Even For A Challenger Brand, This Is Bananas

October 24, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

In the world of challenger brands, I’m not sure I can think of any bigger underdogs than Minor League Baseball teams. With few exceptions, before any professional baseball player gets the opportunity to play in the bigs in a billion-dollar cathedral for teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, and Cardinals, they have to first do their time on teams like the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Hartford Yard Goats, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, and the Amarillo Sod Poodles. All for the love of the game and the chance to prove themselves. It sure ain’t for the money.

Last year, after two years of lobbying Congress to exempt minor league ballplayers from federal minimum wage laws, Major League Baseball (MLB) opted to give those players a wage increase between 38 percent and 72 percent. Sounds like a lot. But not when you play in the minors.

With the increase, players at rookie and short-season levels saw their minimum WEEKLY pay raised from $290 to $400. Players at Class A went from $290 to $500. Double-A jumped from $350 to $600, and Triple-A swelled from $502 to a whopping $700. To put that in perspective, last November, shortstop Corey Seager signed a contract with the Texas Rangers that will pay him $325 million over the next 10 years. If he played in every game (which he won’t), that’s $22,291 PER INNING. That’s nearly twice what a AAA player will make for an entire season. But outrageous pro contracts are another blog for another day.

This one is about how minor league teams stand out as challenger brands when every odd is stacked against them.

The draw of the underdog.

One of the big reasons Minor League Baseball teams work at all is that people love the underdog. Sure, in most of their small-town locations they’re the biggest live sports option around. But people don’t have to come. And yet, they do. For the same reason millions of rabid college football fans completely eschew the NFL on Sundays. Minor League Baseball fans love cheering on the kids playing baseball because they love it.

For them, it’s about the game, not the money. It’s also incredibly entertaining. Like other successful challenger brands, minor league teams know exactly who they are for, and who they are not for. Minor League Baseball is not about corporate suites and the in-crowd. It’s about fans. It’s for families. Food is affordable. Parking is cheap. And there are always crazy, innovative, enticing promotions to bring you back to the ballpark. It’s a challenger brand mindset. Whether you’re in Wappingers Falls, El Paso, Durham, Asheville, or Greensboro, minor league teams put on some of the “greatest shows on dirt.”

And then, there are the Savannah Bananas.

The bright yellow challenger brand.

If any sports team has been a viral hit this summer, it’s the Savannah Bananas. On TikTok (3.1 million followers). On CBS Sunday Morning and YouTube. The Bananas are everywhere. And rightfully so. Part minor league (wooden bat Coastal Plain League), part Exhibition Baseball (there are two Savannah Bananas teams), the Savannah Bananas are the most entertaining team in baseball at any level. Think the Harlem Globetrotters on a baseball diamond and you understand what the Bananas are all about. They are the ultimate challenger brand and here’s why:

They’re all about disruption.

Batters on stilts. Group dances by the infielders before key pitches. Umpires as likely to dance as call balls and strikes. The Bananas, and specifically owner Jesse Cole, looked at the status quo – competitive, by-the-book baseball — and completely turned it on its head. No wonder that out of 160 minor league teams, Savannah’s attendance ranked second.

Challenger brands sacrifice and overcommit.

Challenger brands can’t afford to be big everywhere. So, they sacrifice one place, so they can overcommit and be big somewhere else. The Bananas sacrificed the decorum and status quo of traditional baseball to overcommit to fun. That move looks like genius now. But to the dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists who go to baseball games and still fill out the box score, it could have been seen as silly. Or worse, disrespectful.

A challenger brand like Savannah understands that risk. But they weigh the reward and take it anyway.

They lean into their lighthouse identity.

The Savannah Bananas are all about fun. Watch a video and you can’t help but smile. I can only imagine what it must be like to attend a game in person. Does fun pay? In 2020, despite the challenge of COVID, the Bananas were minor league baseball’s most profitable team. Savannah knows who they are and it’s a truth that’s at the core of EVERYTHING they do from on-field entertainment to concessions.

Challenger brands are on a mission.

Who wouldn’t want to get behind a challenger brand committed to something bigger than themselves? In a sport plagued by PEDs, slow play, union squabbles and the like, the Bananas have committed themselves to sharing a faster, more interactive, entertaining brand of the national pastime. For the Bananas and owner Cole, that now means taking Banana Ball on the road. Starting next year, the Savannah Bananas and their regular opponent The Party Animals (the Washington Generals to the Bananas’ Harlem Globetrotters) will be touring 20-plus cities from February to September. Their regular attendance at Grayson Stadium in Savannah was 4,256 fans. According to the team, there’s a waiting list of 80,000 to request tickets.

Who’s having fun now?

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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