Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rubber Ducky, You’re Not the One

Yesterday, my local minor league baseball team, known since 1998 as the Akron Aeros, changed its name to the RubberDucks.


The team’s owner claims the change is, in part, to pay homage to the city’s history as the capital of the rubber and tire industries. I understand this to some extent. Aeros always fell pretty flat for me. Aside from boasting a few native astronauts and being located in the state that claims itself as the birthplace of modern aviation, Akron has a fairly limited connection to aerospace.

Nevertheless, from a rebranding standpoint I have to wonder how much thought really went into the name change.  It’s weak – for several reasons:

The mascot isn’t exactly "athletic." I realize that minor league sports teams (and major league teams for that matter) tend to use monikers with local connections, and many are far from intimidating.  But a rubber duck?  C’mon. The first thing I thought of when I saw the announcement was Ernie signing in the bathtub on Sesame Street. I know minor league ballgames are supposed to be family friendly, but it’s possible to be a bit too juvenile, especially when one of the stated reasons for the name change is to honor the city’s blue collar roots.

The whole local “rubber” connection will probably get lost. Golden Flashes. Runnin’ Rebels. Fightin’ Illini. With occasional exceptions, in most instances of teams using a leading adjective, fans call them by their second name. In other words, the RubberDucks are going to be called simply, the Ducks. Honestly, I’m OK with that. The ballpark sits on a canal, which attracts plenty of waterfowl. Akron is surrounded by parks and small lakes that boast sizable duck populations. But if the owner’s reason for changing the name is to pay respect to the city’s industry, he certainly missed the mark. Regardless, Ducks is certainly preferable to the potential alternative, the Rubbers.

There are better options. I think it’s admirable that the owner wants to be deferential to the city’s history, and as a former Goodyear employee, it does resonate with me. But if you want to connect to the industry, there are countless names that can accomplish it without conjuring images of a tub toy. What about Vulcans? Or Roadrunners? Or even Rollers? All could be easily branded with rubber and tires in mind. The case for going with RubberDucks just doesn’t make sense to me.

To make things worse, while the team will introduce a new costumed mascot soon, it will continue featuring the old one, Orbit, at games. In case the linked image isn’t clear, I believe Orbit is supposed to be a hedgehog based off the old Sega game, Sonic. Not only is he outdated and irrelevant – he also terrifies my daughter.

So, to summarize, I feel the name change is misguided. In my opinion, it’s actually a step backward from the previous name, and from a branding standpoint, overshoots its intended target.

And don’t get me started on the Columbus Clippers.