The Cottonballs, the Softies, the Pinkies… all good baseball team names if you are a group of five-year-olds starting your first year of T-Ball. But let’s face it; baseball is in essence a pastime specifically created for entertainment purposes. In order to entertain and remain relevant to fans in this day and age, a “hard-hitting” and unique marketing approach is absolutely necessary, especially at the lower levels of ball, notoriously under-attended by fans. A “hard-hitting” marketing approach almost always requires some kind of in-your-face message.
For a hundred years and more, baseball teams from the minors to the majors have been carefully named and branded in order to strike fear in the hearts of opposing teams and fans. It’s been done, it’s nothing new and the practice is not going anywhere anytime soon. With that being said, the current controversy over the new Frontier League baseball team in London Ontario, “The London Rippers” is just another example of a clever, albeit not the most tasteful attempt at instilling terror.
The team, unabashedly named for the Victorian era serial murderer who stalked the streets of Whitechapel, England in 1888 will start a new season in 2012 without the support of the City and certain local women’s groups including the London Abused Women’s Shelter. Executive Director Megan Walker describes the team name as “appalling” and calls the brand “a major fail”. I would bet my allowance that Megan Walker has probably never attended a Frontier League game in her life and also knows next to nothing about the actual historical relevance of the complaint.
Most historians believe the name “Jack the Ripper” originated in a letter written by someone claiming to be the murderer. This letter, published by the press in 1888 is widely held to have been written by a journalist looking to sensationalize the story and sell newspapers. If this is true the “brand” of Ripper has already been around some 130 plus years already…someone made it up, it’s fictional (not the murders, the character). If this is true then the owners of the London Rippers have done nothing but take that character and remold it into something useable for baseball and to equate the “character” of Ripper to the plight of abused women is ridiculous.
Megan Walker and the City of London need to worry about the more important jobs that they already have instead of trumpeting some “politically-correct” agenda to a public that doesn’t really care. In a London Free Press poll today, 49% of those asked said the Rippers should change nothing about their team name and logo. I tend to agree, and being a woman I can tell you I have absolutely zero problem with this name and I believe the branding goes in the right direction. The logo is smart and straightforward and really says “baseball” to me.
If the City of London and a few small groups of protesters have concerns about the possible connection between the new name of “The London Rippers”, to the possibly fictional character of Jack the Ripper, they should take a look at the hundreds of “politically-incorrect” team names already in existence, even some in their own backyard. For instance, it’s a well known fact that lightning kills people, so I think this year, people should go ahead and skip London Lightning basketball games, and for that matter some people don’t believe in war, so maybe we shouldn’t be attending any London Majors games either.
London, Ontario isn’t the only place to find murderous nicknames; many teams are named after notorious killers. The Carolina Hurricanes are named for a deadly force of nature responsible for the deaths of 92 people in state they play in since the team’s inception in the fall of 1997, including 7 this year alone with Hurricane Irene. In Colorado, avalanches have killed 11 people this year but hey, that’s hockey right? Do we hold hockey team names to a different standard (including the Calgary Flames who were originally named after a deadly, destructive fire in Atlanta before relocating to Calgary and the San Jose Sharks, named for the giant carnivorous eating-machine). Hockey is a manly, aggressive sport so deadly sounding team-names are appropriate.
You might say “Hey, those are natural phenomenon causing deaths”, which is true but no less terrifyingly real. Major League Baseball itself is home to a host of “politically incorrect” names including and especially the Cleveland Indians. The Pittsburgh Pirates, whose name represents a murdering vicious group of looters and vagabonds, was actually nicknamed “the Pirates” because of their trade rule-bending. Just because they’re called Pirates doesn’t mean the team ownership and fans are celebrating the negative undertones, what it does mean is that the branding works and sends the right message. It created a stir and struck a chord. With that fact alone, the marketing in a success. London Rippers owner David Martin has it right, and his unwillingness to back down is completely justified.
To those opposed to the new name and logo I have this message for you, have a sense of humour and get out and support some local baseball. Use the energy you have been wasting on complaints to have some fun with your family and stop trying to make everything into a “cause”. I sincerely hope this team succeeds and I’ll be the first one to buy a t-shirt. It’s a great logo!