BEST OF ASN | Who let the Yard Goats out? Hartford — and there’s a reason

An artist's rendering of Hartford's new baseball stadium, which will open in 2016. (Courtesy Hartford Yard Goats)

Originally published July 6

ASN-Yard-Goats-logoWhat’s in a name? Let’s find out.

New Britain (Conn.) has fielded a minor league baseball team since 1983, but last year the Rock Cats owners announced they would move the franchise to Hartford, nine miles northeast, and open the 2016 season in a newly-built $56 million park, recently named Dunkin Donuts Park.

What better way to generate excitement and ticket sales in a new town with a new stadium than a new team name and colors and logos. On March 17, Hartford’s executives introduced to the Hartford … Yard Goats?

You might wonder at a sports team named Goats, and you’d have lots of company. Off-the-cuff associations include garbage-eating and bleating, billy and gruff. And what’s with the Yard part? Oh yeah, a ballpark is sometimes known as a yard, as in “going yard” for hitting a home run.

That’s not it though; the Yard in Yard Goats refers to a railyard, and a yard goat is the nickname for an engine that tows train cars around rail hubs. Still unsure about Yard Goats as a name for a baseball team?

The team’s naming committee chose Yard Goats not only for its nod to Hartford’s important status in the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, but for less sentimental reasons.

“Can we trademark it, is it marketable, does it communicate the product — family fun and entertainment?” says Jason Klein, co-owner of sports team branding company Brandiose. “Is it something we can create kids’ club names for and mascot names for?

“There’s a lot of criteria — marketability, fan experience, can we own the concept?”

Klein and co-owner and childhood friend Casey White are working on the Yard Goats logos and uniforms and names for a kids’ club and mascot character, and are not stone-cold, bottom line businessmen. Their roots are artistic, starting wi­­­th helmet logos and uniforms for local high schools in their native San Diego area, then spreading to minor league baseball in their college years.

Brandiose is not the only company branding minor league teams but it is responsible for many of the names and logos in the top 25 of Minor League Baseball merchandise sales. In 2014 the 160 teams affiliated with Major League Baseball sold a record $60.3 million in caps, shirts and other items. With numbers like that, it’s clear that not everyone buying an El Paso Chihuahuas jersey is from Texas.

There’s a formula, says Klein, who loves to talk about the history of minor league baseball team names. When the Wheeling (W.Va.) Stogies played the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Furniture Makers in the late 1880s, the town’s pride was evident in what they produced.

“It really was about what it meant to be from Wheeling versus what it meant to be from Grand Rapids,” says Klein.

Between then and the 1990s, minor league teams tended to have their parent clubs’ name, like the Pawtucket Red Sox. As marketing and promotions evolved in the 1980s, teams got the idea to attract fans and revenue with the publicity gained from non-traditional team names. Klein says Brandiose likes to marry community pride with marketable mascots and logos, influenced by the nearby Disney of his and White’s childhood.

Thus, Yard Goats fits with other Brandiose clients (and Top 25 sellers) — Chihuahuas, RubberDucks, Flying Squirrels and Iron Pigs. Klein and White have evolved into advisers for re-branding campaigns as well, helping from the start with not only the name and logo, but how to get a community excited and involved. Typically, there is a team-name contest and a community vote on finalists.

New Britain/Hartford general manager Tim Restall has been involved twice with team name changes at other franchises, and with Brandiose for an alternate Rock Cats logo.

Klein and White spend time in each town they work with, meeting leaders and residents, eating at restaurants, seeing sights. When they worked with the Spokane Indians, they quelled owners’ hesitation at continuing the Native American team name by meeting Spokane tribal elders and incorporating its Salish language into logos and jerseys.

“They tell a story,” says Restall. “They actually came into the market and went around to local restaurants, met with some community folks, sat down and just listened to what they said about Hartford. What does Hartford mean to them? How do you think of Hartford?

“They do a great job of digging into the community and what makes Hartford Hartford.”

Brandiose told team owners 3,000 entries for the team name contest would be great; there were 6,000. Ten thousand votes for picking a name was a benchmark, said Brandiose; there were 35,000, says Restall.

“It showed Hartford was ready for their own team,” Restall  says. “Opening a new ballpark is magical and great for the first year, but we have to make sure it continues year after year by reinventing promotions and the way you do business and taking the temperature of fans. We do it with the Rock Cats, now we’ll just apply that philosophy to Hartford.”

Above: An artist’s rendering of Hartford’s new baseball stadium, which will open in 2016. (Courtesy Hartford Yard Goats)

Joe Bush

Joe Bush is a freelance writer based in Naperville, Ill.