The Reading Fightin Phils Re-Branding is a Beautiful Mess

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To be clear, when George W. Bush talked about how “terrorists hate our freedom,” he was talking about apple pie, Coca-Cola, and Minor League Baseball. He was talking about giving a cartoon ostrich a bad attitude and making it a team’s logo. He was talking about using an “F” with fists as an alternate logo. He was talking about a tough-looking hotdog as another alternate logo. And he was talking about the concept of having two completely unrelated alternate logos.

Terrorists would hate the new Reading Fightin Phils uniforms, and that’s why they’re awfully amazing (and amazingly awful).

 

What’s Amazing

The standard “Home” uniform and everything about Bunbino (including his name and bad attitude), and the anthropomorphized “F” who looks like he’s had a few too many and he’s ready to mess your world up are great. The feathering of the letters and logos to keep the ostrich theme going is a nice touch. The whole thing, even the components I don’t like, is “fun.” Sure, it has the slight odor of “branding exercise,” but I think families (read: kids) will love this stuff until they need to replace some of it in a few years when the gimmick wears off. Yes, I realize “gimmick” is probably the most dismissive term I could use, but Minor League Baseball’s marketing currency is gimmicks.

Home_1The other “Fightins” uniform:

Fightin_alt_2

What’s Awful

The fact that nothing is integrated between the two “Fightins” designs and the two “Baseballtown” designs doesn’t help things. Essentially, the away uniforms are just a hodgepodge of branding, as if Brandiose, the marketing firm paid to realize this re-design was given a “things unique to the Reading Phillies” bulleted list, and simply wrote “OK” next to each item. The away uniforms saying “Baseballtown” instead of “Reading,” because it apparently “resonates” (more on this later) with fans in other cities when Reading is the visiting team, is ridiculous (in a bad way). The “our color scheme is every color” color scheme is the worst kind of compromise. Why isn’t the “Fightins” solid blue jersey navy instead of “Iris Blue?” Implying there’s anything “classic” about either of the “Baseballtown” jerseys is painful; they’re just a mess of kitchen sink uniform design, which, of course, might be not unreasonable for a minor league team.

Away_1

Black_alt_1

Ostrich

You. I don’t like you.

The Ostrich. If there had been some historical moment where there was an ill-advised and poorly planned petting zoo at a pre-game event in Reading and something ostrich-related happened (mass bitings, the infield being torn apart in a turf war between two competing ostrich gangs, a first baseman getting kicked in the head, etc.), sure, play into that history once enough years have passed, and it’s “funny” instead of “civic embarassment.” Tying the semi-primary logo to the admittedly ridiculous (in a good way) crazy peanut vendor is a stretch. I actually liked the concept of the logo/mascot more before I read about its inspiration. I hate those damn birds. (I prefer my flightless birds cute and cuddly, thank you very much.)

[If the Reading Phillies ever institute an ostrich race as between-innings entertainment, consider me to be the first volunteer.]

 

What Straddles the Line?

The name. I need to be fair here; I was concerned that anything other than “Phillies” would be completely absurd and simply wrong. “Fightin Phils” is about as good as it could possible be… if it’s considered necessary to make a change. I don’t love that the official name is two abbreviations, and teams with long names, such as the Diamondbacks, have simply abbreviated the name on jerseys to address the obvious spacing concerns, but, oh well. Their press release establishes that the team will be known as “The Fightins,” though the actual success of the name will be determined by whether fans take it up or just continue calling them the “Phillies.” The fact that they claimed the re-branding would help the people who apparently think they’re in Philadelphia when they pull up to a 9,000 seat stadium… in Reading… is disingenuous to the point of being insulting to anyone in earshot.

 

Bigger Picture

I sit here conflicted. Simultaneously, the Reading Phillies (I guess more accurately, the “Reading Fightin Phils”) published a press release filled with corporate marketing speak and prominent pimping of the fact that they will have “the most on-field wear in the minor leagues” as if that’s somehow an accomplishment and not a business decision while also playing into the legit family friendly (and affordable) reality of AA baseball. It gives a severe feeling of 2+2=5? seeing the phrase “celebrating their brand stories” when one of those stories is Bunbino, an anthropomorphized hotdog (presumably “with attitude”) whose name was provided by an 11 year old kid who won “a 20-person picnic at the Reading Eagle Pool Pavilion… and a box of 100 delicious hot dogs courtesy of Berks Packing” for her winning entry. Seriously, what’s more American than winning a box of locally packed meat products? That’s not a rhetorical question, and there’s no sarcasm there. Really.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how much I should care about whatever Reading is up to. I haven’t been to a game there since the early 90s, I don’t follow Phillies prospects closely enough to be familiar with their roster, and I have no interest in watching big name MLB players’ rehab starts. I have this idea that “Phillies” is the right name for the team, but I can’t back that up with anything other than the fact that when I was a kid, I really liked going to games there, and they were the Phillies. The only foul ball I’ve ever caught was at a Reading Phillies game when I was 9. It was a diving grab on the concourse; I scraped my knee. It was awesome. I still remember that. I don’t remember any specific games I went to at Veterans Stadium during that same era. Not a single one. But I remember that Reading Phillies game. That’s the emotional connection to brands that companies strive for, but can’t just pay a company from San Diego to generate when given a bulleted list of “things that kids like at the stadium.” These aren’t necessarily good reasons to keep the “Phillies” name, though I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking along these terms.

There is some choice corporate nonsense in the press release, though there are some revealing details if it is read between the lines. Highlights are below.

“Our
relationship with the Phillies is stronger than ever and the Fightin Phils is a
unique way to enhance our ties with Philadelphia even more,” said Fightin
Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker. “The Fightin Phils reaffirms
our bond with the Phillies in a creative, unique way.”

 

This is the first quote from Hunsicker in the press release, and is in the “if we say something enough times, it makes it true. Ignore everything else we’re doing” mold. The way to “enhance ties with Philadelphia even more” is to not change the team name from “Phillies” (or “R-Phillies”) to anything else. Again, in fairness, the new name could be a lot worse.

The Fightins’ new name is highlighted by an ostrich logo that symbolizes the feisty bird that is now indigenous to Reading because of the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. With its fists ready for battle, the new ostrich logo represents the fighting spirit of the franchise, both on and off the field.

 

That’s not what “indigenous” means, even in the funny/ironic/loose way for which they’re aiming. “Familiar” is the word they want. Also, what exactly is the franchise’s “fighting spirit… on and off the field?” Seriously, what does it mean for a baseball team to have a “fighting spirit off the field?” Do the players in Reading have a “tough guy” reputation? That’s not a rhetorical question. Anyone in Reading know something we don’t? Are their players banned from local bars?

It will be the first time in the franchise’s history that the team will feature an identifiable mascot. The logo is also the first in professional sports to feature an ostrich as its mascot.

 

Don’t feature these as accomplishments. Were fans missing an identifiable mascot? Another team uses a biscuit as a mascot; they win the “unexpected mascot inspiration” prize.

“When we decided to look at our franchise, we felt that we needed a mark the spoke to families since being a family destination has been paramount to our success,” said Fightin Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker. “Our former mark didn’t speak to those families and kids-something our new mark definitely does.

 

This is counting your ostriches chickens before they’re hatched. Consumers decide if brands “speak to” them, not the people paying (and getting paid) to come up with new ones. Go ahead and rationalize the money spent on it, but don’t congratulate yourselves yet. It’s tacky.

“Our analysis showed us that Baseballtown resonated across all metrics,” said Hunsicker.

 

This means absolutely nothing… but sounds great. What were the metrics? Whether the term “Baseballtown” evokes positive feelings? Were they expecting a different result? It’s crazy that this language is from the same organization that included 100 hotdogs (from a local company!) as part of a prize for winning a branding contest.

On top of its new name and logo, the team will have the most on-field wear in the minor leagues when they take the field in April.

 

Again, this is not an accomplishment. The use of the term “on-field wear” instead of “uniforms,” “jerseys,” and so on is a nice call-out to the fact that a portion of this is merchandise-related. “On-field” is the lingo used in the marketing departments for selling this stuff. “We’re no longer going to be selling ‘hats’ and ‘jerseys.’ We’ll be selling ‘on-field wear.'”

Of course, in all fairness, how much money is there in AA merchandising? I guess the answer to that is “enough,” but these aren’t evil corporate overlords lighting last year’s unsold jerseys with $100 bills. Even the order form for getting yourself one of the four jerseys includes a note that you get to be on the field for the National Anthem at the first game in Reading Baseballtown. 10 year old Dan would’ve thought that’s the coolest thing ever… then he would’ve spilled mustard all over it.

The fact that I’m sure that if I called the number on the order sheet, I’d be directly connected to a human being speaks to the odd juxtaposition between the internet and the old timeyness of Minor League Baseball. 15 years ago, I (or any other jackass on the internet) wouldn’t even know that the Reading Phillies were getting a “re-branding,” heck, it wouldn’t even be called a re-branding, and there certainly wouldn’t have been a press release using the word “metrics.” Beyond that I don’t even know how I could’ve bought their merchandise other than with a visit to their stadium.

So, is their re-branding a success? I guess one may need to be from Reading to really answer that question. I have no connection to the team anymore. As an outsider, the “Baseballtown” motif seems forced. Is it? I don’t know. Would their fans prefer their uniforms to read “Reading,” their hats prominently showing an “R” instead of a “B?” Does “Baseballtown” actually resonate with their fans more than the city’s name itself? Maybe it does. That doesn’t excuse the generally ugly “Baseballtown” uniforms, of course, especially the awful black and blue pixie league softball top. But, they got a lot of things right, too. The “F” logo is unique and basically says “Minor League Baseball and proud of it” as opposed to “we’re a lesser version of our affiliated MLB team; we’re a cheaper version of them!” like using the “Phillies” name or an “R” in the style of the Phillies “P” would. New name: pulled off admirably with an extremely high degree of difficulty. The pinstripe jersey is a borderline masterpiece and uses some neat fabric technology to showcase its history. That attention to detail is to be commended. Bunbino: awesome. The ostrich… well, let’s see where it is in 6-7 years. I’m not the target audience, and maybe kids will latch onto it. I’ll reserve my judgment; importantly, it could be worse.

On the whole, the comments above showcase the root of the issue. The “Baseballtown” items are completely separate from the “Fightin Phils” aspects. Making that worse is that the “Baseballtown” uniforms leave much to be desired– colors, typefaces, even their inspiration. Keeping up the marketing-speak of the press release, that’s sending a mixed message with your branding; notably, they’re not being marketed as the “Baseballtown Fightin Phils.” Why couldn’t “Baseballtown” be kept as a a patch on the sleeves on jerseys with either “Fightin Phils” or “Reading” on the front. Make a trendy rounded logo with “Baseballtown” around the perimeter integrating the Phillies “P” and even Bunbino opposite the “Baseballtown” copy. Easy. Fundamentally, the whole “branding story” ends up less than the sum of its (many) parts. “Everything” is never the right answer to “what’s the best part of our brand?” The gap between “Fightin Phils” and “Baseballtown” is so wide that I can’t even say the whole thing is good or bad. There are items I like, but the items I don’t like aren’t even part of the same team’s uniforms. As a branding exercise, this gets a thumbs-down. As a uniform redesign, the “Reading Fightin Phils” gets a thumbs-up, the baseball team of “Baseballtown” gets a thumbs-down.

**½ Squarely in the middle — half good/half bad.

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