What's in a name? Everything. It's why most people are so careful when choosing a name for a baby, a pet — or, in the case of New Orleans sports — a professional basketball franchise.
Yahoo! Sports reported last week that the New Orleans Hornets could soon be renamed the New Orleans Pelicans, a nod to giving the team a closer identity with its home state.
A logo and name may seem trivial to some people, but they're a very big deal in terms of money, identity and community attachment. Merchandise is a large part of how leagues (or schools) make money, and those funds get passed down the ranks. If a logo is catchy and attractive, fans will spend money on T-shirts and other merchandise that bears the team's emblem. People also identify with that logo and team name.
The black fleur-de-lis with gold and white trim is instantly recognized around the region and to football fans across the nation as the New Orleans Saints logo. "In just about every case, the name is indicative or representative of the city, of the people, of the culture, of the region," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the day after news broke of the name change for the Hornets. "You look across all of professional sports and you see, at times, where names have just kind of gone along with the team and they've remained and it's no big deal now. They've kind of stuck. In other cases they've changed."
The Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz are examples of teams that kept their names after moving from their hometowns. The Lakers began play in Minneapolis in 1947, and the owners riffed off the state's nickname "Land of 10,000 Lakes." The Jazz called New Orleans home when the team first took the court in 1974, but the franchise moved to Salt Lake City in 1979 — a move many in the city still take personally.
Last Wednesday, as the Hornets prepared to take on the Lakers, NBA Commissioner David Stern said that what a franchise names its team is more about what the players and the community want than what the league thinks. "Whatever works for the team works for me," he said.
So what works for this team? A fresh start is what Hornets owner Tom Benson wants — like the Houston Oilers got when they moved to Nashville, Tenn., and became the Titans. Many New Orleanians have told me they would love to have the Hornets become the Jazz once again — if that were possible. That attachment between fan and franchise is what the Hornets have been trying to achieve since their arrival in 2002.
Benson's task is to replicate with the Hornets the success he had in making the Saints a regional team. The best way to do that is to make it a community affair and involve the public by asking for suggestions, as was done in naming the Crescent City Connection. He could set up a website where fans could submit a name, and every week have an elimination day where fans and media could see what names made the cut. The Hornets organization could pare it down to 10, then let online voting determine the rest, all the way to a final round with two names, culminating in a major announcement in, say, Lafayette Square, complete with music and a ceremony to unveil the team's new name and logo.
"The fan base certainly loves it if they kind of have ... a say in it, or if it ... represents the city or the region, Brees said. "Hey, pelican is the state bird, right? Specifically the brown pelican."
Pelicans seems to be the leading candidate in the name game, but Stern said he had received no official paperwork stipulating Pelicans as the choice. The Saints have filed paperwork to hold the rights to five names. There still could be time to make this the community's team with their involvement. Who knows, maybe then the Krewe, the Revelers, the Sauce (Saints safety Roman Harper's suggestion) or the Bounce would be taking the hardwood at the New Orleans Arena.