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Flashback Friday: Logo Decision (1994)

October 29, 2010
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There is a new logo on the way for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.  This week's Flashback goes back to the last time Appleton Professional Baseball changed logos.  Let's go back to the heady days of September 13, 1994 when The Post Crescent devoted a story by Larry Gallup and a column by Chuck Carlson devoted to the change over from the Foxes.

New look, identity for the Foxes by Larry Gallup

The minor-league team has a new name - the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers - to create a stronger regional identity for fans

The Appleton Foxes aren't just getting a new stadium.

They're getting a new name, too.

The Midwest League baseball team will be called the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, team president John Wollner announced today.

Wollner also said the team will remain affiliated with the Seattle Mariners for at least the next two years.

The name change from the Foxes, which the team has been called since its birth in 1958, comes with marketing in mind.

Team officials hope the change to "Wisconsin" will create a stronger regional identity than "Appleton" or a regional name like "Fox Valley" or "Fox River."

"There are people in, say, Stevens Point who don't feel like they're part of the Fox Cities or even the Fox River Valley," said Foxes public relations consultant Tim Robertson.  "This has as much wider appeal."

In turn, they hope a strong regional draw will help fill their new stadium in the Town of Grand Chute, scheduled to open at the start of next season.

"The new stadium provides the opportunity for a whole new image for the team," Wollner said.

Also, they're counting on the new nickname and logo to be a boon to merchandise sales.

"The logo is much more marketable to the market we're looking at most - teen-age kids," Wollner said.

In fact, kids had a role in the choice of the name and logo.

First, a team committed brainstormed for names and narrowed the list to three.  Then, the team's graphics and marketing consultants created several logos for each name.  Next, children at area schools were asked which name and logo they liked best.  The winner was approved by the team's board of directors.  Wollner wouldn't name the other choices.

"We realize there are some risks involved in losing the local identity," Wollner said.  "But we think the tradeoff is in our best interests in the long run."

The team was also planning for the long run when it signed another player development contract with the Mariners.  The original two-year contract between the teams expired with the end of this season.

The new deal is for two years, with Seattle getting an option for two more years if it plays an exhibition game here in 1996.  The team also talked to Kansas City and Boston, Wollner said.

"Seattle was the most aggressive in wanting to stay here," he said.

The Mariners desire to come back stemmed largely from the new stadium, according to player development director Jim Beattie.

It's seeing the commitment of Appleton to baseball and knowing they're going all out to do this type of thing," he said.  "And it makes it more fun for the players."

Timberrr! Here come the Rattlers by Chuck Carlson

The Appleton Professional Baseball Club Inc. has seen the future and it is distinctly cold-blooded.

Say hello to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

No, make that the Wisssssssconsin Timber Rattlers.

Yikes, just saying it makes you want to wear high-topped boots and carry around some antivenin.

No more friendly, cuddly Appleton Foxes for these folks.  No sir.

From now on, cute mascots with dopey names like Freddie the Fox are history.  From now on, it'll be Vic the Viper or Frankie Fangface or something like that.

They'll give the new stadium some endearing moniker like the Snake Pit and they'll probably give away free snakeskin wallets to the first 5,000 people who come through the gates next season.

The possibilities, it seems, are endless.

But this much is certain, the Foxes, a part of Appleton baseball history since 1958, are dead, buried under an avalanche of reality, progress and the prospects of merchandising dollars.

And now that a new stadium is being built, it's time to build a new image, a new following and some new numbers in the old bank account.

All of that starts now, whether you're ready or not.

"We fully expect people will have a hard time swallowing this," said Tim Robertson, a public relations consultant for the Foxes - er - Rattlers.  "But we hope those people will be at the games."

Indeed, this whole change of name, region, colors (to maroon, gold, silver and black) and even species may take a while to catch on in an area where some folks are still fighting automatic teller machines.

But team officials are convinced it's necessary to move the franchise forward.

Team president John Wollner said the changes were made for two reasons: to draw more fans from outside the Fox Valley (hence the name Wisconsin) and to take advantage of the gold mine that is merchandising these days.

"For us, it's been a missed opportunity," said Wollner.  "Last season, we sold $40,000 in merchandise at the stadium.  Kane County (another Midwest League team) sold $400,000.  I was in a sporting goods store around here recently and there were 35 to 40 minor-league baseball caps on the wall.  None of them were the Foxes."

The club is making no secret of the fact that it's aiming its new logo - a snake wrapped around a W - and new image at teenage boys, where the mother lode of merchandising resides.

"We mainly did it for merchandising," Wollner said.  If we'd been successful with the Foxes, I'm not so sure we would've changed."

Of course we're not exactly sure what a Timber Rattler is, only that it is poisonous but apparently slow to anger snake that resides up north somewhere and over by the Mississippi River in southern Wisconsin.

It also makes a cool logo, which is more important than anything.

And while the name Timber Rattlers will have some people scratching their heads for a time, it's really no stranger than a lot of other minor-league nicknames.  In fact, the more off-beat the name, the better the team does in selling itself.

For example, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues released its list of the 25 top minor-league teams in terms of merchandising.

Among the leaders are the Wilmington Blue Rocks, Hickory Crawdads, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, New Haven Ravens and Portland Sea Dogs.

So, after looking at that list, Timber Rattlers doesn't look so bad after all, does it?

But with all the change occurring, it all still comes down to baseball and how well officials are able to get people out to the ballpark.

Because the nicest logo in the world won't make a bit of difference if there's no one in the park to see it.

Check out this post over at Rattler Radio to see some of the logos (and names) that didn't make it.  The Phantoms one is a particular favorite on my 'What if?' list.

The Red Sox?  Really? Could you imagine?  Boston wound up with the Michigan Battle Cats in Battle Creek from 1995 through 1998.  A quick check of the Battle Cats roster for the four seasons they were an affiliate of the Red Sox I see: Carl Pavano, Donnie Sadler, Brian Rose, Joe Depastino, and Michael Coleman in 1995.  Rafael Betancourt, Jim Chamblee, Cole Liniak, Paxton Crawford, and Juan Pena in 1996, John Barnes, Shea Hillenbrand Rontrez Johnson, Steve Lomansney, Dernell Stenson, Wilton Veras, Justin Duchscherer, Matt Kinney, Chris Reitsma in 1997.  Marty McLeary (with a few repeaters from '97) were Battle Cats in 1998.  All those guys could have been Timber Rattlers.

On the other side, the Royals spent one season as the parent club of the Springfield (IL) Sultans.  When that franchise moved to Lansing, the Royals stayed the parent club through the 1998 season.  The Sultans had Billy Brewer, Lance Carter, Jed Hansen, Alex Prieto, and Matt Treanor.  The Lugnuts had Carlos Beltran, Carlos Febles, Mark Quinn, Kevin Hodges, Jose Santiago, and Jeff Wallace in 1996; Brandon Berger, Jeremy Giambi, Kit Pellow, Chad Durbin, Orber Moreno, Scott Mullen, and Jason Simontacchi in 1997; and Juan Brito, Joe Dillon, Jeremy Hill, Jeremy Affeldt, Kiko Calero, Lance Carter, Dan Reichert, Corey Thurman, and Kris Wilson in 1998.  Plus, there was a special guest appearance by Kevin Appier on a rehab assignment in 1998.

Oh, and in case you are wondering:  Michigan made the playoffs three times in four years with the Red Sox, including a loss in the MWL Championship series to Beloit in 1995.  Springfield did not make the playoffs in 1995.  Lansing made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997 with a championship in 1997 as an affiliate of the Royals.

Past Flashbacks:

October 8: In fair territory (1994)

October 15: Fans flock to see Foxes (1987)

October 22: New Park (1995)