D-backs' sponsors have quite a ball thanks to Hall
Club president entertains group of team's supporters with funny bits, video
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Take a creative business concept and a team president with a zany sense of humor and this is the result: the Arizona Diamondbacks' second annual Most Valuable Partner Awards on Thursday night at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino.The emcee was Derrick Hall, the club president, who dressed up as Elvis, complete with gold robe and big, dark glasses, and who imitated Frank Sinatra, singing his own adapted lyrics of "My Way" to a crowd full of corporate sponsors: "And now, the end is near. Your contract's up. Last year together ... Through it all, this is baseball. We want you to stay." You might say you can't make this stuff up, except that Hall did. "I'm glad we have a club president who is that versatile. "It makes for an event like this," said Ken Kendrick, the D-backs' managing general partner. "He's the perfect guy for this event," said D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, one of five players to present awards to sponsors. "He puts on a great show." There were funny, self-deprecating videos. In one, a single camera follows Hall on a day around the offices at Chase Field in a kind of video verite. Hall is a great guy, playing the part of the world's best boss -- on the surface. "This is not about me. It's about them," he deadpans about his employees, who play along with the farce. Behind the scenes in the video, of course, it's all about him as he fires one new employee for parking in his spot and another who's caught on surveillance cameras viewing untoward things on his computer screen. In another video, he tries to claim that the D-backs aren't poaching a sponsor's commercials by playing the bit side-by-side with the real commercial, in which a bodybuilder is directing traffic. How happy is he? The bodybuilder looks happier than a customer saving money on car insurance. In the D-backs' version, Matt Williams is on the street in front of Chase Field directing traffic. Hall delivers the outline. How happy is the D-backs customer? Happier than a third-base coach directing traffic. "He looks happy," Hall says, then admits to the crowd that maybe the knockoff commercial is a bit similar. Then there's the commercial in which Kerry Wood pulls Andre Dawson in full Cubs uniform out of the Wrigley Field ivy. In the D-backs' version, closer J.J. Putz pulls Luis Gonzalez in full uniform out of the Chase Field pool. Shot on a cold day in December, the outtakes show Putz purposely blowing his lines and dumping Gonzo back into the pool. The left fielder, who knocked in the winning run for Arizona in the 2001 World Series and is now a special assistant to Hall, was shivering by the end of it. It's all in good fun and the room full of sponsors and season ticket holders lapped it all up. The concept is this: Rather than having the usual staid B-to-B (business-to-business) summit every year to brainstorm about projects, the D-backs came up with this approach, which is certainly novel in professional sports and might not be mimicked much in the business world. "The idea is to get ideas about how to make our businesses better in the future," said Hall, who dressed in black tie for the performance. "In the past we'd have panels, we'd have special guest speakers, and we'd get up and go through Power Point [presentations]. We just felt that that had gotten a little stale. We wanted to do a little something different, a little bit more entertaining. The feedback we got from last year was tremendous." Like the Oscars, a sponsor is recognized with an award that is a silver D and B melded together. At the time of each of the nine nominations, a video is played to recognize just what each of the sponsors did to integrate their product with the D-backs in the past season. University of Phoenix, Century Link, JP Morgan Chase, the Arizona Lottery, Sanderson Ford and Papa John's were among the award winners. The season-ticket holders were even asked to choose their favorite integrated marketing program of the year. Not surprisingly it went to Taco Bell, which gives away free tacos locally every time the D-backs score six runs or more in a home game. New D-backs reliever Heath Bell presented that award, saying about Taco Bell: "They're a family member of mine." Nice touch. Hall said the MVP awards have not only generated enthusiasm, but also a competitive spirit among sponsors to grow their commitments and programs and spend more money. "We now have sponsors here not only from Phoenix, but they're coming in from New York, from Columbus and Chicago," he said. "Last year, the feedback we got from companies like Chase and Chevy was, 'We want to do better. We're now going to go back to the drawing board with some of these ideas. We want to win.'" It's also the chance to be the butt of some of Hall's jokes. Borrowing from David Letterman, Hall did a Top 10 list "of the most odd requests from our partners." "No. 9, Gila River, our hosts, asked that we change the name of the umpires to pit boss -- we're not doing that," Hall said. "No, 3, Farmer's Insurance wants to hear over the PA system at Chase after every home run: 'We are D-backs, bum da bum ba bumpa bum bum.' Odd requests, we're not going to do 'em." Borrowing from Jay Leno, Hall did a video bit called "D-Walking" in which he went to the workplaces of three sponsors to determine what their employees knew about the D-backs and baseball. You can only imagine the insane answers. No question, only a company with a ham as chief executive, a guy who can work a room, would be able to generate this kind of show. "Or a fool," Hall said with a twinkle in his eye. "This is fun and a really unique way to recognize our sponsors. It's the perfect environment to pull something like this off."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.