What’s In a Name? A Five-Year Perspective
Greetings and Salutations from the corner of Ewing and Brackenridge in downtown Fort Wayne. I’m still out and about on the speaking trail, so if you’re looking for someone to speak at a meeting or event, please let me know. You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or by calling 260-407-2804.
In recent weeks, a few Minor League Baseball teams have released new logos and names and not necessarily to much initial fanfare. The Tucson Padres (formerly the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres) relocated to El Paso, Texas, and became the El Paso Chihuahuas. The Akron Aeros re-branded themselves and, due to the city’s history as the Rubber Capital of the World, are now known as the Akron RubberDucks.
Here are the new logos:
Before I get to how local fans reacted in those markets, let’s take a trip in the WABAC Machine and re-visit the year 2008, when the Fort Wayne Wizards became the Fort Wayne TinCaps:
It was October 2, 2008, when TinCaps President Mike Nutter, along with owner Jason Freier, debuted the name of the new team. The Around Fort Wayne blog has plenty of video from the news conference that day, during which Nutter explained the proliferation of unique names in Minor League Baseball, and how they became more and more popular during the 1990’s. The names used as examples that day were the Lansing Lugnuts, the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Montgomery Biscuits, among others, because they have a fun ring to them, but they also have a connection to the communities they serve. In addition, one of the reason the Wizards became the TinCaps was because since the team’s inception in 1993, there had been a (Washington, D.C.) Wizards added to the NBA and a (Kansas City) Wizards added to Major League Soccer (they’re now Sporting Kansas City), so there was no longer the factor of having the unique name.
When the team sought input from the community, it received 2,574 entries for names and only 1.8% of those fans suggested the Wizards, meaning that most fans sought a new name for the team. There were three specific traits that the team wanted to look for in a new name: community history, strong brand, and uniqueness.
And despite the explanation of the historical tie-in, the brand appeal of the name and the fact that no other team in history had ever had this name, the TinCaps name was still not a hit right away.
Here is what Freier told The Journal Gazette
“There’s no point in changing the name to something else that is generic. The single-most suggested name was Generals. We had people suggest Falcons. … It’s a great name, but it’s being used.
“For us to find something that had both the Fort Wayne tie and allowed us to create our own unique identity, we were not going to change the Wizards name and give up 16 years unless at least those two criteria were met. We felt we had few options that satisfied that, but obviously we chose the one we thought did it best.”
Reggie Hayes of The News Sentinel wrote a column a month later, detailing some of the criticism lobbed toward the team after the name change:
“I listen to complaints about TinCaps and how ridiculous the name is and how it reflects poorly on Fort Wayne (as if others care one iota about our minor-league nicknames) and I hear whining.
Freier, you’ll be glad to know, doesn’t think you’re a bunch of whiners, and he respects your opinion.
He also believes you’ll calm down over time. On that, I have to agree. Outrage over “Wizards” was palpable when that name was first introduced, then evaporated. Indignation over the TinCaps will subside, too. We might even come to appreciate TinCaps and return to complaining about where policemen park their cars at night.
I suggested to Freier in a conversation last week that the negative reaction to TinCaps is a byproduct of people who are still ticked off about Harrison Square in general. He says that analysis is flawed.
“There are definitely people who are very supportive of the (Harrison Square) project who say, ‘Why couldn’t you have gone with Generals or Cannons or something that sounds like Fort Wayne?’” Freier said. “There is a significant segment of folks who are very supportive who just don’t get what we’re trying to do here. They don’t see what we think we see.”’
In fact, the logo has been so popular that it’s been one of the 25 best-selling brands in all of Minor League Baseball in each of the team’s five seasons. On top of that, the team has set a new attendance record in each of the last two seasons, drawing more than 408.000 fans in 2012, and more than 410,000 in 2013.
It took time for people to get used to the name, and the new ballpark downtown. But once people walked through the doors, whether for a pre-season open house or for their first TinCaps game, that’s when they started to see things differently.
Back to El Paso and Akron now. It’s as if, five years later, an almost identical situation is playing itself out in Texas and Ohio. While the RubberDucks aren’t moving into a new ballpark, the Chihuahuas are, drawing a closer parallel to Fort Wayne. So, here’s some reaction that has come as a result of those two new team names:
-“A petition asking MountainStar to change the team was started on Change.org by a person named Alex Morales. Within 24 hours, the petition had close to 4,000 online signatures. On Friday, more than 9,000 people — the capacity of the ballpark being built for the team — had signed the petition.“
-Although the Chihuahuas Facebook page now has more than 24,000 likes, in the first few days the team existed there was a page, “Change El Paso Chihuahuas Name“, that had picked up more likes.
Lastly, there’s this column, which, I think, actually argues in the RubberDucks’ favor, even if that’s not the premise of the piece:
“Back in the day, when I was a child — ugh, I feel so old writing that — my grandpa used to take my brother and I to the Canton Akron Indians games. We got to watch the future stars of the Indians play — Manny Rameriz, Sandy Alomar, Brian Giles, just to name a few. It was a bit of a drive from Cuyahoga Falls, but those are great memories.
Then, in 1997, they moved to Akron. Awesome, they would be closer!
But wait, what? You’re changing the name… to the Aeros?
As a child, it was nice having a minor league team with the same name as the pro team. It made it easier to understand that they were all part of the same system.
But now I had to cheer for a cat? The outrage.
And purple as one of the colors? The travesty.
I was not a happy 13-year-old, but I came to terms with the fact since the team moved locations, I guess that meant they could change the name. After all, I watched another team move from Cleveland to Baltimore two years prior, and they changed names, too (and also went to that awful purple color).
It took a few years, but I eventually grew to like the Aeros mascot.”
But now the RubberDucks isn’t OK? Something tells me he’ll end up being a fan.
The leadership in both El Paso and Akron have sought out the same characteristics in a name that the Fort Wayne franchise did back in 2008. They wanted something unique, something that had mass appeal to folks from far and near, old and young, and a name that involved the community’s history. Akron is the Rubber Capital of America, and El Paso is located in the Chihuahua desert.
“The logo accomplishes a lot of things,” RubberDucks owner Ken Babby told MiLB.com. “Right off the bat, it represents the grit and fierceness of this blue-collar market,” said Babby. “But it also represents the brand of entertainment that we’re trying to create: a place where you can come in, have fun and forget life’s problems.”
Brad Taylor, the former general manager of the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League, says it just takes some time.
“You don’t fight the backlash,” Taylor said. “There is some sensitivity to this and we appreciate that. But we didn’t pick this name to get people mad. We are trying to promote wholesome fun.”
When it came to deciding a name, team officials tried to find which of the five team name finalists could make a connection with children and families, be connected to the area and continue to be marketable.
“You get to a point where you really have to see it to get it,” Taylor said. “I had the same reaction that a lot of people are having when I first heard it, then I got to see the ideas and I totally got it.”
The tough part for both of these teams is that they won’t know how well their new name will go over until spring rolls around and they can start welcoming folks into their ballpark and showing them what attending a RubberDucks or Chihuahuas game is all about.
What I believe helps sell a product, a brand, a company, whatever it might be, more than anything else is a story. What was it like when you went to the (fill in the team name here) game? Was shopping at (fill in the store here) easy? Affordable? What was customer service like when you called (fill in in the brand name here) to ask about returns and exchanges? Word of mouth is one of the biggest tools any business has, and I’ve come to see that first hand just from working in Minor League Baseball for the last four seasons. I’ve spent time with three very different organizations, all of which have taught me something new.
On a personal level, I can never highly recommend Bed Bath & Beyond enough to people. Why? Their return policy is the best: no questions asked. When I lived in Burlington, Vermont, shortly after I got out of college, I slept on an air mattress. Well, this air mattress developed a giant speedbump in it a few months after I bought it. That made it kind of hard to fall asleep. So I brought it back to the store, no receipt, and they exchanged it for me. No problem. Keep in mind this was a $300 air mattress. (I take my sleep very seriously.) Then, when I moved from Vermont, I was able to get store credit for the mattress that I no longer needed. With most companies you’ve got to jump through hoop after hoop just to try and get an answer, let alone store credit, an exchange, or a refund. But now, I got exactly what I wanted with no hassle. That’s a story worth sharing, and when it comes to baseball teams, people want the same type of experience. You can get an average baseball experience anywhere–there’s always going to be a game. But are there going to be things that entertain both parents and kids? Are the food options going to be not just affordable, but also unique? Is it easy to park? Is the location of the ballpark safe? If the answer to those questions is yes, as it is with TinCaps games at Parkview Field, those stories get shared. I have heard many of those stories firsthand from going out and talking to schools, Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions clubs, and from folks who listen and watch the team’s games.
So, what’s next for those two teams is to not only continue to push the great logo or ballpark, but also to try and create a ballpark experience that’s memorable, affordable and repeatable. The fun has just begun in El Paso and Akron, and five years from now it’ll be interesting to look back at the feedback similar to Fort Wayne’s in 2008.
On a TinCaps baseball front, no word yet on the staff for 2014. A few teams in the Midwest League have announced theirs for the coming season. Perhaps in the next few weeks we’ll know more on who will be leading the charge for the next batch of future Padres. Stay tuned.
John Newman…take it away!