Sports Team Branding: What's In A Name?

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The once-Florida, now-Miami Marlins are one of several teams trying to re-brand its geographic image. (AP)
The once Florida, now Miami, Marlins are one of several teams trying to re-brand their geographic image. (AP)

This week, the Golden State Warriors announced plans to move to San Francisco in 2017 from their current home in Oakland. Although team officials said there were no plans to stop using "Golden State," there’s been speculation that the team might re-brand itself as the San Francisco Warriors.

Re-re-brand would be more like it. The franchise used that name from 1962 to 1971. Rich Campbell is a professor of marketing at Sonoma State University. He says name change or no, geography will present a problem.

"I think it’s going to be a bumpy road," Campbell said. "The locals view it as an Oakland team at this point and maybe over a 10- or 20-year period, the San Francisco re-branding will be a big success, but the immediate concern is for the next five years while they remain in Oakland. Are they going to alienate their fans with their plans to move just across the bridge?"

Deciding on a city or state identification can be tricky. Baseball’s Marlins just zoomed in on the team-naming map. For years the team played in Miami’s suburbs while claiming the whole state of Florida as their own. But this year, after a move to a new stadium, the Marlins decided Miami was the place to be. Campbell says in a large state with several large cities that’s a smart move.

"If Pittsburgh has an identity of toughness, that transfers pretty easily to the Steelers and vice versa," Campbell said. "But when you go to the state level like the Golden State Warriors or the Florida Marlins, those states mean so many things to so many people, in terms of their brand identity, that I think it's harder to get that transference to the team."

Other teams take a regional approach. The New England Patriots associate with six states. And think fast: Which Carolina do the NFL’s Carolina Panthers play in? It’s North. Same for the NHL’s Hurricanes. That got me thinking about a great market pro sports leagues haven’t tapped yet: the Dakotas.

Professor Campbell said they might have to consider a strength-in-numbers approach: "From a geographic standpoint you'd go with the Upper Plains or something, that really goes super regional."

This season was the Nets' last one in New Jersey and to add insult to injury the team is dropping an entire state for a single borough in New York: Brooklyn. The New York Mets play in Flushing, but Flushing Mets – while often appropriate – doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

But no team will ever top the Angels, the Chad Ochocinco and Metta World Peace of pro sports franchises. The Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels before becoming the Anaheim Angels only to settle on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In the end, maybe we should all just root-root-root for the home team, even when they’re in a home away from home.

This segment aired on May 26, 2012.

Doug Tribou Reporter/Producer
Doug Tribou was formerly a reporter and producer at WBUR and for WBUR's Only A Game.



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