Until There's a Cure Day
Under new ownership, the San Francisco Giants’ focus in 1994 was securing approval from the city’s voters to build a downtown waterfront ballpark. As part of its strategy leading up to a stadium referendum, the team launched various community outreach initiatives that would resonate with San Francisco residents. The Giants knew the time would come when they needed the support of particular segments of the city for ballpark approval, and they didn’t want to be in the unenviable position introducing themselves to voters at the same time they were asking for their help.
One of the community’s primary concerns at that time was the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was raging in San Francisco. In a bold move, the Giants became the first professional sports team to stage an AIDS awareness and fund-raising event in conjunction with a home game that year. Even in the Bay Area, HIV/AIDS was a misunderstood and controversial disease back then. We knew it would take diplomacy and neutral positioning for the event to be well received. While the Giants wanted to provide a platform for education and hope, they also knew that many of their season ticket holders might feel uncomfortable if Until There’s A Cure Day was perceived as merely a “Gay Day,” since that community had been hardest hit by the epidemic. Also, the team made a point to steer clear of any official associations with religious-based organizations or churches, knowing that doing so could provide another lightning rod to the efforts.
Consequently our positioning—I was the Giants’ Director of Public Relations and Community Development—was this: Giants fans come from all walks of life and so do those affected by HIV and AIDS. Leading up to the team’s game with the Colorado Rockies in August, we held media conferences that featured newsmakers. Leading HIV/AIDS researchers and physicians, San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones, and AIDS activist Mary Fisher—the featured speaker during pre-game ceremonies—participated, lending their expertise and creating storylines to drive publicity.
Beyond conventional media coverage, two Bay Area television stations aired half-hour specials while multiple channels ran public service announcements that we prepared. Knowing this was a worldwide issue that might appeal to a national media outlet, the story was pitched to famed journalist Robert Lipsyte, who wrote a column in the Sunday New York Times. With the Giants playing the Mets in New York months before the event, we had a prototype AIDS ribbon patch flown in for a photo shoot to accompany the story as we placed the patch on the game jersey of young shortstop Royce Clayton. As we had hoped, the Times article sparked interest with the Bay Area and other national media outlets.
Entering unchartered territory, corporations remarkably responded with sponsorship commitments and ticket purchases. The nature of the promotion provided a unique platform for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, as well as other businesses which were supporters of AIDS research and healthcare. A game that would have normally drawn 25,000 fans saw attendance swell to more than 50,000. The crowning moment came after that day’s festivities, as network correspondent Armen Keteyian filed a report from San Francisco that aired on ABC Nightly News. Twenty years later, Until There’s A Cure Day continues to attract large crowds and is one of the first Giants promotions each year to sell out its sponsorship allotment.