It’s Harry Caray, not Hari Kari
Will inauthentic name doom New Orleans’ professional baseball team?
In the year of the absurd, New Orleans couldn’t resist but getting involved and making a spectacle of itself.
At a Tuesday night ceremony, the New Orleans Zephyrs formally renamed themselves the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
The reception to the name among locals has gone over about as well as Dennis Quaid’s “New Orleans accent” in the motion picture "The Big Easy."
The name sounds like it came from someone who has spent little time in New Orleans, as if they couldn’t remember the name of a King Cake, but remembered the plastic baby inside, and that’s the best they could come up with.
“Our goal was to give the baseball fans of New Orleans a team and identity they can call their own,” said Baby Cakes’ President Lou Schwechheimer.
“We wanted to create a name and a brand that allowed the heart of this city to shine through it,” said Senior Vice President and General Manager Cookie Rojas.
Schwechheimer, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, bought a majority share if the baseball franchise earlier this year, and named Rojas, of Havana, general manager before the 2016 season.
This is a professional outfit that expects to be taken seriously.
This is a team made up of men one call away from the Major Leagues.
Some of these guys will be late teens and early twenty-somethings hoping to make it to the show. Some will be in their late 20s and early 30s holding onto the remnants of a lifetime dream of big league play.
How in the world can they be taken seriously?
The team’s new identity is based on Mardi Gras themes. As such, team colors are purple, green, and gold. The primary logo, which will be featured on home caps, is a snarling baby, wearing eye black and a crown, emerging from a king cake while swinging a baseball bat. Home uniforms will feature “NOLA” spelled across the chest, with a crown-wearing king cake in place of the “O.” The crowned king cake logo will adorn away caps, while the uniforms will feature “New Orleans” laced with tri-color beads on the front. Alternate versions of the logo include a “joyful” baby and a baby carrying a Mardi Gras parade ladder, the team said.
The team has already nicknamed itself “The Cakes,” and rebranded its website, cakesbaseball.com, and social media platforms, including Facebook.com/cakesbaseball.
Of course, Baby Cakes merchandise, including four hats at $28 a piece and t-shirts ranging from $18-40, is available for sale.
Merch is a significant component of minor league teams’ income, but it doesn’t seem like the franchise considered this when choosing the name. Will any self-respecting person wear this, much less buy it?
The selection of Baby Cakes is the culmination of an eight-month creative overhaul of the franchise spearheaded by Brandiose, a San Diego-based sports marketing company, which has overseen rebranding efforts of more than 50 minor league teams. According to the team, Baby Cakes was selected from a group of seven finalists following an online “Name the Team” contest. Fans turned in more than 3,000 submissions to replace the Zephyrs name, which was kept when the team relocated from Denver in 1993. Brandiose developed the logos and uniforms.
With two top tier professional sports franchises in town and a crowd of nationally significant collegiate baseball programs within a short drive, Minor League Baseball faces steep competition for the local sports entertainment dollar. Because of the limited number of season ticket packages the team typically sells, they’ve depended on corporate sponsorships for sustainability. Unfortunately, over the past few seasons, sponsorships have trended down compared to previous years. That’s what caused the team’s sale earlier this year.
New Orleans is entering its ninth season as the Miami Marlins Triple-A affiliate. The biggest challenge in Triple-A baseball is that the Marlins can pluck the best talent from New Orleans at any time, potentially crushing its Triple-A team economically. In order to prepare for the inevitable talent raid from their Major League affiliates, management of Triple-A teams has to induce fans and sponsors to come to the ballpark with specials and promotions, like themed-nights, concerts and firework shows.
Over their 24 years in New Orleans, the team has marketed themselves and their $26 million suburban stadium as the safe, affordable, family entertainment options in town. The team’s new management stressed that point in the rollout of the team’s new identity.
I don’t get it.
Why not something cool, like the Corsairs, French pirates, as homage to Jean Lafitte? If creating an experience is key, have a pirate ship in the outfield with a deck tht can be rented out for parties. Like the Saints’ rivals in Tampa Bay, fire off cannons from the ship when the team scores and wins. Or, like the affiliate St. Louis Cardinals and Memphis Redbirds, why not something related to fish – tarpon, swordfish, anything but Baby Cakes?
If they had to go with a Carnival theme, Monarchs would have been a great choice, as it could also be a nod of the cap to Kansas City's former Negro League club.
I don’t know. Maybe it will catch on. But I can’t help but think it will be a swing and a miss.
The Baby Cakes take the field for the first time on Thursday, April 6, 2017 against the Memphis Redbirds.