What’s the idea behind theme nights?

What do you do on game day at PPL Park?

It goes without saying that at the heart of game day is the game. But for many, game day involves much more. People gather in the lots around PPL Park to cook food, responsibly enjoy some refreshing beverages, kick a ball around, and generally catch up with friends old and new. In other words, going to the game is also a chance to have fun and build relationships with fellow fans. Of course, what’s fun before a game for me may not be fun for you, just as when the game is underway, some like to stand and sing and others prefer to simply sit and watch. Different strokes for different folks.

When Philadelphia Union announced a few weeks ago that Saturday’s game against Seattle Sounders would be a Star Wars theme day, my reaction was something along the lines of, “What the what now?” And then I thought of some of my friends (including several PSP colleagues who shall remain nameless) who I knew would be over the moon at the idea. Like I said, different strokes for different folks.

Across the social mediasphere, some reactions were less charitable, ranging from mocking the idea as lame to denunciations that the club was wasting money on licensing Star Wars intellectual property.

So, what’s the idea behind these theme nights?

PSP spoke to Cara Joftis, the Union’s vice president for marketing, about what the club is trying to achieve with its theme nights.

Why theme nights?

The Union’s first theme night in 2013 was the Irish Night back in March when the Union hosted New England Revolution on St. Patrick’s Day. Joftis explained that discussions at the club about theme nights began at the end of last season. “We’re always trying to figure out how we can enhance the fan experience,” Joftis said. “What can we do to engage the fans, what can we do to keep it fresh and new?”

Theme nights are aimed at creating a memorable fan experience—whether for existing fans such as season ticket holders or new fans coming to their first game—that the entire Union organization can contribute to supporting. “We meet as an entire group to talk not only tickets, corporate partnerships, and marketing but also our concessions people are in there too,” Joftis said. “When we come up with ideas, if we feel they don’t go across the board, then that’s not the right one.”

That said, the game on the field is still priority No. 1.

“Whatever the theme is should never take away from that game on the field,” Joftis continued. “We can do some things in pregame, and we can do some things with the video board at halftime, but we don’t mess with the actual game presentation.”

Referring to Saturday’s Star Wars theme, Joftis said with a laugh, “The guys aren’t gonna come out in storm troopers uniforms.”

Why Star Wars?

Perhaps you already knew, but May 4 is something of a holiday in the Star Wars fan community. I didn’t know that myself and, in all honesty, days went by after the theme night was announced before I got it. (May the Fourth… May the force… yeah, I’m a little slow sometimes).

But the Star Wars theme wasn’t something that the Union cooked up. Rather, it was something of an opportunity that the Union took and then ran with. As Joftis put it, “When Star Wars says they’d like to work with you, you don’t say no.”

The Star Wars theme night began with Lucasfilm, who have worked with other sports such as minor league and Major League Baseball, approaching MLS with the promotion idea. The league then asked teams with games scheduled on May 4 if they were interested in participating in the promotion. In addition to the Union, Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy are also on board, even if the Galaxy’s game is on May 5.

Joftis told PSP, “Lucasfilm came to us and said, ‘Sometimes we have a movie [to tie in with May 4], but we don’t have one right now and we think this would be fun.'”

Not only did Lucasfilm think it would be fun, they offered the Union the use of licensed products free of charge. “It cost us nothing,” Joftis said.

While no licensing costs were involved for the Union, Lucasfilm did have to approve of how the Union used the licensed products, such as the t-shirt that is part of the ticket package deal and was designed in-house at the Union. The shirt will also be available for purchase on Saturday at the club store.

Lucasfilm also stipulated that t-shirt sales couldn’t be for profit, which was fine by the Union, who were happy to donate the profits to the Philadelphia Union Foundation. Joftis explained that normally Lucasfilm wants the proceeds from such sales directed to a nonprofit that it supports. But when they looked at what the Philadelphia Union Foundation was about, Joftis related that Lucasfilm said, “We think it matches up perfectly and we love that you’re concentrating on children.”

Joftis said that Lucasfilm has also been using social media to promote the Star Wars theme night directly to fans of the film franchise through Facebook and Twitter.

Deepening partnerships

Theme nights may be about enhancing the fan experience, but they are also driven by the Union’s goals as a business. Obviously, increasing ticket sales and awareness of the Union brand are prime objectives.

Shortly before the Star Wars theme night was announced, the club also announced a new partnership with DVD rental company Redbox through which Union tickets are now available at more than 700 Redbox kiosks in the Delaware Valley or through the company’s website. This week Redbox sent emails promoting Saturday’s game to customers who have rented Star Wars and other science fiction related films. That, combined with Lucasfilm’s own promotional efforts, means the Union is benefiting from new marketing avenues to reach potential fans.

“It’s a lot of really interesting opportunity and we’re only a few weeks into our relationship with them,” Joftis said.

The Star Wars theme night thus presented an opportunity to deepen the club’s relationship with a new corporate partner while simultaneously working toward its primary goals of increasing ticket sales and brand awareness in the crowded Philadelphia sports marketplace. Talk about your synergy.

Different strokes

Whatever you think about theme nights generally, they’re an important part of sports marketing. That a global brand such as Lucasfilm sees benefit in working with MLS teams speaks to the value the league has in reaching key demographics and is, frankly, something to take note of.

Love, hate, indifferent—whatever you think about a Star Wars theme night, the Union have embraced an opportunity to use new ways of reaching existing and potential fans while also having some fun. Star Wars isn’t my thing, but so what? Like I said, different strokes for different folks.

If you’re planning on participating in this weekend’s theme night by wearing Star Wars gear, be sure to leave your light saber, and anything else that resembles a weapon (no matter how fake it is) at home. On Saturday, Obi Wan Kenobi himself won’t be able to talk his light saber past stadium security.

You can purchase a May the Fourth 4-pack of sideline tickets here for $150. The tickets alone are a $160 value and the 4-pack additionally includes four limited edition Star Wars-themed Union t-shirts. An individual ticket package that also includes a limited edition t-shirt can be purchased through Redbox for $40. A limited number of the t-shirts will also be available at the Union shop at PPL Park on Saturday.


  1. Dan Walsh says:

    Dammit, this is what happens when PSP sends a non-Star Wars fan to ask these questions. What about all those questions I told you to ask, Ed? Huh, huh? I don’t see any answers from the Union here on whether:

    – Greedo or Han Solo shot first;

    – There will be wookie arm-tearing-off contests;

    – The Sounders’ field entry theme music will be The Imperial March;

    – The Farfan twins are more alike or different than the Skywalker twins;

    – The Kessel run will be attempted.

    These are important questions that NEEDED to be asked — and answered!

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    Honest to god I have never seen a Star Wars movie in it’s entirety.

  3. Ed, Ed, Ed, what will we do with you? I have to agree with your counterparts…though I am not thrilled to have to leave the comfort and frosty beverages of my tailgate fiesta, I am first a mom, who has a very excited mini Anakin who is going to crush the competition and win the first kick…if I could attach the photo I would. I posted it on Facebook and Earl approved.

  4. -nickt.- says:

    let’s all get together and advertise some more shit. zzzzzz…

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