What’s in a name?
That depends on your point of view.
In the subjective world of social media, there is no beauty in Baby Cakes. In the deepest recess of my mind (and heart), there is no beauty or love for a name that simply does not capture the essence of its intention.
Those of us who are born and raised in the New Orleans area understand the genre that is Mardi Gras and the romanticism surrounding King Cakes. I believe we are all patently aware of the baby in the cake.
In the first few hours since the name change was announced Tuesday evening, reaction has been enormous, with much of it being negative in nature. It lends to the theory of “no publicity is bad publicity,” particularly in the midst of football season.
Fans had their say on social media about the Zephyrs becoming the Baby Cakes, and it was less-than-positive from locals on average:
— Brandon Hendricks (@branhendricks) November 16, 2016
— Christilisa Gilmore (@ChristilisaG) November 16, 2016
Really don’t think I could order tickets to see the baby cakes play with a straight face
— mason sontoyo (@msontoyo__) November 16, 2016
But some actually liked the unique choice:
seriously can’t wait to watch NOLA BABY CAKES play………
— Haylee Prescott (@haylee5prescott) November 16, 2016
The move definitely garnered attention.
When the then-New Orleans Hornets unveiled a “King Cake Baby” mascot at its games, it landed with a thunderous thud, crashing and burning immediately.
When the team rebranded as the Pelicans, it quickly rolled out Pierre the Pelican but he was found to be too scary. Within days, the original Pierre had disappeared and later that season, the Pelicans ushered in a more friendly Pierre.
The lesson learned is that the consumer is always right. Pelicans officials grasped the concept. Rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, to force feed something, to take the attitude of “I’m right and I know what is best,” the Pelicans listened to their fan base.
The entire mechanism of changing the name of the Zephyrs is based on attempting to recapture a disappearing fan base or to create a new one, and it is not an uncommon move in the world of minor-league sports. That, in the world of sports and business in general, is a sound, rational move.
Under initial owner John Dikeou, the Zephyrs played at Privateer Park, woefully inadequate by Triple A standards. Still, there was a magic about it as New Orleans had professional baseball for the first time in 16 years.
By the time the team moved to Zephyr Field, Rob Couhig and a host of local investors had taken ownership of the team and the combination of a new ballpark in a good location, a brilliant general manager (Jay Miller), a very good affiliation with the Houston Astros and proactive marketing that combined to produce a team that drew over 500,000 fans twice in succession. It helped that Houston gave New Orleans very good players, which produced consecutive playoff teams in the first two years at Zephyr Field, culminating with a Pacific Coast League championship and first-ever Triple A World Series championship in 1998.
When Couhig pulled out, Donald Beaver took control of the franchise.
A solid minor league operator, Beaver’s primary interests were not in New Orleans and it showed. In addition, the addition of the NBA team, the newness of the stadium fading away, constantly changing affiliations (Washington Nationals, New York Mets and Miami Marlins) did not help. The continuing affiliation with the Marlins is certainly not a marketing tool as the Astros were, a team close geographically to New Orleans and a team whose games were on television and radio in the New Orleans market at the time.
Lou Schwechheimer is by all accounts a good man and a good minor league operator. Getting local lawyer Walt Leger back in the fold as a minority partner was a sound, smart move. Leger is a good man who has been involved with the franchise from Day 1.
I was blessed to be involved with the franchise from the time it was born, privileged to be chosen as the initial play-by-play voice of the Zephyrs on radio and ultimately television.
To this day, it was the single most enjoyable thing I have ventured into professionally in my career spanning nearly four decades. I love baseball. My spiritual life changed as a result of the Zephyrs. The friends I made in baseball will last a lifetime.
While the name Zephyrs came to New Orleans with the team from Denver, it was widely accepted as it was indigenous to the market as a result of the classic ride from Pontchartrain Beach that many grew up with of the same name. For that matter, Jazzland, later Six Flags of New Orleans, brought the brand back with its Mega Zeph roller coaster.
An outside consulting firm was utilized to assist with the process of re-branding the Zephyrs. While I fully understand that the same firm has been utilized in the renaming of other teams, Louisiana and New Orleans, specifically, is unique. (Speaking of unique, this is the only nickname in professional or college sports to use the name “baby.”) Locals know their surroundings and preferences best. Was there a lack of trust in this process?
I do like some of the logos and uniform looks that the team unveiled. The color scheme makes sense as well, as does retaining popular team mascots Boudreaux and Clotile. In a sport where the names on the back of the jerseys change nearly day to day, Boudreaux has been the face of the franchise for the last two decades.
Schwechheimer hit a home run by pledging lifetime passes to Baby Cakes games for each child born in the state of Louisiana in 2017. One of those babies will be the recipient of a full four-year tuition to a Louisiana university of their choosing when they turn 18.
If the name change works, it will be the cherry on top of the whipped cream, the candle on top of the cake. If it fails, the flame of creating publicity and interest over several months will dissipate quickly.
The latest move to change the name was born of marketing and creating excitement. I completely understand it. I simply do not understand the name that was chosen or agree with its selection, though I will continue to root for the success of a wholesome family form of entertainment in our community.