The State Of The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp

Success is a tradition long since born in the Jacksonville baseball franchise. From 2003 until 2009, the organization, then owned by Peter Bragan, Jr. and his father, facilitated a successful park rebuild and led the Southern League in attendance for six straight seasons. No matter the age of the park they were playing in, the Bragans never had a problem creating a winning culture within their organization. In their 30-year tenure owning the team, the family brought six league titles to Duval County.

So, when one Ken Babby surprisingly supplanted the Bragans in 2015, he had some big shoes to fill. The first move by the 30-something year old was one just as bold as the words Bold City which are now befittingly emblazoned upon the team’s third jersey: rebrand the team, turning the long-tenured Suns into the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Across baseball and most professional sports, it is very common for a new team owner to go through the rebranding process as a first step towards recreating the organization in his/her own image. But according to Babby, his decision to make the Suns the Shrimp revolves around unselfish reasons, the most paramount being bringing a sense of pride back to a great and loyal MiLB market. It was about giving the team back to the fans.

“Each market and each community probably requires a more dedicated investigation to understanding the why. In our case, we felt like there was a historic love and real appreciation for great Minor League baseball in northeast Florida and had been for quite some time but that the experience of going to the ballpark, the experience of wearing your cap or your shirt out in the community had declined,” Babby said. “When we talked to people and asked them when was the last time they went to a Jacksonville Suns game, in lost cases the answer was 10 or 15 years ago. So what we did as part of this rebrand was as much as thinking about the identity and the experience of the ballpark as much as it was about team names or colors.”

So why the name Jumbo Shrimp? Babby expanded on that, citing how he, a board member at Jacksonville University and regular visitor of the area, views the region: a big community with a small-town feel and deep military roots.

“It’s actually the largest community in the US in terms of land mass, but a town in which everyone seems to know each other. So with ‘Jumbo Shrimp’, we honor that big/little mentality,” Babby said. “We are on the water both on the St. John’s River and along the ocean. Finally, we have a huge military presence with three active bases within driving distance of the ballpark so that was a good opportunity for us to really weave that light blue into our colors and play off that grittiness that the Shrimp stand for.”

While the rebrand was still in its infantile stages Babby is on record stating that he expected some resistance and backlash in response to the audacious changes to such a classical baseball market. The news of the rebrand hit the region so hard, it trumped then-President elect Donald Trump and then-president Obama both being in town at the same time in the battleground swing-state. Babby and Co. even advantageously placed children front and center during the unveiling, a tactic that the rebranding team half-heartedly referred to as “self-preservation”.

As it turns out, the only safeguarding that would be necessary in Jacksonville was that of the team’s fans’ wallets. Not only did the market accept the rebrand, they absolutely loved it.

“They took their time to really go in depth and figure out Jacksonville before the rebranding. They really wanted to incorporate the colors red, white, blue for our military town. I believe the rebranding caught the eye of many and a lot of people were inquisitive of what’s going on and what it would bring to Jacksonville,” longtime Duval County resident and Shrimp hype woman Jordan Price said. “Word-of-mouth also helped out the rebranding because people talked about how much fun they were having with promotions, giveaway nights etc. As the Jumbo Shrimp, we pride ourselves on affordable family fun and just the name in itself already brings a fun atmosphere to the ballpark.”

In addition to Jacksonville’s new logos and colors, the team has also added some attractions to Bragan Field friendly to fans of all ages. These sights include a boozy tiki bar beyond the left field wall that offers local craft brews and cocktails, a kids fun zone featuring batting cages and bounce houses beyond the center field wall and some of the best and most popular giveaways Minor League Baseball has to offer.

While Babby and Co. have focused on bringing the franchise into the 21st century, they have also made it a point not to forget the game’s roots and the bonding experiences enjoyed by the families of the region and those visiting the First Coast.

“In Jacksonville, we recognized early on that change is difficult and sports teams are very much part of people’s lives; their brands live in our homes whether it be shirts or hats but more importantly in memories,” Babby said. “You remember where you took your kids for their birthday parties or where a grandfather might take his grandson on a Sunday afternoon. Those memories are cherished and are really important.”

According to Babby, his vision in rebranding wasn’t to simply re-color his team but to recreate the fan encounter with the ballpark.

“The cost of creating a new brand and the cost of developing and trademarking all of those merchandise items really does not make it worthwhile to change it even if you’re gonna sell an incredibly high volume,” Babby said. “The real value of why teams rebrand, change identities and change colors really is to change an identity, change an experience and to redefine what I means to come to a game.”

Relative to Miami, their rebrand and their stadium improvements many of which have been requested by fans, in this young Marlins regime, Babby sees a lot of what he saw in himself as the new owner of the Shrimp two seasons ago: more community involvement and a much more fan-friendly ballpark experience with on-field success very much on the horizon.

“It’s an exciting time to be a Marlins fan. I am personally really excited for what they are doing from a player development standpoint; we have a front row seat to that. I think it’s a time to be excited about what this brand means and I think he new colors speak to the heritage of Miami and speaking to the vibrancy of the community “ Babby said. “I’m excited to see how it performs and I can pretty much guarantee that that logo and that brand is gonna catch on quickly in town.”

From a business standpoint on the Jacksonville front, the Marlins’ player development agreement with the Shrimp will be up for renewal this coming offseason. With the recent success of the Jacksonville franchise, there has been talk of the team deservedly moving up the minor league ladder to the AAA level. However, Babby has no such immediate plans.

“We are a really proud affiliate of the Marlins and we are proud to be their AA affiliate and really proud to be in the Southern League. We are the owners of not one but two AA franchises. We are huge champions of AA baseball and huge champions of this level of baseball. I can tell you with great certainty that we don’t have any plans to change that at time. I think time is on our side and there is going to be great success from the Marlins at this level and at the Major League level for years to come. And we are so glad to be a part of that.”

And we are glad to have you, Mr. Babby.

As it has been for quite some time, the state of the Jacksonville baseball franchise as well as their relationship with the Marlins which stands to continue, are both very strong.

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