Just across the river from Kansas City, Missouri, home of the reigning World Series champions, lies another Kansas City in another state with another baseball team. While the Royals, the better-known team in the better-known Kansas City, are steeped in tradition, carrying a regal name and a classic baseball identity since 1969, the other Kansas City, this one in the state of Kansas, plays host to a minor league team in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball—this one with a notable identity of its own.
One of the things people associate with Kansas City, Missouri, is meat—residents will argue that their tomato- and molasses-based style is the only way to consume barbecue. But the other KC has its own claims to steak fame, including the nationally known Kansas City Steak Company, which was founded during the Depression and is still headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas. Another claim the Kansas-based KC can make is that it’s home to the only meat-themed baseball team on either side of the river.
Before the 2003 season, when the independent Duluth Superior Dukes relocated to Kansas City, the team took to the local paper, the Kansas City Star, to ask fans to suggest new names.
“Obviously with Kansas City being the capital of barbecue and steaks and cows and that type of background, those were a lot of the names that were submitted,” said the team’s vice president and general manager Chris Browne. “A lot of Cowboys, Steaks, Kansas City Steers, Kansas City Stars, but definitely the barbecue and the steak flavor that Kansas City is known for—the KC Strips was one of the names.”
The name T-Bones, which comes from one of the more prized cuts of steak, caught on immediately with the locals.
“They laughed at it, they enjoyed it, they thought it was cool, fitting for our history,” Browne said. “At the end of the day, it was very catchy and apropos for the Midwest and Kansas City.”
The team debuted with a slogan that they still use today, “Fun Well Done,” and a promotion that gave fans four T-bone steaks with the purchase of season tickets. Their mascot, Sizzle, named for the sound he himself would make while being cooked, is the bull featured in the logo.
In terms of a baseball brand, the T-Bones differentiate themselves from their big league neighbors in three ways: the game on the field, the atmosphere at the park, and the style of their logos.
As for the game, independent baseball features young players trying to get noticed for an opportunity to play in a Major League team’s farm system, as well as players who have had their opportunity—some of them even having played in the bigs—and who are trying to make their way back. (I saw a game there earlier this year and the starting pitcher was onetime San Francisco Giant Mike Kickham.)
“The players on the field,” Browne said, “those guys are keeping the dream alive, trying to get to the next level.”
More importantly for the team, they’re not trying to compete with the Royals for fans, but rather offer a different kind of experience.
“We all love the Royals here,” said Browne, who once worked as a Royals clubhouse personnel guy, and who has been with the T-Bones since the team debuted. “We love the Royals, but as you know, minor league baseball, we have a different niche. It’s laid-back, it’s free parking, it’s easy in and out, it’s family fun, family price points, economical, and I think that’s where our niche is.”
One distinctly minor league feature of the ballpark is a sign beyond the left field wall that offers a fan the opportunity to win $100,000 if a home-team player hits a bull’s eye—literally. The sign, which seems to be Kansas City’s version of the Durham Bulls’ famous “Hit Bull Win Steak” sign, features a target in a bull’s eye. The sign has paid off once in the team’s 14 years.
“I want to say it happened in our 12th year, a couple years ago, toward the end of the season,” Browne said. “It was fun to present that fan a check for $100,000.” (Given the paychecks that players are pulling at this level, I was kind of hoping the check would go to the player who hit the home run rather than a random fan.)
The logos, which were designed by the team’s ad agency at the time and have remained essentially unchanged since, are fun and quirky. The suite includes a primary logo featuring Sizzle the bull holding a bat as well as a cap logo with the bone of a T-bone steak forming the letter T.
All of this adds up to a baseball brand that embraces the kitsch of minor league baseball. The whimsical source of the name, the cartoonish nature of the logo (and I’m pretty sure that “B” in “Bones” is set in Brush Script, a default font you have on your own computer), and the quirky fan experience at the ballpark create an identity that is completely (and intentionally) different from the World Series champs across the river.