How a Fan Turned an Athlete into a Human Billboard – and Raised Thousands for Charity

Where's the Party At?

As the Cleveland Indians head into game six of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, many media outlets are talking about Nate Crowe. Who is Nate Crowe, you ask? Do we mean Trevor Crowe, the former Cleveland outfielder? Nope. Not him.

Nate Crowe is an unwitting marketing mastermind – and that’s not even his day job. Crowe is the creator of the Party at Napoli’s phenomenon, a ballpark sign turned t-shirt turned massive charity drive for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.

After Crowe’s Party at Napoli’s sign caught the attention of Cleveland fans earlier in the season, he fashioned himself a shirt to match. And being the generous guy that Crowe is, he made one for Mike Napoli, too.

Then, on the night Napoli drove in the game-winning run, the first baseman happened to be wearing Crowe’s homemade shirt in a postgame interview. That’s when the Party at Napoli’s t-shirt made its first appearance on TV. Boom – an overnight success story, right? Well, yes, but…

There’s more at work here than a little luck

It might seem like Crowe caught lightning in a bottle. However, when we take a look at the shirt’s sudden popularity, it looks more practical than accidental. Not to take anything away from Crowe’s creativity or enthusiasm, but he did take – even without intending to – all of the right steps to position his shirt to achieve maximum exposure.

How? The formula is pretty simple:  

  1. Messaging. The shirt, if only a little ambiguous, is simple, features a fan favorite athlete and elicits a chuckle. It has a clear, defined purpose and target audience. And it’s also crafted in way that connects to consumers or viewers. It speaks their language and employs related or desirable terms (like “party” and “Napoli’s).

  2. Audience. Okay, so rabid sports fans aren’t exactly a niche market, but the right product in front of the right eyes can yield serious results. If you notice, Crowe didn’t wave his sign around a local craft fair – he took it to the ballpark and to the ballplayer. This is audience awareness: knowing where your audience will interact with your product or brand and what appeals to them.

  3. Visibility. By mailing the shirt to the first baseman, Crowe placed the product in the precise spot the audience was looking – at their beloved athlete. When Napoli gave the hoards of Cleveland faithful a glimpse of the shirt, he essentially morphed into a right-handed, power-hitting human billboard. In turn, anyone else who purchased the shirt morphed into a living, breathing billboard (aka brand ambassador) too.

When you know your sweet spot, good things happen

Crowe’s shirt found itself in front of so many eyes that the website selling the shirts, 108 stitches, crashed due to traffic volume. Bad news for site administrators, but great news for the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. Per The New York Times, the shirt has raised more than $120,000 in donations.

While Clevelanders hope the Party at Napoli’s reaches its peak tonight, the shirt never intended for much more than to raise a few laughs. It did, accidentally or otherwise, make all the right marketing moves with a clear, uncomplicated message, target (and fanatical) audience and a perfect position in the market. I guess you could say, Nate Crowe really hit it outta the – sorry, no lame baseball puns allowed.

Even if the market is thin on first base-playing billboards capable of hitting 34 dingers, the offseason is coming up and that means new campaigns. Of course, most of us have target audiences that aren’t as easily defined as, say, millions of screaming sports fans. If you need help crafting a killer message, defining your core audience or identifying the best position in the market, we can help. Akron knows a thing or two about making some sweet t-shirts too.

What do you think about the Party at Napoli's phenomenon? About the tribe? #RallyTogether and share your comments here.


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