The PCL’s franchise in El Paso, formerly Tucson, revealed its nickname last week, immediately provoking reactions to the El Paso Chihuahuas branding. If you heard the news, it’s likely you had an immediate opinion as well; Jesse Goldberg-Strassler shares his.
The national reaction — the loudly shouting, negative, incredulous folks who could not believe that a Minor League team would dare call itself the Chihuahuas — lasted a good couple of hours. The point was raised: What makes a good MiLB nickname?
The negative outcry, naturally, was overblown. Sports story after sports story has come sweeping through since, from Game 3’s obstruction to Dez Bryant’s sideline temper tantrum, and those fine reactionary folks have moved onward.
Beyond this, speaking from personal experience: I work during the season for the Lansing Lugnuts, who know as well as anyone how much a great hue and cry at a team’s announcement of its nickname can affect the franchise’s fortunes.
The Lugnuts’ moniker was announced in 1995, leading into the team’s inaugural 1996 campaign. The immediate outrage and blowback was noisy. A Lansing State Journal poll found that an overwhelming majority of respondents was opposed to the Lugnuts name (with quite a few Letters to the Editor each week that confirmed this). Paraphrasing, one reader wondered sneeringly if the team would be referred to as the “Lugs” or the “Nuts,” neither one of which seemed flattering.
Yet the franchise was embraced with tremendous popularity, season tickets selling in bushels, all capped by a record-setting regular season attendance of 538,325. Now, nearly two decades later, I continue to be approached by fans readily admitting that they were wrong about the name and they love their Lugnuts. (And, yes, the team is called loving both the “Lugs” and the “Nuts.”)
In the same sense, a good friend of mine with the El Paso Chihuahuas tells me that the reaction in the entire region has been fantastically positive from both media outlets and the fanbase. It’s easy to see the results; the team already has over 22,000 Facebook likes. El Paso has a strong tradition of baseball, particularly in the Arizona-Texas and the Texas Leagues, and the Chihuahuas have inherited that tradition. There is increased excitement, too, that 1) the ballclub is now a Triple-A affiliate (as opposed to the past Double-A Diablos), and 2) El Paso is part of the top-notch San Diego farm system, rated #3 in MLB organizations by Baseball America.
To the question of a good Minor League nickname, two factors above all else strike me as the most important, though I encourage you to contribute your own.
Kid Appeal: The El Paso Chihuahuas’ name, above all else, was chosen to appeal to the youths of El Paso, endear itself to their parents, and get people talking. This is a recognizable, energetic brand now. egardless of the quality of players wearing the “ball and bones” logo, children are ready to come to the ballpark and cheer on their beloved Chihuahuas.
At the official naming announcement, Duke Keith of 600 AM ESPN Radio in El Paso reported seeing “a group of Little Leaguers, chanting ‘Chi-hua-huas! Chi-hua-huas!’ ” Symbolically, the El Paso brass could not hope for anything more.
Uniqueness: There may be dozens of Wildcats, Panthers, and Tigers teams in sports, but: quick, name another team named the Chihuahuas. None comes to mind, nor to The Baseball Cube reference portal; the moniker belongs to El Paso. Similarly, if I named the Mud Hens, the Lookouts, the Zephyrs, the Biscuits, the Flying Squirrels, the TinCaps, or the Blue Wahoos, there would be no confusion — you’d know exactly who I was talking about.
That’s the biggest key. People are definitely talking about the Chihuahuas now, from El Paso to ESPN and beyond, and there are no doubts as to the subject and location of their conversation.
One last idle thought: the Sacramento River Cats and Tucson Padres were terrific Pacific Southern Division on-field rivals last season, battling behind Las Vegas. Come 2014, the two teams’ marketing departments surely can do something awesome about the newly-forged Cats and Dogs rivalry, can’t they? I look forward to it. –Jesse Goldberg-Strassler
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