by Ryan Isley
When I looked at the calendar on Tuesday, it said that it was October 29th. I had to look again, because after seeing that the Akron Aeros were changing their name to the Akron RubberDucks, I could have sworn it was April 1st.
Seriously? The RUBBERDUCKS???
When I think of rubber ducks, I think Sesame Street and Ernie singing “Rubber ducky, you’re the one. You make bath time so much fun.” The last thing I think of is a professional baseball team. This isn’t a Disney movie and Emilio Estevez isn’t going to teach them the “Flying V” formation.
While I understand they wanted to pay homage to the history of the rubber industry in the city of Akron, there had to be a better way to do so than to name the team the RubberDucks. How about the Rubber City Aeros, for instance?
Using the RubberDucks opens the door for all kinds of jokes and ridicule, most of which found their way to Twitter and Facebook soon after the announcement was made. It brought unnecessary negative attention to the city of Akron instead of excitement over the improvements that have already been made at Canal Park and the ones that are still planned.
Making matters even worse, I drove through downtown Akron Tuesday evening and saw the huge banner for the RubberDucks that is hung across the street from Canal Park. It reads “Affordable. Family. Fun.” In and of itself, that message is exactly what you want to use to promote minor league baseball. After all, minor league baseball is all about being able to take the family out to the ballpark without having to take a mortgage out on the house. However, what caught my eye was the cartoonish font in which these words were written. It was like something straight out of a Looney Tunes episode.
The name isn’t the only thing I have a problem with throughout this entire process, either. The way the move to RubberDucks was sold to fans was a complete farce.
“During this rebranding process, we listened to our fans,” RubberDucks owner Ken Babby said in a statement.
That’s funny, because when asked to vote on a name in 2011, fans of the baseball team chose to keep Aeros over the other choices they were given, including RubberDucks. In fact, the final tally wasn’t even close as Aeros won by garnering an overwhelming 67% of the votes.
So was this really a case of Babby listening to the fans, or was it a cash grab as he is entering his second season of ownership? It would seem to me that it is the latter.
You see, there are really only two legitimate reasons to change the name of a team who is staying in the same city: either the original name of the team is offensive to a group of people, or the owner wants to maximize profits by “rebranding,” therefore forcing fans to buy new merchandise.
And there sure as hell aren’t any red space cats walking around Akron protesting the name Aeros or their mascot, Orbit.
Babby is a businessman first and foremost. And while I respect that he has committed $5 million of his own money to grow the team and make renovations to Canal Park, he knows that he needs to recoup that money in some fashion. What better way to do that then to completely change the identity of the team? This would also be the perfect time to put the change in place, as the Aeros had a 12% increase in attendance from 2012 to 2013. That means more people in the stadium, which means more people in the team shop, which ultimately means more merchandise sales. Seeing as how Babby didn’t make any money off merchandise sales in the team’s first 16 seasons, it would make sense that he wants to strike while the iron is hot.
But if that is the case, just be upfront and honest. Selling this as listening to the fans when the fans clearly voted against the name just two years ago is a slap to the face of Akron fans. We didn’t want it then and we don’t want it now. And now to have our intelligence insulted? I think I will find other ways to spend my money next summer.
And that is coming from someone who has supported this team in Akron from day one.