Is Minors Love Of Animal Logos Going Too Far?




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The logo changes—pardon me, brand identity paradigm shifts—have been coming fast and furious this offseason, so much so that my capacity for outrage is nearly tapped out.

In fact, it all has me feeling pretty philosophical about the logo and nickname process in general, to the point that I've decided all these crazy logos and nicknames don't actually matter that much.

Do you know how many bad logos and nicknames litter the minor league landscape? A lot, so many that to even begin naming them would be futile. Just to talk about the nicknames that include superfluous capitalization, or tacked on -Cats or -Dogs would be a subject unto itself.

When fans or esteemed baseball observers talk about how bad these things are, though, the marketers always point to the other teams that have horrible nicknames and/or logos that have sold truckloads of merchandise.

In the zero-sum marketing game, of course, I suppose that's all that matters. If the brand identity makes money, then it is successful. It's the same approach that brings you Bleacher Report pages at the top of every sports-related Google search—if a Web page is clicked upon then it is successful—and pathetic human beings on reality television around the clock—if it gets ratings, then it's a good show.

What the marketers miss, though, is that when the teams with horrible nicknames and logos are successful, it's in spite of the horrible nickname and logo, not because of them. Do you really think the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (International) are successful because they're called the IronPigs? They succeed because they're an outstanding operation from top to bottom. Don't just take my word for it, read the story about them winning the Triple-A Freitas Award.

At the same time, the Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn) have consistently ranked among the top minor league merchandise sellers with one of the worst logos ever conceived by man. (In case you were wondering, the others who would vie for that title are the Trenton Thunder's old "thunder chicken" logo; the original Hardware City Rock Cats logo, which was significantly toned down when the franchise went back to the New Britain name; and the Norwich Navigators logo that featured the alligator with a spyglass. Amazingly, all three of these came from the Eastern League.) During the time of their merchandising success, however, the Muckdogs were a disaster of a franchise overall, and they still exist only because they've been propped up by the nearby Rochester Red Wings, another International League franchise that has thrived with a bad logo.

I've Got An Ostrich On My Head

So how have so many teams ended up with so many bad logos? In short, blame the children. Inevitably when a team introduces a silly name with an even sillier, cartoonish logo, team executives say they needed to appeal to families and children. In other words, they want to sell stuff to them.

Reading general manager Scott Hunsicker told the Reading Eagle as much after the team announced its name change.

"Our main impetus was that we felt the Reading Phillies (logo) didn't speak to kids," Hunsicker told the Eagle. "It was a word. We've got to speak to the children of our community; we've got to engage them, and kids really latch onto animals.

"We want to speak to children with our icon. To do that we have to insert a fun, heroic-looking animal. In order to do that we needed to tweak the name to Fightin' Phils."

The name itself is actually clever, a play on the team's long relationship with the Phillies, with whom it has been affiliated since 1967. It keeps the Phillies tie but tweaks it a bit, and in a way that's genuine.

Of course, then they went and screwed it all up by using an ostrich as the centerpiece of their multitude of new logos. The ostrich idea comes from the team's Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, who comes onto the field each game wearing an ostrich costume and tosses hot dogs into the stands.

Fair enough, but does that mean Double-A baseball players should now wear caps featuring belligerent cartoon ostriches?

The good people of Reading sniffed out this marketing scheme from the beginning, coming out against the idea when the franchise said a change was coming, then continuing their campaign against it after the official announcement. In a Reading Eagle online poll, 87 percent of the 5,430 people who voted said they did not like the new name, and fans even started a Facebook page to organize a protest against it.

The chances of it going anywhere are minimal. The only time we could recall a team changing its name and logo was when the new Eastern League franchise in New Hampshire was going to call itself the New Hampshire Primaries. That's a cool name and it included a cool logo, but the locals freaked out, which is what gave us the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

The Reading franchise invested untold time and thousands of dollars in its new identity, so it's not abandoning the changes. Fans with brains will learn to live with it, children will undoubtedly love it and the Reading franchise will sell truckloads of merchandise and continue to thrive.

But it will be because Reading already had all the elements of a great franchise and continues to do so, not because of some stupid ostrich.