pretty well," said Larson.
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On Thursday night, Feb. 19, the Admirals will set the bar a little ... uh, higher: a night dedicated to the Michael Phelps marijuana scandal. For the Admirals, it's been a delicate balancing act between exploiting the comedy in the scandal and avoiding its controversy.
"Don't Be Like Mike" Night is, of course, inspired by a photo of the Olympic champion swimmer using a bong at a party in South Carolina that was published in a British newspaper. The media firestorm over the image resulted in Phelps being suspended by USA Swimming and dropped by Kellogg's as a spokesman.
To many, the situation isn't exactly a laughing matter, seeing as how Phelps was a hero to many young athletes. That was the challenge for the Admirals -- a team that counts Milwaukee Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash and pitcher Ben Sheets among its minority owners -- in attempting to mine some humor from the scandal.
"Every time you do something, you're going to irritate someone no matter what you do," said Larson. "But this is a tongue-in-cheek promotion, and people know it."
Here's what the team has planned for "Don't Be Like Mike" Night against the Rockford IceHogs, an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks:
• All fans who are graduates of a DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) can get into the game for just $2 by bringing their DARE graduation certificate to the Admirals' office or the Bradley Center box office.
• Anyone with the name Michael, Phelps, Mary Jane, Cheech, Chong, Weed (Wied) or anyone who has won an Olympic Gold Medal can also get their ticket for only $2.
• The team is giving away a weed wacker from National Ace Hardware, signed by the Admirals.
• If the team scores with 4:20 -- a number that's synonymous with pot culture -- on the clock in any period, one fan will win a season ticket for the following season.
• The team is providing a document shredder outside of section 225 for fans to destroy their own incriminating, Phelps-like photos.
"It's a fine line that you walk," Larson said. "One of the ideas that was bandied about was giving away little bags of Doritos to the first thousand people. But you can't be promoting drug use at all."
One rejected idea had the team holding the promotion on April 20 (4/20), but that's during the postseason. Another consideration was doing some sort of gimmick with the infamous glass tube in the Phelps photo.
"In Milwaukee, there's this commercial that runs on radio stations for an adult book store. And they always are advertising specials on their pipes and other smoking material. And at the ad says, 'Pipe products are for tobacco use only; no other uses intended or implied,'" Larson said. "But in the end, it just wouldn't work."
The team has attempted to balance its humorous take on the controversy with an anti-drug message -- even if that message has a touch of whimsy. Said Admirals President Jon Greenberg in a release: "I, along with Nancy Reagan, want to encourage people to not do drugs. As an organization the Milwaukee Admirals don't condone or encourage the use of illegal drugs, including, but not limited to marijuana, or anabolic steroids for that matter."
Larson and the team are confident they've handled the scandal appropriately. "We figured that if we did it the right way, we'd be fine. With the anti-drug theme, with the D.A.R.E. kids getting in for free and whatnot," he said.
So fans will roll into the joint for "Don't Be Like Mike" Night for the Admirals various, humorous takes on the matter -- even if there were possibilities left unexplored.
Like playing in jerseys made of hemp, for example.
"That's not a bad idea. But we'd have to be a little quicker on the turnaround," said Larson.
True. But they could always take these old duds out of mothballs from the 2000-01 season, courtesy of Sidearm Delivery:
Fans can order tickets for the 19th, or any Admirals game, by calling Ticketmaster at (414) 276-4545 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Groups of ten or more people receive a minimum of $2 off of each ticket. For more information or to order group tickets call the Admirals office at (414) 227-0550. H/T to Randball for the story.