The often overlooked aspect of name the team contests is that the monikers that do not win still offer plenty of promotional opportunities. In recent years, more teams across Minor League Baseball are breaking out the losing finalists as part of What-If Night. These revisionist theme nights are the topic of this week’s Promotions Watch.
What-If Nights are a convergence of two promotional trends: specialty uniform nights and name the team contests. These promotions not only give the clubs, and their fans, a break from the normal routine, but also offer an opportunity to see what it would have been like if a different name were selected for the team. Among the notable promotions in the past include the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Class AA; Eastern League), who in multiple seasons have played one game under their original and controversial name—the New Hampshire Primaries. The Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) hosted their own version of the promotion in the past, playing for one night as the Richmond Rhinos.
This year, there are four what-if nights to highlight. The first will come on May 23, when the Harrisburg Senators (Class AA; Eastern League) take the field as the Harrisburg Mayflies. This name has its origins in an April fool’s joke the team played last year, when they staged an announcement that included a hat, jersey, and logo concepts. As part of the promotion, the Senators will give away Mayflies t-shirts to the first 1,000 fans 13 and older and will host a post-game auction for the game-used Mayflies jerseys. Mayflies, of course, are the insects known for their rampant presence on Harrisburg’s City Island and the Senators home field, Metro Bank Park. This promotion is part of a busy night at the ballpark, which will also feature an appearance from the mascot BirdZerk.
On May 29, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Class AA; Texas League) will host Thunder Chickens Night, which has become a promotional staple for the team in the past few seasons. Prior to playing their first season in Springdale, the relocating Wichita Wranglers conducted a name the team contest in which the Naturals were selected, followed in a close second by the Thunder Chickens.
The Thunder Chickens name was listed in the contest as a homage to and acknowledgement of Tyson Foods, which is based in Springdale. As has been noted here previously, however, Thunder Chicken has its own Urban Dictionary listing as a type of weed. Regardless of which origin has compelled more fans over the last few seasons, the Thunder Chicken identity has proven to have some branding value. That night at Arvest Ballpark will also include a post-game fireworks show.
Returning to the state of Pennsylvania, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Class AAA; International League) will host their second annual version of the promotion on June 12. That game will also feature Rainbow Night as well as a firework show.
While the team has not revealed which alternate name it will use from its 2012 name the team contest, the RailRiders did play as the Trolley Frogs for what-if night last year. If the Trolley Frogs moniker is not used again, that leaves four identities to choose from: Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Fireflies, and Porcupines. RailRiders was announced as the winner of the contest as when the then Scranton Wilkes/Barre Yankees rebranded in November 2012 in preparation for their return to a newly-renovated PNC Field.
One last What-If Night to note comes from the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low Class A; Midwest League). On July 10, the team will host “What Could Have Been…” Night and take the field as the Fort Wayne Octane.
In preparation for their move to downtown Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field in 2009, the then Fort Wayne Wizards held a Re-Name the Team contest. TinCaps—which is a tribute to conservationist John Chapman, who is better known as Johnny Appleseed—was chosen, beating out Octane, Fuel, and Current. While the decision to choose the TinCaps has proven to be correct, the what-if night at Fort Wayne will give fans a full dose of what the ballpark experience would have been like had the team been named the Octane. As part of the promotion, the team will feature special Octane headshots and graphics, while making Octane merchandise available for purchase. The TinCaps, who are hosting a different theme night every Friday this season, will stage a post-game firework as part of “What Could Have Been Night…”
Look for What-If Nights to actually grow in popularity over the next few seasons. Three of the four teams listed here still have other names from their past contests to choose from, while some squads that are not hosting the promotion this year could decide to do so in the future. Furthermore, as seen recently with the news that the New Britain Rock Cats (Class AA; Eastern League) will become the Hartford Yard Goats when they relocate next season, name the team contests can generate scrutiny as well as excitement. Once the dust settles, it is fun to see just how different things would be if a team were playing under a different identity.