The Eagles won the Super Bowl. Villanova took home the NCAA tournament title. The Sixers’ “plan” is actually working. And the Phillies are a half-game out of first place (keep blinking, but it’s true).
What could possibly be next for the suddenly-blessed sports town of Philadelphia and its fans across the region? How about LeBron James coming to town. And by town, I mean Allentown, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Sure, it’s a longshot, but when you’re running good there’s no harm in asking, right?
The always-creative IronPigs did just that yesterday, courting The King as his free agency approaches this summer by making their pitch on a billboard along a local highway and creating a viral sensation all at once.
The four-time NBA MVP hasn’t responded to the IronPigs’ tongue-in-cheek offer, but seemingly everyone else on social media has. The promotion was picked up by mainstream news and sports outlets, as well as by other minor league teams. The IronPigs’ tweet had received 3.1 thousand Likes and 1.1 thousand Retweets, which according to IronPigs president/general manager Kurt Landes is the most popular tweet, with the biggest reach, in team history.
The promotion was the brainchild of Landes, a Northeast Ohio native and diehard fan of the Cavaliers and James. Landes has watched over the years as other teams have courted the Cavs star, and with rumors of his leaving Cleveland again for a fresh start elsewhere (perhaps with the Sixers), Landes figured Lehigh Valley should get in on the act.
“I thought we should take advantage of it and, if he really wants to follow in Michael Jordan’s shoes and eclipse the greatest of all time, he has to go through minor league baseball,” Landes said. “This would be a great spot for him, and we would like to see him do just like he did for the city of Cleveland and bring us a championship.”
Like any good promoter, Landes refuses to break character and acknowledge the stunt. He did, however, discuss the payoff for a promotion not directly tied to an event at the ballpark.
“We continue to demonstrate to our fans that we are a team that is edgy, takes risks and has fun,” Landes said. “Our fans continue to see us market the team in a fun and exciting fashion. If we have that mindset in our marketing, then we are going to have that mindset at the ballpark. Fun. Unique. Crazy . . . That’s the environment you can expect at the ballpark.”
Lehigh Valley had been planning the promotion for about five or six weeks, securing the billboard in advance and waiting for just the right moment to reveal their offer. With the Sixers getting knocked out of the playoffs the night before, and increasing speculation that perhaps James is considering signing with Philly, the IronPigs decided to make their pitch public.
“With the playoffs ending for the Sixers and LeBron James still going strong, this was the right timing for it,” Landes said.
The response has proven Landes correct. The IronPigs’ courting of The King caught the attention of their minor league brethren—always an indicator of a good idea—with several teams responding on Twitter with offers of their own to James. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina League) quickly erected an impressive billboard to counter Lehigh Valley’s pitch.
The Birmingham Barons followed suit, pointing out their historical place in the MJ vs. LeBron debate.
Fellow International League affiliate Indianapolis chimed in that they want no part of James, given his history of roughing up the hometown Pacers.
And the Durham Bulls, in a tweet that suspiciously appears to be the handiwork of team vice president Mike Birling, offered a bit of advice to the IronPigs.
Landes responded to his colleagues with a knowing chuckle, saying that he is flattered by all of the attention. “It’s always the highest form of compliment when people steal, or borrow, your promotion,” he said. “These are all good people in the industry and they know a good promotion when they see one.”