Click the play button above to hear Jason Smorol, general manager of the Syracuse Mets, Rick Burton, a professor at Syracuse University and Brad Horn, former vice president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, discuss the Syracuse Mets’ offseason re-brand.
Audio transcript: Syracuse Mets Longform Wrap Script
By PJ Clark SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — It’s time to “Meet the Mets” in Syracuse, New York.
Professional baseball has been a consistent part of the Syracuse community since 1961. Since then, the team has always had some form of “Chiefs” in its name, until now.
After their October 2017 purchase of the Triple-A club, the New York Mets have ushered in a new era of baseball in central New York. In a press conference held at NBT Bank Stadium on October 16, team officials announced the team would now be called the Mets, just like the Major League Baseball organization. Jason Smorol, general manager of the Syracuse Mets, said he sees the new name as another chapter in Syracuse’s baseball lore.
“For me, it’s just part of the ongoing history of professional baseball in Syracuse, which dates back to 1876,” Smorol said. “The most important thing is that there’s a team here, and there’s professional Triple-A baseball in Syracuse, and the new name is the Mets. We’re never going to forget our past, and we have a chance to build new memories with a new team.”
The new name came as a surprise to some, such as Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University. He was disappointed in the organization’s lack of creativity.
“I’m not very familiar with other minor league teams, even with longstanding affiliations, using the parent-team name, I guess the Pawtucket Red Sox would be one,” said Burton. “Where Minor League Baseball has been really good over the last 15 years is putting really unusual or really regionally relevant names on these minor league teams, and I think it allows the community to feel like it’s their team. So, the Syracuse Chiefs were the Syracuse baseball team for the last something like 75 years.”
Now that the Syracuse team has a long-term partnership with a Major League Baseball team, the team has a chance to leave a lasting mark on the community. Brad Horn, former vice president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and current public relations professor at Syracuse University, sees the team’s re-brand as a real opportunity for growth.
“I think it’s a real opportunity for Syracuse to adopt a cultural mindset within the confines of the ballpark, and then go outside of the ballpark in Cicero, and North Syracuse, and Baldwinsville, and Fayetteville, with branded team efforts to connect with little league teams, with key baseball coaches, with communities, so that the Mets become a brand extension of the New York City club,” Horn said. “I have to think at some level, that’s what ownership and the Wilpon family is thinking with this partnership, is that’s how they would like to see this build toward the next level.”
Inside the ballpark, the Syracuse Mets are seemingly already doing well. Smorol said interest in this upcoming season is unlike any he had seen before.
“There is excitement about the New York Mets being in Syracuse,” he said. “We always do better each and every year, but this year for example on our Black Friday through Cyber Monday sale, we sold double the amount of flex plans than we normally sell, we sold double the amount of merchandise we normally sell.”
“We get a call a day for someone who wants to buy season tickets because they’re New York Mets fans,” Smorol added.
The increase in excitement may be partially due to one specific player. Brodie Van Wagenen, general manager of the New York Mets, has announced Tim Tebow, the former University of Florida football star and Heisman Trophy winner, will continue his journey to baseball stardom in Syracuse this spring. Smorol said the team already has Tebow-themed promotions in the works.
“Yes, there will be Tim Tebow merchandise, and yes, there will be a Tim Tebow bobblehead day,” Smorol said. “Hopefully, Tim Tebow keeps progressing, and Tim Tebow makes it to the New York Mets, and Tim Tebow gets up at his first at-bat at Citi Field and hits a home run, and the families and kids will say ‘remember when we saw Tim Tebow play in Syracuse?,’ and the legend will go on and on from there.”
Tebow is certain to draw crowds throughout the International League, the Triple-A league Syracuse plays in, but especially in a college town such as Syracuse. Burton believes fans will flock to the ballpark to see Tebow for a variety of reasons.
“There will be people who love Tebow for his religious beliefs, there will be people who love Tebow because he’s a celebrity, and there will also be people who want to see him fail,” Burton said. “The combination is, you’ll have a lot of people who will be interested in him, and it’s not like he’ll be here for a week on rehab, it’s like he theoretically will play four or five months.”
While an athlete of Tebow’s stature is sure to help any team he plays for, Horn believes the Syracuse Mets should be careful when planning marketing campaigns centering on the former football star.
“I think you’ve got to stick with the gameday experience, that’s the heart and soul of Minor League Baseball, and Minor League in particular is about constant movement,” said Horn. “He may go 0-for-30 in his first two weeks here and get sent to Double-A and then you’ve spent a whole year and whole plan on his campaign. He could have a horrific Spring Training, he’s not a guaranteed contract player, anything, in fact, could happen.”
While Tebow isn’t a top baseball prospect, Horn did acknowledge the benefits he’ll likely bring to the Syracuse franchise.
“He’s going to be a great benefit with media, with local media,” he said. “Local media provides such an important role of support for a sports franchise. The issue of proximity, and this gathering of wanting to be a part of a community spirit is really determinate upon how a team is covered through local radio, local TV, local newspaper.”
“So, in this case, I think Tebow will be a great asset to put forward, as long as he’s doing well and the team is doing well,” Horn added.
While professional baseball in Syracuse has a storied past, the new name signifies a change in direction for the team. Horn hopes the Syracuse Mets are able to show their fans what has changed during this upcoming season.
“Make a sudden and decisive shift in your fan experience, so that people who come to the ballpark know that this is different,” he said. “I think given this type of, I would say, tectonic shift in approach, given that we’re no longer just the Nationals’ affiliate, we’re no longer the Chiefs, we’re no longer waiting for another team to come along, and we have our key franchise we want to build with, make that different.”
In the end, no matter what the team is called, Smorol said his goal is unchanged.
“We want to be the number one attended sporting event in town, and we’re going to do that by putting out a good product and caring about our fans, and getting the word out, and marketing,” Smorol said. “Tim Tebow is going to help with that, we’ll get a nice bump this year with having the Mets, and as the stadium improvements continue, we’ll get a bump with that.”
“It’s a good time to be a baseball fan in Syracuse,” he added.
The Syracuse Mets will begin their inaugural season at home on April 4, 2019.