In this episode, the guys chat about the infamous 10 cent beer night and other examples of when ‘free becomes bad’ in marketing. 

Over the years, there have been some pretty bad promotions – Oprah Winfrey and KFC’s Great Chicken Fiasco of 2009, McDonald’s 1984 Olympic Scratch-Off Giveaway Campaign, and American Airlines’ Fly Free for Life are all risks that ended up causing companies to operate at a loss (we talked about them at our first and one of the most popular episodes). But nothing can beat the perfect storm that was the 10 cent beer night.

On June 4th, 1974, the Cleveland Stadium hosted what is now regarded as “the worst promotion in history,”- 10 Cent Beer Night. It wasn’t the worst promotion in history because of the cheap booze or because it was an experiment gone wrong.  In fact, it wasn’t an experiment at all. Promotions that offered discounted beer during sporting events had happened before. While they were all deemed successful, after the 1974 Cleavland debacle, whether that success is attributed to monetary gain or lack of violence is now unknown.  Ultimately, like Oprah Winfrey and KFC, McDonald’s, and American Airlines, the Cleveland Indians proved that free isn’t always free.

Somehow what was intended as a fun way to get fans into the stadium ended in a riot.  Given the Rangers and the Indians’ aggressive past, with team-wide altercations taking place as early as the week before, it feels like Cleveland’s management should have known better or at least should have seen this coming.  That’s tricky. In hindsight, it’s easy to see where everything went wrong. The game against Texas was a perfect storm. There had been other successful promotions of the same nature before, so it’s easy to understand how Cleavlands’ marketing team was able to overlook the looming “10 Cent Beer Night” catastrophe. Still, that doesn’t negate the fact that someone should have seen it coming.

“10 Cent Beer Night,” whether it was at the Cleveland, Arlington, or any other stadium, was always a bad idea – a disaster waiting to happen.

There’s nothing that unites two opposing teams and gets them to work together quite like a riot led by drunk and violent fans does. The desire to attract more fans and the marginal success of similar promotions before took precedence over the possible consequences. 

Questions like:

“Hey, could offering cheap, unlimited beer at a sporting event that fans are passionate about cause problems?” or… 

“Hey, is it possible that there will be more people wanting to use coupons for free chicken than there is the chicken we have to sell?” or… 

“Hey, could a flyer actually use these unlimited, first-class flights to live in the sky, going from city to city eating and sleeping on planes?” weren’t asked. 

Discounted alcohol is a promotion that has been repeated many times since the riot in ‘74. But, it’s been repeated with more rules, additional security, and understanding of the risk involved. 

Listen to the whole story and our thoughts on what could be learned from this in today’s episode.  

We talk about:

[04:40] Examples of unsuccessful promotions
[07:40] History of the infamous 10 cent beer night
[14:40] What was the marketing team thinking
[15:00] Description of the promotion
[19:40] Main safety issues
[23:35] How could this happen?
[27:40] Aftermath
[31:10] What can be learned?

Enjoy the show!

Episode Script Writer: Grace Wall
Research Analyst: Gertruda Gilyte


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