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Volume 22 No. 35
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Built to last: Grateful Dead Night promotions spread in MLB

Don Muret
The music of the Grateful Dead has endured for 52 years, spanning multiple generations. Grateful Dead Night hasn’t yet achieved that status across Major League Baseball, but it’s off to a good start.

The 2017 season marks the eighth consecutive year that MLB teams will celebrate the Dead’s legacy, dating to the original Jerry Garcia Tribute Night at AT&T Park in 2010. At that time, the San Francisco Giants created the promotion to recognize the 15-year anniversary of Garcia’s death.

This year, the Giants are joined by the Red Sox, Cardinals, Reds and Phillies, all teams that have previously done the promotion, plus the Brewers, who recently announced their first Grateful Dead Tribute Night for Aug. 9 at Miller Park.

The promotion includes customized tie-dyed T-shirts, live music from Grateful Dead cover bands and, in San Francisco, appearances from the band’s surviving members.

It can help drive ticket sales for the seats least in demand, and most are midweek games.

Philadelphia held its first Grateful Dead Night last season, with a band and special T-shirts, and sold 2,135 tickets tied to the package.
Photo by: MITCHELL LEFF
For most clubs, full-price tickets are available in most sections of the stadium, with a portion of ticket sales forwarded to the Rex Foundation, the Dead’s charitable group.

In Milwaukee, the Brewers have paid attention to other teams’ success with Grateful Dead Night. They decided to hold one on their own as part of a theme night schedule that has greatly expanded for the 2017 season, said Rick Schlesinger, the team’s chief operating officer.

“The Grateful Dead are an iconic band that appeals to a wide demographic, so it was not a difficult decision to make,” Schlesinger said.

The Brewers plan to make 2,500 tickets available for Grateful Dead Night, at the regular prices of $18 for the upper deck to $30 for an outfield seat in the lower bowl. Depending on how it goes, the Brewers potentially could increase the number of seats for the promotion in 2018.

The Brewers, like the other teams, will distribute T-shirts co-branded with the Dead and team logo to those ticket buyers. Last season in Philadelphia, one of the Dead’s favorite markets, the T-shirt listed every Dead performance in Philly, including the band’s record 53 concerts at the old Spectrum.

Some teams book Grateful Dead cover bands to provide additional entertainment value. Last year, local band Box of Rain performed at Ashburn Alley, the outfield food court at Citizens Bank Park, said John Brazer, the Phillies’ director of publicity.

The 2016 event, the Phillies’ first Grateful Dead Night, drew 2,135 ticket buyers tied to the promotion for a Tuesday night game in early August. The first 2,000 ticket buyers got the T-shirt.

Those buying tickets on the Phillies’ site through the theme night page received a $4 discount for seats priced $47 and below, extending from the lower bowl to the upper deck, Brazer said.

In St. Louis, the first two Grateful Dead Night promotions at Busch Stadium resulted in more than 3,000 tickets sold for each event, a strong response to the promotion, said Martin Coco, the Cardinals’ director of ticket sales and marketing.

Last year, Jake’s Leg, a Dead cover band that formed in the 1970s, played at the ballpark before the game, then moved across the street to perform at Ballpark Village after the game.

William Roth, owner of a local advertising agency who worked 10 years for the Dead’s merchandise division, designs the T-shirts for the Cardinals and a few other teams, Coco said.

In San Francisco, where it all began for both the promotion and the Grateful Dead, the Giants alternate between honoring Garcia and the band as a whole. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, both Bay Area residents and Giants fans, have sung the national anthem, and band members and their families participate in forums at the park as part of a special VIP ticket package.

Over the past seven years, the team has developed a retail line of Giants/Dead co-branded hats and shirts sold at the team store, said Faham Zakariaei, the team’s senior director of promotions and special events.

All told, the Giants sell between 4,000 and 6,000 tickets every season for the Dead-related promotions, Zakariaei said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.