Terrible Towel copycats

Rob Amen
| Friday, Oct. 26, 2007

It's arguably the most widely used towel in sports, and likely the first, according to a local sports marketing expert.

The Terrible Towel won't be so ubiquitous Sunday when the Steelers play at Paul Brown Stadium now that the Cincinnati sells out its games to Bengals fans, who get something called a Jungle Towel once a year.

But terrible copy-cat rally towels are popping up at sports venues everywhere in recent years and causing a phenomenon not seen since The Wave.

"It's something that's very inexpensive that's purchased in volume and can be used to get everybody pumped up," said Ron Dick, an assistant sports marketing professor at Duquesne University. "You don't want to have 10-cent beer day and bat day on the same day. A towel is very safe."

The Philadelphia Phillies handed out thousands of promotional towels during the last week of this baseball season, and then again for their two home playoff games. It didn't work.

The Indianapolis Colts gave fans blue towels for the team's playoff game against the Steelers in January 2006. That failed to produce a win.

Back in 1975, Myron Cope urged Steelers fan to bring gold or yellow dish towels to a playoff game against the then-Baltimore Colts and wave them to lift the team to victory. It worked -- straight through to victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X.

It's been a staple among Steelers fans since.

Variations of the good-luck charm have surfaced over the years, albeit none with the staying power of the Terrible Towel. Most are given away as promotions.

Among those sold, only a few benefit charity like Cope's towel. Proceeds of Terrible Towel sales go to the Robinson-based Allegheny Valley School, which operates programs for the mentally disabled.

The towel, which costs about $7, has generated more than $1 million since Cope handed over ownership of the towel to the organization in 1996.

The Minnesota Twins Homer Hanky has remained popular since the Minneapolis Star Tribune introduced it during the Twins' World Series run in 1987. But the towel is reserved for playoff games.

"I think it caught on because the Twins won the World Series," said Tom Rainey, the Star Tribune's director of partnership marketing. "When the Twins make the postseason play, everyone wants Homer Hankies."

Fans bought about 2 million hankies during each of the World Series runs in 1987 and '91, Rainey said. Each hanky costs $1, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Twins Community Fund and the local children's hospital.

UNC Pembroke introduced rally towels as a fundraiser during last basketball season and has sold towels again at two football games this fall, said Robin Langley, the university's women's tennis coach who proposed use of the towels.

Towels cost $2, down from $3 during basketball season, with proceeds benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Additional Information:

Sports phenomenons, promotions

The wave: Popularized during the early 1980s. Fans stand and raise their arms

Rally towels: Waved by fans. The Terrible Towel is considered the first, but myriad others have come along in college and professional venues.

Bobbleheads: Dolls with metal-spring necks that allow the doll's head to bounce around.

Thundersticks: Inflated plastic balloon noisemaker popularized by the Anaheim Angles during their World Series run in 2002.

Whiteouts: Reaching the height of their popularity, particularly at college football games. All fans attending the game wear white, or any other designated color.

Rally monkey: Yeah, we don't understand it either.

Source: Tribune-Review research

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