What’s in a (team) name?

Albany once had a CBA (Continental Basketball Association) team, the Albany Patroons. They were a competitive team that had some pretty good history behind it, having produced coaches such as Phil Jackson and Bill Musselman.  I told myself that I had to go catch a game sometime.

It never happened. The very next year (after I proclaimed that I had to go to a game), the team changed their name to the Capital Region Pontiacs, after the local Pontiac dealerships.  The name change turned me off completely. I said to myself, “no way am I supporting that team.” I never made it to a game.

I liked the “Albany Patroons” name.  Wikipedia defines “patroon” as “a landholder with manorial rights to large tracts of land in the 17th century Dutch colony of New Netherland in North America.”  It was reflective of the region’s Dutch heritage, so it was appropriate.  “Capital Region Pontiacs,” on the other hand, pandered to car dealerships.  What does that have to do with Albany?!?  The new name put me off so much that I vowed never to attend a game.  As it turned out, the team ended up moving (or folding — I don’t remember which).  As far as I was concerned, good riddance.

This isn’t the only time that a team turned me off because of a name change.  I stopped rooting for the NY/NJ MetroStars when they became Red Bull New York.  (I now consider myself a fan of NYCFC.)  There was once a hockey team, the Albany Choppers (named after the local Price Chopper chain of supermarkets).  I never felt any affiliation with them.  Albany also had an independent minor league baseball team, the Diamond Dogs, and a hockey team, the River Rats.  To me, those didn’t sound like names worthy of professional sports teams in the Capital Region; rather, they sounded like gimmicks.  Although I went to a few games, I was never enamored with either team simply because of the names.  To this day, I do not have — nor do I have any desire to own — a single piece of Diamond Dogs or River Rats gear.  Today, the Capital District is home to the Tri-City ValleyCats (a single-A New York-Penn League farm team for the Houston Astros) and the Albany Devils (an AHL team affiliated with the New Jersey Devils).  To me, those names sound professional, not gimmicky, and I am more prone to support them.  (As the baseball fan that I am, I do regularly attend ValleyCats games, and I do have a few ValleyCats shirts and baseball caps.)

I don’t know if any statistics exist as to how fans react to team nicknames — whether it’s by attendance, paraphernalia sales, or what have you.  I would be curious as to what they are.  If I had to venture a guess — and that’s all this is — I’d suspect that a team’s name could affect those stats.

So for those of you who are involved with sports marketing, take heed.  What’s in a name?  Possibly everything.

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