Minor League Baseball teams are leaders in their ability to rebrand.
In fact, the practice of rebranding, even for one night, led to a whole seminar at this last week’s Baseball Winter Meetings, led by Jason Klein of the marketing company Brandiose. Klein went through several rebranding trends with some explanations so other interested teams might be able to roll out similar efforts.
“Theme nights used to be, ‘get the jersey and have a ’90s night,’” Klein said. “But it’s blown up in this huge profitable way.”
Klein emphasized several times how collectors, baseball fans or not, are quick to purchase cool rebrand efforts.
The rebrand trends were also broken down in profit potential. MiLB Deputy Legal Counsel Robert Fountain was also on hand, to provide legal counsel in the tricky efforts — such as every jersey being submitted to the league for approval, and ensuring those jerseys still have some form of the main logo branding.
Food Identity 2.0
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs struck it big by replacing its normal logo with a strip of bacon — a hat they still sell.
Meanwhile, the Staten Island Yankees went with a viral sensation and became the Staten Island Pizza Rats for multiple games. Other teams pay homage to their region’s celebrated food items too, like the Vermont Maple Kings.
All in all, more than 40 teams participated in the trend, and more are expected in 2019, Klein said. Among the tips he provided were switching up materials in the uniform and sending out media kits with a local food vendor.
Celebrating Hometown Identity
While the convention and visitors bureaus generally take the lead on celebrating a hometown, Klein said teams have a unique merchandising opportunity the CVBs do not.
“They don’t have the merchandise power or distribution,” he said. “You are creating a sub-brand that celebrates the hometown.”
He showcased, for example, the Rochester Red Wings wearing Flower City uniforms, honoring Rochester, New York’s moniker — the Flower City.
The use of the term superhero is off the board — it is co-trademarked by Marvel and DC Comics — but with a little imagination, everyday mascots can turn into heroes, or other movie and show-inspired characters. Fountain said to be careful in trademark issues and to consult him, but generally using lingo without being too explicit is acceptable.
Klein showcased the Greenville Swamp Rabbits becoming the Hyper Hoppers, as well as nights inspired by “Jurassic Park” and “The Walking Dead.”
As the seminar quickly wrapped up to stay on schedule, Klein sped through the last trend, but specifically brought up the Rochester Red Wings and their reboot to a Rochester minor league team from 1889, the Rochester Hop Bitters.
Working well with modern branding and the current trend of craft beer, the Hop Bitters were a success, he said. “Take an old concept and think, ‘What would it look like if it never folded and existed today?’”
Klein and Fountain quickly went through a rundown of keys to success with temporary rebrands.
Teams should order at least 500 caps and think of the rebrand beyond a one-day promotional stunt. Teams should plan to sell indefinitely — like the Lehigh Valley bacon strip hat — and have inventory ready when the night is announced.
“The worst thing is if it goes viral and they don’t have the ability to impulse-buy,” Klein said.
Fountain said it’s also important to search and clear trademarks for peace of mind. Also, if the rebrand becomes a success, protect the mark. Fountain joked trademarking a strip of bacon wasn’t something he’d ever think he’d do.