Unique minor league baseball team name loved by locals
By Steve Samek
In 2013 the San Diego Padres packed up their Triple-A team and moved them to El Paso. Fans would get the opportunity to name the team from a list including the Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Chihuahuas, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs.
The winner was the intimidating three- to seven-pound Chihuahuas. The name got mixed reviews and a petition started on the internet to change the name. The petition gained more than 10,000 signatures.
Yet El Paso general manager Brad Taylor defended the name choice to MiLB.com (via Zack Cox of NESN.com):
“I’m sure I’m going to be hearing all sorts of views, but were standing by this. We have friends in a lot of other places, like the Iron Pigs, or the [Fort Wayne] Tin Caps, who stepped outside of their comfort zone to create a brand. That’s what we are doing here.”
Yes, the teams mentioned above are actual teams. All across minor league baseball, teams sport silly and gimmicky names. Often times, the names have connections to the areas culture and lure of the city, and the Chihuahuas were no exception. Saying in an MiLB.com press release, the name “represents El Paso’s spirit and fiercely-loyal community, and recognize the regions location in the Chihuahuan Desert.”
It makes for great origin stories for team names and unique identities. It also adds some consistency for the team. Minor league teams are connected to parent clubs by Player Development Contracts (PDC). Most PDCs last for two to four years and are renewable. If a team is branded by the identity of the parent major league team and the partnership fails to work out, that team will have to rebrand, losing its identity for the community. Making unique names like the Chihuahuas is the way to go when branding.
Uniqueness makes the team stand out. If a team’s name is one of a kind, there is no mistaking it for another team. The unique branding can be placed on some great merchandise for fans to purchase.
Merchandising has been kind to the Chihuahua’s since its inception. Every year, El Paso has ranked in the top 25 of merchandise sales among Minor League Baseball teams out of 160 teams. That’s a significant portion of fans rocking your logo, which definitely helps out the brand.
Fans are also supporting the on-field efforts of the team. In 2014, the Chihuahuas broke the city’s attendance record that dated back to 1995 and the El Paso Diablos. The record was around 335,000 guests, and the club still had 26 more home dates remaining on the schedule.
The novelty of the new team hasn’t worn off either. In 2016, the Chihuahuas won the Pacific Coast Leagues Esurance Home Field Advantage Award. The award honors the team in each league with the best support from fans determined by the highest percentage capacity of ballparks in 2016.
In 2015, El Paso ranked 11th in attendance in all of Minor League Baseball and third in the Pacific Coast League. The Chihuahuas brought in more than 8,100 fans on average for a 70-game home schedule. This was an improvement from 2014 when the fans entering the gates averaged 7,900.
The excitement has helped with the success of the team. This year the Chihuahuas won their first Pacific Coast League Championship. They then played for the Triple-A national title against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They dropped a 3-1 game to the Railriders to become the Triple-A runner-up.
The Padres – like the fans – have embraced the partnership and extended their PDC until the 2018 season. As of this post, 25 players that have played for the Chihuahua’s have been called up to San Diego since the move. This trend looks to continue strongly as No. 3 ranked Padres prospect Hunter Renfroe was called up after the Triple-A championship. Renfroe then became the first batter to be intentionally walked in his first MLB plate appearance since 2001.
Yes, they love their team in El Paso, and the Chihuahua is here to stay.