ORLANDO, FL – When it comes to sports, the team name is a crucial feature. It can be a powerful calling card and a rallying point for the fans, and it obviously plays a key role in marketing.
While some teams choose to have names relating to a certain mascot animal, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks, other teams get their names based on their geography or local history. However, not all teams keep their names. Over the past few years, we have seen several name changes throughout the ranks of professional hockey.
A perfect example of a name change done right would be the transformation of Greenville’s ECHL team, which went from being called the Road Warriors to being called the Swamp Rabbits in 2015. While the move baffled some fans outside Greenville, this rebranding was superb. It has a great tie-in to the city of Greenville, as the Swamp Rabbit was the name of a famous train line that ran through the city during the 1800s. Greenville has a Swamp Rabbit Trail that meanders through downtown, and it has had a number of businesses carrying that name. The name has given the Greenville team a strong identity squarely anchored to its hometown. (By contrast, the Road Warriors always struck me as an odd choice. Do you want your team to be connected to its core fan base or to its performance on the road?)
What follows is a review and critique of new names coming on board for professional hockey in 2017-18.
Vegas Golden Knights
The announcement of an NHL expansion franchise being awarded to Las Vegas shocked many in the league. Most NHLers thought that the league would award an expansion team to Seattle, Quebec, or even Toronto before they touched Vegas. Nevertheless, the Vegas expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, will begin their first year in the 2017-18 season.
The name “Golden Knights” is a brilliant play on words, as the name puns off of the gambling attractions in the Vegas area. In Vegas, people come for golden nights, but this next season, they will also come for Golden Knights. The evocation of brave warriors decked in armor battling in a magical fantasy land fits perfectly into the spirit of hockey and Las Vegas.
Binghamton Senators ⇒ Belleville Senators
Albany Devils ⇒ Binghamton Devils
The Devils and the Senators of the AHL are involved in a relocation shuffle this year. Both are owned by their NHL affiliates—the New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators, respectively. As a result, the retaining of the names makes perfect sense. When the fans turn out to watch hockey in Binghamton this upcoming season, they won’t be too confused by what the name change means, and certainly, the folks in Belleville, Ontario, are going to be immediately squared away with who their Senators represent.
St. John’s Ice Caps ⇒ Laval Rocket
Another recent change in the world of the AHL involves the moving of the St. John’s Ice Caps to Laval to become the Laval Rocket. From the naming point of view, this move is similar to the Portland Pirates’ relocation to Springfield to become the Springfield Thunderbirds. Both the Panthers and Canadiens announced that their top affiliates would be moving a couple years back. These are both examples of name changes done right.
The Thunderbirds’ name comes from the immense Air Force presence in the city of Springfield. Not only does it manage to tie into the presence, it also goes well with the Panthers’ military-inspired logo change last season.
On the other end, the Laval Rocket get their name from the historic team known as the Montreal Rocket, who played in the area during the during the turn of the century, before eventually moving to Charlottetown in 2003 to become the current day Charlottetown Islanders. Once again, the name ties into a local presence, as the Rocket name pays tribute to Canadiens legend Maurice “the Rocket” Richard, who played 18 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens from 1942-1960. Much like the Panthers-Thunderbirds connection, the Rocket name ties in with both the local area and their NHL affiliate.
Evansville Icemen ⇒ Jacksonville Icemen
While it is great that Jacksonville is getting a hockey team, the name “Icemen” just doesn’t suit a Florida team in the way that the state’s other ECHL franchises do.
Take, for example, the Everblades, who play just outside the Everglades, and whose name is a pun off of the area. Similarly, the Orlando Solar Bears’ name is a pun off of Polar Bear, and has a very Florida vibe to it. Of course, the Icemen name pays tribute to the Evansville team that went dormant at the close of the 2014-15 season, but how many new fans in Jacksonville will feel any loyalty to the Icemen name or the logo?
In Florida, the Icemen name does have some ironic whimsy to it, but many feel that Jacksonville should have gone with a more military-influenced name. Personally, a tribute to the Navy would be nice. Jacksonville is home to two naval bases, and the team is certainly going to want to draw fans from that important segment. Maybe a name such as the Destroyers, Submariners, or Armada would better suit the new franchise.
Missouri Mavericks ⇒ Kansas City Mavericks
There’s a certain saying that goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This can be said about the name change of the Missouri Mavericks. Ironically, the team is changing their place names . . . even though they aren’t moving.
The Missouri Mavericks have now become the Kansas City Mavericks.
About this names, one must ask “Why?”
Mavericks owner Lamar Hunt, Jr. talks about the desire to reach out to a wider market. But Missouri has historically done a good job of filling Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, averaging 5,068 fans per game last season, which amounts to 87.4% of the arena’s capacity. That latter figure is third in the ECHL. Yes, the Mavericks could fit a few more fans into the arenas, but they are hardly struggling in that department. And it’s hard to see how a name change is going to make a big difference given the already strong draw of the franchise.
Aside from history, the Missouri Mavericks have the alliteration thing going for them, and changing the names destroys those pleasant sound effects. Even from a rhythmic standpoint, the name changes stumble. “The Missouri Mavericks” had two equally balanced three-syllable names working for it.
With the emphasis on the “r,” the Railers’ name is another team name with a nice alliteration ring to it. Not only is there alliteration, but there’s also a strong local and historical significance, as the Worcester Railers get their name from a historic railroad station located in the downtown area, and from the fact that tracks pass close by the DCU Center. The Worcester owners and management got things moving full steam ahead when it came to their choice of a team name.
Historical significance? Check. Birmingham has had a few hockey teams brandishing the Bulls name, most recently the ECHL Birmingham Bulls which was in existence from 1992-2001.
It’s no wonder that the new SPHL team in Birmingham would turn to a name that is simple, direct, and powerful. The new logo for the team is no bull either.
From the naming standpoint, the Birmingham Bulls are a winner. Olé!
Fayetteville Fireantz ⇒ Fayetteville Marksmen
Fayetteville’s SPHL team had been suffering from declining attendance, and the team received a dose of new life when it was bought by Jeffrey Longo and Chuck Norris (no, not that Chuck Norris, but it would be cool, wouldn’t it?) early this year. It isn’t surprising that the team would change its name as part of a rebranding strategy to stir up a new interest. I regret the loss of another nice alliterative ring in professional hockey. Fayetteville Fireantz rolls nicely off the tongue. But the Marksmen name has a number of things going for it. It should give the team an immediate appeal to the local military community. And the name also has some nice hockey tie-ins going for it, as we talk about the precision shots and sniping of accomplished scorers.
What is a bit puzzling is the choice of a new Fox logo for a team now called the Marksmen. If I were marketing the team, I would play up the fact that a team owner is none other than Chuck Norris (even if not that Chuck Norris). The meme possibilities behind that name are endless.
What’s your favorite name change? Let us know!