This weekend, I was reading Matt Zimmer’s excellent piece on the fiscal troubles of the Sioux Falls Pheasants baseball team, and how the team is struggling to get fans to the gate. Of course there are a lot of reasons for the downturn: a sluggish economy, not nearly enough corporate sponsorships, high gas prices, you name it…
Yet it seems that one of the biggest reasons people are staying away from the Birdcage? A name change. Seriously!
For those of you who are wondering what’s going on, here’s a recap… the former Sioux Falls Canaries was sold last season to a local ownership group. Previous to that, the Canaries had been pretty much a second-tier team in the Northern League and American Association. The team finished consistently near the bottom of the league standings and went through more managers than George Steinbrenner on a cocaine binge. So the new group decided to clean house… new office staff, new commitment to making a winning program, heck they decided to even change the name of the team and the uniforms!
Last year was one the best in the team’s nearly 20-year old history. The newly-christened Pheasants tore through the American Association like Kanye West at a Taylor Swift concert, falling just short of getting their second American Association championship in three years. Sounds like a pretty good start, right? Only one problem… no one came to the games!
Granted, the new owners didn’t help out their cause early on… firing a popular general manager, refusing to honor a popular Canaries tattoo promotion, and cancelling several other popular promotions didn’t make them any fans. But it seems the owners did make some corrections and made other improvements, including better concessions. But the important thing is they invested IN the team. Because when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, the way you have a successful professional baseball team is to have a quality product on the field that people will come and pay money to see. And it seems like that’s what the owners are now doing.
But a stubborn group of people are saying that isn’t good enough… they want the old name back and they want the new owners run out on a rail. SERIOUSLY?!?!
According to some of these folks, the new group is messing with the “Tradition” of the team. Really? Well, let’s look at that tradition and some of the “highlights”…
1) The original owner was the second coming of Steinbrenner. Only instead of simply hiring a new manager, he pulled a Henry VIII and made himself the boss. And got tossed out of many games because, simply, he was an idiot.
2) The next group of owners owned several other teams in the Northern League, including the St. Paul Saints. Seriously, between a team in a market of over 300,000 compared to a team in a market of just over 150,000, where do you think their emphasis was going to be? Which explains why the Canaries had a bunch of unpaid bills and a lot of ticked off businesses before the current group paid all the bills.
3) The managers and coaches in the past… one manager made his bones by walking over hot coals to motivate his teams… like Lou Holtz’s magic tricks for the 1976 Jets, only… stupider. Oh, and let’s not forget the pitching coach that was banned by Major League Baseball for being suspended for using cocaine…. SEVEN TIMES! Boy those were some banner years, weren’t they?
4) One playoff appearance prior to winning the AA title in 2008.
Boy, some “tradition”, huh?
Of course, some complain that because of the name change, they feel “disrespected”. Well, if you’re going to feel disrespected because some independent minor-league baseball team changes its name, then you’ve got bigger issues than Charlie Sheen. As Matt Zimmer points out, this isn’t the New York Yankees. Now if the Yankees decided to change their name to the New York Silly Ninnies and wear pink and teal for their uniforms, then yeah, I could see people getting torqued off. Because that’s tradition. A minor league baseball team that isn’t even old enough to go into a bar doesn’t have enough years to even be considered to HAVE tradition.
Here’s the gist of it… Sioux Falls is in danger of losing one of its premier drawing points of the summer… besides the heat, humidity and mosquitoes. And I bet you dollars-to-donuts that the same yahoos that are having this temper tantrum about the name change are going to be the first to whine and caterwaul when this team either folds, or the owners are forced to sell to a new group which relocates them to the middle of Iowa.
And if that happens, I PRAY that a potential team owner looks long and hard at the situation going on now before he or she decides to start up a team in this area. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame them for not setting up shop… it’s just not worth the headache.
This article is also cross-posted on the Calling All Sports Message Board.