“You want to do what?!” This was the initial reaction from the Oakland Athletics when Central Garden & Pet first proposed allowing fans to bring their dogs to a baseball game at the Oakland Coliseum.
The year was 2006 and Central Garden & Pet – manufacturers and distributors of well known brands like Nylabone, Breeders Choice, AvoDerm, Four Paws, and Adams – were entering their second season as the official pet products sponsor of the team. While a handful of other major league teams, including the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, and Chicago White Sox, had been doing dog-friendly games for years, The A’s were not relishing the thought of permitting hundreds of dogs to occupy the stadium during a professional sporting event.
Where would they sit? How would they behave? Then the inevitable question: Who would clean up the… mess? This was new territory for the A’s and for Central, too, which had launched into sports sponsorship as a way to connect with families and showcase their brands in a unique and powerful way.
“What better way to connect with families than to allow them to bring their family pets to share in the great American pastime?” lobbied Jim Heim, then President of Central Pet and himself a passionate pet parent. Heim was persistent and the A’s eventually agreed.
Once the basic logistics were worked out, the A’s and Central’s PR agency, Echo Marketing, began designing a plan and promoting the event. While other dog day events had allowed four-legged fans to sit in the stands, Central wanted to take it a step further. Fans would be invited to arrive early for a pre-game “Pup Rally” to show their spirit for their pets and for the A’s. A’s fans are some of the most passionate and loyal in all of sports, so it was no surprise that tickets sold quickly and nearly 400 dogs attended the inaugural event.
Flash forward to 2012. On July 19th, the 7th annual Dog Day at the Park brought out an estimated 1,000 dogs and their families for the game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. The pre-game Pup Rally featured contests, free samples, music, photo opps, and more. As an added bonus, the pups and their parents took a victory lap in a pre-game “Pup Parade” around the warning track in front of thousands of delighted fans. It was a spectacular moment and even the coaches and players stopped to watch and interact with the canine stars.
In addition to raising awareness about responsible pet ownership, the event helped raise thousands of dollars for animal welfare groups like Dogs 4 Diabetics. Central’s Nylabone brand has supported Dogs 4 Diabetics for a long time and this event is one of the highlights of the year. Central invited several other partners to participate, as well, including retailers Petco and Pet Club, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), and smaller groups like Central Coast Pugs.
Dog Day at the Park grows every year and the A’s and Central Garden & Pet always aim to provide more excitement and a few new tricks. This year, they set a goal of breaking the current world record for most dogs at a sporting event and easily succeeded.
“It’s just a great night for everyone involved,” says Jim Heim. “We are so proud to have helped bring this tradition to the fans, who obviously love it.” Heim has brought his own dog, Raider, every year and dozens of other loyal canines also made their seventh straight appearance this year.
Several A’s players and team personnel brought their dogs out to the game to cheer on the team. The Athletics, once skeptical, are now huge supporters of the event, and why not? The A’s have won six out of seven games on Dog Day and plan to make it seven out of eight next year!
Sam Peck is a sales executive at Echo Sports Marketing. He lives in Marin with his wife, three children, a cat named Kitty and a fish named Roxy. Sam hopes to find a new canine family member at an upcoming ARF adoption event.
Main article photo by: Robin Welter