The 2014 season was a big year for the Double-A Akron team.
After owner Ken Babby decided it was time to change the team name from the Akron Aeros to the Akron RubberDucks, it was time for this team to start bringing back their fans and show Akron why they are important to this city. In order to do that, the RubberDucks front office had to get creative in ways to attract fans and fill the seats at Canal Park. At the end of their inaugural year of the name change, the RubberDucks seemed to have achieved that goal. In recognition of their success, the Akron RubberDucks were nominated for the Larry MacPhail award for exemplifying creative promotions and marketing throughout the season.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by your league,” Adam Liberman, Director of Public and Media Relations, said. “It’s a sign that we’re doing things right with the new ownership and that we’re heading in the right direction. Others are noticing. That’s rewarding for recognizing and seeing it.”
Before Ken took over the team, this minor league club was beginning to die off as their attendance was only pulling about 240 thousand fans compared to the half a million fans that they were able to pull in the past. Since Ken has taken over, the attendance has increased by 27%.
“You can fix the stadium, clean it up, and help the fan experience, and do the best you can. At a certain point, to get to where Ken saw the potential of this team, the potential of this city, the potential of this stadium, it needed a new energy and new boost to it,” Liberman said.
Hence the reason why this team needed a face lift. The RubberDucks name reaches back to the roots of the city for being the kinds of the rubber and tire industry. While people originally thought the name was goofy, it eventually grew on to the fans after seeing the logo and modern uniforms that followed with the name.
“Once people who weren’t from here saw the logo, and didn’t know about the whole rubber thing, were a little more okay with it,” Liberman said.
When it comes to minor league baseball, teams try to get really creative with their promotions and giveaways to try and pull people into the games. The RubberDucks went above and beyond trying to accomplish the same goals. Every team has their bobblehead nights, or their t-shirt giveaways, but the RubberDucks had all those types of promotions, and more. Some of the biggest promotions of the summer didn’t include things you got to take home, but what you got to experience at the park.
“Some nights were more themed nights, the Saturday Night Live type themes, bark in the park nights, and all the fun in game promotions, along with celebrity Saturdays. Fireworks were every Friday during the season, and then Saturdays as well starting in June,” Liberman said.
Along with these themed promotions, they also included a tub survivor game, which had contestants sit in a tub of water to see who could last the longest. This actually ended up lasting a couple of days before someone finally won. Also, there was a big splash day where the entire park turned into a giant water park, where kids could bring squirt guns and run around in their bathing suits. Don’t worry though, there were “dry sections” in case someone didn’t want to get wet during the game. Other themed promotions included Midget Wrestling night, sleepovers in the park, and appearances by various celebrities including Mountain Man from A&E’s Duck Dynasty.
The biggest promotions of the summer though included the Rock’n bobble nights. These bobbleheads focused on rock legends that had roots to Ohio. These included bobbleheads of Devo and Akron hometown favorites the Black Keys. One bobblehead that almost any Indians fan would love was the Jake Taylor bobbleknees, which stems from the movie “Major League.”
Liberman credits the entire front office staff to the success that was seen in Akron this year, but Babby’s interest in the team may be the biggest reason why this team has put itself back on the map.
“That’s why he lives in town, and does all these community things. He wants to show people both with his time and his pocket that he’s invested in Akron,” Liberman said.
Not only has this team become a great place to watch a baseball game, but it’s because they’ve become an integrated part of the city once again. As Akron starts to renovate itself, Canal Park sits right in core of downtown Akron.
“I think in some ways, our responsibility to be the tenant to a park like this that’s so important to Akron and downtown, and Main Street, and the rebuilding of this area. It’s almost our responsibility to the mayor to make this place look great,” Liberman said. “To host events, to make a centralized place in Akron. It’s good for the whole city when you have a walking downtown area. I think that’s part of it to look at it as your civic duty as the pro team in town, the kind of big stadium on main street to do as many things as you can to help the community and to be there. Whether it’s be the end of the marathon, when it’s taking part in some of the parade, whether it’s the community stuff at the stadium, or doing community nights for various communities. It’s a centralized place for people to gather.”
The RubberDucks were working to live up to their motto, “Affordable Family Fun.” By creating an atmosphere where having fun for the whole family triumphs what actually is happening at the baseball game itself, this has put a new face on the baseball team in downtown Akron. The Eastern League has recognized this, along with the many teams that had passed through Canal Park in 2014. Next season will be a new challenge for the brain trust in the RubberDucks front office, but if 2015 is anything like 2014, then we’re going to be in for a real treat next season.
The winner of the Larry MacPhail award is to be announced during the winter meetings this week.
Photo: Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal