A grandmother's airborne flip flop translated into a big marketing success story for the San Antonio Missions in their final season in Double-A baseball.
When the Missions changed their name for some games to the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio this past season as part of a fan engagement initiative, they paid tribute to the Latina matriarch – the abuelita – and her strength. The name is a play on a spontaneous form of disciplining a child when a frustrated adult throws a chancla (flip flop) at a misbehaving youngster.
“It was certainly a game-changer for us this year,” Missions President Burl Yarbrough said. “It exceeded beyond our wildest imaginations with how successful it turned out. It certainly had more impact on us than anything we’ve ever done. There is absolutely no doubt about that.”
The Missions' success with the Flying Chanclas has inspired a similar effort from a fellow San Antonio minor league team. The San Antonio Rampage hockey team, which plays in the American Hockey League, announced plans for a one-night name change to Los Chimuelos de San Antonio in honor of the club’s first-ever Día de los Muertos game on Oct. 26.
A chimuelo is a man who is missing teeth. It's apt tie-in to hockey, a sport where the players have been known to lose teeth during games and during fistfights.
"We definitely have admired and have been really impressed with what the Missions executed last year," said Ryan Snider, senior director of franchise business operations for Spurs Sports and Entertainment. "... What the Missions executed was genius. If we can achieve a fraction of what they have achieved, we'll consider that a success on our end."
Snider said it's much too soon to gauge how the Chimuelos promotion will be received. He did say ticket sales for the Oct. 26 game are well ahead of pace from what a normal game would sell in late October.
The Missions' name change came as part of Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión, or “Fun Cup,” a Hispanic/Latino fan engagement effort. Each of the 33 participating teams in various divisions and leagues around the nation rebranded themselves for multiple games during the 2018 season.
Next season, the team is moving to the Pacific Coast League and playing at the Triple-A level, a first for San Antonio, but the Flying Chanclas will be back.
Yarbrough said the team is likely to keep occasionally using the Flying Chanclas nickname even beyond 2019. And why not? Merchandise sales exploded.
The franchise’s final merchandising revenue numbers are not in, but Yarbrough said he believes they grew by 350 percent this year. Maybe more.
Team officials first agreed to participate in Copa de la Diversion toward the end of the 2017 season. Yarbrough and his staff spent about a week brainstorming ideas last fall before General Manager Dave Gasaway first proposed the Flying Chanclas concept.
After some debate, Yarbrough approved, but there was some uncertainty over how it would be greeted by the community. Judy Razo, president-elect of the San Antonio chapter of the American Marketing Association, said team officials were right to have some concerns.
“It worked in San Antonio because this city is a beautiful cultural mix of Mexican and Texan culture,” Razo said. “A flying chancla is a shared experience among most of the dominant Latino population. It took on national attention because it succinctly demonstrated the uniqueness of the culture here in San Antonio that can't be replicated anywhere else in the world.”
The franchise played it safe initially, opening the season with just 350 Flying Chanclas caps for sale. As of mid-September, when the team’s season ended with a loss to the Tulsa Drillers in the Texas League Championship Series, the team had sold more than 10,000 of those caps along with T-shirts and other gear.
In the minor leagues when rains come to a stadium, it’s not uncommon to see a team president, general manager, and public relations staffers out on the field helping the grounds crew with the tarp. Yarbrough said meeting demand for Flying Chanclas merchandise was a similar all-hands-on-deck endeavor for the Missions this season.
“There was part of this year where we were a mail-order company,” Yarbrough said. “We announced this in March and there was such an overwhelming response it was the end of June before we could even get caught up on everything.”
Yarbrough said the team received attention for the Flying Chanclas name from media outlets all over the country. Sports Illustrated named the Flying Chanclas the top name of the 33 teams participating in Copa de la Diversión this season. The Flying Chanclas competed with the Albuquerque Isotopes rebranding to Mariachis de Nuevo México for the most successful campaign this season.
Minor League Baseball (MiLB) estimates that sales for all Copa de la Diversión merchandise were 500 percent better than pre-campaign estimates. It also reports that attendance at games in which Copa team names were used went up 12.6 percent over similar game dates the previous season. Final Copa results will be announced at the Baseball Winter Meetings in December. The initiative is expanding to 72 teams next season.
“The initial Copa de la Diversión results and overwhelmingly positive feedback suggest that our fans are embracing the passion and commitment our teams have poured into this transformative campaign,” Kurt Hunzeker, MiLB’s vice president of marketing strategy and research said in a press release.
Yarbrough said the Missions have filled more than 6,000 online orders for merchandise to date. He said in a typical year, the Missions do 300-400 online orders.
Professional sports franchises temporarily rebranding to take a name in Spanish is not a new idea; San Antonio NBA fans are familiar with "Los Spurs.”
“The brands found that it was a very easy and fun way to reach the Latino audience by taking on a version of their name that the Latino community was already using anyway,” Razo said. “In the case of the Missions, translating their name or adding 'Las' would not have done the clever lifting that worked for the Spurs because Missions is very similar in spelling and pronunciation in both languages. Flying Chanclas on the other hand, they hit an emotional and familiar chord.”