May 25, 2024

Hot dogs with parachutes? How the Mariners’ flying frankfurter promotion came to life

At first glance, it looks like a fluffy cloud floating down from the sky. Perhaps a dove, or a white balloon bouncing in the breeze.

But the Seattle Mariners’ latest home field promotion is none of those things. It’s a hot dog wearing a parachute, and fans are leaping (literally) at the chance to catch the classic stadium snacks as they fall from the sky in T-Mobile Park.

“Hot Dogs from Heaven,” as the Mariners’ marketing team dubbed it, is the latest attempt by a Major League Baseball team to push the envelope for its in-game promotions. On Saturday in the eighth inning, the marketing team let 75 hot dogs fly from the upper deck as Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” played throughout the park, provoking fans to chase them down like foul balls. It was the second time Seattle ran the promotion this season.

Incorporating food into promotions is not a new concept. Most famously, the Phillie Phanatic has long fired frankfurters from his Hot Dog Launcher at Phillies games. But Seattle puts a new, airy spin on it. Mariners vice president of fan experience Malcolm Rogel came up with the idea during the offseason, finding inspiration in childhood memories of fireworks with plastic toy soldiers tied to parachutes that would float down after the tiny pyrotechnic explosion.

Applying the same concept to a hot dog took testing reminiscent of a middle school science fair project. Rogel found the precise weight of the dog, bun, condiment packets and packaging before plugging the number into a model rocket website that told him how big the parachute needed to be to reach the ground safely.

“You could put in the ounces of your rocket — in this case, our rocket is a hot dog — and then it said you need between a 36- and 40-inch parachute,” he said.

The team first tested the idea with a makeshift parachute cut from a plastic bag. True to science, it worked, so Rogel called the Mariners’ procurement department to request they find a manufacturer that could produce the real deal. They acquired six sample parachutes, and for the next test, Rogel and his team stood at the bottom of the 300 level in T-Mobile Park. They didn’t have a hot dog but used a bottle of water that was equal in weight. 

“It just glided down so peacefully and so nicely,” Rogel said. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awesome!’” 

By the time the Mariners were ready to launch “Hot Dogs from Heaven,” they tested how hard to throw the hot dogs, how the parachutes would carry if the wind was blowing, which direction to toss the dogs to avoid running into the net surrounding the ballpark and how to ensure the precious cargo would arrive at its destination warm and intact. 

On April 13, the debut of the dog toss, Rogel still had some doubts.

“I was so nervous standing up there getting ready to throw. I’m like, ‘OK, what’s going to happen? Are they going to land in the wrong spot? Is this going to be a disaster?’” 

It was a success, judging by the enjoyment of the fans at the game, those watching videos on social media and the family behind Hempler’s Foods, the Ferndale, Wash.-based company that provides the hot dogs. Kestin Hempler-Liberato, Hempler’s brand ambassador and granddaughter of founder Hans Hempler, said the family has felt personally connected to the promotion. It feels like her father Richard, known as “Opa” to his grandchildren before his passing five years ago, is part of the fun.

“All the grandkids are like, ‘Oh my gosh, Opa is so in heaven just gliding in this whole activation.’ He liked fun stuff like this and loved interacting with fans, so it’s just amazing,” she said. “It brings tears to all of our eyes.”

The first iteration featured 50 hot dog projectiles, with 25 more added Saturday. Rogel said the Mariners plan to run the promotion 15-20 more times this season.

The team hopes to send 100 hot dogs skydiving on one night in the future, and there’s no shortage of volunteers to toss.

Said Rogel: “Everyone in the front office wants to go and throw the hot dogs now.”

Required reading

(Photo: Ben VanHouten / Seattle Mariners)