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Terrible Business Ventures of the Past

Terrible Business Ventures of the Past

by Jay Miutz

Ten Cent Beer Night

As the home of both Drew Carey and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland has its fair share of fans and critics. No matter where you stand on this midwest metropolis, one event still stains the pages of Cleveland’s history. No, not Charlie Sheen’s performance in Major League; the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night at Cleveland Stadium in 1974.

The Indians as a franchise had been struggling for several seasons to draw fans to the stadium and stir profits for ownership. A weak roster paired with several losses both on the road and at home had led to dissention within the team and the slow loss of fans back home in Cleveland. Management devised a quick plan to offer 10 oz. cups of Stroh’s Beer to fans for ten cents throughout all nine innings of the game. The promotion was projected to bring in 15,000 fans, more than any home game had that season.

As you may imagine, the event went slightly awry.

Ten Cent Beer Night was promoted vehemently throughout the first months of the summer, as management hoped to spread the word to other Clevelanders and rekindle the spirit they had for their 1948 World Series Champions. The week leading up to the game, the Indians faced off against the Texas Rangers, which ended in a bench clearing brawl and a feeling of resentment towards the Texas team back home in Cleveland.

On the night of the event, some 25,000 fans came out - to not only see the game, but to drink as many 10 oz. beers as they possibly could in a nine inning span. The game proceeded regularly at first, but slowly, the crowd’s level of inebriation began to affect not only the game, but the players, broadcasters, and Major League Baseball as a whole. In the 2nd there were bleacher brawls, in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th there were streakers, and by the 7th and 8th most fans had begun to scream so loud they drowned out the commentators. By the 9th inning the Indians had come back from a five run deficit to somehow tie the game – but the chance to gain victory wouldn’t come.

Fans began pelting players with rocks, batteries, cups and whatever else they could find before absolute mayhem broke loose. Fans stormed the field, attacking players and tearing the stadium to bits. They wielded stadium seats and stolen bats as they rushed players, both Indians and Ranger alike – many of which fled to the dugouts for protection. The American League President forced the club to abandon the promotion, proclaiming that, “there was no question that beer played a great part in the affair.”

But what else was at play here?

Beyond beer, the Cleveland Indians made several fatal business mistakes in strategy.

Aggressive marketing campaigns and sales tactics are not a new concept; neither are they necessarily frowned upon. What they are, however, is a delicate science. The Indians took a massive leap with their campaign for ten cent beer. Granted, 1974’s economic landscape is vastly different than ours today, but there is no argument that there is a healthy median between a beer for a dime and a stadium priced brew. Perhaps a dollar would have done the trick, or even half-price beer night? It’s a good rule of thumb that if you ever feel one idea is significantly more radical than the others, bring it down a notch.

The next flaw the business managers at Cleveland Stadium made was a total lack of consideration for environment. Sometimes people may get caught up in the numbers or lose sight of the coworkers around them, and that can have detrimental results. Whether it’s a slump in the market, a drop in worker moral or a fresh wound from a bench clearing brawl, the environment you are hoping to perform in has a major effect on the outcome of your presentation, investment or promotion. Being aware of your environment shows attention, consideration and preparedness.

Finally, and honestly the most obvious, is that the Indian’s front end lacked control in both a literal and business sense. They lost control of their customers because they were unable to control their consumption within the promotion they were offering. If the process had been regulated or given limits, there is a strong chance the whole incident could have been avoided. Cleveland lacked control of their customers and had no plan in place to reestablish control once it was lost, a dangerous place to be. Don’t be afraid to set some limitation or regulations; they are essential in creating and maintaining order.

In conclusion, and forty years in hindsight, ten cent beer night was a game, or perhaps a riot, unlike any other. The Indians learned the importance of environmental consideration, control and aggressive practices, lessons that carry over across all types of businesses - even independent ones.

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