It’s not unusual for minor league baseball teams to rebrand as they look for new opportunities to market their teams, and they often come up with some unique names: the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Albuquerque Isotopes (a nod to the Springfield Isotopes from “The Simpsons”), the New Orleans Baby Cakes and the Rocket City Trash Pandas, to name a few.
But a good portion of one team’s fan base isn’t at all happy about its planned name change.
The Kannapolis Intimidators — the Chicago White Sox’s Class A affiliate — are named after NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who was born and raised in the North Carolina city. Earnhardt bought a stake of the team in 2000, just a few months before he died, and it got its moniker from his nickname.
But the team announced Wednesday that it plans to change its name for the 2020 season. Kannapolis launched a “Branded by You” campaign where it invited the community to suggest the next team name, logo and mascot. The deadline to make suggestions is Feb. 13.
BREAKING: As we move toward a new ballpark & a new era of baseball in Kannapolis, we are asking for your help to rename our franchise. The new identity will debut after the 2019 season ends.
— Kannapolis Intimidators (@Intimidators) February 6, 2019
The new identity, to debut after the 2019 season ends, is coming in conjunction with new ownership and the opening of a new stadium in Kannapolis.
But dropping the Intimidators name has upset many fans, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I remember how proud Dad was of this,” the recently retired NASCAR star tweeted Thursday. “What a shame it has to end.”
I remember how proud dad was of this. What a shame it has to end. https://t.co/aln2uVgPNt
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 7, 2019
His sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, also commented.
“This is sad. No more Intimidators?” Miller tweeted.
This is sad. No more Intimidators? https://t.co/VyNOzIufNw
— Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) February 6, 2019
Intimidators Assistant General Manager Vince Marcucci told NBC Sports why the team is looking to change its identity.
“We do recognize how much Dale means to this community,” Marcucci said. “Dale’s always going to be the Intimidator. We’re not trying to get away from (it). I don’t think that’s the right way to put it.
“But, like, own our own brand. Because we don’t own the Intimidators. (Earnhardt’s widow) Teresa has the rights to that. So for speed and flexibility as we try to do creative things in the future, we’re going to need something we own ourselves.”
This name is truly the only reason anyone outside of the town knows of this team.
Not sure if this is an elective change or not but if so… bad move.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) February 7, 2019
“I think millions of people are still Earnhardt fans,” Marcucci said. “But that’s his legacy. Not as much ours, you know? It’s just kind of creating a name that embraces the community for who they are now and who they’re going to be and who they’ve been.”
He said the community has changed and isn’t as connected to NASCAR.
“You know it probably as well as I do that so many people are moving to this community from all over the country,” Marcucci said. “It really is a melting pot of our entire country kind of migrating towards the Carolinas. I think we’ve seen over the past couple of years a lot of our fans have kind of been diversified away from NASCAR as well.”
However, he said that if most fan feedback is for a racing-related name, the team likely would go in that direction.
“If 80 percent of submissions are racing, it gives us a pretty good idea of keeping it tied to racing,” Marcucci told NBC Sports. “If only 2 percent of the names that are submitted are racing, maybe we do go away from something like that. We can look into the city’s past and future for a different kind of name.”
If they must change the name, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had some of his own suggestions, including the Ironheads, which is another of his father’s nicknames.
He also suggested Cannons, after Cannon Mills, a textile manufacturer that was based in Kannapolis for more than 100 years.
Thanks for the memories, 2018. And thank you to all our fans for making our year one to remember.
We hope your 2019 is filled with family, friends and lots of baseball! pic.twitter.com/zwoqFAhwgn
— Kannapolis Intimidators (@Intimidators) December 31, 2018
Kannapolis opens its last season as the Intimidators April 4 at home against the Rome Braves.
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