Singing Hot Dog Men and the Balance of Self Promotion

My first lesson in word of mouth marketing took place more than a quarter century ago at a Detroit Tigers vs. Toronto Blue Jays game that my parents took my brothers and I to see. The seats in old Tigers Stadium weren’t the best – we were in the upper deck, but the experience was entertaining none-the-less. All because of an enterprising vendor hawking sodas. During intermittent pauses in the action, a booming voice could be heard addressing those within shouting distance:

ICE COLD COKE…BEEP! BEEP! BEEP

A few innings in and he had the entire upper deck joining him. A few innings after that? The entire stadium was in on it. It was like the audible wave, but with everyone staying in their seats. I think the guy sold a vending machine worth of cola products that day.

Fast forward to today and I found the following tweet being shared on Reddit:

For those outside of the fine city of Detroit, Charley Marcuse, aka the Singing Hot Dog Man has a bit of a cult following. This isn’t by accident, because Charley has more entrepreneurial spirit in one finger nail than most have in their entire body. Here’s a guy who took a part time job slinging franks at a baseball game and turned it into a niche opportunity to build his brand. How far did he take it? He markets his own mustard!

So imagine his surprise when his supervisor told him to stop the singing or risk losing his job. Maybe if this happened 25 years ago, he would have been muted for good, but Charlie has purpose and the power of social media. The hashtag #letcharliesing may not have the weight behind it that other social protests have had in the past, but give it a day or two. This has all the elements of a meme waiting to happen. Deadspin? How could they not pick up on this? ESPN? Send out Kenny Mayne!

But here’s the question. Is Charley’s singing actually a benefit to his checking account? ESPN had an article a few years ago about the life of a stadium vendor. Most are on commission. With an average hot dog price of $4.75, and a commission of 16.5%, that means the take home is $.60 per frank. (NOTE: The hot dog math I’m about to subject you to should be taken with the tiniest grain of salt. I know statisticians, and I, my readers, am no statistician!)

Now, let’s say you can sell 200 hot dogs for every 9 innings played, that means 22 per inning. An average MLB game is 2 hours and 50 minutes (170 minutes). You’re hustling 22 dogs every 18 minutes. Charley takes 20 seconds off every time he bellows out his sales pitch. Again for hypothetical purposes, let’s say he’s going through his singing routine 6 times an inning. That’s shaving 1 minute 20 seconds per inning – or the equivalent of 1 dog per inning. Incrementally, we need to account for him having to make change, hand over the merchandise, etc.

Anyway sorry for the hot dog math but extrapolating the performance over 9 innings, Charley ends up losing a few hundred dollars (just under $500) at the end of each baseball season.

But is that just chump change? Should we chalk that up to investment in brand Charley? I mean the guy is selling products in specialty retailers due solely to his stadium schtick. How much would it typically cost an entrepreneur off the street to carve out an end cap, advertise, etc.?

Whatever does happen to Charley Marcuse, he should be commended for standing out  in a sea of anonymous, Old English D baseball cap wearing faces for 81 games a year. When the Tigers do move on to the next round of the playoffs, I sincerely hope the issues his management have are resolved so we can #LetCharlieSing.

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2 thoughts on “Singing Hot Dog Men and the Balance of Self Promotion”

  1. This article is…pretty terrible. First of all, he’s definitely not singing 6 times an inning. Second of all, you fail to even take into account that his singing has created far more sales for himself than that of the average vendor. He’s well-known around the ballpark and moves franks like no other vendor I’ve sat near. You’re treating it like his singing exists in a vacuum, when actually it directly effects his sales (positively) and adds an attraction for the team.

    1. And that Tyler, is why the Tigers fired him today?

      http://bit.ly/15FoLrn

      Maybe you missed the point of my article. Charlie’s fame extended beyond the ballpark. His singing was a marketing investment that brought him attention and awareness – something necessary when his mustard hit the shelf at local grocers.

      Hopefully there’s enough protest in Detroit Tiger fans to get Charlie his job back.

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