Vertin getting chance to sizzle with Bacon
MACON, Ga. — As his first year as director of marketing and entertainment with the Macon Bacon baseball team came to a close in February 2019, Tyler Vertin and his staff were given high praise in his industry by his peers.
His marketing strategy, from creating a mascot to the in-game presentation, for the Bacon was innovative enough to earn the Calumet native a trip to Las Vegas for the SAMMY (Sales, Advertising, Marketing and Management Idea of the Year) awards as one of six finalists.
Not bad for a summer collegiate baseball team in the middle of Georgia.
Vertin, a 2014 Calumet High School graduate, learned a lot from the experience.
“It was a crazy experience that first year,” Vertin said. “Now that we have two years under our belt, there’s been so much that has come from that. Really, what I learned is to just try to be unique and different.
“Having a name being funny and all, it makes it easier. Being Bacon makes it so much easier as well to come up with things to have fun with it.”
While he was not victorious at the end of the day, he got to see how his ideas stacked up with those of major professional franchises like the Cleveland Browns, the San Jose Sharks and the Toronto Raptors. He felt that the chance to be seen on a big stage alongside those established franchises was extremely valuable to furthering his career.
“I definitely think we would have won if we had (only) the fan vote because I threw out bacon, we had our mascot run out there throwing out bacon and we had a model come out wearing bacon scented t-shirts,” Vertin said. “We had everything going and I was having a ton of a ton of fun, so that made a lot easier.”
Six degrees of a match made in Bacon
There had not been a consistent baseball team in the Macon area since Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves pulled an affiliate team, the Macon Braves, out of the area in 2002.
With interest in a local baseball team growing in the years that followed, Bacon owner Steve DeLay worked behind the scenes to bring a team back, eventually settling on an expansion team in the Coastal Plain League (CPL). The CPL has seen its share of star power over the years as a collegiate summer league, with MLB stars like Justin Verlander and Ryan Zimmerman playing there alongside NFL quarterback Russell Wilson.
The league, now with 16 teams, became a perfect spot for Vertin to convince DeLay that he could help sell a squad in the Macon area. After a fan poll helped choose the team’s nickname, Bacon, Vertin went to work. Season ticket holders were presented their tickets in boxes of bacon. When it came time to create a mascot, his team came up with the idea of a piece of bacon with a face on it, which is appropriately named Kevin.
Kevin, the mascot, wears a team uniform with the number 6 degrees, which is in reference to the party game “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” which four former Albright College students claim they created in 1994.
“We finally got Kevin Bacon to recognize us on social media,” said Vertin. “We got a hat to him and he put a picture on Twitter and Instagram. Just doing things like that and getting our image and brand out there is something that we try to do.”
The actor in whose honor the game was created, actually passed through Macon last year, giving Vertin the opportunity to bring both Kevins together, in a manner of speaking.
“From Day One, that was the goal,” Vertin said. “We picked the team name and we were on Sportscenter. They put a picture up with Kevin Bacon. So from the start, it’s been associated with, ‘How do we get Kevin Bacon involved?’ Obviously, he’s a very famous busy man, and trying to get on his radar was easier said than done.
“He was traveling from Tampa to Peachtree City, Georgia, which is a little bit south of Atlanta. He was staying the night in Macon. We got wind that he was staying in a hotel there. So the hotel was like, ‘Hey, this is your opportunity. Do you want to give him anything?’ We said, ‘Yeah, give us some time. We’ll put together a gift basket.’ We gave him a jersey, a hat, a picture of (mascot) Kevin that was signed by him, and a few other things.
“They left in his hotel room and, for a few weeks, we were kind of like, we don’t know if anything’s gonna happen.”
While, at first, Vertin was not sure how the actor reacted to the situation, he soon found out on social media that the actor loved the whole experience and rewarded the hard work of Vertin’s team with a special photo and a message.
“It was right as our playoffs were about to start,” said Vertin. “All of a sudden I get a notification on my phone that said you’ve been tagged in a photo with Kevin Bacon. I was just kind of, I had to take a second look at it. I was like, wait a minute. That’s Kevin Bacon’s (the actor’s) account. I opened it up, and next thing you know, it’s on Twitter, Instagram, saying, ‘Best of luck to the Macon Bacon on your playoff run. Give a big hug to (mascot) Kevin for me.
“It was kind of like a wild moment.”
With the SAMMY nomination, Vertin and mascot Kevin traveled to Las Vegas for the awards presentation. Vertin felt that the trip was beneficial not just for the team, but also for himself.
He had an opportunity to take in an NHL game featuring the Vegas Golden Knights. Known in the hockey world for their in-game presentation, Vertin found himself like a kid in a candy store as he stepped into T-Mobile Arena. It did not take long for him to find something he could bring back to Macon with him.
“They (the Golden Knights) have a drumline,” Vertin said. “Obviously professional drummers. They have a full get up and it’s kind of a part of the atmosphere during the game and pregame.”
While the Macon arena is not filled with professional drummers who could populate a drumline at Bacon games, what Vertin did was reach out to local high schools. In doing so, he created a connection to the community for a team that already had a strong footprint.
“Obviously, I’m not gonna be able to pay professional drummers, but there’s plenty of high schools around here that have marching bands,” Vertin said. “I can definitely throw something together. After reaching out to a few people I knew within the school systems around here, I was able to get in contact with a band director and next thing you know, the Skillet Line, which is what we ended up calling it, was born.”
Fans who came to the Bacon’s season opener last season were treated to the drumline experience and absolutely fell in love with the new atmosphere.
“We had a live drumline on the weekend games that perform pregame and on and then between innings during select games and people loved it,” he said. “Adding drums kind of just gets fans excited and adds a little bit of a beat to it. When you walk into the game that just gets the tempo started off and it added to that experience. It made us feel like we were even closer to a professional team than the year before with that atmosphere.”
Marketing success leads to team success
In the team’s second year, the Bacon went 29-21, which was good enough to help the team reach the Pettit Cup playoffs. In their South Divisional Championship game, the Bacon beat the Savannah Bananas, 7-3, on the strength of a 3 RBI night by their catcher, Brandon Ashy.
They turned that success into a chance to play for the SouthWest Championship against the Forest City Owls. Again, the Bacon emerged victorious, 1-0, thanks to a home run by left fielder Daniel Harris.
In the Pettit Cup Championship round, the Bacon faced the Morehead City Marlins. The Bacon dropped the opener, 3-0, before storming back with an 11-4 win to force a third and deciding game. In the finale, the Bacon fell, 6-2.
The deep playoff run helped continue to draw eyes from locals to Bacon games.
“So it was a crazy second year,” Vertin said. “We had our first playoff game. We won that and then made it to the championship series a few days later and ended up losing in the best-of-3 series. We’re pretty proud to be able to, in our second year, almost win the whole thing.”
COVID-19 and delaying 2020
Just when it seemed that nothing could slow down the meteoric rise of the Bacon in the CPL, 2020 brought about a new challenge for the baseball world, and really the rest of the world. With the joint announcements of the National Basketball Association, the NHL, and the MLB, of season suspensions due to coronavirus fears, the Bacon have found themselves unable to continue to build on the success of 2019.
The team’s first game is scheduled for May 28, with their first home game set for the next night. While the start of the season is not set in stone, discussions are already ongoing as to how to adjust, should they need to.
“As things get closer, obviously, you need to start making tentative plans, like you see a lot of Major League teams, the NHL, MLB coming up with things that could potentially have to go in place,” Vertin said. “(We have not decided yet) whether it’s a delayed start for us, or maybe we’ll play in the fall. We’re coming up with different alternatives on how can we play this year. We’re definitely hopeful that things will kind of hopefully turn for the better once our season gets a start.”
Given that the Bacon are a collegiate summer league team, they rely much more heavily on their brand name than their players’ names, since players who play for them are likely years away from making an impact at the MLB level. Not taking the field on time has led to new challenges for Vertin as he works to keep the Bacon fresh on the minds of fans.
Vertin and the Bacon are hoping that they can be a source of healing for the area as well, which could help with keeping the interest in the team up locally.
“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to be an aspect of the community. ‘Hey, we are allowed to go out, let’s be social. (It’s a) perfect opportunity. Let’s go and celebrate a ballgame throughout the summer.’ We’re hoping that’s how it’s gonna work out.”
With a successful experience building the brand for the Bacon, Vertin has begun to work on expanding his own personal footprint on the larger sports world. He has delved into hockey, his sport of passion, doing some consulting for the ECHL and even earned a chance to interview for a position with the Sharks.
Getting a chance to work with a professional hockey league that features a number of former Michigan Tech Huskies has been exciting for Vertin. Players like Mark Auk, C.J. Eick, Cliff Watson, Malcolm Gould, Chris Leibinger and others have made careers out of their experiences in the league.
“Our owner, he does consulting for select leagues and teams, and one of them is ECHL,” Vertin said. “He got me involved this year from a marketing side of things. I was able to go to a league meeting a little bit after Thanksgiving, and then I’m planning on going to one in June in Vegas.
“Basically, I help with the league with some graphic stuff, if they need any help. Also, teams can use me as a resource to ask questions.”
He worked with a select group of teams, which made him feel good about the direction he could help lead them.
“That was a pretty unique opportunity,” he said. “It’s kind of a cool opportunity to meet people in the hockey world. When that time maybe comes for the next step, that’s going to make it a little bit easier.”
While he did not earn a job with the Sharks, the experience of interviewing with a top tier professional club was worth the trip to the Bay Area.
“I met the director of marketing, and that ended up leading me getting to go out to San Jose and interviewing for a job there,” said Vertin. “I didn’t end up getting it, but that was still a pretty cool experience, getting flown out to California for the day and meeting all those executives and meeting the VP of Marketing for an NHL team.
“I definitely think I was a little bit green for the position, but the fact that they reached out to me individually and wanted me out there, I was taking as far as an experience. To have the experience with this interviewing process was tremendous.”