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Name is chosen, but work remains for Hillsboro Hops

The duties of a sports journalist sometimes have you working strange hours. Nights and weekends, when most of the world is out celebrating being out of the office, I often find myself sitting at a computer, writing up the latest bit of news.

Last Monday was no exception. Trying to gather up stories for this week’s issue of the Hillsboro Tribune as well as fulfill some of my other obligations, I did not get into bed until around 4 a.m. Usually I can make up for the awkward sleep schedule by sleeping in a little bit. On Tuesday, though, I was up at 8 a.m., bleary eyed and trying to figure out just how much coffee was too much.

If ever there was a day to slack off on sleep, though, it was Tuesday.

Hillsboro’s new minor league baseball team has been promoting the announcement of its new name for months now.

Tuesday was the day. As I sat in front of my computer, constantly hitting the refresh button on the club’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, I realized that this ball club understands marketing.

Yes, it’s my job to know what is going on in the world of Hillsboro sports. But, the reason I cared so much was that I couldn’t imagine any sports fan in Hillsboro not being interested in what their new team was going to be called.

The former Yakima Bears had me hooked. And I expect they had you hooked too.

As far as marketing goes, you have to hand it to general manager K.L. Wombacher. He knows how to create a buzz. He also knows how to give the members of the community some ownership of the team. The new name was chosen from more than 400 fan submissions.

In the end, finally, I hit the refresh page and found the new team name: the Hillsboro Hops.

As far as team names go, I have to admit that I am a total snob. I love the classics (Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Braves, Phillies, Cubs) and hate the new and nontraditional (Rays, Diamondbacks, Padres, Nationals).

The name of a team becomes the identity of the town. I do not think of New York without thinking of the Yankees. I don’t think of Boston without thinking of the Red Sox. It is a big deal.

Had you told me a week ago that the new team was going to be named the Hops, I might not have liked it. After all, Hillsboro is not especially known for its hops.

But, as I chewed over the new team name, I thought about how the state of Oregon is certainly known for its hops. I thought also about how the ‘H’ at the beginning of Hops and the beginning of Hillsboro has a nice ring to it. I also looked at the logo: I liked the font and loved the image of Mt. Hood and evergreen trees in the background.

It’s fair to point out that you have to take a different criteria when looking at the names of Major League teams and minor league teams. With a big league club, as far as I’m concerned, the more classic, the better. Minor league clubs can get away with being much more kitschy (the Durham Bulls, the Reno Aces).

There are a lot of possibilities with the Hops.

Here is the challenge, though. A team name is only as good as what you do with it.

The Hops have a good start with a nice logo. But, how does that translate onto the front of a baseball cap? While the logo is picturesque, to my taste it’s a little too cluttered for a baseball hat. Maybe I will be proven wrong. Perhaps it will be modified for the hat. We’ll have to see.

How well the logo translates onto apparel is more important than appeasing the general public. There are major economic implications. You want to sell merchandise? You better have something on hats and shirts that people want to wear. You want advertisers? You had better make sure that they want to put their own logo next to yours.

And there’s more than the logo. You have to figure out a mascot. We live in a digital age where people are often bored when the game is not being played. Go to any NBA basketball game and watch the trampoline dunks during timeouts and you will understand what I mean.

There is no sport more demanding of keeping fans entertained than baseball. A good mascot goes a long way toward enhancing the fan experience. The Philly Fanatic is a mascot that has provided countless stories for people to tell after the game.

A club must also provide an aura around their team name. A few years ago, while watching my brother, Joey Mahalic, pitch for the Single A Lake County Captains in Ohio, I was overwhelmed by the aura that the Captains management had created around the team name.

I was especially impressed with how the players ran onto the field at the beginning of each game to the theme song from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I am not exaggerating when I say that the first time I heard the song play as the Captains ran out, it gave me chills.

How will the Hops create that same kind of aura around their ball club? How will they make the Hops a brand that the people of Hillsboro are proud to have in their city?

The season is still months away. But, the Hops have already launched a successful marketing campaign that at the very least had me interested enough to get four hours of sleep on Monday night and spend Tuesday spilling ink about them for this week’s paper.

The Hops’ work is not done, though. They have a good start. They have their name. They have their logo. They have interest.

What they will do with all of that remains to be seen.

Stephen Alexander is the sports editor of the Hillsboro Tribune.




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