The New Orleans Zephyrs are a AAA baseball team who came to the Big Easy by way of Denver, Colorado. They were making room for the birth of the Rockies and New Orleans was a prime destination being that they housed several preseason games and were the subject of some MLB rumors in the early 90’s.
The Denver Zephyrs were named as such after a stainless steel passenger train that ran from the 1930’s to 1970’s. When the team moved to New Orleans the name stuck as the Crescent City had a famous zephyr of it’s own, the roller coaster at now defunct Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. While that ownership saved cash on a rebrand, new ownership is opening their wallets as a tool to generate fan excitement and, as it turns out, to follow the lead of other absurd minor league team names (see: Rubber Duckies, Chihuahuas, Flying Squirrels, and dozens more).
If social media mentions and passionate bar debates are any indication, his investment is already paying off. A minor league team that doesn’t play in the city (the Z’s are based in Metairie, a 20 minute drive from the Superdome many locals describe as “ugh”) can’t compete with the NFL and NBA, but the Zephyrs rebrand has been one of the biggest (and weirdest) local sports stories in 2016. Whether anyone likes it or not.
“Changing the name of the Zephyrs is like changing the name of the New York Yankees” is something that nobody should ever say but someone did say. This is the anecdote I’ve heard more than a few Zephyrs employees share when discussing the rebrand. Every employee I’ve chatted with about the name change is 25% excited, 25% eager, 50% nervous. Many fans are upset, which might make some franchises nervous, especially in the wake of a season which saw almost 400,000 at Zephyr Field, the most fans in attendance since 2002 and an 8.4% increase from the previous season. But a rebrand is exciting and let’s be honest — minor league baseball can have a hard time drumming up excitement.
As the calendar inched towards November more and more team employees learned the identity of the rebrand. One source within the organization, however, informed me that he, among others, intentionally avoided learning the new name out of fear of being the one to ruin the surprise. “I didn’t want to get drunk and tell a bar full of people”. Given the name they ended up with and the initial reaction received so far, nobody would have believed him.
The night before the reveal is the scariest time for all involved. Those tasked with the many layers involved with a rebrand must also keep the quietest. Imagine spending all day on a very public top secret project. If something slips the hard work of an entire organization is compromised. Unfortunately for New Orleans minor league baseball, someone slipped with less than 24 hours to go.
The morning of the big reveal a local news reporter noticed the header of the Zephyrs website went from “Home of the New Orleans Zephyrs” to “Home of the New Orleans Baby Cakes” kicking off a brutal social media freakout. The dramatic called for a boycott of the team because as one fired up internet commenter boasted, “baseball is forever dead in New Orleans”. A select few opted to zig (adopting a “you know what, fuck it, let’s get weird, I love Baby Cakes”) while most zagged (“this is a disgrace to the city and the sport of baseball”).
A few hours later with the hot lava from Baby Cakes showing no signs of cooling off, the website header now read “Home of the New Orleans Night Owls.” Cue conspiracy theories, marketing ploys, the franchise trolling the trolls themselves, or just a straight up mistake. Chaos ensues.
It should be noted that this new version of the franchise isn’t opposed to trolling — the weeks leading up to the name change saw the team Twitter account dropping intentionally confusing hints at what the name may end up being. The thing here though is that they awkwardly (or brilliantly, depending on who you ask) dropped hints for every single one of their names. One graphic read “There’s going to be some serious tailgating for our unveiling”, suggesting Tailgators. Before that it was “Our new look is red hot” (hinting at the second-to-weirdest name that made the final cut after a fan vote: The Red Eyes). Other graphics read “Get ready for the king of logos” and “keep your eyes here” and “oh baby you’re going to love our new look” and “Our new name is a real hoot” and “Our ‘boys are sporting a whole new look”. So, is this new regime above changing the website header to get fans talking? And are the fans doing the most talking on social media talking about the team more than they ever had before? Absolutely not and hell yes. Then again, the website header carousel could have been ordered up as a way to cover up the initial goof. Either way, here we are talking about it which again, was their intention all along. Team sources were keeping the header situation under lock and key but if facial expressions and blushed cheeks are any indication, this was a mistake by someone on the web team. The cover-up just got more people talking so, again, a victory (sort of) for the rebrand.
The reveal party was held at the soon-to-also-be-rebrand-Zephyr Field (or not, I suppose they could keep that name). There was a marching band outside, Mardi Gras color balloons lining the hallway, and New Orleans food and characters inside, jambalaya and Pussyfooters respectively. After a slideshow rolled through the history of the franchise, GM Cookie Rojas took the podium, said the words you’d expect him to say, then unlocked the worst nightmare for what turns out to be a lot of minor league baseball fans in the greater New Orleans area.
Baby Cakes. As in the baby inside of a King Cake. King Cake. As in the Carnival dessert only enjoyed during Carnival season. Carnival season. As in sometime between January and March depending on when Easter falls. At minimum, one month from the first pitch of baseball season. New Orleans loves its traditions so you can understand the bumpy road the franchise is asking us to go down in terms of a name that resonates with the city.
But something that does resonate with the city is a specific brand of uniqueness and culture that is near impossible to bottle and honestly, fuck those who try too hard. Baby Cakes doesn’t exactly fit the same way the last rebrand did, the Pelicans. As unorthodox as that name is, Pelicans still carries a lot of weight. Louisiana is the Pelican state. Our license plates have a pelican on them. The list goes on. If Baby Cakes tries to pass the local test “because Mardi Gras” it will have a difficult climb. If Baby Cakes goes the “inspired by Mardi Gras but also we wanted to go a step or two away from the obvious and do something weird because Minor League Baseball” it has a shot.
- - Chris Trew from Trew 2 the Game
Want more Baby Cakes? Listen to my podcast, recorded immediately after the rebranding ceremony.