Since his childhood, southern Wisconsin has held a special place in Quint Studer's heart.
Growing up, both Quint and and his future wife Rishy spent summers in southern Wisconsin before both attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Following graduation, Quint became a special education teacher in Janesville.
From there, he transitioned into healthcare, becoming a leading hospital administrator. His success and practices in the healthcare realm earned national renown and he moved from helping build great hospitals to helping build great businesses and then to helping build great cities.
Along the way, Studer and his wife Rishy also invested in one of their childhood loves: baseball. After purchasing the struggling independent Pensacola Pelicans in the early 2000s, the Studers steered them to become a successful independent franchise before transitioning the team to become an affiliated franchise in 2012 as the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Since, the Blue Wahoos have established themselves as one of the Minor League's top franchises, winning multiple organization of the year, ballpark of the year, and community service awards.
Throughout their careers, the Studers have maintained ties to Beloit and Janesville. With their grandchildren growing up in the region, they have invested in the Bodacious Shops of Block 42. Recently, they formed Gateway Professional Baseball to help ensure that professional baseball continues to call Beloit home for decades to come, bringing a new stadium to downtown Beloit.
With the new stadium being built, the team recently announced that it will take a new name in 2021. Quint recently joined SnappersBaseball.com to discuss the decision and the impact the new identity will have on the future of baseball in Beloit.
Question: Beloit Baseball has had the same name for 25 years. Why does the team need a new name now?
"The lease for the new stadium is very different from most leases in Minor League Baseball. Typically, a team leases the stadium from a landlord, usually the city. The landlord pays for things like insurance, utilities, field maintenance and turf replacement, fixing lights and concession stands, buying new videoboards, all those capital requests. Usually the landlord handles a lot of the expenses, not the team.
In our lease though, we are responsible for the next 20 years of everything. It's an unusual lease, but we wanted to help ensure that professional baseball stayed in Beloit. We anticipate that we'll spend between $12 million and $17 million over that 20-year period on stadium upkeep and improvements on top of what is being initially invested to build the stadium.
You have to keep the stadium up and always be improving it. When you look at communities that may lose their Minor League team or ones that have already seen their team leave, for the most part, the stadium wasn't kept up to date. When the stadium isn't kept up, fans stop coming. When fans stop coming, sponsorships stop coming. When those are gone, there's no revenue to improve the stadium. It's a spiral down.
That's unfortunately happened many places. In Pensacola, we saw something similar happen to the Mobile BayBears. They were an organization with so many great people, but they didn't have the revenue to keep their stadium up, and now the team has moved. Beloit was also on that path. Without the new stadium, baseball would likely be gone. So, keeping the stadium updated is very important.
To do that though, we need to create revenue streams. In baseball, those revenue streams are typically merchandise, sponsorship, tickets, and food and beverage sales. We looked at the history of Beloit Snapper merchandise and the team has averaged about $50,000 yearly in sales. That simply hasn't been enough to cover the costs of maintaining the stadium. We've estimated that a new team name will generate around $300,000 in year one and about $200,000 annually after that. In Pensacola with the Blue Wahoos, we did $750,000 in year one and average about $450,000, but that's a bigger market.
Merchandise sales are going to be crucial to pay for stadium updates and improvements going forward, which is important in ensuring that professional baseball has a long-term future here. We're also committed to our stadium always providing affordable family-friendly entertainment. Selling merchandise and sponsorships has a big effect on keeping ticket prices reasonable and family-friendly."
Question: What went into the decision to choose a new name?
"We brought in an outside company, Brandiose, which has earned a great reputation for years on branding sports teams. They've designed the names and logos for 60-some Minor League teams, including most of the most successful and most beloved names. We asked them to really do some research, talk to people across the community. They came into the Beloit community and met with numerous leaders, fans, supporters, and staff to hear their opinions and ideas.
We also surveyed fans through our team website, giving fans the chance to write in whatever they wanted the team name to be. About 30% of fans wrote in that they wanted the Snappers name to stay. We respect the fans who feel strongly about the Snappers name and are taking a lot of steps to help preserve the name's history. But, almost 70% of fans wrote in other, new names.
With the results of the survey, what we learned from meetings in the community, and knowing the revenue targets needed to make and keep the new stadium really special, we made the decision to choose a new name.
Now, that doesn't mean the Snappers are gone. We know that the Snappers and Snappy have provided a lot of memories for fans young and old in this community. We announced last week that we intend to play every remaining game at Pohlman as the Snappers. Once we move to the new stadium, we plan to wear Snappers jerseys each Sunday on "Snapper Sundays". Regardless of the day of the week, we want Snappy to be at games and in the community. He'll remain a part of this team no matter what the name is, and we're also excited to add some new mascots as his friends."
Question: With your team in Pensacola, you do not take a paycheck. Instead, profits from the team are invested in the stadium and the community. Will that be the same in Beloit and what kind of community investments are possible?
"Yes. We will not take money out of Beloit. The money the team makes will stay in Beloit. First, revenue from the team will be used to keep the stadium up to date. That's the biggest thing. We anticipate the field turf and the videoboard will both need to be replaced or upgraded twice in the next 20 years. In Pensacola, over the past two years, we've put in over a $1 million to renovate the concessions at the stadium and the clubhouse at Blue Wahoos Stadium. So, most of the money, initially, will go right back into the stadium.
From there, with additional revenue, we will invest in the city of Beloit like we have in Janesville and in Pensacola. I don't want to promise anything if I can't deliver on it, it depends on if the team has the revenue. But, I think fans can count on Rishy and I as a couple that will do things in the community. We plan to start offering our CivicCon series in Beloit like in Pensacola, which will hopefully lead to great things in the city. Instead of taking a paycheck ourselves, we want to take revenue from the team and make the community stronger.
Question: Five team name finalists are being announced this week. A fan vote will start at the end of the week. How important is fan input through this process?
"We want to know what the fans think. Our finalists were based off the names submitted by fans through the submission process with the help of Brandiose to select the ones that fit a Minor League baseball team best. There likely will be a name on the list that fans love. There likely will be a name on the list that just hits some people wrong. We know that will be the case for somebody, in both directions, with each of the names.
We went through this process in Pensacola when the team went from being independent to affiliated leading up to the 2012 season. In Pensacola, one of the finalists was the 'Mullet'. I loved the name, much more than 'Blue Wahoos'. There was so many possibilities with it, neat hair, fun promotions. But, I got letters that were just unbelievable. People told me that if we chose Mullets, it would ruin the history of our city and make us America's laughingstock.
I thought 'Gee, I would like America to know Pensacola well enough to laugh'. But, people get highly emotional about team names. Even though I loved Mullets as the name, the fans didn't, and we learned that through this submission and voting process."
Questions: Drawing upon your experience naming the team in Pensacola, what did you learn that's applicable to the process in Beloit?
"I think the process is going to be very similar. Some people are going to be excited. Some people are going to say 'If you change the name, I'll never come to a game.' Some people will love the new name. Some people will hate the new name for awhile.
But, we've seen the process in Pensacola and across Minor League baseball. When the new name, the new logo, the new colors, the new look is all announced, fans adjust and buy in. The names on the list might seem silly now, but people said the name Rocket City Trash Pandas was silly when it came out, and now it's one of the most respected brands in Minor League Baseball. People said the same thing about the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the Montgomery Biscuits, the Hartford Yard Goats, the Akron Rubber Ducks, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. But, when they saw the total package around the name and started going to the games, they became some of the most popular team names in the Minors.
In Minor League Baseball, a successful name is fun. It makes people ask about it. It creates a little curiosity. It makes people say "Whoa, what's a Blue Wahoo?" or "What's a Trash Panda?" It grabs your attention. Mixed with a great logo, colors, and branding, it makes you want a hat or a t-shirt.
A great team name is also unique and recognizable. Rishy was wearing a Blue Wahoos shirt at Lake Geneva recently and somebody came up to her and said "Hey, that's a Pensacola Blue Wahoos shirt! I know them!" A successful name has reach. We want people all over the country to say "Hey, that's a Beloit shirt!"
The ultimate goal isn't to just pick a name. It's for the team to be successful in Beloit. That's what we want and that's what the fans want. It's what we all want. The goal is for the team to be sustainable, help downtown Beloit grow, and to be a part of improving the community, and we're looking forward to joining with the team's fans to do that no matter what the name is."
-Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and writer for the USA Today Network-