Kramer: Build-A-Beer (snake)
David Kramer | Monday, September 6, 2021
June 14th marked one of the first full-capacity baseball games in nearly 21 months at Wrigley Field. Troves of Cubs fans, always restless for the shared sublimity of summer baseball, poured into the bleachers with an all too familiar craving: overpriced and excessive amounts of beer.
Drinkers attuned to the crazes of social media banded together to construct the largest beer snake America has ever seen. Nothing, not even the intrusive security teams or abrasive bartenders turning the pesky drunks away, would stop the “We want cups!” chant that pervaded the stands. With all said and done, fans gathered over 2,400 cups to build a foaming, dripping, 100 foot-long serpent, which analysts anticipate accounted for nearly $30,000 in beer sales throughout the stadium.
At a glance, these figures feel insurmountable for any fanbase smaller than the ever-present Cubs loyalists. It goes without saying that coordination with a group of drunk finance bros that hold a hunk of plastic-like Inspector Clouseau would hold the Faberge egg is no mean task. But surely strength in numbers holds true for obscure records like the mighty cup snake?
The strange accolades of countless small minor league organizations prove otherwise. In 2018, the MiLB Eastern League All-Star Game saw a small faction of fans attempt the world record for the most chewing gum bubbles blown simultaneously. Obscure feats from the world’s largest food fight to the largest group that was “Tebowing” to the most people wearing a sock puppet in one venue are seemingly everywhere in MiLB.
And most recently, in a tiny outfield section chock full of drunk beer enthusiasts, the St. Paul Saints surpassed the formerly unbreakable Cubs cup snake with a whopping 102 foot-long serpent, an unofficial North American record.
So what accounts for tiny fanbases shooting to notoriety against the looming Goliath that is Major League Baseball? To a nearly unbearable extent, the fan experience in the modern MLB landscape remains deeply restrictive, both in the way that MLB stadiums fail to facilitate good value creation and in the collective, unwavering baseball focus.
The longstanding band of minor league faithful is drawn to affordable ticket prices and fun fan engagement opportunities throughout the ballpark. Instead of “selling out” every possible area of a small ballpark for corporate partners to operate daily, many minor league teams hold attractive spaces on reserve for their personal activation or promotional use. With these spaces, MiLB teams have the leeway to promote just about whatever the fans desire — within reason.
This July, CHS Field in downtown St. Paul embraced that leeway to the fullest and slowly erupted into an organized frenzy for empty cups. James Mulvaney, Saints intern and head coordinator of the team’s beer snake attempt, invited local breweries to collect empty cups at each corner of an unused plot of lawn, conveniently adjacent to the ballpark’s “Craft Beer Corner” and the so-called “cup snake section.” Fans chose their first craft beer — included in a special Cup Snake ticket package — and delivered their empty cup to the corresponding brewer. $2 beer sales throughout the park, paired with fluorescent signs above recycling bins that shouted “Don’t throw away your cups! Add them to the beer snake!” left little room for uninformed fans.
In a blueprint for obscure record-breaking success, the Saints integrated their social media team, broadcasters, front office executives and operations staff under an initiative to concentrate the fan experience into one electrifying corner of the ballpark. When squaring against their high-volume, high-revenue and hands-off competitors, the synergy facilitated by MiLB ballparks nourishes a rich landscape for value creation from every corner.
Call it a flash in the pan. Call it a gimmick. Call it whatever you’d like. But for organizations that suffer under thin margins and limited capacity, records keep the fun alive.