Whenever the term “oxymoron” comes up, “Jumbo Shrimp” seems to be the first example people can think of. “Jumbo” means big, “Shrimp” means little. In a way, the oxymoronic nature of the term makes it a perfect fit for the name of a minor league baseball team that plays in the biggest little city in Florida.
“Jacksonville is the largest land-mass city in the country. At the end of the day it really has a small town, tight-knit feel,” said Noel Blaha, the team’s assistant general manager. “Jumbo Shrimp is a bit of a play on that large city, but small town feel.”
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are the latest iteration of a team that’s been around for a long time. Before rebranding this past offseason, the baseball team in Jacksonville had been called the Jacksonville Suns since 1962, with the exception of a stint from 1985 to 1990, when they went by the name of their then-parent club, the Expos.
The Jumbo Shrimp are unusual in minor league rebrands in that the team didn’t go through the pretense of a fan vote before renaming the team. The higher-ups simply decided that it was time and came up with a name. As with nearly every rebrand, the name was not received with open arms.
“The reaction was incredible. Everyone had an opinion,” Blaha said. “Right off the bat social media hit us with angry folks, including a petition that 10,000 quickly signed to revert the name back to the Suns.”
The team anticipated a certain amount of backlash and early on sold this T-shirt, which they promoted on Instagram with the caption, “If you’re BOLD enough to go against the mainstream and proudly rep the Jumbo Shrimp then this is the shirt for you.”
If the Jumbo Shrimp thought they might fly under the radar with the timing of the announcement of the new name in late October 2016, they may have misjudged how much local communities care about their ballclubs.
“Here we were announcing the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp the same day as Game 7 of one of the most storybook World Series in recent memory and less than a week from one of the most volatile presidential elections ever,” Blaha said. “The headline the next day in the Florida Times-Union, with a massive above-the-fold full color photo, was, ‘Suns Become Jumbo Shrimp.’ There were tiny blurbs stating ‘Cubs Win First World Series Since 1908,’ ‘President Obama in Town Today,’ and ‘Donald Trump Visits Today.'”
The origin of the team name has to do with Jacksonville’s role in the fishing industry.
“Modern shrimping methods were refined in nearby Fernandina Beach around 100 years ago and to this day the best-tasting shrimp in the world gets hauled in at Mayport on the St. Johns River here in Jacksonville,” Blaha said. “The day we announced the new name, we received phone calls from local shrimpers and seafood retailers that were thrilled with the name and the recognition it would bring to their industry here locally.”
While the team maintains that their seafood-based identity has nothing to do with their parent club, the Miami Marlins, it’s hard not to notice a pattern in the nicknames of nearby minor league teams.
“We joke that along I-10, it’s the Southern League Seafood Division,” said Jason Klein of Brandiose, the firm responsible for the logo. “You’ve got Shuckers, the Blue Wahoos, and now you’ve got the Jumbo Shrimp. We call it the seafood buffet.”
The team colors derive from the preponderance of water in the area, along with the team’s namesake. “We knew it was going to be some kind of a shrimp color,” Klein explained. “One of the challenges is that a shrimp is pink, and do we want to go full pink?”
Ultimately the colors were influenced by a strong military presence in Jacksonville. “We just went full patriotic,” Klein said.
Speaking of patriotic, Blaha noted this in regards to the custom typeface: “Our wordmark features a font loosely based on the GI Joe font.”
In designing the logo, Brandiose was faced immediately with the challenge of the oxymoron in the name.
“One of our biggest challenges was, how do you make a shrimp look jumbo?” Klein asked. “To do that, you need to juxtapose it to something. You can’t just show a shrimp or they’ll never know it’s jumbo. So you have him giant coming out of the cauldron, and you have him giant wrapped around the state of Florida.”
Some of the Jumbo Shrimp logos have some hidden visual elements, and some not so hidden:
“People generally really like the road logo where our shrimp is holding the State of Florida with his fist firmly grasping Duval,” Blaha said, referring to the county in which Jacksonville is found.
There’s another visual element that Blaha feels should be more obvious. “What I’m still taken aback by is the amount of people that don’t immediately realize our primary logo features the shrimp in the shape of a J,” he said.
And finally, the batting practice cap logo requires a second look to take it all in. “That logo is great because not only does it feature corn and sausage getting dumped out of a pot with our shrimp,” Blaha said, “but the idea of shrimp boil—good eats dumped out around a table of family and friends—is a perfect tie in to minor league baseball.”
The oxymoron in the term Jumbo Shrimp is something of a metaphor for branding in minor league baseball overall. How do you take something big, like sports marketing, and make it appropriate to countless small towns, each of which has its own unique identity? The Jumbo Shrimp reflect the current, wildly successful trend in minor league baseball to answer that question in the extreme. A silly or unusual name (which everyone hated at first) derived from a hyper-local aspect of a community (which everyone loved), then was formalized with a highly polished brand (which is selling like crazy).