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Reinventing baseball

Mar 16, 2009
by Carrie Pack Chowske, '00

Alumnus Brian Killingsworth helps launch a major league brand

Not many people would call up Kevin Costner and ask him to help kick off a major rebranding effort. But as alumnus Brian Killingsworth, ‘00, saw it, the star of epic films like “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” was a perfect fit for a major league baseball team looking to reinvent itself.

“We wanted to create an unforgettable event to kick off our new logo and new era in the history of our franchise,” the communication grad said.

The team, known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays since its franchise debut in 1998, changed its name, logo and color scheme this season as part of a two-year-long project aimed at reinvigorating the ballclub’s infamously small fan base.

Killingsworth, director of marketing and promotions for the American League East-leading Rays and a former catcher for the Saints, said research found that fans still had positive reactions to the team name.

“When fans referred to the team negatively, they called us the ‘Devil Rays,’ but when they referred to us positively, they chose to call us the ‘Rays,’ ” he said.

The new brand drops the fish and the word “devil” from its logo and focuses instead on a “burst of energy and light.” The color scheme — two shades of blue and a splash of gold — represents the water, sky and sunshine of the southwest Florida coast.

But how do you spark interest in a major league team that was struggling for attendance even with a new logo and uniforms? It’s simple: ask one of the sport’s biggest fans to headline the launch party. Killingsworth called up Costner, who along with his band Modern West performed at the launch.

And it worked. When Costner took the stage in the new Rays cap, the crowd went wild.

“Costner was the perfect fit to represent our brand for the new launch,” Killingsworth said. “He is an iconic Hollywood baseball legend.”

But this isn’t the first time the 2000 grad’s efforts have helped the Rays fill the seats at Tropicana Field. While studying for his MBA at the University of South Florida, he presented a proposal to attract college-aged students to games. The premise: special discounted tickets and concessions at Friday-night games.

“This program was very successful in helping to form a new group of Rays fans,” he said.

And it helped land him a job any baseball fan would love. After working his way up from an entry-level job, he now plans each year’s promotional schedule. This summer, the calendar boasts events such as themed Saturday-night music concerts and a “turn back the clock” game where players wear retro jerseys and then auction them off for charity.

Still Killingsworth — who once dreamed of a career in the major leagues and even played a season in the Cape Cod league with Rays first baseman Carlos Peña — believes it is the game of baseball itself that keeps fans coming back.

“No two baseball games are alike,” he said. “And each game you are guaranteed to see something you have never seen before.”

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