When the Class-A Advanced Affiliate of the Minnesota Twins kicks off its minor league baseball season April 9 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, fans won’t just see some new players on the field. The entire team has a new name and look to better reflect its Southwest Florida home base.
In December the team announced its name change from the Fort Myers Miracle to the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. The team dates back to 1926, when it was called the Fort Myers Palms. After it moved to Miami, it went through a variety of names; the team was called the Miami Miracle when it moved back to Fort Myers in 1992.
“We felt that the name needed to be changed up a little bit and made to be Fort Myers-themed, so it wasn’t just the team that moved here from Miami,” says Bob Ohrablo, who oversees operations for the Mighty Mussels as president of Jacksonville-based Zawyer Sports, which owns the team.
Team leadership worked with California-based marketing firm Brandiose, which also talked with Miracle fans, team staff and community members to come up with suggestions for a new name. The Mighty Mussels was the winner both because of its local symbolism (more than 60 species of mussels and clams live in Florida’s freshwaters) and the ability for the team to play around with the words mussels and muscles.
It fits, then, that new mascot Mussel Man looks like a bivalve who’s spent a lot of time at the gym. (Former palm tree mascot Sway remain in play, too, working the crowd.) The new logo incorporates beachy lettering, and the team uses various hues of blue, purple and yellow to reflect the colors of the sand, surf and sky in Southwest Florida.
The initial reaction was admittedly mixed, which Ohrablo says is always the case when you make a change. The team, of course, wants to avoid something like what happened at USF in Tampa in 2018, when the school changed its Bulls logo. Feedback was so rough at USF that less than a year later, the school dropped the new logo.
'I think that it’s going to be something that really appeals especially to kids. Superheroes are big, and we want Mussel Man right alongside there.' Bob Ohrablo, Mighty Mussels
The Mighty Mussels, in a step toward far-reaching acceptance, are getting out into the community, using collateral like a comic book and trading cards to bring fans on board. “I think that it’s going to be something that really appeals especially to kids,” he says. “Superheroes are big, and we want Mussel Man right alongside there.”
Getting kids excited about the team will help Ohrablo, 62, with another big goal: growing attendance. He thinks the affordability of minor league sports compared with major league options, plus the fact that going to a game is a more interactive experience than say, going to the movies, makes heading to a Mighty Mussels matchup a home run for local families.
A packed calendar of theme nights and special promo events will encourage folks to attend games. And Ohrablo wants to build up the team’s group sales business as well. “When you come to a minor league sporting event, it’s really more about the experience,” he says. “And if you come with group of people you know, it makes it even more fun and entertaining. So we really do focus on getting groups out there.”
Increasing attendance will help the team grow its already strong corporate support. “The two important ingredients in running a team are ticket sales and sponsorships,” Ohrablo says. “Everyone who’s been a partner of ours likes not just the name change but the fact that we’re focusing a lot of resources on increasing attendance at the games. You buy a sign or do a promo with us; you want people to see it.”
This isn’t the first time Ohrablo’s been involved in building a team. He was a founding partner of the Orlando Solar Bears and Jacksonville Icemen hockey teams and still oversees operations for the Icemen, which Zawyer Sports also owns. And the Mighty Mussels definitely have a lot of things working in the team’s favor. “The nice thing is we’re not starting from scratch here like we did in Jacksonville,” he says. “We have a good base to build off of.”