Play Ball, Y'all: Baseball Team Scores Branding Home Run in Florence, KY
Iconic Northern Kentucky landmark sparks inspiration for popular name change.
When David DelBello and a group of local investors took over as the new owners of the Florence, KY minor league baseball team in 2019, DelBello says they wanted to do something to “really move the needle” in terms of attention and interest.
The answer, it turns out, was easy to find. In fact, it has been a prominent part of the Northern Kentucky landscape for nearly a half century. With the help of Covington, KY-based design firm BLDG, the Freedom was rebranded as the Florence Y’alls.
The name is in honor of the city’s iconic water tower, a highly visible fixture along Interstates 71/75 that has displayed those words on its side since 1974.
The new name didn’t just move the needle, it nearly broke it. DelBello says in the first month after the change was announced in January 2020, the team received merchandise orders from more than 40 states. The popular sports blog Barstool Sports immediately proclaimed Y’alls to be “the best minor league baseball team name in history.”
“It’s been a giant home run,” BLDG President Jay Becker says. “The team took a colloquialism that goes through half of America and turned it into their brand name. It’s worked, because the amount of people throughout the country who now know about the Florence Y’alls is incredible.”
Sip Bourbon Along Northern Kentucky's B-Line
The Water Tower, a Northern Kentucky icon
While “Y’all” is a common phrase used throughout the South, it gained a special connection to Northern Kentucky beginning in 1974, when it was painted on the side of a water tower that had been constructed in support of an adjacent new shopping facility.
Originally, the 130-foot tall tower promoted the “Florence Mall,” but the U.S. Bureau of Highways (now the Federal Highway Administration) declared that advertising on such a large structure just off the interstate was in violation of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.
Instead of spending thousands of dollars to completely repaint the tower, then-Florence Mayor C.M. “Hop” Ewing simply had city workers change the M to a Y and add an apostrophe.
And just like that, a beloved local landmark was created. “The water tower is to us what the Hollywood sign is to Los Angeles,” Becker says. “It’s a sign that tells you where you are. It’s about a culture.”
As a resident of the area for the past 25 years, DelBello was well aware of the tower’s connection to Northern Kentucky.
Still, he admits he initially resisted the idea of renaming the team the Y’alls. But when that name received approximately 70% of the vote from the public in a name-the-team contest, the new owners began to see the value of playing ball as the Y’alls.
“The water tower and the word Y’all symbolizes that this is Northern Kentucky, not Cincinnati,” DelBello says. “We’re bluegrass and bourbon and horse racing. That’s what we’re about. It might be a little twangy, but we embrace that. It’s part of the fun. Some people might think it’s just a goofy name, but it’s really part of our culture.”
A New Buzz in Florence, KY
Along with the new name, the team also has a new look, with powder-blue, V-neck uniforms and a 1970s retro feel. Becker says he wants to evoke memories of the famous Cincinnati Reds team of that era, the Big Red Machine that remains the pinnacle of sports success in the region.
“The Big Red Machine meant everything to this region,” Becker says. “If we can get people to talk about the Y’alls in Reds country, that’s pretty incredible.”
People definitely are talking about the Y’alls both locally and nationally, and DelBello says he welcomes the attention.
“This team is a community icon that services Northern Kentucky,” DelBello says. “We pride ourselves on providing family affordable entertainment. People come to the ballpark to have fun. You see your neighbors when you’re here. It really is a destination for the community to get out and socialize.
“The grand slam will be if two or three years from now whenever somebody says ‘Y’all’ anywhere in the country, people think of the baseball team in Florence. For us, that would be like winning the World Series.”
If you would like to learn more about Northern Kentucky, check out the latest edition of Livability Northern Kentucky.