Aces Are Wild: The Story Behind the Reno Aces

aces-header

Ewok_SWExhibition-300x288When I reached out to the Reno Aces, triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to talk to them about their logo and team name, I did not expect to end up talking about Ewoks. But when I asked Aces marketing director Brett McGinness about how the team’s sophisticated, traditional look bucks the trend of new minor league logos that cater exclusively to children, he used Ewoks as a metaphor. It boils down to this: Ewoks are basically Star Wars’s way of talking down to children, and Ewoks are annoying. And don’t get us started on Jar Jar Binks.

Star Wars was fantastic, and adults love Star Wars. We didn’t need Ewoks in Return of the Jedi,” McGinness said. When it comes to baseball, he continued, “I don’t think you need an Ewok-ish logo or mascot. Give kids a little bit of credit.”

10175050_10152216918700787_2337309728284916873_n

In the interest of fairness, I am compelled to point out that while the Aces did not name themselves after a Star Wars character, they did have a Star Wars night this season, because they’re a minor league baseball team and that’s the law.

All of that said, there’s a reason the Aces, who debuted in 2009, felt like they did not need a glorified teddy bear as the face of their franchise:

“Two-thirds of the fans that attend our games do not have children under 18 in the home,” McGinness said. “Even among the people who do have children in the home, I think it was 40 percent said that there weren’t any children under 18 with them at their most recently attended game.”

11325_10152455976705787_5323454096128039316_n

The Aces’ nickname is a double entendre. It references both star pitchers in baseball and a playing card, appropriate for Reno, a tourist destination noted for its legal gambling. Though McGinness points out that kids also play card games, such as Crazy Eights and Go Fish.

“I don’t think card games in and of themselves necessarily represent gambling,” he said. “At least around here, nobody thinks, ‘Oh that’s not very family friendly.’”

Reno Aces vs. Fresno Grizzlies

While the team name and logo is more sophisticated than some of the other new ones out there, there’s still something for the kids when they’re done with their Crazy Eights and Go Fish tournaments. The team’s mascot, Archie, is named for the Reno Arch, which proclaims Reno the “Biggest Little City in the World.” Not much is known about Archie, but McGinness offers this: “He’s just a big red fuzzball.” (He’s definitely not an Ewok.)

 Reno_Aces     aces-alt

The Aces’ cap logo (left) features a stylized letter A, as you might see on a playing card, with one particularly meaningful design element: “I think it’s lost on a lot of people,” McGinness said, “but in the A, there’s a tiny red diamond in our logo, and that’s a nod to the Diamondbacks.”

The team’s alternate logo (right) features a spade instead of a diamond (unless you count the baseball diamond, of course) so they’ll still be able to use it if they ever switch Major League affiliates, as six triple-A teams did at the end of this season.

1024px-Aces_Ballpark_from_garage

reno-aces-2012-all-star-game-logoDespite playing in the smallest market in triple-A baseball, according to McGinness, the Aces have the highest attendance per capita of any triple-A team, in large part because their downtown stadium, which hosted the 2013 triple-A All Star Game, attracts visitors.

“When people look out their windows,” McGinness said, “and they’re looking for something to do aside from the gaming, the eating, the drinking, all the stuff that goes along with vacationing here, you know, here we are.”

The close relationship of the team’s identity to gambling, the primary reason that tourists visit Reno, helps fuel the popularity of merchandise. The Aces have been among the top 25 sellers in minor league logo merchandise every year since their inception.

“It’s not necessarily Diamondbacks fans saying, ‘Oh I gotta have our triple-A affiliate,’” McGinness said. “It’s a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, that’s a fantastic logo.’ It might be folks who like the name, folks who are amateur poker players, things like that.”

5031

Reno_Silver_Sox_Main_LogoThe Aces moved to Reno after the 2008 season. Their previous iteration, the Tucson Sidewinders, was a much more obvious nod to the parent club than the current subtle reference to diamonds. After moving to Reno, many local fans wanted the team to acquire the rights to the nickname of the city’s longtime independent Golden Baseball League team, the Silver Sox (a reference to Nevada’s nickname, the Silver State). But at the time, that team’s future was still in question and the name was not available. (The Silver Sox eventually folded.)

The Aces nickname was selected from a name-the-team contest that drew more than 1,600 entries with more than 1,100 unique name ideas. (I’d be really curious to see a complete list of 1,100 potential baseball team names.) Ultimately, the team went with a clever, appropriate nickname, and traditional visual identity with mass appeal. Of course, you have to wonder what might have been if the team had taken a different approach.

“We didn’t have to roll out and be the Reno—I can’t even imagine—Mountain Goats or God knows what,” McGinness said. “We didn’t need to be the Reno Ewoks.”