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Embracing The Weird: A Minor League Tradition Of Marketing

Make no mistake about it: The weirder that a minor league sports team is, the more attention they end up with as a result.

Recently, I had an executive from a New England minor league baseball franchise on the podcast. The team name was being changed from the New Britain Rock Cats to the Yard Goats. Sure, it was weird, but it was gaining a lot of traction with the area consumers. I even had a podcast listener question why the team name was happening, after all, who the heck with call their team the Yard Goats?

My reply: Heck, I worked at a school that laid down red football turf. It galvanized an entire area, and helped transform a gigantic sell-out streak of fans coming through the turnstiles. It also had a ton of detractors when it was announced, specifically because they thought the red turf would fade pink (still hasn’t after 5 years).

Weirdness Translates To Merchandise Sales

This is one of the funniest issues that sports has, and one that only minor league teams tend to understand. As much as people love to mock something weird, they also can embrace it. Especially if its truly a weird thing that is their weird thing.

Notice how the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL are gaining a ton of media attention, for changing their name to the Swamp Rabbits. No offense to the Greenville team, but I doubt they were gaining that much attention prior to the name change. The media coverage is international – even Sports Illustrated is writing about the Swamp Rabbits moniker – and maybe that’s what’s needed in order to separate franchises from each other. There’s also a lot of confusion by the media, wondering if there is legitimacy to calling a team “The Swamp Rabbits.” Man, the sanctity of the “Road Warriors” must not be questioned, apparently. Guaranteed, they will sell a lot of merchandise of their logo. Just like the Akron Rubber Ducks. Or the Las Vegas 51’s.

These type of brands tell the consumer one thing: You will have fun with us. And that’s important. Because this is less about a sport, and more about entertainment. And why not? Last I checked, the best minor league sports experiences have less to do with the box score, and more to do with the experience. At least that’s what everyone says when trying to sell it.

Always Remember The Tacos!

For every Titans or Giants or Birds moniker, the minor leagues have Solar Bears, Sabercats and (my favorite) Tacos.

The Fresno Grizzlies, who have a history with the Taco truck showdown, renamed their team “The Tacos” for the night. No one got hurt in the name change, and they sold a ton of merchandise. They even made Mashable and a ton of other online publications, gaining traction for their brand. That’s an embracing of the weird that you don’t see in the major leagues, and probably why the minor leagues do it, because, at the end of the day, it’s not a court of law, and why not?

Taco Cats Do Exist, I Swear

I actually suggested that the Fresno Grizzlies go farther, and rename themselves the “Taco Cats” – which is an actual, demented phenomena that only the Internet could come up with. A late friend and classmate of mine, Scott Sawyer, used to say that whatever weird thing you could imagine on the Internet, there were probably at least 10 people with a group, doing it. That’s the thing about the social media and online culture, its driven so much of us together, that each person can determine their own group, etc. I’m guessing that’s where the Taco Cat phenomena comes from, and where the minor leagues will go next to exploit.

I’m still waiting for the ‘Taco Cats’ to catch on. I’m sure it will, especially if the Swamp Rabbits already have found a minor league team to call home. That’s the thing about minor league sports, it’s just like the Internet, where anything goes and everything must go. It’s not a court of law, it’s not boring, and it’s always something different. And that’s why it tends to gain more attention, as well as sell way more tickets collectively, than its Major League counterparts.

One is selling The Lourve. The other is presenting the circus. No wonder more minor league teams are embracing the weird. They know what their audience wants, even if their audience doesn’t know it first.


(9:02 A.M. 9/1/15) NOTE: After writing this, I received an email reply from the Bakersfield Condors. They were miffed they weren’t included as a franchise that “embraces” the weird. It is an oversight, and this note should reflect how weird the Condors’ marketing efforts have always been.

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