When the London Frontier League baseball team revealed their bold new branding direction this past Fall, they were met with a controversy the likes of which has never been seen in Canadian minor league baseball. Coverage of the London Rippers re-brand included mentions on both U.S and Canadian National media outlets including Sports illustrated and a segment on Rush Limbaugh’s controversial radio program. Comments in the media and from baseball fans ranged from supportive to un-favourable and sometimes even hostile. Not surprisingly though once the initial upset died down, the vast majority of responses were very positive.
Unfortunately the jury’s still out on the decided opinion of Londoners themselves. Left out of the naming process and still seething about the perceived hidden meaning of the logo and character, they continue to be the most outraged by this. City council officially appealed the name but failed to have it changed and instead is working with the owners.
But lets talk about the glass half full. Yes, the branding launch was a bit of a nightmare for the team ownership but that nightmare undoubtedly provided some of the best PR that they could have hoped for. Even team president David Martin never expected the kind of reaction that they were met with the day after the launch party. Handling the controversy was “like managing a political campaign” he said and instead of bending to the pressure, the club’s management continues to be positive, talking up the team and its new identity in the media. When you look at their motives, its pretty hard to see anything but good intentions. David Martin comments “London can be a hotbed for baseball in Canada” and its location, superior facilities and the close proximity to The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame make it prime real estate for a minor league team.
Now that the dust has settled, I’m sure that even its biggest opponents can agree that the re-brand has been a success for the team. Merchandise sales have reportedly been very positive, with orders coming in from all over the world including China and New Zealand. There have been purchases from each of the 50 States including a youth team in California who have obtained the rights to use the team branding. The Rippers recently held their first Fan Fest to introduce the public to the team and its flagship team store was also officially opened to the public for the first time. It was a resounding success, and a “great opportunity to get immersed in the community” says Martin.
This year’s team will be built from scratch, from its branding to its players and staff. 30 players have been officially signed to the team so far with more heading to camp. London’s own Mike Lumley was recently hired as Assistant General Manager of Baseball operations. He comes with a wealth of coaching experience including a stint as pitching coach for the Canadian National Junior team. Its an exciting time for the Rippers and hopefully the grumblings of nay-sayers and city council will be drowned out by screaming fans.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the branding of the team, the field at which the team is based is legendary and definitely worth a visit. Labatt Memorial Park is Canada’s (and possibly the world’s) oldest continuously operating baseball park, open for 134 years consecutively, its first game was played on May 3, 1877. Mooney Gibson, Satchel Paige, Ferguson Jenkins, Lester B. Pearson and Wayne Gretzky are just some of the notables who have played at the park.
In 2011, Baseball Canada announced it as the winner of the “Canada’s Favourite Ballpark” contest beating out over 40 other submissions. “You have to sell all facets of the game” says Martin, who plans to put on a great show this season. That includes rumours of enhancements to the ballpark which could include party rooms, box seats, locker room upgrades, and the promotions between innings will have a more “theatrical presentation” according to Martin.
The London Rippers Home opener is May 25th against the Gateway Grizzlies. Why not stop by and lend support for a great game in a great city? Thirty-seven Canadians are currently taking part in Spring training right now and without teams such as the Rippers, many would not have made it to where they are now. Support Minor League baseball, whether you agree with its marketing decisions or not. Baseball is baseball and I’ll guarantee you that the heart of the game is still there… lurking in the shadows of this controversy.