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• Video Below: Storm Chasers intro
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Stormy and Vortex are the two new mascots. Stormy's the one with the anemometer on his noggin, Vortex is the tornado.
When they walked across the stage at the LaVista Conference Center and kids in the front row beamed with glee, the theme of Monday night became clear as a blue sky.
Omaha has entered the crazy, zany, 21st-century world of minor-league baseball.
Goodbye, Omaha Royals.
Hello, Omaha Storm Chasers.
The city's Triple-A affiliate has unveiled its new name, taking a wrecking ball to tradition and joining minor league peers who have capitalized on creative re-branding.
Forget when farm teams shared nicknames with their parent clubs: Giants and Phillies and Blue Jays.
Now it's the Richmond Flying Squirrels and Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Las Vegas 51s.
Storm Chasers fits right in.
“To a certain extent, it feels like a brand-new franchise,” said David Krueger of Papillion, who came with his kids to the name unveiling.
And that's the point.
The Storm Chasers' target audience is not baseball purists who chart pitches behind the dugout. The target audience is a young family of five with cash to burn on T-shirts and hats.
So that 40-year-old Royals name and logo is about as fashionable as the beehive hairdo.
Monday night's event inside a LaVista ballroom featured ballpark food and clowns, inflatable bounce houses and a band. About 1,000 people showed up.
When the lights went out and “Omaha Storm Chasers” appeared on the big screen, fans cheered as if they'd witnessed a walk-off home run.
“Change is good,” said Bob Frederick, a longtime baseball fan who came with his grandkids.
“I like it a lot,” said Rebecca Sweat, a mother from Papillion. “We're all really excited.”
Retail sales of minor league baseball merchandise have more than doubled over the last decade. New names are partly responsible. According to BusinessWeek, 13 of baseball's 160 minor league teams re-brand themselves each year.
Team president Alan Stein said it was the right time to change names. The team will move into a new stadium in Sarpy County next spring — Werner Park.
The front office started work on a new name 18 months ago. With help from fans, it whittled the list from 1,500 names to 24, then nine, then one.
“Storm Chasers was far and away the best choice,” Stein said.
About 20 percent of fans, Stein said, wanted to keep the Royals nickname. But it wasn't enough to convince Stein that change would fail. Of course, there's a financial incentive to start fresh.
“From a business perspective, it's important to sell new merchandise,” Stein said. “Everybody's got their Royals gear. Nobody has Storm Chasers gear.”
More important, Stein said, is the issue of royalties. Ten years ago, about 50 of the 160 minor league teams had the same nickname as their parent club, Stein said. Now there's less than 10.
There's a reason.
“If we sell something that just says ‘Royals,' the Kansas City Royals get the licensing fee.”
If the merchandise says “Omaha Royals,” Kansas City still gets a cut. But when the minor league team sells an “Omaha Storm Chasers” T-shirt — and it sold a bunch on Monday night — Omaha keeps every penny.
“That's a very big thing,” Stein said.
Omaha hired Plan B. Branding to help identify a new nickname. The consulting company has worked with more than 30 minor league teams on names, logos and color schemes.
Three years ago, the company helped the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate and came up with “IronPigs.”
Last year, they consulted with the Giants' Double-A team, which became the “Flying Squirrels.”
IronPigs was the top-selling logo in minor-league baseball in 2008. Flying Squirrels was No. 1 in 2010.
“There's kind of an old adage,” said Jason Klein, Plan B. Branding co-owner. “Major league baseball's in the baseball business. Minor-league baseball's in the entertainment business.”
“We feel like the best way to communicate that is in the fun team names. Storm Chasers kind of stood out for people who said, hey, we want our own hometown identity. We don't see why it can't be the No. 1 logo of 2011.”
Opening day 2011 is Apr. 15, and the early forecast is optimistic.