From mid-May to mid-June, Congaree National Park in South Carolina is home to a rare natural display that can only be seen in a few places around the world. The mating rituals of Photinus carolinus—also known as synchronous fireflies—create a hot, steamy, Christmas-in-Springtime wonderland of lightning bugs blinking in unison. The fireflies can be seen in several places in North America—most famously in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee—as well as southeast Asia. (On a personal note, I saw them once along a river in Malaysia, and it was amazing.)
In 2015, when the Savannah Sand Gnats announced that they were leaving Georgia to play in Columbia, South Carolina, less than 20 miles from Congaree National Park, the team abandoned a nickname based on a hateful, biting nuisance in favor of a bug people flock to see.
As the identity for a baseball team, naming a team for the synchronized blinking of lightning bugs has a conceptual meaning in addition to the literal connection to the nearby natural phenomenon.
“It’s kind of a symbol for the city and all the history that’s happened here in the city, how everybody comes together and works in unity and synchronizes together,” said Abby Naas, the team’s Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations. “We had a lot of floods in 2015, and everyone just kind of worked together to rebuild.”
“It’s a great metaphor,” Naas continued, “but it’s also just a fun, local, unique tie to our community.”
The name itself, which was submitted to a name-the-team contest by six different individuals, flies in the face of the regional nickname for glowing insects, which Naas said most people in the area call lightning bugs.
“We went with Fireflies not because it’s the scientific name for them, but because [fire] is one thing Columbia is known for,” Naas said. “The slogan for the city up until just a few weeks ago was ‘Famously hot,’ so it was a flame icon. Because of that we wanted to tie in the fire, the heat.”
A notable aspect of the Fireflies logo, on-field caps, and most of their merchandise is that they glow in the dark, which puts them in league with the Asheville Tourists and the defunct Casper Ghosts. While you can’t see the caps glowing in the dark under the stadium lights, Naas said it’s always fun to see them out in public, especially in places like concerts where the glow-in-the-dark aspect is prominent. For the moment, the team’s jerseys don’t glow in the dark, but the team is working to rectify that in time to coincide with an event they have planned for the much-anticipated solar eclipse in August.
“At first we treaded lightly on that and said let’s just make the kids’ shirts glow in the dark,” Naas said. “And then they ended up turning some of the adult shirts glow in the dark, and then the adults wanted them. We didn’t know adults would want that. But it’s such a unique thing. Why not?”
Of course, the Fireflies, a Mets affiliate, have been in the news for more than just their glow-in-the-dark identity this season. At the time of this writing, former Denver Bronco, New York Jet, practice squad Philadelphia Eagle, and practice squad New England Patriot Tim Tebow has started his baseball career with a .223 average, three home runs, and 20 RBIs in 56 games in the Single-A South Atlantic League. In order to deal with the rarity of their situation, the Fireflies reached out to staff members of the Birmingham Barons who were around in 1994 when Michael Jordan was making a run at a baseball career. In the end, having Tebow on the roster has been a positive for the brand.
“It’s helped us get our name out there,” Naas said. “I’ve got a Sports Illustrated sitting on my desk with our logo in it.”
The most popular logo in the suite is the Firefly by itself. Next up, according to Naas, is an alternate logo that features a pair of flames meant to resemble the letters FF inside a mason jar (pictured above). That logo was so popular the team started using it on their alternate caps this season.
The Fireflies’ nickname and identity, which was created by the Atlanta-based firm Sky Design, whose first minor league baseball logo was with the Fireflies’ sister club, the Fort Wayne Tin Caps, have worked well for the team. Even before any Heisman-winning football players joined the roster, the brand was getting noticed. The Fireflies were one of only four Single-A teams to make Minor League Baseball’s list of the top 25 teams in terms of merchandise sales in 2o16, along with the Dayton Dragons, Lake Elsinore Storm, and South Bend Cubs.
In just their second season, the Fireflies stand out as a unique new brand in a sea of outrageous new identities in minor league baseball.