Putting Lipstick on the Rays

November 9, 2007

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a 10 years young Major League Baseball franchise, is dropping the “Devil” from their name. For a team that has never been very close to a winning season and has the second lowest home attendance in baseball (the other Florida team has the lowest), a name change (and a new logo and new colors) seems to be an odd off-season priority.


The short of it is, naming is not their problem. In the packaged goods analogy, changing the packaging on a sub-par product may help the product jump off the shelf, but only once. If the same weak product is in the box, the great new packaging will only create an even wider gulf between the promise and the experience. And baseball teams, like businesses, build a fan base with, essentially, repeat purchases.

New logos and uniforms happen every so often for many teams, particularly those less tied to a storied history. A name change, however, is radical surgery – and it really only makes sense if there is a radically different story to tell. When the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars moved the Dallas, dropping “North” and re-imaging the Star in the context of the Lone Star state made sense.  But rare is the name change without a change in geography. For Tampa Bay, dropping the Devil and re-imagining Rays as rays of the sun is just kind of lame. The Devil Ray or manta ray is a pretty cool mascot. What kind of mascot is ray of sunshine?  The Rays play in a dome! They don’t even play in the sunshine themselves! 


Tampa Bay happens to have some great young players.  Scott Kazmir is as talented a pitcher with as much potential for greatness as anyone out there; Carl Crawford is an incredibly exciting ballplayer.  BJ Upton, Carlos Pena, Delmon Young, James Shields – they really do have a solid young core of players to build upon.  Bring in some more consistent pitching and some solid veteran leadership on the field, and they could be competitive (although too bad for them they play almost a quarter of their games against the Yankees and Red Sox).  But I digress…

Plenty of teams go to market with a nickname of their nickname, without resorting to a full name change.  The A’s are still the Athletics.  The Cards are the Cardinals.  The Sixers are really the 76ers. The Blazers are still the Trailblazers. Why not just let the Rays be the Devil Rays. Is “devil” just a naughty word, was that the problem?  (The NJ Devils seem to be doing just fine, by the way.) Edge and personality give way to uninspired corporate banality.

The Rays don’t need a name.  They need some wins. You want a new image, a new commitment, some more passion in Florida about the team, here’s an idea: win some games. Spend your money on the field. Forget the comb-over and address the situation head-on. Invest in building a better team. And it probably couldn’t hurt to figure out some way to build a new stadium (under the Florida sun rays).

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