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Sam Kouvaris: Babby's idea screams 'minor league'

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bear in mind that the name of a sports franchise doesn’t mean much over the test of time.  In fact, when the NFL decided that Jacksonville’s franchise should be called the Jaguars, it was third or fourth among the fan poll voting. It had no connection to North Florida but the NFL decided “Jaguars” was the name and at the time, cats were the thing. (Charlotte’s team was named the Panthers the same year).

So new Suns owner Ken Babby’s decision to change the name to the Jumbo Shrimp is a marketing move that will drive some merchandise sales with a cute new logo.

But in the bigger picture it appears Babby is missing the connection to the people who live in Jacksonville and certainly those who call themselves baseball fans. 

“Jumbo Shrimp” screams minor league.  Problem is, people in Jacksonville, rightly or wrongly; don’t consider themselves “minor league.” We’re growing, we’re striving.  We have our own set of problems and you can make fun of a million things about Jacksonville whether you’re from here or not.  But we don’t consider ourselves “minor league.”

We’re not, as Akron is, a collective of another city (Cleveland) nor do we want to be.  That’s where people from Jacksonville are different.  We don’t want to be Orlando or Miami, Tampa or Atlanta.  We’re perfectly comfortable in our own skin and make no apologies for it.

Jacksonville is not Akron. Akron doesn’t have the Mayo Clinic, Florida Blue, Merrill Lynch, Florida/Georgia, a major bowl game, the PGA Tour or an NFL team.

I don’t have anything against Akron. Never been there. It does have Firestone Country Club and is known as the Rubber Capital of the World. Polymer research is headquartered there. Lebron James is from there. I'm sure there are great people, nice neighborhoods and great restaurants.

But we’re not Akron.  People are moving from Akron.  People are moving to Jacksonville. 

So consequently you can’t market to Jacksonville the way you market to Akron.  Babby has said that minor league baseball teams should have funny names.  They should be quirky.  So he renamed the baseball team the “Rubber Ducks.” Maybe that worked there.  People are driving up to Cleveland for Indians game anyway.

Babby has a disconnect when it comes to figuring out Jacksonville so far.  He paid a lot of money for the team, coming from DC and owning another minor league club.  Even his original marketing slogan “FUNdamentally different” rang hollow here in town.  There was nothing the matter with the experience of going to Suns games.  The Baseball Grounds needed a little sprucing up and any new owner is going to put his stamp on things.  But Bragan Field was fine and the experience there didn’t need to be “fundamentally different.” 

Going to the ballpark is still going to be a great experience. The Tiki Bar in left field is a great place to watch a game.  But don’t try to beat into our heads Ken that we’re minor league.  We’re just like most of the players who come through here: We’re trying to get the city to the Majors.

Come along with us.