When you take all of the multi-faceted natural and cultural heritage that makes the town of Danville, Virginia, unique and roll it up into one minor league baseball brand, what you get is a menacing, futuristic version of an animal widely recognized for being cuddly and adorable—with a touch of the automotive racing industry mixed in. After a flurry of Appalachian League rebrand unveilings in late February and early March, baseball fans waited until this morning for the collegiate wood bat league to introduce the Danville Otterbots.
Since all ten clubs in the formerly rookie level Appalachian League lost their Major League affiliations in the reorganization of minor league baseball, the team, previously the Danville Braves, had been going by the simple moniker Danville Baseball Club. When they spoke to local constituents to find just the right nickname to represent their community, they had a lot to work with. First up, the proximity to nature.
“Everybody talked about the love for the river—the love for fishing, how much people enjoy spending time along the river walk trail, hiking and biking,” said General Manager Austin Scher. “There’s waterfalls that people talked about. There’s birds. There’s osprey and bald eagles that nest along the river, but by far, the most common response was the river. ”
In particular, many submissions to a name-the-team contest brought up one of the river’s most adorable inhabitants, the otter. The decision to base a brand around river otters was a no-brainer, in Scher’s words, because of their versatility as characters, not to mention who doesn’t just love otters?
It would have been easy to stop there, but the team pushed forward.
Per Scher: “After that, we started asking about, you know, okay, who are famous people from Danville? What are famous historical incidents in Danville? What is Danville right now? What is Danville going to be in the future?”
The team looked at the town’s past—most notably that its place right on the river played a role in Danville’s previous status as a hub for tobacco and subsequently, textile mills. But the answers lay in looking ahead rather than behind.
The most notable aspect of the city’s culture is its focus on science and technology. The region is home to the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, SOVA (Southern Virginia) Innovation Hub, Danville Science Center (which hosts a robotics club and robotics programming for elementary and pre-K students), and a school system that has implemented STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education curricula in middle and high schools.
From a branding perspective, the importance of science and technology in the community was intriguing, but presented certain challenges: “When we were looking towards the future, that was the answer,” Scher said. “Trying to find out how to combine that with otters became the tough part.”
Working with designers from Major League Baseball (as nine of the ten Appy League teams did), they crafted the solution you see today: the Danville Otterbots—equal parts adorable and menacing and futuristic.
“When we looked to design the logo, we wanted it to be a bit mischievous, a bit, you know, fierce from the competition side of things,” Scher said. ” We didn’t want like a cute, cuddly otter as the main logo.”
While the team may not have been striving for cute and cuddly as the first reaction, a secondary logo definitely achieves that effect. Otters hold hands in the water when they sleep so that they don’t drift away from each other. Danville’s logo set includes one that features two robot otters holding a baseball for the same reason. Per Scher, the logo represents unity in a divided world.
“This city and the county for a long time have seen a lot of unnecessary division,” he said. “There have been socioeconomic dividers, racial dividers, city/county dividers, political dividers. And there is now this overwhelming feeling of unity, of regionalism, of togetherness of moving forward as one. We see this logo as representing bringing two sides of every discussion together. Apply any of those dividing factors to those two otters, they can come together and hold a baseball together at our ballpark while supporting our home team. ”
While river otters and Danville’s place as a science hub are the two main factors in the brand, there are other elements they considered. To start, auto racing is huge in Danville, and the town has one particular claim to fame:
“Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR driver to win a race on NASCAR’s highest circuit, is from Danville. His grandson and family operate the Wendell Scott Foundation,” Scher said. “Wendell Scott is by far Danville’s most famous native son. He made the most impact across the world or across the country, with what he did in terms of his racing career. But then we also have Martinsville International Speedway right up the road, Virginia international Raceway is right up the road, South Boston Speedway is right up the road.”
You might not notice it at first glance, but look a little closer and you’ll see that the ripples around the otter in the primary logo look like the bank of a race track. Not only that, Scher pointed out, but the blurred edge of the neon type is meant to represent the movement you’d witness at a car race.
The colors in the logo also have significance. The blue is an homage to the river and the role it has played in Danville’s past, and the silver and black evoke robotics and technology, but the otter’s glowing orange eyes call back to a special place in the heart of the community.
“The secondary orange is an almost exact color match to what people locally refer to as the HOME sign,” Scher said. “The HOME sign used to be part of ‘Home of Dan River Fabrics,’ which were giant letters over the mill, that sat right on the river. A tornado came through town and tore most of those letters down, but the H O M and E were salvaged and refurbished, and they now hang on the side of a building right on Main Street.”
If you know someone from Danville, you’ve likely seen the sign in Christmas cards, prom pictures, or family photos, or if you’ve visited a gift shop there, you’ve definitely seen it replicated on T-shirts, hats, key chains, post cards, etc.
The HOME sign, which dates back to 1947, inspired not just the use of a specific orange in the Otterbots’ color palette, but it’s the inspiration for the custom typeface the team uses in its logo.
With so many connections to the local place—the river, science and technology, auto racing, and a beloved refurbished sign—Danville has gone from having a team generically named for its parent club to one with a distinct, unique (to say the least) brand.
“For the first time in 27 years, this community is going to have a team that represents them in every aspect,” Scher said, “not just because they happen to play here, but because of the name and the logo and the colors and everything that we do in the community.”
The Otterbots will roll out June 3, when they take on the Pulaski River Turtles.