Perhaps you watched the online hubbub unfold last Thursday. If not, it began with this tweet:
This led to a collective internet “Huh?” (and much blocking) as the story revealed itself.
The Grand Junction Rockies are a Pioneer League team and part of the Colorado Rockies farm system, which includes teams like the Hartford Yard Goats (maybe the best Twitter feed in sports, and certainly one of the best logos) and the Albuquerque Isotopes (winner of the 2018 Copa de la Diversíon with the Mariachis de Nuevo México). Plus, drive down I-25 to Colorado Springs, and you’ll find the Rocky Mountain Vibes, whose mascot is s’more post inflammation (the Vibes are the Rookie affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers). Given all of that, the Grand Junction Rockies, are, well, meh. Here’s their current logo:
I hate to be overly critical, but it looks like the baseball is flying less over a mountain, let alone a Rocky Mountain, than Walter White’s Heisenberg hat. (It also echoes an outdated Pizza Hut logo.) This happens at a time when MiLB teams are raising the bar in terms of creativity, an essential element of fan engagement and merchandise sales. The Grand Junction Rockies just don’t have a very interesting name or look.
Enter Ian Lummis, a local fan who just wanted to be helpful. Here’s how he described to Deadspin the evolution of his thinking:
Last August, I came across a list of crazy MiLB team names. I immediately thought of how my hometown’s rookie league team, the Grand Junction Rockies, were missing out on this great tradition. Before relocating to Grand Junction, they had been known as the Casper Ghosts, so clearly there was some level of creativity in the team. What, I wondered, was the cause of this blandness upon relocation. Did the purple mountains really posses that much majesty? Was Grand Junction, a town generally looked down upon by Front Rangers, just too boring for a unique name? Did we really lack anything worthy of naming a team?
Colorado sports teams are often named for the state’s natural features, so I considered these first. Grand Junction lies more in the desert, so Rockies never really represented them well. I discussed names with some friends, with whom I was working security at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, including Monuments, Mesas, Garfields, as well as the Colorado Rivers and Colorado Plateaus. Realizing that none of these could really compete with other Rockies affiliate names, including the Hartford Yard Goats and Albuquerque Isotopes, I turned to the local fauna. Really the only unique creatures in the Grand Valley are the native Colorado River fish. Species of these include the Colorado Pikeminnow, Razorback Sucker, and the Bonytail and Humpback Chubs. I knew that Humpback Chubs would be a perfect name for a baseball team as well as a great logo.
As you’ve probably gathered, the Grand Junction Rockies were not enthusiastic. (They’ve since deleted the tweets, though the internet is forever.) But I hope they’ll rethink for a number of reasons.
It’s a local species with a great story
The Humpback Chub (Gila cypha), which makes its home in the Colorado River basin, was an endangered species that’s no longer on the brink of extinction thanks to conservation efforts. In addition to being tenacious, this is a fascinating fish: “Some areas of the Colorado River are turbulent. Consequently, it is believed that the hump causes the humpback chub to be pushed to the bottom where water velocities are lower and where the chub can hold its position without exerting excess energy.” So the chub is tenacious and pragmatic, both excellent qualities for any baseball team during a long and grueling season.
These kinds of conservation efforts can be high profile. (In Wyoming, we’ve spent a lot of time addressing our own endangered species, the black footed ferret and the sage grouse. Bringing up wolf restoration in a conversation is a risky move.) You may or may not agree with these conservation moves, but they bring attention to a cause — or, in this case, a baseball team.
This is a common marketing strategy for MiLB teams
Marketing MiLB teams can be challenging: Families have limited disposable income; the rosters change, so teams can’t rely on a single player to be the face of the franchise; those in attendance may not be terribly interested in the on-field product. The emphasis is on the entertainment experience more than the on-field product. Noel Blaha was with the Jacksonville Suns when they rebranded as the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, and he noted that a team needs to keep three factors in mind: “being unique, being fun, and having that local tie.” The Grand Junction Humpback Chubs would do all of this and build on the national attention this story has already received. (For example, see here and here.)
When teams do this kind of rebranding, their out-of-area merchandise sales soar. After the rebrand, Jumbo Shrimp merchandise sales went from being 90% local to including 35% out-of-state sales (and in all 50 states). The Akron RubberDucks sell 53% of their merchandise out of state. It’s doubtful that anyone — outside of Rockies fandom — is seeking out Grand Junction Rockies merchandise. Actually, it’s even questionable whether anyone inside is eager to purchase the merchandise of a Rockies minor league affiliate also named the Rockies. (Trust me: We’ve already got closets full of purple Rockies stuff.)
In 2017 (the most recent numbers I could find), 168 MiLB teams in the United States and Canada generated a record $70.8 million in merchandise sales, a 4% increase from 2016 — and sales were bolstered by two rebranding teams, the Jumbo Shrimp and the New Orleans Baby Cakes, previously the Zephyrs. (The Isotopes were 12th in sales.)
To our friends in Grand Junction, the moment is now.
The humpback chub looks cool — and the marketing possibilities are limitless
Consider the potential: the earthy silver-blue/gray coloring; the distinctive hump between the head and dorsal fin that is not only useful but also gives the chub a look of determination; the streamlined body narrowing into a deeply forked tail. This is not your average fish.
See for yourself:
RotoWear made its version of a t-shirt available within hours. BreakingT asked Purple Row if we wanted to create one. The market is ready and waiting.
As to the Grand Junction Rockies’ assertions about chubs and erections, well, one, get your mind out of the gutter, and, two, that’s part of the fun. Besides, if the Humpback Chub fish can handle the double entendres at parties, so can you. Grand Junction, you inherited my local team, the Casper Ghosts, who had an awesome logo and hats that glowed in the dark. Grand Junction, you’ve been given a opportunity. Do not throw away your shot.
We only say this because we care — and because we want a Humpback Chubs hat.
You can help
You can help make this happen. Sign Lummis’s change.org petition here. As of this writing, it has 3,386 signatures of the 5,000 signature goal. Also, the Purple Dinosaur Podcast had a great discussion of the Chubs’ potential.
Purple Rowers, let’s do this. We used our collective social media muscle to win the @Rockies header image in February. Let’s do it again. Let’s make the Grand Junction Humpback Chubs a Colorado reality! And Grand Junction Rockies, if you decide to do this, we will be here to help with the rebranding in any way we can. (Please, just don’t block us on Twitter.)
Should the Grand Junction Rockies Rebrand as the Humpback Chubs?
This poll is closed
Yes — What are we waiting for?
No — Let’s help build the Rockies brand