Logos, mascots, and team colors are all extremely important factors in creating a sports team’s identity. There have been some teams that have managed to become far more popular than others simply based on the fact that more people want to wear their merchandise. A team name, however, goes far and beyond anything that a simple marketing intern would ever be able to wrap their head around. The name chosen is one that will become synonymous with a city, a people, a culture, and a group of players and coaches.
When the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans franchise made the decision to change their team name from the New Orleans Hornets to the New Orleans Pelicans, there was not enough thought devoted to the movement; one would think a marketing intern was the decision maker.
On January 24, 2013 at about the midway point of the 2012-2013 NBA season, New Orleans made the official announcement of the name change. This was an extremely questionable choice as a date. In a league where the revenue of all officially licensed NBA merchandise works in a profit-sharing format, the timing of this announcement essentially put a halt to any Hornet merchandise sales. There was still half of an NBA season to play as Hornets. From a business standpoint, New Orleans basketball merchandise was basically a non-factor in the market for over four months. On top of this, the other 29 teams were now losing revenue based on this fact.
When would it have been a better time to announce a name change? One should flashback several months to the date of June 28, 2012. The New Orleans Hornets selected Kentucky Wildcats’ Anthony Davis with the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Davis has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone for the next several years. With the eyes of the basketball world on your franchise on this historic night on national television, why not allow Davis the honour of dawning the franchises new name for the first time? Jerseys would have flown off the shelves as everybody would want to have the latest and greatest in time for the season that was upon them.
The name “Pelicans” also garnered a lot of curiosity. There are two connections made between the name choice and the city of New Orleans. First, the state of Louisiana’s state bird is the Brown Pelican. Second, there is some name association with the city hosting a minor-league baseball team called the Pelicans between the years 1901 to 1957.
These two connections are just not dense enough to warrant this selection. A pelican has no physical or mental comparisons that can be stretched out to parallel the game of basketball. When one thinks of a pelican, a bird that hangs around shallow bodies of water all day is what comes to mind. Pelicans are not even the strongest, most powerful breed in its own family of species in the league. The Hawks of Atlanta are known to have sharp vision as they constantly hunt their prey.
Unless an organization is striving for the classic appeal similar to that of the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics, 76ers, and most recently the new Brooklyn Nets, a team name has to be at least partially intimidating or somewhat relative to the sport it represents from an imaginative standpoint. Even the Magic of Orlando provides some sort of basketball-related fear. Simply put, the name is meant to convey the obviously fabricated message that players and coaches will use magic to score points.
The most unfortunate part about the name change is what is being left behind. New Orleans is an extremely proud city that underwent catastrophic circumstances during Hurricane Katrina. As Hornets, this organization rallied through the hardest of times and provided their fans something to smile about. Upon their full-time return to New Orleans after splitting some time in Oklahoma City during the aftermath of the hurricane, the symbolic effect screamed that the city had made it through the tragedy. Although the hurricane was an extremely negative experience for the city, these trying times formed the identity of a franchise that had only existed as is since 2002. An identity that is stronger than that of many franchises that have been operating for double the amount of time. Yes, as Hornets, this identity was formed.
Tradition is something that every franchise in every sport wants. In order to maintain tradition, there needs to be a high amount of consistency. A team name is a cornerstone element to tradition. New Orleans will have to reinvent themselves as Pelicans. Remaining active in their community and having on-court success will likely help accelerate this process. It is going to take one great marketing intern to determine how to preserve the presence of the Hornets while they evolve into Pelicans.