Yesterday, Reading Phillies GM Scott Hunsicker, with the help of a comically large Acme-style crate, announced that, on November 17, the team will unveil the results of its rebranding efforts, which will yield a new name, logo, and uniforms.
The immediate reaction was largely negative. It came on Twitter, in the comments of this Reading Eagle article, and in the existence of this “Reading Phillies: Do NOT Change Your Club Name” petition on Change.org.
Also, in Hunsicker’s personal email and voicemail.
I heard about the change last night and, like most of you, was confused, since sentiment toward the R-Phils is overwhelmingly positive… largely because of their stellar (and fun) marketing efforts. So, before spewing snarky venom through this here megaphone, I wanted to hear more from Hunsicker.
I spoke with him this morning, and here’s everything you need (or, may want) to know about the name change and some highlights from our conversation.
After 46 years as the Reading Phillies, the longest affiliation with a Major League club in America, the R-Phils, as they began calling themselves in 2008, will change their name, logo and uniforms. Why? Hunsicker says it’s to differentiate the team from the Phillies. But – a very important but – they want to do so without distancing themselves from the big club in any way, shape or form, something Hunsicker admits would be a mistake.
There are two general reasons for the change. The first one is kind of ridiculous.
There is the nomenclature issue of the AA affiliate sharing the same name as its nearby parent. Hunsicker says people actually show up to R-Phils games expecting to see the Phillies. Really. Plus, some confusion is created on the radio, presumably on stations closer to Reading than Philadelphia, when scores are given for two different “Phillies” results.
The other reason for the change, the main (real) one, is to create an individual identity for the team. Hunsicker likes to use a box metaphor (and perhaps it’s not just a metaphor– the team will literally pull its new branding elements out of a crate on November 17) to describe it, thusly: Everything about being a fan, of any team, gets put into a box, and while he admits that up to 90% of the stuff in the R-Phils box is tied to the concept of the Phillies, there are some other items – like Baseballtown, America’s Classic Ballpark, and other uniquely Reading items – that separate the R-Phils from the big club. So, they want a new box.
The team is working with California-based Brandiose, a sports marketing firm, on the rebranding process, which represents a culmination of an ongoing internal dialogue the team has been having since as far back as 1992, when Hunsicker first joined the organization. The name and primary logo will change, as will the uniforms. [Hunsicker says the soon-to-be-renamed R-Phils will have the most uniform and cap combinations of any minor league team.]
The mascots, including the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, will remain.
The organization went halfway in distinguishing itself from the big club in 2008, when they began using the “R-Phils” moniker as a secondary name. But R-Phils is a long way from a brand new (or, new brand) name and logo, and Hunsicker wants to be clear that the move is a way to differentiate, not distance, the Reading Phillies from the Phillies.
“It has nothing to do with walking away from the Phillies. Quite frankly, people that have called me stupid about the name change would be right if we were just abandoning all that the Phillies represent to us.”
“But for those people concerned that we’re turing our back on the Phillies or anything like that, nothing can be further from the truth.”
It’s an obvious point, but one that Hunsicker reitereated. He assured me that the rebranding will make it clear that the Reading _____ are closely tied to the Phillies.
Still, people are mad.
“People are just digging in. They’re doing petitions, they’re emailing my personal email, they’re leaving voicemails on my phone. They’re passionate about it, and that’s not a bad thing. The thing that I have been sort of startled by is – and I get it, because once you get so passionate, sometimes you kind of lose sight of all the variables in play – to be angry, fully angry, as some people seem to be, before you know what the new name is, probably isn’t taking into account all the variables. I appreciate and understand people's apprehensions… but, I am a little surprised that people are as passionate as they are and, in some cases, as angry as they may be today, before they know what the name is. That is to imply that there’s a zero percent chance that you will like the name.”
“I would just ask people to remain passionate about the franchise– nothing bad about that. But maybe give us a little bit of the benefit of the doubt that we do get this. I grew up in Philadelphia and went to college in Reading. So I got both sides of it, you know? I get it. We all get it. It’s been well-vetted. Nobody made a decision in a vacuum. I think people are really going to love it. And if I didn’t, we wouldn’t have done this.”
In other words: this isn’t Adam Aron and Co. farming out mascot design to Jim Henson’s people. The people in the R-Phils’ front office know their fan base – both in Reading and in Philly – quite well. Changing the name and logo isn’t something they took lightly. As mentioned above, they’ve long had discussions about enhancing the brand, making changes.
Of course, Brandiose is a San Diego-based firm, meaning that this isn’t 100% organic. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it comes into play here. From my vantage point, the Reading Phillies were doing just fine from a brand perspective. Unlike Lehigh Valley and Lakewood, the Phillies' AAA and A affiliates, Reading has long been linked with the Phillies. Everyone knows who they are, at what level they play, and where they’re located. Changing their name confuses things for the average person or family from the Philly area looking for an affordable baseball experience.
What about the Phillies? They’re OK with this.
“We’re certainly not going to do anything without the Phillies being aware of it and, quite frankly, having their blessing on it.”
“I can tell you that they are aware of it and we have their blessing on it.”
The sense I got from Hunsicker was that the new name and or logo is going to pay quite a bit of homage to the R-Phils’ longstanding relationship with the Phillies. I pressed for specifics, but didn’t have much luck.
“I’m confident people are going to know who we’re talking about. I guess until you know the name, know the markings and know the story behind it, it’s kind of hard [to explain that fully].”
“Our history here is very Phillies oriented, and certainly if not the name, at least the markings and the uniforms and whatnot are certainly going to carry with them a sense that we’re proudly the longest affiliation in professional baseball. I’m not going to drive off in some random direction and abandon the Philadelphia Phillies affiliation. That would be very shortsighted on all of our parts.”
All valid points. But, what’s a better way to honor that affiliation than by being called, well, the Phillies?
Obviously, changing the brand will likely bring on new merchandise sales. If I want to properly support the team formerly known as R-Phils, I can no longer wear my good ol’ Phillies hat to their games. No, I’ll have to buy a new one. One with their logo. A $25 one. So, there’s that. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Minor league team names, logos and hats have always been among the coolest (and sometimes most laughable) in sports. Teams can get away with uber local and niche names like the Lakewood Blue Claws, Batavia Muckdogs, and Portland Sea Dogs (all of which I love). The folks in Reading want to capitalize on that sort of thing, and make a name for themselves (literally) in the process.
But my gut still questions the move. People love the Reading Phillies. And like Hunsicker told me, perhaps 90% of what goes into being a fan of the team (no matter how closely you watch) comes from the Phillies. There’s something cool about a Phillies Mini being so close by (just ask Apple about that sort of thing), and although that won’t change, there was a nostalgia factor in Reading being called the Phillies.
Anyway, we’ll withhold judgement until the unveiling. I’ve been a big fan of Reading’s promotions over the past few years– Ryan Howard Garden Gnome, Chooching Owl, and the insanely awesome home run derby this summer. They do marketing better than any of the four major local teams. And if there’s one organization I have confidence in getting a rebranding not only right, but also awesome (if that’s grammatically correct), it’s the Reading Phillies. Er, the Reading…