Between its under construction ballpark and name-the-team contest, things are going to look a lot different in Beloit, Wisconsin, next year. Now it's up to fans to decide whether that new downtown stadium will be full of cheese, polka music or something else entirely.
"It's exciting to see the creativity of the local people,” said Quint Studer, a Florida-based philanthropist whose Gateway Baseball group purchased the Class A Beloit Snappers last fall.
The options, not surprisingly, are on the unusual, silly side -- fans submitted more than 1,000 suggestions -- and the list was trimmed to five finalists: Cheeseballs, Moo, Polka Pike, Sky Carp and Supper Clubbers.
-Vote now: Help Beloit choose a new team name »
Studer, who also owns the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, said the team will still play as the Snappers every Sunday, giving fans a bit of both worlds.
"Every Sunday will be Snapper Sunday. About 30 percent of fans wanted to keep the Snappers. And those who did feel passionate about it," he said. "We’re going to have Snappers jerseys and sell Snappers merchandise. That’s a nice way of honoring the past but moving into the future.”
Gateway Baseball is partnering with businesswoman Diane Hendricks and others to privately fund a new stadium for the Midwest League club, which entered 2020 as an Oakland A's affiliate. The newly formed Riverbend Stadium Authority will pay the $35 million stadium construction bill with hopes of giving Beloit fans a fresh look at the Minors next year.
Studer envisions the ballpark as a gathering place with the hope of encouraging folks to wander the downtown area and businesses on their way to a game. Rather than featuring dozens of private suites, the venue has been designed to encourage fans to mingle, he said. The plan is to make the facility viable year-round, with heated areas ready to host events in the offseason. Studer added that the brick stadium, which he describes as a Minor League version of Camden Yards, would double as an Airbnb and host fans all year.
“What we’ve really learned over the years is that when you go to a game, you get excited walking the streets just going to the stadium," Studer said. "The location is key. ... Pensacola is built on a peninsula. This is built right on the river with a view that people like and a skyline over center field that is going to be very unique. Because of the way it opens up toward downtown and center field, it’ll be a unique walkway into the ballpark. You’re going to get excited just walking downtown coming to the park.”
-Live view: Beloit ballpark construction cam »
In terms of the new team name, if you're a Green Bay Packers fan, you and your cheesehead hat may lean toward the two cheesier options. Cheeseballs celebrates Wisconsin's long history as a cheese producer (the state pumped out more than 3 billion pounds of it in 2019 and has led the U.S. in cheese production for more than 100 years).
"Cheeseballs will add a fun new slice to Wisconsin’s cheesy pride," according to the team.
The Moo is also a nod to cheese, or more specifically the cows that help produce it, playing off Wisconsin's nickname as America's Dairyland and home to more than 1.2 million dairy cows. The Snappers said the name salutes the 7,000 dairy farms around Wisconsin and pays "homage to the farmers whose fields surround Beloit and the cows that help put so much tasty food on our plates."
Polka Pike combines two Wisconsin favorites: polka music and northern pike, a fish found in many of the state's lakes and rivers. The team says the "Pike" element of the name connects with the Rock River, which flows near the site of the stadium.
"You get into Wisconsin, you of course get into polka," Studer said. "You can have fun with that name at a game."
The Sky Carp is actually a reference to a bird, not a fish. According to the club, Canada geese tend to stick around Beloit each winter rather than fly south to warmer climates, and Studer said it's a perfect representation of Beloit's residents.
“I go around the country and talk about how to build better cities, how to keep your talent home. Beloit has struggled with keeping their talent home -- people leave and go to big cities," he said. "Sky Carp is interesting because it’s a Canadian geese that makes a decision not to migrate. They stay the whole year where they’re living. That’s the type of stuff you’re looking for, something that has a creative story behind it and will extend the brand.”
Beloit says the Supper Clubbers "represent an iconic and traditional part of our region’s culinary character. Just like our new ballpark will, supper clubs serve as a popular gathering spot for families young and old, offering great food, great music and great times night after night."
Spend the night -- or week -- at the stadium
The Airbnb angle is sure to draw interest, too. Pensacola made its ballpark available as a rental property this season in the wake of COVID-19 delaying and eventually canceling the Minor League season, and the new Beloit ballpark is set to offer the same amenities, even during the season.
“We had fans from 16 states come to the Airbnb in Pensacola, and they love it," Studer said, noting the Blue Wahoos also donate nights to families of local children impacted by cancer. "The goal of MiLB is to create memories. These fans love baseball. We’ve had stories about families coming and spending a night in the locker room and hitting in the batting cages and going up into the press box or onto the field. You can do some really neat things.”
Studer said the Beloit stadium would host Airbnb guests during the baseball season by renting out the visitor's locker room. He'd also like to host outdoor hockey games at the field or convert it to a golf course.
The group's primary focus, however, is to make the ballpark a top-shelf facility for the players. Studer emphasized the importance of building a strong relationship between the team, Major League Baseball and their big league affiliate.
"We want the locker rooms to be so cool that when players are told they're being promoted, they say, 'But can we stay a few days longer here?' We want that wow factor when players enter the locker room," he said. "This will really focus on the player amenities with attention to the visiting locker room as much as the home. Why should a player at a visiting locker room not have great facilities? The focus is on player amenities."
The new team name will be revealed at the end of the month or in early October.
"We’re just excited about the stadium and Beloit," he said. "Diane Hendricks has such a phenomenal reputation for giving. We’re not going to ever take money out of this city -- we’re doing this more out of philanthropy. We’re going to keep it all here in Beloit, but we’re responsible for capital, so we need to make sure the team is financially sustainable and has a name that attracts merchandise buyers."
Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com.