Case Study: Eephus League
Share this post
On March 17, 2011, Bethany Heck sent out a project update to the 807 backers of her Eephus League Baseball Scorebook Revival Project on Kickstarter. She'd been working with a printer in Montgomery, Alabama to accelerate the printing process so that the scorebooks could arrive in backers’ hands by the opening day of baseball season, April 1. But with five days remaining until the project’s close on March 22, it was starting to look like that wouldn’t be possible after all. In an update, she wrote:
I just went to visit my printer up in Montgomery and I have some news... First off, the corners of the book aren't going to be rounded. I'm quite upset that they neglected to tell me until this point, but it's too far in the process to back out and I'm financially obligated at this point. […]
The second bit of bad news is that the books aren't going to get to me by next week, which puts them getting to you by opening day in serious jeopardy.
The timing of the campaign had been a coincidence; when asked later whether she’d intended to send out the scorebooks by opening day, Bethany said “I didn't even think about that.” But once the coincidence became clear and the project’s baseball fan backers began to express their anticipation of opening day, Bethany decided she had to give it her best shot. The day’s press check at the printer had left her deflated, though. Would backers be disappointed?
Bethany grew up in Alabama in a house full of wooden type. She started at Auburn University in August 2006 in the Horticulture program, but switched to Graphic Design in August 2007. Over the course of her studies, she started building her own collection of wooden type to complement the one her father had built over his career as a graphic design professor. By the time Bethany graduated, she’d amassed a collection of “10 or 15 full alphabets,” stashed in chests and drawers in her family’s home.
During her second-to-last semester at Auburn, in the spring of 2010, Bethany did a “little quickie project” on baseball in one of her type classes.
As a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, the combination of baseball and design captivated her. After the semester was over and the assignment turned in, the fascination continued to linger. She decided to tug at the thread further as she looked toward her capstone project for the fall:
I spent the summer thinking about baseball and getting all the books about baseball from the library and thinking about what would my focus for the project be, and I kept coming back to this idea of the weird minutiae of baseball—like the visual ephemera of baseball history. Baseball's so weird in its quirks and the things it chooses to count and focus on, so I was really interested in that.
The Birth of the Eephus League
Once the idea of baseball minutiae clicked, Bethany’s first impulse was to start playing with type.
I was looking at baseball words and I had a typeface in mind that I wanted to use and I kept setting different words—baseball words—in the font. And then I set "Eephus" in this font, and I was like—that's it. I let the typeface decide the name of my senior project.
The name referred to a pitch attributed to Rip Sewell of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1940s. Not everybody picked up the reference—Bethany didn’t know many other baseball fans in Auburn, and most of her professors and friends told her it was a “terrible name.” But still, it stuck: to Bethany, “Eephus” seemed like a beacon that would burn all the brighter for fans of baseball minutiae; a code word that might connect her to a community beyond Alabama.
Bethany’s capstone project would involve building a website for the Eephus League in addition to creating a collection of Eephus ephemera. She got a headstart on the website that summer and moved on to tackling the ephemera part once the fall semester began in earnest.
As she poured herself into the work, the collection grew to include posters, buttons, t-shirts, a book, and even Eephus-branded cigars. (“Being a Braves fan, I’d see Bobby Cox smoking a cigar in his postgame interview, and I always thought it was an iconic baseball thing,” Bethany later shared in an interview. “Your team wins, you light up a cigar to celebrate. I felt like it fit the whole mood of the project.”)
Right before turning in her project proposal at the beginning of the semester, Bethany had decided to add a scorebook—almost as an afterthought.
Because visual ephemera was such a big part of what I loved about baseball, I really wanted to have a little piece of printed-something…There was an image that I saw of a really old, tiny pocket scorebook with this insane little grid on it—I don’t know how anybody actually used it.
But as a designer, she “nerded out” over it, and decided a scorebook was something she had to include.
Creating the scorebooks by hand turned out to be quite a production. Bethany’s dad helped guillotine a pile of French paper, which she then printed front-and-back with her scorebook design. Then, she took the sheets to the laser-cutting department at Auburn to cut tiny threading holes. She scored the pages so that they would fold, stacked them up, and used a needle and orange thread to sew them to a black cover. “The question that framed my design was ‘If Moleskine made a scorebook, what would it look like?’” Bethany would later recall in an interview. “It was a great challenge to give myself.”
By the time Bethany finished her senior project in November 2010, she'd poured five months into working on the Eephus League, more or less non-stop. She received an “A, Commended” on the project, which designated it as the best in the class.
But even before she’d received her diploma in early December, Bethany had begun to suspect that graduation would not spell the end of the Eephus League.
I really liked the project, but I don't know a lot of baseball fans. And so, it was kind of in a vacuum…so I thought of somebody that I knew in the baseball world that would like it. And that was Paul Lukas, who runs Uni-Watch.com. I was like, if anybody's gonna like this site, it would be him. I'll email him and see if he thinks that the website is worth putting online, and if any of the products would be interesting and stuff.
Reaching Out to the Baseball Community
So on November 30, Bethany sent Paul Lukas an email from out of the blue:
Hello, Mr. Lukas! I recently completed a project about baseball minutiae, centered around a web site called the Eephus League. The site is starting to gather content, though I want it to be a community-driven place eventually, where other minutiae lovers can submit their findings easily. I created a lot of merch to be sold through the site, like posters, a minutiae handbook, a scorekeeping set, buttons and T-shirts, and a celebratory cigar set. Do you think this would be something people like yourself and your readers would be interested in?
It wasn’t long before Paul responded enthusiastically and asked Bethany if she'd be up for an interview, to be run on his site. They traded emails back and forth, trying to find a good time for an interview over the holidays. At last, they made time to talk on December 23. On January 18, Paul published a profile of Bethany on Uni Watch, his site devoted to “the obsessive study of athletics aesthetics.” At the end of the profile, he wrote:
I think Bethany’s future looks bright. For now, though, she’s curious about trying to sell some of her Eephus products but doesn’t want to invest too heavily in mass-producing anything until she has a better idea of how big an audience there is for it. I figure Uni Watch readers would make a pretty good Eephus focus group, so if you think you might be interested in the posters, the pencils, the handbook, and so on — or if you’d just like to offer Bethany some feedback on the viability of selling this stuff — drop her a line. She’d love to hear from you.
The response was immediate. Paul’s post garnered 146 comments in the first 48 hours after it went live; a typical comment exchange went like this:
RS Rogers: …oh my gosh what can we do to help get that shop up and running? Sure, the posters are some of the best I’ve seen in many years, but Bethany’s scorebook design is an absolute revelation. If anybody here knows anybody who works for Moleskine or Rhodia, please please hook them up with Bethany to get that scorebook into production!
Bethany: Thanks [to RS Rogers] for the kind words! I have a local printer who can reproduce the scorebooks exactly like the ones I sewed myself, it’s just a matter of ordering enough to bring the cost down to a reasonable range. I have to figure out some places who would be willing to sell the books and how much I want to sell them for. I mean, these things have stickers?! Who can turn that down?
The posters are easier, and I know plenty of screen printers who can handle them.
I really appreciate the interview and the response from the UW community, thank you all so much and please shoot me an email if you want to chat baseball!
Bethany also received 66 emails from Uni-Watch readers. She kept a tally of the relative popularity of each item as the requests came in. She remembers the scorebook being “a chord that I had not expected anybody to care about,” and yet it was far and away the most popular item.
Over the course of corresponding with her newfound fans, one of them brought up Kickstarter as a potential way to bring some of her product ideas to life. Bethany was intrigued. “I knew what it was going to cost up front, and I knew that I was not so hot on taking out a loan or anything to pay for it,” she said, and so she thought the scorebook project might be a good fit for Kickstarter. But doubts remained:
I looked into Kickstarter and I wasn't sure if I would get accepted, 'cause I felt like it was too entrepreneurial. I felt like I saw a kind of mission in making the scorebook easier to use and more acceptable and kind of bringing it back, but I wasn't sure if Kickstarter would care or see it that way. So I wrote it up, and everything was just such a blur. It all moved so fast. And it was a day later that they emailed me back and said that I had been accepted. So I was like—whoa—this is really happening now! Okay!
Creating the Project Video
Bethany always wanted the growing Eephus community to play a part in her project video. On February 5, Bethany posted an entreaty to her blog:
Hey guys! I am currently planning out a video to go along with the kickstarter project to try and get the funding for the scorebooks. If any of you have scoresheets that you’ve kept lying around, I’d love to feature them in the video!
About a week later, she posted some of the photos she had received and urged readers to send in more.
You guys are so freaking awesome, I’m so thrilled at the idea of getting to have real life scorekeepers represented in the kickstarter video. Please, even if you’ve never kept score and have only fantasized about how you would score a hit if you ever DID decide to start the habit, send in a photo!
On February 13, Bethany shared a rough draft of the video in a blog post:
I’m embarassed to make a video for the kickstarter project, as I will have to subject you to my marble-mouthed drawl and poor editing skills. But kickstarter insists it helps get people involved, so I will suffer through it.
By February 15, almost everything was ready to go. Bethany wrote:
Ok, so the video is finished, the kickstarter summary is written, and most of the goods have been priced. As seems to be the trend, I am waiting on two quotes to help me decide pricing before I launch the project. I am going to need to spread the kickstarter project like wildfire once it launches, because I need a lot of help to make this happen.
In her February 15 post, Bethany also shared her thinking around the project rewards she would offer:
To start off, I am only producing the smaller scorebooks. If (when!) they sell out and become a massive success, I will be able to get the larger books made, and I will be able to explore licensing options as things go on. I have to start with something simple and focused or I’ll never be able to fund it.
I’m getting 6 of the posters in the shop made as rewards for kickstarter backers, and I’ll make a post detailing with will be available later this week. T shirts are also being made, as well as baseball themed letterpress posters and hopefully hats. I have the option to add more rewards as the project goes on, so I will let you know if more swag gets introduced.
It’s getting so close I can taste it!!!! Baseball is almost here and something great is going to happen because of all of you guys, I can feel it.
The reward tiers she launched with spanned from a single poster at the $10 level to a complete collection of three scorebooks, six posters, one t-shirt, and a limited-edition letterpressed broadside at the $150 level. The breadth of her school project proved to be an advantage here; Bethany’s bench of prospective rewards ran deep.
Bethany launched the Eephus League project on Kickstarter on the evening of Sunday, February 20—the day before Presidents’ Day.
I launched it on a bad day…It was a holiday, it was a Monday when nobody was using the internet. Because it was that Sunday night and I was done and I just wanted to get it started so bad that I couldn't wait.
Still, she dove into the few promotional ideas she’d come up with.
I went back through my email and found anybody who had emailed me about being interested about anything, and I sent out, like, 40 emails that night to individuals.
She posted about the project on Twitter:
Pre-order scorebooks, posters, hats and the buckner tshirt through kickstarter! http://tinyurl.com/62aufne— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 21, 2011
This is all I'll be posting about for a month. Go to kickstarter and support the scorekeeping revival! http://tinyurl.com/62aufne— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 21, 2011
And on her website:
Finally, it’s time. The kickstarter page for the Eephus League scorebooks is live, and filled with wistful longings for a new era of scorekeeping as well as opportunities for you to help me make these books a reality…
And she sent one last email to Paul from Uni Watch, too, to let him know the project was live. Reflecting on the experience, she said:
That was about the extent of my net of communication that I knew how to do. I posted on Facebook, [but] I don't have a lot of Facebook friends, and none of them are baseball fans, so it didn't do me any good!
But even on a Sunday night before a holiday Monday, the campaign got off to a strong start.
I launched it and then I stayed up that night, and the first guy who backed me was somebody I did not know. I guess he found it on Twitter or something. And he was a Cubs fan, and he left me a message after he donated, and he was like: I just want to let you know that I think this is really cool, and good luck on your project and everything else…I think when I went to bed I had like $175, and it was like $400 when I woke up.
When asked what it felt like to launch the campaign and see backers jump aboard, Bethany said “I don’t know if I’ve ever been that euphoric.”
On Tuesday, February 22, Paul Lukas responded to Bethany’s email by posting about the Eephus League again, directing his readers to her campaign with his recommendation: “Please consider making a pledge to support Bethany’s project, which deserves to become a reality.” At the start of the day, her project was 41% funded; by the end, it had hit 70%.
7 K TONIGHT OR BUST!!!!!!!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 23, 2011
$6,906!!!! So close!!!!!!!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 23, 2011
HE'S ROUNDING THIRD, HERE COMES THE THROW TO THE PLATE!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 23, 2011
*confetti* HE BEATS THE THROW, HE SCORES!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 23, 2011
On Thursday, February 24, Bethany was in Baltimore to visit MICA as a prospective grad student. While she was there, the Eephus League met its goal of $10,000:
GUYS WE DID IT!!!!!!!!! A GRAND SLAM!!! We can keep raising funds after the goal is met, so keep sharing it with any baseball fans you know!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 24, 2011
Bethany recalls the experience:
I remember I was at the university listening to a potential graphic design professor candidate, and I kept looking [at my phone]—I made $2,000 in his hour-long talk…I told my dad, "you'll never understand what it's like to look at your phone and you're making money as you're sitting there.” And it's not just making money, you're making money because people are really excited about what you're doing.
A few days later, back at home in Alabama, Bethany finally started to absorb the news.
Woohoo, back in town and now I have a mountain of email to sort through. But it's all good, because SCOREBOOK = GO!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 27, 2011
Best part of the trip: At MICA, got on the topic of kickstarter, said I used it for scorebooks, guy said "OMG that was you?! I saw that!"— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) February 27, 2011
After the project hit its goal, funding slowed down. Bethany remembers thinking “I made more than I thought I was gonna make and that's really great and I'm happy.” But then, she remembers writers at SBNation and Hardball Times—two sports sites—picking up the story of the Eephus League around the beginning of March.
Pledges surged again: on March 2 alone, the project raised over $3,000. “The fact that it kind of had two spikes made it even better,” Bethany would later say. After the second spike, pledges kept coming in at a steady clip: between March 8 and the campaign’s close on March 22, the project received an average of 12 new backers each day.
Bethany took to Twitter for the final countdown:
1 hour left!!! Let's raise another $100 and make it an even 27 grand!!!! It's the year of the scorekeeper!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) March 23, 2011
I'm chomping at the bit, ready to get these surveys out to backers to collect shipping info! You'll get an email in a few hours.— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) March 23, 2011
!!! 20 dollars away!!!!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) March 23, 2011
We did it!!!!!! Mari is a lovely soul, thanks for helping us get to 27k!!!!!!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) March 23, 2011
On March 22, 2011, The Eephus League Baseball Scorebook Revival Project closed with 890 backers and $27,002 in total pledges.
With funding secured, Bethany could turn her full attention to the hardest part: making the scorebooks real. The upcoming start of baseball season on April 1 beckoned.
When Bethany launched her project on February 20, opening day was the furthest thing from her mind. Once she realized the proximity of her March 22 end date to baseball’s opening day on April 1, she briefly thought she might be able to make the books happen in time. In her first project update on March 1, she wrote:
I know everyone is wondering if they can have the books with them when they head to the park for opening day, and it's looking like that's going to happen! I should have the books in hand and ready to box up on the 22nd of March, and they will ship out in the following days.
But in her second update on March 17, five days before the campaign’s end, Bethany had warned her backers that the books might not arrive in time for opening day. Not everything was gloomy, though:
To close out with some good news, there are two additions to the book that will hopefully alleviate the pain of the square corners and a few days of delay. Each book is going to come with a big fold out that takes you through the basic of keeping score, which will make giving this as a gift to a scorekeeping newbie much easier. Each book also has a couple of pages in the back for collecting autographs.
The Eephus League’s backers remained supportive throughout; in a comment on Bethany’s March 17 post, one backer wrote:
Bethany - Thanks for being so hands-on. So refreshing. Sharp corners will not deter me from my scoring practice so no worries there. I think I speak for (hopefully) most people when i say we're with you and understand that you're just one person trying to make all this happen. Appreciation abounds. Looking forward to the goodies, whenever and however they arrive.
On March 23, the day after the campaign ended, it seemed for a moment as though the timing might work out after all:
Just spoke with the printer, waiting on the stickers to come in.... There's still hope for opening day!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) March 23, 2011
But soon, her hopes was squelched again; the first round of scorebooks didn’t arrive until March 29, which was just three days before opening day. Over a year later, Bethany reflected on the experience:
I hated that I couldn't get them out for opening day. But they were only a few days late…I overnighted a few packages just because somebody would be like, "I got two scorebooks and I'm going to the game with my kid and, you know, I really want to have it"—and I would take it to the post office and throw it in an Express Envelope and just be like, "get it there by this day, please."
Bethany’s efforts in shipping certain rewards out early helped ease the pain. One of the backers who requested priority shipping received his scorebook on April 2, the day before his first planned game of the season. “Talk about great timing!” he wrote in a comment on Bethany’s second update. “Received my scorebook today! Going to my first game of the season tomorrow!!”
Bethany recalls the responsibility she felt to her backers:
The idea of somebody giving you their money in the hopes that you're going to give them something great—I felt a lot of pressure to make sure that everybody was comfortable with the process. I knew that most of them were first-time backers, because I was reaching into a different community. I was reaching into the baseball community, I wasn't really reaching into the Kickstarter community or the design community, which is a little more used to being on Kickstarter…
I didn't want anybody to feel like they were being ignored. Like I was treating it like it was my business already, and I wanted to make sure that the customer was satisfied, and to do everything that I could do to get them what they wanted, in good shape, and in time for when they wanted it.
Though no packages arrived in time for opening day, Bethany still managed to navigate her backers’ expectations by communicating profusely and addressing special requests on a case-by-case basis.
Shipping and Handling
On March 29, the first batch of scorebooks arrived in Auburn. At 3:00pm that afternoon, Bethany posted to Twitter:
The first wave of scorebooks will be here in 2 and a half hours!!!!! Packages are ready and stuffing will begin!!!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) March 29, 2011
Sure enough, at 5:47pm she followed up:
THEY ARE HERE— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) March 29, 2011
Bethany and her mom spent the next several hours putting packages together. There was one problem: each scorebook was supposed to come with two sheets of stickers. The ones that had been delivered did not.
I was in there with my mom, and we were slapping mailing labels on the envelopes, because I had had to measure everything out, and we took stuff to the post office to figure out what the postage would be for stuff, and what the best packages would be, and so we were just slapping single scorebook orders into the mailers and then I took some up to school so I could use the photobooth to take pictures of them to put them on the website. I opened up the book and I realized that it was supposed to have two sets of stickers and each one only had one set of stickers.
I had packaged up over a hundred scorebooks at that time. So I had to tear them all open, and take them all out, and then I took fifty stickers sets out of one set of scorebooks to put them in others so I could put them out and mail them out, and then the printer slowly kept getting me more scorebooks. And the ones after that, he gave me with the correct number of stickers in them, but it was still very traumatic.
The sticker fiasco wasn’t the only shipping hurdle Bethany encountered. For one thing, the tubes she had bought for posters turned out to be too flimsy to use:
I originally planned on shipping the posters in tubes, and the tubes I got were way too thin. So I tried to roll them up and it was ruining the posters, so I'd put all of these mailing labels and sorted all of these tubes out—over two hundred tubes for poster orders—and I couldn't use any of them. So I had to go back to U-Line and find a flat mailer that would fit the poster, and order those, and wait for those to come in.
Some packages mysteriously went missing, too:
And then stuff got lost in the mail. A lot of the eight-scorebook reward tiers…either got lost or damaged because of the post office. And I don't know why it was those in particular, but they did. I probably lost $600 worth of merchandise just due to stuff getting lost or damaged from the post office that first month, and I had to take each type of order to the post office and get them to weigh it, and write down how much it was in stamps. And then the postage changed in the middle of it—the postage rates went up! So I had to do it all again. It was chaos. If I didn't have my parents to help me, I would not have been able to do it. Or, I would have been able to do it, [but] it would have taken me a lot longer.
Still, Bethany managed to send out the bulk of the orders by April 7—a little over two weeks after the close of the campaign.
Most of the kickstarter backers who have yet to receive their rewards should get them today!— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) April 7, 2011
That day, she wrote a blog post detailing the process of assembling the scorebooks. She had negotiated with the printer to pre-assemble the first 1,000, but after that, she was on her own. With five components (the scorebook itself, a reference card, a foldout, stickers, and a band to bundle them all together), it was “definitely a fun process.”
Bethany spent some of the rest of the month of April handling curveballs like the mysterious case of the missing eight-packs and the surprisingly difficult process of printing the letterpressed broadsides, but these hurdles were tempered by the excitement of seeing the scorebooks arriving in backers’ hands. She encouraged backers to share photos of their scorebooks on Twitter, and replied enthusiastically to everyone who did.
@kj4sre Beautiful!!!!!! Are you enjoying it?— Bethany Heck (@EephusLeague) April 10, 2011
Reflecting on the experience, Bethany said:
I think my favorite thing to hear was people talking about scoring for the first time in the book, because that was my goal. Anytime that I heard from somebody saying that "I've never kept score before, and I kept score for the first time with your scorebook, and here's a photo of my scorecard"—it was just so incredibly satisfying and rewarding.
Even after Bethany fulfilled all her Kickstarter rewards, she continued to sell products through her shop on the Eephus League site she built for the original senior project. The best unforeseen consequence, she says, is that “I get to do more stuff with baseball—and I love doing baseball stuff.”
Since the project’s close, she's met with people at ESPN and the MLB; Peyton Manning’s assistant even got in touch to barter scorebooks for autographed photos. Freelance projects related to baseball continue to come her way, and she launched a new Eephus League project of her own: the Eephus League Magazine, an online publication that she hopes to publish at least twice a year.
Illuminating her continued passion for the project, she said:
You'll never exhaust baseball, when it comes to resources and sources of inspiration. I think most design kids—especially the ones who are into branding—dream of doing something like a school project, something cool like this, and it actually happening. That's a dream for any art kid. If you made a restaurant design and you got to actually open that restaurant…and it actually looked like the way you wanted it to look like…that's what the Eephus League is. I feel so insanely lucky. I can't believe that it happened.