The new El Paso Triple-A franchise was going with an off-the-board selection no matter which of the five nominations it selected for its name and logo last night. In the end, they may have strayed as far away from center as possible by choosing Chihuahuas as the name to build their brand around.
The team, led by president Alan Ledford and general manager Brad Taylor, settled on Chihuahuas for many reasons: it has a regional background, presents local and national marketing opportunities, and creates an opportunity for a variety of ballpark extensions. But mainly, as Taylor told the El Paso Times at the unveiling celebration last night, they choose Chihuahuas because it is "fun . . . fun."
"This is for children and families and fun," he said. "Give us a chance. See the consistent experience people will get coming into the park each night.”
Ledford echoed that sentiment before the unveiling, telling Baseball America that when people look at the new logo "through the eyes of a kid and think about it that way . . . they all smile. That is our aim. That is our goal in this process."
The logos are fitting of the name. The primary design features the team name emblazoned in front of the snarling, miniature canine. The ballcaps include a stylized capital E and P, and a variety of alternate logos will adorn team merchandise and promotional items.
However, not everyone appeared to be smiling after the name was announced, though it is unlikely that the other finalists--Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs--would have inspired a warmer reception. The El Paso Times responded to the announcement by running the headline "Chihua-what?" Fans took to Twitter promising to never attend a Chihuahuas game and threatening to leave town.
The reaction was hardly a surprise, and has been typical of most fan base's response to new names. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs experienced a similar response when the debuted in 2008 as did the Richmond Flying Squirrels in 2010. Yet the IronPigs have gone on to be one of the sport's top draws and Richmond has been a hit despite playing in an outdated ballpark.
Ledford said he expected "a broad range of reactions," and both he and Taylor urged fans at the unveiling to be open-minded and give the name a chance.
"I think within the next six to seven months you will see people embracing the brand," Taylor told the El Paso Times. "When they see all the great events we will host in the new minor major league park here in El Paso, they will see that this is what we are."
Going off the beaten path has become the mainstream approach to naming and branding minor league baseball teams. The wackier the name the better and more likely to appeal to their young fans--which remain minor league teams' target audience. This past season, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre changed its name from Yankees to RailRiders, while Reading transformed from Phillies to Fightin Phils (with their logo now designed after the team's popular Crazy Hot Dog Vendor mascot).
Reading's longtime PA announcer quit in protest to the name change and fans threatened to boycott the ballpark, but the Fightins still topped the Eastern League in attendance.
Teams keep the cost of attending games affordable--that part is for the adults. Making sure it's fun--with a cool name and a ballpark full of mascots, playgrounds, fireworks and giveaways--is geared toward keeping kids happy, parents buying their children logo-adorned souvenirs, and families coming out to games.
It's a trend that isn't going away, either. One of the companies leading teams off the beaten path has been San Diego-based Brandiose, formerly known as Plan B Branding, which has designed logos and brand strategies for over 50 teams--including the Chihuahuas. Brandiose has at least four more minor league logos planned this offseason--including the Arkansas Travelers’ unveiling scheduled for tonight.
In all, 13 clubs are planning to have new logos for next season, Minor League Baseball executive director of communication Steve Densa said.
"(The new logo is) the birthday in a lot of ways of the team and franchise," Ledford said. "Now it has a real identity and brand that we can develop and evolve. There are so many fun things that can be done with a minor league nickname."