One Tough Cookie
Cookie Rojas knew he’d catch flak for renaming New Orleans’ Minor League Baseball team the Baby Cakes, but says the rebrand is working.
Augusto “Cookie” Rojas knew the backlash was coming, but he went forward anyway. He believed in the decision his business was making and thought time would prove them right.
Lou Schwechheimer bought a majority share of the New Orleans Zephyrs last year and hired Rojas last April as the team’s senior vice president and general manager. In November, the Minor League Baseball team changed its name to the Baby Cakes.
“We knew full well there would be a significant group of vocal people who are contrarians and don’t like change,” Rojas said. “We understood it was coming.”
Zephyrs merchandise had fallen to the bottom of all measurable rankings for minor league sales. The rebrand “was an opportunity to reboot a brand that had not been doing too well over the last few seasons.”
The pair tapped Brandiose, a San Diego-based sports marketing company, which has overseen rebranding efforts of more than 50 minor league teams, with a creative overhaul of the franchise’s brand. A “name the team” contest drew nearly 4,000 submissions, and Baby Cakes was selected from a group of seven finalists.
The team’s new identity is based on Mardi Gras themes, namely the king cake. 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” 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 parade ladder-carrying baby.
The initial boos that came with the announcement of the name change have now been replaced by the ringing of the cash register.
Baby Cakes merchandise includes four hats at $28 apiece and T-shirts ranging from $18 to 40.
“When it comes to dollars and cents, I can’t share any of the particulars because it’s confidential information, but I will say that we’ve generated more revenue in merchandise with the new team logo than we did in all of last season. And that’s all been in five weeks.”
Analytics show most of the purchases have been made by people within a 50-mile radius of New Orleans, either at the new 1,500-square foot pro shop in the stadium lobby or on the team’s new online store.
“People have been buying from around the world. It’s been flying off of the shelves,” Rojas said. “We’re constantly buying more merchandise to fill the shelves.”
It’s a major win for Rojas, who left a similar position with the Boston Red Sox Triple-A affiliate in in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to take the job in New Orleans. He’s used the surge in interest as momentum in selling to local corporate partners and advertisers. Through mid-January, the team has received verbal renewal commitments from 85 percent of last year’s group-outing participants and is filling the calendar rapidly.
New Orleans is entering its ninth season as the Miami Marlins Triple-A affiliate, and signed an extension this offseason to develop players for the club through 2020.
The Baby Cakes take the field for the first time, against the Memphis Redbirds, on Thursday, April 6.
A Big Win and upgrades on the way
“We’ve generated more revenue in merchandise with the new team logo than we did in all of last season. And that’s all been in five weeks,” said Baby Cakes Senior Vice President and General Manager, Augusto “Cookie” Rojas.
Rojas said the stadium could see as many as three concerts in 2017, as it looks to host as many as 200 events a year. To prepare, he said the stadium will undergo concourse upgrades with unspecified concessions improvements.
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.