You may know the tune “Meet the Mets,” as Major League Baseball’s newest club at the time, the New York Mets, stormed the scene in the 1960s, replacing the once loved Brooklyn Dodgers. If you have ever met a New York Mets fan, you know how diehard these people are through the franchises ups and downs. You of course cannot label them as the most suffering fan base in sports, having won two World Series titles in their first 26 years playing.
But, the World Series that took place during the new millennium will tell it all, they are historically, currently, and could always be considered second fiddle to 27-time World Series’ Champions, the New York Yankees.
As the Yankees were stacking up championship titles in the 20th century down in the Bronx, they were developing next generational talent in Upstate New York through their farm system. The Binghamton Triplets, that started in 1923, brought local professional baseball to the Triple Cities (Johnson City, Binghamton, Endicott). Hall of Famers in the likes of Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Thurman Munson and even Tony La Russa did their minor league service playing at Johnson Field in Johnson City.
All the big-league entertainment would come to an end in 1968, putting the Triple Cities without minor league baseball for over two decades, as their beloved New York Yankees moved its Double-A affiliate to Manchester County.
Although, in 1992 a new Mets team came to town, known as the Binghamton Mets (B-Mets), to be the organization’s new Double-A franchise. Despite the generations of fans rooting for the Yankees, it was all about baseball returning to the area. And maybe it being a New York franchise team helped enough for the re-launch of baseball in the Parlor City.
“From the late ‘60s to the early ‘90s, there was no baseball in Binghamton,” said former Binghamton Mets General Manager, Jim Weed. “So, when baseball finally came back, I think people were excited to have it back, regardless of the franchise.”
The Binghamton Mets just so happened in their inaugural season won the 1992 Eastern League Championship, a big boost to fans that were hungry for baseball all those years.
Weed, who served as the Binghamton Mets GM from 2010-2016, started out with the organization back in 1996 as a tickets sales intern in college. After graduating from Cortland State, he stuck around and made his way up in the organization. Well aware of Binghamton being a Yankees market, he felt fans did not necessarily see it as choosing one side of a rivalry when watching the B-Mets.
“One thing I noticed that you have a lot of Yankee fans, that yeah they might root for the Yankees in the major leagues, but they root for the Mets in the minor league level,” Weed said. “They rooted for those kids that came through Binghamton and made it to the big leagues and would root for them individually. So, that was always kind of cool.”
The Binghamton Mets won the Eastern League title again in 1994, and did not do so again for another 20 years. A walk-off celebration at NYSEG Stadium in front of a jam-packed crowd may tell you otherwise, but attendance was tremendously down that season for a winning ball club. Just seven years prior in 2007, the Binghamton Mets totaled 230,078 fans in attendance that season, while finishing 20 games under .500 (61-81). Fast-forward to 2014, the B-Mets only saw 171,279 enter the gates to cheer on a team that featured good talent and won ball games, according to baseball-reference.com. There were many internal and external factors to blame, but the whole concept was just getting tired at that point. The brand, the stadium, the culture. With exception to seeing top prospects or MLB rehab assignments, nobody was excited for B-Mets baseball anymore like they once were.
Two years later, with fears of minor league baseball leaving the area once again, businessman John Hughes bought the Binghamton Mets with intentions to keep the team around in 2016. Realizing the trends going on throughout minor league baseball, and the decline with the Mets brand, Hughes and management flipped the switch.
“A lot of the minor leagues have decided to get away from the whole parent club name and really try to have their own brand identity,” Weed said.
A local contest was put together to decide the next name, all potential candidate names having to do with a certain landmark to the Binghamton area. Then there it was, the “Binghamton Rumble Ponies,” brand was born. Alluding to area being the Carousel Capital of the World. Catchy new name, new colors, stadium renovations — the whole nine yards. More fans started coming to the games again, and the Rumble Ponies merchandise sales were rising.
“Binghamton deserved a team of their own,” said John Bayne, current Managing Director of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. “That’s why we re-branded as the Rumble Ponies and made it something the local community can be proud of.”
The results showed, in the teams’ second season under the name “Rumble Ponies,” they set a franchise record of attendance with a rate of 3,553 fans per game. This was their best rate of specatators attending since its first season back in 1992.
Now, you can also dissect those numbers to the fact that the New York Mets placed former Heisman Trophy Winner — Tim Tebow — in Double-A to play for the Ponies the entire 2018 season. His presence has proven to provide big impacts on local economies at other minor league towns, but the Rumble Ponies still wouldn’t discredit themselves from that success.
“We treat all of our players the same way, and Binghamton takes care of them,” Bayne said. “Tim Tebow of course brought people, that maybe would not have come. And yes, we wanted those people to come to the ballpark and see some of the neat stuff they were missing.”
Binghamton Mets/Rumble Ponies for years has done their best to entertain fans. Hosting state of the art firework shows after select weekend games, and other big promotional events including discounted food and beverages on Tuesday and Thursdays.
It made sense to re-brand the New York Mets Double-A team. But the organization was lacking something else in their farm system. A key to having success with an organization is to have a strong farm system, including good prospects available when needed at the Triple-A level. A problem for years with the Mets was having their Triple-A team too far away from New York. Past affiliates in New Orleans and Las Vegas, if a guy went down Tuesday night, you likely were not going to have his replacement from the minors the next night at the least.
In the case for the New York Yankees, their Triple-A team plays in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area. Just roughly two hours from Yankee Stadium, the “Scranton Shuttle” is what they like to call it, giving them the ability to send guys back and forth often when injuries or slumps occur in a long grueling 162-game season.
In 2017, the Mets made a crucial franchise move with their farm system by acquiring the Syracuse Triple-A team, the Chiefs, formerly of the Washington Nationals farm system. Another Upstate New York market struggling to get fans in the stands. A move that seems necessary for the Mets to utilize their own “Syracuse Shuttle” and have prospects ready nearby when need be.
Despite the revamp of popularity in the Binghamton Rumble Ponies trademark, the Mets kept it simple in Syracuse. Announcing ahead of its first season in 2019 that they will be the “Syracuse Mets,” wearing the same colors and a similar logo. It was their team of ownership, so of course they felt confident in effort to grow the fan base once again in Upstate New York.
“I wasn’t surprised, but I certainly disagree with it,” said Brent Axe, of ESPN Radio Syracuse on the Mets going with their brand in Syracuse. “They tapped into something that Mets fans in the area are happy about, but I think you limit yourself. Minor league baseball is all about those kooky nicknames and those fun promotions.”
The New York Times in 2014 collected Facebook data on MLB fan base territories on the United States map. There is not one county or zip code in the state of New York that represented a majority of Mets fans. In Broome County (Greater Binghamton), the Yankees represent 61 percent of fans, with the Boston Red Sox and Mets next each representing nine percent. And then in the Syracuse market, only six percent of fans support the Mets in Onondaga County, coming third to the Red Sox (15 percent) and Yankees (58 percent), according to the data.
Syracuse Mets officials will beg to differ, and have been please with results from fans so far in terms of attendance and merchandise sales.
“Zero obstacles, the Mets fans are awesome,” said Syracuse Mets General Manager, Jason Smorol. “There is literally zero obstacles. The Mets brand is great, even Yankees’ fans are excited to have a New York team here. I underestimated them [Mets fans] in everything we’ve done, because they just show up out of nowhere.”
Similar to Binghamton last season, Tebow began this season on the Mets Triple-A roster in Syracuse, with another fan following expected as he has in every level. Smorol, however, is adamant that Tebow is not the main cause of the Mets support in Syracuse so far.
“For us, I don’t think Tebow was as big of factor as he was down south or in Binghamton,” Smorol said. “He definitely has an allure or attraction, but we’re promoting the Mets. We don’t have to really promote him at all because whatever he does the media reports on.”
Something that seems to work now, could be considered differently later on. As shown in Binghamton, trends do not always stay afloat. Years down the line when it’s the same team, playing in the same ballpark, with no Tim Tebow, will the Mets brand still prevail?