By Jennifer Harris (Twitter: @healthystlucie)
Treasures Coast Chapter
Jacksonville has a rich baseball history dating back to the 1800s. Throughout the years, the club has survived numerous ownership and name changes. In the breakout session, Becoming the Jumbo Shrimp: The Birth and Growing Success of Crustacean Nation, speaker Noel Blaha shared his journey of changing the name of the Jacksonville Suns to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
The Babby Era
In 2015, Ken Babby purchased the Jacksonville Suns club from Peter Bragan, Jr. with the understanding that Babby would not take over management until 2016. Ken Babby bought the Akron Aeros (AA Cleveland Indians) in 2013. By 2014, he had successfully rebranded the Aeros to the RubberDucks, giving a nod to Akron’s notoriety as the rubber capitol of the world. In the 2016, with new management and a firm focus on Affordable Family Fun, Babby and his team set out to make some improvements. They lowered ticket and food prices, and put more emphasis on customer service and fan experiences. Babby also invested 2 million dollars of his own money into making improvements to the ballpark. And while these improvements did increase ticket sales, the team still questioned, “What’s Next?”
Why the Jumbo Shrimp?
In the 2016 offseason, Noel’s team faced a moment where they could stay the course or turn the page on Jacksonville baseball history. Their current brand of 30 years did have key business allies, strong community outreach, and was becoming a strong part of Jacksonville history, but wondered if a new brand could help them better align with their long term goals? In order to start exploring a rebrand, Noel and his team started researching current minor league baseball trends and concluded that their new brand would need to be unique, include a local tie-in, be fun, and related to food. Despite Jacksonville being the largest land mass in the U.S., Noel said is still had a small town feel about it. Another element is the shrimping industry, which is a huge part of Jacksonville. Noel said that with more discussion, the group started leaning towards Jumbo Shrimp, which had both a local tie-in and a food element. But they would need to test it out.
Bringing the Jumbo Shrimp to Life
In order to start checking the viability of the Jumbo Shrimp brand, Noel said they looked no further than the company Brandiose, a leader in sports logos, with a focus on MiLB. Noel’s team provided Brandiose with a few parameters for the design. First, they wanted the logo to colors to include red, white, and blue to celebrate the strong military presence in Jacksonville. Next, they wanted their logo to be fierce, but fun. And finally, they wanted to make sure that it tied into and the First Coast. Noel shared various final logo results, which he said met all their expectations.
We got it, now what?
With a new logo in hand, Noel said they hosted a full-staff to reveal new logo. Staff were asked to put their cell phones in basket and sign a non-disclosure form prior to the start of the retreat. After revealing the new logo, emails from angry Aeros’ fans, following their rebranding to the RubberDucks, were shared with employees to discuss possible negative responses they might get from the public. From the retreat, the team planned a rollout and a public reveal for a press conference. Noel’s team chose a location for the press conference, paying particular attention to the timing with other local events, as there was so much local competition for coverage.
November 6, 2016
The night before the press conference, Babby leaked the name change out to the press, which stimulated the attention of both social and traditional media. They had local dignitaries at the press conference, as well as children, which Noel humorously stated was a act of “self-preservation” from any angry fans wanting to throw tomatoes at them. Noel showed a copy of The Florida Times-Union the day after the press conference, where a story on their name change eclipsed some other major news, including both President Obama, and then, candidate Trump, being in town. In the weeks to come, Noel reports receiving some negative feedback in social media, but also positive feedback, such as fans getting tattoos with the new logo, and fans showing support for the change by linking Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp to the scene out of the movie, Forest Gump, where one character was listing off the various ways to fix shrimp. Noel said they leveraged these positive stories to help them promote the new name. Noel reports that the rebranding was successful, citing an increase in both their ticket and merchandise sales.
Take away message: rebranding is successful when strategically focused on a vision that is tied into the fabric of a local community.