Though the Arena Football League (AFL) is quickly gaining national attention, it still needed a boost in media coverage to raise attendance at games.AFL officials then came up with a plan to use each team's popular players to garner attention in each community.
The Georgia Force decided to focus on offensive specialist Markeith Cooper. Already a fan favorite, Cooper, at 5' 6" and 160 pounds, is the team's leading scorer and smallest player. With the help of PR agency Hope-Beckham, the Georgia Force set out to create an attention-grabbing campaign to reel in media and attract new fans.
The Georgia Force and Hope-Beckham decided that a fun way to create interest in Cooper, and thus the team, was to build a campaign around his height. Bob Hope, president of Hope-Beckham, came up with an idea that the firm called "the world's biggest bobblehead for the world's smallest player."
"To have a player who is so atypical for football definitely sparked ideas for a promotion," says Hope. "His charisma and personality were a perfect fit for what we were trying to do."
The PR team also acquired the help of Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron, who owns a car dealership in Atlanta. Aaron donated two Mini Coopers that the team could use to drive around town sporting the Force's team colors and logos.
The first step in promoting Cooper was setting up his bobblehead in places around the community. The Mini Coopers were painted the team's colors and driven around by staff, who handed out fliers with information about Cooper, his team, and the league. The cars appeared at store openings, community festivals, Starbucks, and Caribou Coffee shops during the morning rush in Atlanta.
As a charity tie-in, the team also ventured with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to help raise money for awareness of the disease.
"(The team) would like to get involved with as many charities as possible," says team rep Daniel Dooley.
Hope-Beckham decided to put the bobblehead in local parades and various community events, appearing at Gwinnett Place Mall for the first two weeks in April. People were allowed to take pictures with the bobblehead for free with their own cameras; others were given a photo on the spot with a donation of $20 toward the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The Foundation sold tickets to home games against Orlando and San Jose at events involving the Mini Coopers and received half of the proceeds from those tickets.
The team has done more than 150 events involving the Mini Coopers and the bobblehead, with an average of nearly 1,000 people attending each. The efforts have increased Cooper's celebrity in Atlanta, and his jersey is said to be a popular item in sporting-goods stores around the city.
The money raised for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is at $3,000 and counting, with a pending donation from the team. Despite the club's sub-par season, the promotion has also helped push the Force's attendance over 73,000 for the season, a 48% increase from just two years ago.
"I think it was very successful," Dooley says. "I think it solidified Markeith's popularity in the community."
"Right now things look positive," says Hope of the prospect of his agency working with the team and its new owner, the Atlanta Falcons, next season.
Meanwhile, the Force continues to look for new and innovative ways to attract media attention and new fans.
PR team: Hope-Beckham PR (Atlanta) and the Georgia Force
Campaign: Make Markeith a Star
Time frame: April and May 2004