– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

It’s that time of year! Baseball Spring Training is here! In honor of this, I’m looking at the fun names in Minor League Baseball. Some of them demonstrate the key principles of name development!

Minor League Baseball team names can be dull and boring. For example, there are some that just reflect the name of the parent Major League Team (e.g., Oklahoma City Dodgers, Syracuse Mets, Springfield Cardinals or Iowa Cubs). Yawn.

Or maybe they use a traditional animal such as the Burlington Bees or the classic Durham Bulls. These are a little more interesting, but not especially engaging.

Some teams are “swinging for the fences” with their names. When you think about what is important in naming your minor league team, you should focus on 3 things. Team names should be fun, relevant to the local population, and quirky enough to be memorable.

Here are some examples of team names that are “hitting it out of the park.”

  1. The Madison, Alabama, Rocket City Trash Pandas – Yes, there is a large NASA facility nearby (that includes Space Camp) in Huntsville so the “Rocket City” moniker is no surprise. The Trash Pandas came from a consumer contest and won the public vote by a large margin. The previous team name was the uninspiring Mobile BayBears. For the record, the other finalists were space-animal combinations: Moon Possums, ThunderSharks, Space Chimps, and Comet Jockeys.

    Even though the Trash Pandas won’t start playing until 2020, they broke the three-month sales record for merchandise sold by a rebranded Minor League Baseball team with over $500,000 in merchandise moved in nearly 3,500 online orders.
  2. The El Paso Chihuahuas – When the former Tuscon Padres moved to El Paso in 2013 the team ran a naming contest and fans chose between these finalists: Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Chihuahuas, Desert Gators, and Sun Dogs. While Team Management was initially a little apprehensive about the name, their focus on fun drove sales of Chihuahuas merchandise to record setting levels.
  3. The New Orleans Baby Cakes – According to a team PR release, the Baby Cakes name is “A tribute to the Mardi Gras king cakes where small plastic babies are sought after.” In the 2017 rebranding, the former New Orleans Zephyrs held a name-the-team contest and the finalists were Baby Cakes, Crawfish, King Cakes, Night Owls, Po’boys, Red Eyes, and Tailgators.

    Although the Baby Cakes name was initially met with mixed reactions, the team reported increased merchandise sales after the announcement and the rebrand set a record for online merchandise orders. Of note, the team awarded a free lifetime pass to any baby born in the state of Louisiana during 2017 and was entered into a raffle to win a full four-year tuition to a state college in Louisiana upon their 18th birthday in 2035.
  4. In 2019 the Amarillo Sod Poodles begin play – Per the team, Sod Poodles is a “pioneer’s nickname for ‘Prairie Dogs.'” This name emerged victorious in a “Name the Team” contest, triumphing over other selections rooted in Amarillo’s Texas Panhandle location: Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, Jerky and Long Haulers.
  5. The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp – Previous renditions of teams in Jacksonville included the Jacksonville Expos (referencing the parent Montreal Expos) and the Jacksonville Suns. You’ve got to admit that the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp is an upgrade, even if it is an oxymoron.

    And speaking of oxymoron, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp was an answer on Jeopardy earlier this year!Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp✔@JaxShrimp

    Hey @thereal4smo – we loved your work on @Jeopardy tonight. Can we interest you in to coming to Jacksonville for a ballgame this season? Follow back and message us if you’re interested!

 

If you want to check out the bible of the weird team names of Minor League Baseball, check out this book: Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them.

Someday I’d like to work in the “Funnest” brand name category in America–Minor League Baseball Teams!

Laurel Sutton, Principal at Catchword Brand Name Development

You may be aware that there is a large sports arena located in Oakland, California, wherein both the Oakland A’s and the Oakland Raiders play their respective sports. You may further be aware that this edifice is commonly known as “the Oakland Coliseum”, a practical name which tells you both where it’s located and also what kind of aspirations the original owners had. (As far as I know there have never been any gladiator fights there. Not officially, anyway.)

What you may not know is that the Coliseum has also had sponsor names. Starting in 1998, Network Associates agreed to pay $5.8 million over five years for the naming rights and the stadium became known as Network Associates Coliseum. They tried to get people to call it “the Net”, trying to emulate the familiarity of “the ‘Stick” (as Candlestick Park is often known).  I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years and I never once heard anyone say “Meet me at the Net”, despite the huge sign that hung at the entrance for years encouraging people to do so.

Network Associates renewed their naming rights for another 5 years, and in mid-2004, when they were renamed McAfee, the stadium was also renamed McAfee Coliseum accordingly. This name, too, was pretty well ignored by everyone but sports announcers, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when McAfee chose not to renew their naming rights in 2008, and we could all go back to calling it the Coliseum.

But on April 27, 2011, the naming rights were purchased by online retailer Overstock.com, which apparently will result in yet another renaming to the Overstock.com Coliseum, or, perhaps later the O.co Coliseum, as Overstock.com is trying to rebrand itself to this ridiculous palindrome. How do you pronounce that? Oh-ko? Ock-o? Oh-dot-co?

In the end it probably doesn’t matter. No one in the Bay Area will adopt the new name. You won’t be hearing it on BART. Local newspapers will use the new name in first reference but never thereafter, and sports radio talk shows will studiously ignore it, except when they have to use it in advertisements.

So what is Overstock.com getting for their 1.2 million dollars a year? It seems pretty clear that they’re going for national exposure, not local. The name will show up in televised sporting events every time the camera cuts to the scoreboard or shows the outside of the stadium. The network announcers will say it before every commercial break. It will boost their SEO, since the name will show up in links via Ticketmaster, LiveNation, etc. And if the A’s or the Raiders somehow magically win their divisions, the Overstock.com name will be in the national news outlets every day.

But even with that kind of exposure, they may be getting a lot less than they bargained for. The A’s have been making noise about leaving the Coliseum since 2005, although they are nowhere near having a new home. If they do, however, it will leave the loved and hated (in equal parts) Raiders as sole occupants. The current naming rights deal lasts for 6 years, and it might take that long for the A’s to find a new place to play. In the meantime, speaking the words “Overstock.com Coliseum” will be a surefire way to out yourself as a tourist, just as surely as if you referred to the City By the Bay as “Frisco”.

        

I suppose these questions and remarks may be perceived by some as rubbing salt in the wound, particularly fans of Vanderbilt University Men’s Basketball, and especially following Vandy’s buzzer-beater loss to Murray State in the opening round of NCAA tournament play. So sorry, but my boys are glued to the television, computer, CBS and ESPN during March Madness as they fill in their NCAA brackets almost by the hour, and I can’t help but ask some athletic team naming questions I have wondered about for some time now, even at the risk of triggering (hopefully only) a little bit of hate mail.

The first is, Vandy? While I certainly can understand why a school would want to embrace the efficiency of a two-syllable truncation over a consistent use of the full four-syllable version, but Vandy? Really? I mean, Vandy just seems to bring to mind a run of other unintimidating names like Handy, Dandy, Candy, Bambi, and maybe even Namby- Pamby, if one looks far enough. While I fully admit that my extremely limited and only experience with the school is watching the men’s basketball team on television, hearing the two-syllables always makes me wonder why a school would embrace a nickname for the men’s basketball team that one might expect as the main character in, say, Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Villanova, on the other hand, also apparently interested in a two-syllable truncation of their four-syllable complete version, has decidedly avoided the prefix and being labeled "Villans", in favor of a more suffix-friendly approach, Nova:

 

Putting aside Nova’s linkage to Charlton Heston’s female and mute companion in Planet of the Apes, and the possible trademark issue with an unrelated university located in Southeastern Florida, Nova seems to support the Villanova Men’s Basketball team more than a bit better. Oh, and Villanova won their first round bid in the NCAA tournament, fending off a considerable challenge from Robert Morris.

Should Vanderbilt take a page out of Villanova’s two-syllable suffix playbook and re-brand men’s athletic teams nickname to Bilt? After all, wouldn’t the "Bilt Commodores" strike more fear in their opponents than the Vandy Commodores?

Doesn’t all this really beg the question of whether a school’s athletic program branding is necessarily consistent with the branding of the primary educational purpose of the institution? 

Looking over my shoulder, my wife wonders, if we’re on the subject of poking fun at athletic team names, "how about Ole Miss, that is one I’ve never understood." I can’t claim to know the history there either, but I do think the prefix preference there makes more sense than a single-suffix alternative.

By the way, which athletic team nicknames do you question?

UPDATE: Perhaps I spoke to soon, and may have even jinxed Nova, see here.