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Sports

Did Dante Hall Bankrupt an Electronics Chain?

The story goes that Dante Hall's amazing series of return touchdowns put a local electronics chain out of business. The truth is better than the fiction.
September 4, 2014, 11:30am
Art by Nate James

There is a myth in which former Kansas City Chiefs return specialist Dante Hall put an electronics retailer out of business. Legend has it that, in 2003, BrandSmart Midwest, an electronics and furniture retailer in the Kansas City region, ran a promotion based on an upcoming Chiefs game. If the opening kickoff of the October 5 game between Kansas City and Denver was returned for a touchdown, any purchase from the previous Friday or Saturday would be free. According to the myth, Hall then did this:

As the story goes, this 93-yard scramble for the ages forced BrandSmart to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchases. The promotion crippled BrandSmart financially, forcing it to shut down the following year. And that was how Dante Hall put a company out of business.

Like most myths, this story conflates actual events with muddled details and pure fiction. For starters, Hall's 93-yard return was a punt return, not a kickoff return, and it came in the fourth quarter, not on the opening kick. In fact, Hall didn't return an opening kickoff for a touchdown in 2003. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the first quarter of the September 14 game against Pittsburgh, but after a Steelers field goal. Hall did return the opening kickoff against Denver in December of 2004 for a touchdown, but by then BrandSmart had already closed its doors.

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Also, like most myths, the truth is arguably more interesting than the lie. BrandSmart did run a promotion based on a Chiefs game and it was a bit of a landmark moment in sports marketing. In 1999, BrandSmart announced that any purchase on October 29 or 30 of $399 or greater would be free if the Chiefs shut out the Chargers on the thirty-first. With the Chiefs leading 34-0, the Chargers began the fourth quarter with the ball and first and goal on the seven-yard line. A short pass and two unsuccessful runs led to fourth and goal, where coach Mike Riley made a sensible decision for the Chargers and a momentous one for BrandSmart customers: he decided not to kick the field goal and went for the touchdown. San Diego quarterback Jim Harbaugh tried a QB sneak, fumbled, and ultimately failed to score. The Chiefs preserved the shutout and BrandSmart had to give away more than $400,000 in merchandise.

Still, BrandSmart didn't actually lose any money as a result of this promotion. There's a company called SCA Promotions that insures promotions, prizes, and other risky marketing efforts for a small percentage of the prize value being offered (SCA determines the percentage based on the likelihood of the prize being won), alleviating the companies from a potential windfall (some professional teams do this with player performance bonuses as well). Every time a corporation trots a fan onto the field to punt a ball into the bed of a pickup truck or attempt a 40-yard field goal to win $50,000, the prize is almost always insured. In the end, BrandSmart sold $425,000 in merchandise and only had to pay a fraction of that to SCA.

Chris Hamman, an SCA Promotions employee who worked on the BrandSmart account in 1999, shared his memories of the Chiefs promotion via email. "During the game the announcer talked about the promotion and used the telestrator to draw a $ sign on the screen," writes Hamman, "pointing to fans who would win TV's if the shutout were to occur … I think these were successful for BrandSmart, as they ran several similar promotions over the years."

Despite the successful promotion, BrandSmart went out of business in 2004 due to a number of competitors entering the market, including big-box retailers such as Circuit City and Best Buy (this was before Circuit City was busy putting itself out of business). It had nothing to do with Dante Hall.

Still, several companies adopted BrandSmart's strategy, running similar promotions. In 2011, a Kia dealership in the Cleveland suburbs decided that if the Browns shut out the Steelers, anyone who bought a car that week would get it for free. As Darren Rovell reported for CNBC at the time, the insurance fee was 1.7 percent of the week's business, a miniscule slice of the expected sales increase. (The Steelers won 13-9, so everybody paid for their cars.) Two years later, the Appliance Factory, a chain of stores in Colorado, ran the exact same promotion for a Broncos-Raiders game except with over $1 million-worth of refrigerators and appliances on the line. Rovell, once again on the frontline of the sports promotions beat, reported that the chain experienced a 45 percent sales increase over comparable weeks. The final score: 37-21 Broncos. Both businesses are still going strong in 2014.

Although the Dante Hall-BrandSmart myth is aggressively false, there is perfect sense in Hall being attached to such a myth in the first place. As exemplified by his punt return against Denver, he was perhaps the most magical football player in recent memory, crafting a career out of vanishing in a whiff of air and reappearing as a streak down the sideline. Last year—thanks in part to the kickoff being moved upfield and reformed blocking rules—there were 20 return touchdowns in the entire league. At one point, Dante Hall had seven return touchdowns in 10 games; a feat unimaginable today. The BrandSmart story may not be true, but Dante Hall is plenty mythical all by himself.