The Boise Hawks will celebrate their 20th anniversary season this year, a remarkably stable run in the volatile world of minor league baseball. Next year, however, the franchise might be unveiling a completely new look.
The franchise is exploring changing its name, logo and color scheme, Hawks president and general manager Todd Rahr said. The franchise does not own the rights to the name "Hawks" — the NBA's Atlanta Hawks do — which creates numerous obstacles in marketing the team.
"If we're making a T-shirt, we cannot have a T-shirt that we sell in stores say 'Hawks.' It must say 'Boise Hawks,' " Rahr said. "Is it earth shattering? Absolutely not. But we don't own our name."
The franchise has been known as the Hawks since 1987, when minor league baseball returned to Boise after a nine-year hiatus. Several different franchises have settled in the city, beginning in 1939 when the team was known as the Pilots. Professional baseball teams in Boise have also been known as the Buckskins, Braves and A's.
Now Rahr, who has not ruled out keeping the Hawks moniker, is looking for something that truly identifies with the community. The team has sent surveys to fans to gauge interest in a name change.
"We want to get a name that creates nationally a way to think of Boise. My best illustration is (Boise State's) blue field," Rahr said. "I wouldn't mind a guy someday in Long Island, N.Y., who sees a hat with the Boise Whatevers and says, 'I've heard of them.' "
Changing nicknames and logos often generates a substantial increase in merchandise sales. The Hawks have hired Plan B Branding, a San Diego company that specializes in designing logos for minor league baseball franchises, to help in the process. Jason Klein, a partner in Plan B Branding, said 14 of the 15 teams the company has designed new logos for set franchise merchandising records.
The company seeks to create a name and design that fits with the city's history and its sensibilities.
"Does it tell the story of that community? Not just is it marketable or clever, but does it tell the story and does it represent the heart and soul of the city. That's how we base our operation," Klein said, adding that merchandise sales and fan loyalty are by-products of that formula.
It could be difficult, given the Treasure Valley's changing dynamics and population. That won't stop the Hawks, a Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, from trying.
Spurred by the financial windfall that can accompany a change — and regular ownership turnover — minor league baseball organizations have frequently changed their names. Despite tougher rules about name changes instituted in the last decade because of the near-constant parade of new names, "five or six teams a year" change names, said Will Lingo, the editor of Baseball America magazine.
The magazine has rated the minors' best and worst logos in the past. The worst logos, Lingo said, "tend to look a little too cartoonish or too amateurish or both."
"If it's something that sounds good, ties people to your city and looks good on a baseball cap, if you can do those things, you're looking pretty good," Lingo said.
If they opt for a change, the Hawks have until Sept. 1 to submit their proposal to Major League Baseball Properties, the licensing agent for Minor League Baseball, for the 2007 season.
Klein said he would be in Boise in May to meet with fans and get a feel for the city's heritage and history. He said it typically takes two or three months to craft a complete concept, which involves more than just one logo. For example, Plan B created six different logos — to adorn batting helmets, sleeves and caps — for the Clearwater (Fla.) Threshers, a Philadelphia Phillies Class A affiliate, and helped the franchise develop a comprehensive marketing plan. A thresher is a type of shark.
According to Plan B, the Threshers doubled their attendance, sold stadium naming rights for nearly $2 million and sold more than $100,000 worth of merchandise before Opening Day.
"Clearwater is one of our greatest success stories," Klein said.
The Hawks are hoping for a similar transformation. Rahr said their current logo — a very traditional looking one, which features a blue "B" on a baseball — does not convey a fun, entertaining atmosphere.
Fans and their suggestions will play a large role in determining the outcome, Rahr said.
"The sky is the limit. The canvas is blank," he said. "We're trying to get as many things to come in here and have as open of a mind as possible."
Even as the Hawks honor their 20-year history — Rahr said the team will retire former manager Tom Kotchman's number this season and rename the concession stands after former Hawks who have made it to the majors — they are trying to secure their future in an ever-more — crowded local sports landscape.
"Minor league sports, major league sports, the fun part of our jobs is dealing with stuff like this," Rahr said. "The idea, even if it's just a new logo, it refreshes everybody in the office, everybody in the market. It's new. You repackage yourself with this new packaging. We want to make it exciting. We want something that conveys who we are: fun entertainment."