A lot of small towns proclaim themselves the Something Capital of the World. There are multiple cities that claim the title of Blueberry Capital of the World, Music Capital of the World, or Financial Capital of the World, to name a few—but only one city lays claim to the title Carousel Capital of the World, and that is Binghamton, New York.
Binghamton, with its roughly 50,000 residents, has gone by the nickname the Valley of Opportunity for its history of economic success in such areas as transportation, cigar production, and computers, among others. But it’s the city’s collection of antique carousels dating back to the late 1800s scattered around the city that gave rise to the local Double-A baseball franchise’s new nickname, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
Carousels have long been part of the city’s cultural landscape.
“They were free for people to go and ride in the summer,” said Eddie Saunders, the Rumble Ponies’ director of marketing. “You had adults taking their kids, and then when those kids grew up they were taking their own kids.”
The winning entry in a name-the-team contest was submitted by a woman who asked to be identified only by her first name, Nicole, in the official press release. Her connection to the area’s carousels is personal.
“She wrote to us about how she remembered her dad taking her to the carousels in the summer, and now she’s passed those memories on to her children, taking them, and hopefully one day they’ll do the same,” Saunders said.
The team went by the name Binghamton Mets from 1992 to 2016. Because naming minor league teams after their parent clubs is inherently boring (I’m looking at you, Braves and Cardinals), the team announced plans to adopt a new name last year. Of the six proposed names, four of them had to do with carousels—Stud Muffins, Rocking Horses, Timber Jockeys, and, of course, Rumble Ponies. The other two proposed names were Bullheads (for catfish found in the Susquehanna River) and Gobblers (because of turkey hunting).
The B-Mets (it makes me yawn just to type it) have long been on the short list of minor league franchises that might relocate due to a lack of fan support. The decision to rebrand had a lot to do with a new ownership group, Evans Street Baseball led by primary owner John Hughes, wanting to reengage the fan base.
“Basically when John came in, the big thing that he wanted to do was to give this team back to the community,” Sanders said. “That was his mission from day one. This is not my team, this is not our team, this is really the community’s team.”
Before undertaking the rebrand, Binghamton sought the blessing of the big league Mets, which the parent club enthusiastically gave.
“The way John thought about it, that Mets name deserves to be in Queens with the Big League team,” Saunders said. “That’s their identity. We want one that allows them to have that while at the same time we have one that’s unique to us here.”
Obviously, the team is aware that their new name is a bit non-traditional, especially in a community that’s fielded a team named for their parent club for the last quarter-century. In coming up with the new name and logo, the team set about creating a conversation piece, even if it caused a bit of a stir.
“If somebody has to have a conversation about why there’s a carousel horse connected with Binghamton, that is a five-minute advertisement about the Rumble Ponies,” said Jason Klein, a partner in Brandiose, the firm responsible for the new look. “We want the design to be a question. We want the design to spark a conversation.”
Brandiose told the team to brace itself for a negative reception to a wacky new name.
“You’re going to have people who are naysayers,” Saunders said. “We deal with it on an everyday basis, people asking, why did you guys change the name?”
The reason to change the name, of course, is the nature of who attends minor league baseball games.
“If you’re a Major League Baseball team, you’re in the baseball business. If you’re a minor league baseball team, you’re in the entertainment business,” Klein said. “For the 80 percent of the population at a game that’s there just to have fun, that doesn’t even remember the score, they’re excited.”
As is typically the case, fans have started coming around, not just locally, but around the country.
“We’re seeing people from New York, we’re seeing people from California, Florida, all over the country, that are buying Binghamton Rumble Ponies stuff,” Saunders said. “You might have been a Seattle Mariners fan out in Seattle but you’ve seen our alternative boxing pony logo and you think that’s great. I can say that right now, when we started this, we released our name on a Thursday, and by Friday morning, basically, 75 percent of our alternative hats were all sold out.”
The mention of carousels conjures a certain mental image, which Brandiose set out to subvert in the team’s visual identity.
“That’s one of the strategies that we’ve found successful, understanding that there’s a current mindset about a certain subject matter, and going in and flipping the script,” Klein said. “We looked at Binghamton, and carousels are a little old-timey and grandfatherly. They can be a little old fashioned. So we said, how are we going to take this story of the carousel capital of the world and flip the script?”
The answer to this dilemma came with a simple re-envisioning of the carousel horse. “What would happen if the carousel music starts playing Back in Black by AC/DC?” Klein asked. “What if we had a bad-ass battle horse with flame-maned hair and rivets—somebody that looked like he was going into battle?”
The Rumble Ponies are another in an increasingly long line of minor league teams adopting hyper-local, non-traditional nicknames (a trend, I have to say, that I love unapologetically). Fifteen or twenty years ago, it may have been hard to imagine a city’s connection to historic carousels leading to a baseball team with a bad-ass battle horse for a logo, but that’s the landscape of the industry now, and it shows no signs of changing any time soon.