THE MAKING OF “STAR WARS NIGHT”

Bisons extravaganza set later this month

 

It started out as just another date on a busy baseball promotional calendar – Star Wars Night. Another reason to pack the family into the car and spend an evening at a ball game.

But for the Buffalo Bisons, the event has turned into a multimedia extravaganza, and has become one of the hottest and most eagerly awaited dates on the home calendar. And on Saturday, July 23, Coca Cola Field will be transformed once again into one of the netherworlds in the galaxy of Star Wars, where themed characters, light sabers and players in appropriate garb will take over the ballpark.

“It started out as a simple promotional concept,” says Bisons sales director Anthony Sprague, who is an unabashed Star Wars geek and who presented the idea to his bosses almost a decade ago. “I was asked if we could make it work within the constraints of what we do here in terms of game night presentation. Everyone on our team got on board and we put it together and we were off and running.”

That first Star Wars night was little more than video clips from the famed movies, strains of John William’s compositions from those same films, and light sabers for the kids and graphics on the big board. The fans ate it up, and wanted more.

“By the third year we got outside fans involved, and everything changed. It brought the event to an entirely new level,” said Sprague.

Enter the Northridge Fan Force, a Buffalo, New York based local fan club of everything Star Wars. “When the group first started with the Bisons it was little more than characters in costume appearing for photo opps with the fans. I believe it was year three when we expanded to begin presenting a story,” said Anna Swannie, president of the Northridge Fan Force, which has over 40 members on its active membership roster.  “We added the video montages to the night, which at first were stand alone, but now it has grown to a saga, just like the movie series, which has an elaborate story theme and leaves viewers in suspense, waiting for the next chapter.”

So there you have it… Star Wars Night Episode IX.  Complete with roman numerals.

“We actually start the process in the fall. We have members of our group who step up to become a part of our writing team. So they actually work together and compose the story. And of course we’re very involved with the Bisons in putting this all together.”

Any problems from Disney corporation or Lucasfilm, which owns the property rights to the Star Wars brand?

“We had to get approvals from Lucasfilm in order to actually be allowed to call this event ‘Star Wars Night’. Their interest was to review the quality and presentation of the characters, and they liked what they saw,” said Swannie, who added that there are no license fees or royalty requirements, as long as their organization and the Bisons adhere to a strict set of guidelines. And not use their intellectual properties to generate a profit. So enter the charity component.

“We do a 50-50 and add merchandise auctions to help Compass House. Last year we presented them a check for $15,000 as a result of our efforts at Star Wars Night,” said Swannie. “It is something we are extremely proud of.”

Participants in the video vignettes are actors who are recruited right from within the Northridge organization. “We use whoever is available, and friends of ours who like to help us out. We’ve already done all the videos and they have been edited. Now it’s time to set up to set up the onfield duel.”

In addition to the popular selling light sabers, fans in attendance love to queue up to have their photos taken in the concourse with their favorite Star Wars character. The lines had gotten so long, that a couple years ago they decided to set up a separate meet and greet in the outfield pavilion well before the game, which is a separate ticketed event, to relieve the pressure. “That event sold out weeks ago, and we will have two places in the concourses for fans to get their pictures. Our goal is so those in attendance can get their pics and not waste too much time waiting, thus missing the video saga going on the video board,” said Swannie.

Star Wars Night has spilled over into the team’s regular game night routine. Fans can remember two years ago when Celery had a clear shot in the mascot race for her first ever win, only to have Darth Vader step out of the dugout and cast a mesmerizing spell, thus dooming Celery to another loss. “We had no control over that,” said Sprague, adding a wink and a nod.

Sprague also admitted that the in house team assigns Star Wars characters to each of the players from both teams, and that becomes a part of the on screen graphics. Of course, the visiting team gets all the bad guys, and curiously, last year the goofy member of the Republic’s Senate, Jar Jar Binks, was assigned to none other than the Bisons’ Matt Hague, who became the league’s 2015 MVP. “I have no idea how that happened, and I took a good share of ribbing in the clubhouse,” said Hague with a smile last year when asked about the designation.

Any surprises in store for Episode IX? “Both Luke and Princess Leia have been absent the past two years, they will be back in a special way,” Swannie revealed. “I don’t want to tip our hands too much, but the conclusion of the story line will have viewers astounded and looking for more,” added Sprague.

Sprague’s office wall boasts a framed license from Lucasfilm, granting permission and license to the Bisons to present their product to the Buffalo audience. For him it is a prized possession. “I field calls at least once a month from other teams, asking how we do Star Wars. I tell them to engage the local Star Wars fan base and bring them in on the planning and execution. It has worked for us here, and believe me, there are Star Wars fans and fan clubs everywhere.”

Star Wars Episode X happens at Coca Cola Field sometime in 2017. The Bisons have themselves a franchise which shows no signs of slowing down. Embrace The Force. And may it be with you.