Las Vegas Sun

December 14, 2017

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Wranglers promotion is an easy cell


Justin M. Bowen

The Wranglers wear jerseys with horizontal black and white stripes while the Condors sport orange jumpsuit-style jerseys. The referees wear police outfits to fit with the theme of the night.

Maybe he should have stayed with the ceremonial drop-the-soap promotion. Not the puck. The soap, as in, “Don’t drop the soap,” which is the somber advice convicts are given as they are led to incarceration. It’s also pretty sound advice for free-livin’ folk, now that I think of it.

Yes, Billy Johnson imagined and considered opening Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night with a ceremonial soap drop and, frankly, gave in to fear. No Frank Morris is he! Johnson said some voice of reason intercepted the brilliant moment and I say that person should be fired. Regardless, tonight’s jailhouse rockin’ promotion was a hit, and not a Mob-type hit even though the Wranglers were handcuffed 3-1 by the visiting Bakersfield Con-dors in a lackluster event that was by no means a breakout game for the local gang that did hard time for three periods at the Orleans Arena.

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Sonny Boeckman, (left) and his brother, Dustin Boeckman, sit between the player benches in the seats that Sonny won on eBay for $517, with the money going to charity. The seats included all you can eat, drink and jerseys.

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John Grote gets his photo taken at the prison booth during "Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night" Friday as the Wranglers take on the Bakersfield Condors at the Orleans Arena.

Tonight it’s puns, not guns.

Have I mentioned that Billy Johnson is the president of the Wranglers? He shares the same name as former Houston Oiler and Atlanta Falcon Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, which only an ardent fan of NFL Films readily recalls, but this Billy Johnson is not a dangerous kick-return specialist and elusive wideout. Instead, he’s an alarmingly creative sports marketing wizard who is right at home in Las Vegas. Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night was Johnson's idea, too. That promotion was worth the risk even as one nut job -- who might or might not have been from Cheney’s rock-solid home state of Wyoming -- left a voicemail on Johnson’s office phone12 months threatening Johnson’s job, which so far he insists on keeping.

The prison-garb promotion was inspired last year by Wesley Snipes' tax-evasion conviction. But what's the fun in hammering Wesley Snipes, who is a brilliant actor loved by millions of film fans? Better to wait for an egocentric, idiot politician who looks like a foosball player to nail himself through the miracle of digital audio recording. When Johnson first learned of Blago's plight, he pounced and pulled together the promotion for the same week that Blago was being impeached by the Illinois State Senate. For this night only, the Wranglers were clad in black-and-white striped, prison-style jerseys. You couldn’t read the numbers, and you got sort of bug-eyed if you stared at a single player for more than a minute, but the jerseys were visually distinctive in a New Zealand rugby club sort of way. Meanwhile, the Con-dors were in bright orange, fitting in Vegas as orange is not only a popular prison color but the favored color of legendary Vegas performer Frank Sinatra, who played a convict in The Desperate Hours. So it really does make perfect sense. Even the refs were dressed up in blue prison-guard jerseys that even Johnson said looked a little like jammies, but the boys in blue still quelled a few riots. I mean, fights.

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Sonny and Dustin Boeckman, Wrangler fans who are real pickup artists on the streets of Vegas.

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A pensive Billy Johnson.

Johnson is always thinking. You can tell because he says, “I am always thinking … of ways to make people think of the Wrangler brand as something fun, something beyond hockey, beyond a sports team.” Johnson is a lot of fun, certainly. A University of Kentucky grad with a (wholly useless) degree in journalism, he’s writing what appears to be a promising piece of imaginative fiction that he hopes will be published as his first novel. I promised I wouldn’t give away any details, but I was astonished to learn they all die at the end (I am kidding). Johnson has been around minor league sports long enough to know what works and what doesn’t. For four seasons he was the Red Bird mascot for the Louisville Redbirds, the triple-AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. As part of that quirky culture, Johnson is apt to chat up his friendship with Ted Giannoulas, better known as the San Diego Chicken, or the Famous Chicken, who is nothing less than the Jimi Hendrix of sports mascots. And, when Johnson needs to borrow an idea, he does – Mullet Night, during which fans were presented with mullet wigs, was a Johnson rip-off. Big deal. It’s four years later and we’re still talking about it. Judging by tonight’s crowd, many Wrangler fans are still wearing the wigs. At least, I hope they’re wigs.

Fans could have their mug shots taken on the arena concourse, and the Wranglers’ players own promotional mug shots were displayed during pre-game introductions. Zowie Bowie sang the national anthem, which has nothing to do with the theme of the night but I’ll point out that Zowie Bowie is everywhere these days. Maybe they’ve been genetically engineered, and there are dozens of Zowie Bowies appearing at production show openings and shopping malls and benefit galas and minor-league sporting events all over Vegas.

Not likely.

Anyway, adding to the prison theme were video and audio clips of "Law & Order" and the Woody Allen classic "Take the Money and Run." Music included “Jailhouse Rock,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and a Ponchy version of CHiPs. To celebrate Blagojevich’s entrepreneurial spirit, seats between the two benches were auctioned on eBay. The top bidders were Sonny and Dustin Boeckman, who spent the game in cushioned chairs just inches from the action. They were well-fed (they seem always well-fed, but that’s not a bad thing) with free concessions and were given commemorative jerseys. They spent $517 for the winning bid, and Sonny said, “My ceiling was $521.” Why $521? “It was just a number that came to my head.” As dutiful employees of Discount Dumpsters, the Boeckmans are really cleaning up the streets of this town.

That's it, folks. Show's over. Nothing more to see here.

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