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The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Four: What? How? and Huh?!

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Four: What? How? and Huh?!

The better way to think of this tier is as a list of naming gambles that didn’t pay off. None of them are outrageously bad or offensive, and most of them made a real try at originality. Unfortunately, the originality was done without a whole lot of regard to the region or the people living in the region, or much respect for the idea of trying to form a connection to the area’s fans; the area fans are the ones you need to click with first and foremost, because they’re the ones who are going to be the original ticket and merchandise buyers. There’s usually effort apparent, but in most of these cases, it resulted in a team name that seems weird or misplaced, to the detriment of the very people the team is trying to appeal to.

70: Anaheim Ducks, NHL
Any readers who don’t know anything about hockey right now are probably thinking of a certain Disney movie called The Mighty Ducks, which came out in 1992 and became a sports movie classic loved by children and adults alike. Disney took the movie’s popularity as license to not only acquire an expansion NHL team, but name it the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, after the movie. Then they used the two sequels to the movie to let the public know their NHL team existed. (The second movie used the NHL team’s jerseys, and was far more subtle about the promotion. The third movie is just pathetic about it: The climactic scene revolves largely around the Big Game announcer’s efforts to keep his lips suctioned to the ass of real Ducks star Paul Kariya.) In about 2005, Disney finally sold the team, and the new owners finally did away with the embarrassing Disney imagery just in time for the Ducks to win the Stanley Cup in 2007. The connection, however, is still very fresh in everyone’s minds, and since the team was named after the movie, it loses virtually everything on its branding alone. That’s a shame, because in the movies, what the Ducks come to symbolically represent – even though they were named after main character Gordon Bombay’s boss, Ducksworth – is ducks in a flying V, coasting gracefully off the air current produced by flapping their wings and quacking to encourage each other.

69: Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
The Lakers are so successful, popular, ubiquitous, and associated with exciting basketball, and their name has such a cool sound – three rolling L sounds, all almost evenly spaced out – that we forget how little sense this name makes. They make their home in Los Angeles, where the only existing lakes were made by men, and no, I’m not going to try to count the Pacific Ocean. The Lakers began their existence as the Minneapolis Lakers and won 16 championships, more than any other NBA team except the Boston Celtics (and the Celtics have just one more title than the Lakers). The first five titles the Lakers won all happened in Minneapolis, so, you know, you probably wouldn’t give up a name after that kind of success either, no matter how nonsensical it sounds. It certainly makes the branding unique, and when the name is so pleasant to say, you can’t really complain that it’s a bad thing in this case.

68: Montreal Canadiens, NHL
I don’t know whether this name was created to appeal to all of Canada or merely the Francophone side of Quebec, given that “Canadiens” in this case is spelled with an E in the final syllable instead of the English version A. I know the team itself was created for the Francophones, but by naming it the Canadiens, the team successfully applied the very definition of having its cake and eating it too: Try and make it national and regional at the same time. There’s a generic element in play here as well, since this is akin to naming a team the Americans. Still, not many other teams use it, and it does manage to be unique enough to emboss the brand into memory – although those 24 Stanley Cups probably have something to do with that too.

67: Orlando Magic, NBA
Another amorphous concept getting a far higher ranking than it deserves, the Orlando Magic would at first look like a perfect name. They’re based in the city of Orlando, Florida, after all, the city in which Walt Disney World takes up its best-known residence. And Disney World is popularly known as the Magic Kingdom, so it’s really not such a bad way to regionalize the team. Unfortunately, after that, what I said about branding in the 70 spot starts coming into play, and you really can’t afford to try branding a team after a corporation that already owns it, even if Magic is more of a stealth branding instead of a blatant advertisement. And trying to name an entire team the Magic is especially disastrous in basketball, in which one of the most famous players of all time, one of the greatest players of all time, and one so popular and beloved that he’s given a ton of credit for rescuing the league when it was on the ropes in the 80’s and transforming it into the juggernaut it is today, happens to be best known by his stage name: Magic Johnson. And Magic Johnson never had anything to do with the Orlando Magic, unless you count the fact that he played the same sport. Not a good idea.

66: Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA
The team of LeBron James tries branding itself using imagery that evokes 17th-Century swordfighters and swordsman who are always ready to draw and duel on the spot. Unfortunately, it won’t change the fact that Cavalier is another amorphous concept which, in a nutshell, is synonymous for offhand and a lack of proper concern. In a historical context, a Cavalier was a supporter of King Charles I back when England was fighting the English Civil War. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s difficult to argue that it would be a brand someone would want.

65: Buffalo Sabres, NHL
This name was created as an attempt to stifle the tide of professional teams in Buffalo that were called the Bisons. Face it, when your city is called Buffalo, damn the redundancy, the name of a sports team is pretty much ready made. The original owners of the Sabres were looking to buck that trend, and they did that by thinking up a name associated with a sword that is, according to them, fast on both offense and defense, and the weapon carried by a battle leader. Fast on offense and defense are nice to associate with a team, even if they don’t have anything to do with the city. As for the part about being a leader, it goes without saying that Buffalo has no right to say it leads much of anything these days, not with the way it decided to turn its back on a changing world and shut itself in. Buffalo once led the entire planet in grain shipment, thus feeding the entire world, and it was in the top five on steel production too. It was also a visionary city in the advancement of electrical technology – Nikola Tesla’s lab was just in Niagara Falls, the original home of alternating current, and between all that, it was one of the richest cities in the world. Those days are gone, and today Buffalo’s leader roles aren’t quite as important: CVD mortality (first); poverty (third or fourth); segregation (seventh); and violent crime (tenth). Uh, we’re number one? The B in the middle of Sabres, though, creates a nice offset to the hard B and O in Buffalo.

64: Washington Nationals, MLB
Nationals? Really? In Patriot Central, the District of Columbia, that wretched hive of scum and villainy, with all those politicians and monuments, you pop up the most useless way of saying “Americans” ever concocted? I’m shocked Fox News didn’t pick up on an angle using this: “We’re using Nationals because not everyone in this country is a rich white guy, and not being a rich white guy is un-American, and we’re too politically correct to call them the Americans!” The Nats are the third baseball team in Washington. The first was officially called the Nationals, in spite of the press prominently calling them the Senators. The second was officially called the Senators. I understand wanting to keep the history of the original team and give it a catch-all term for the countrymen they’re supposed to represent, but we can do much better than Nationals.

63: New York Jets, NFL
Jets may not be the most immediate image associated with New York City, but they work quite well as a colloquial. Jets are, after all, a very modern way of getting from place to place, and avionics technology is always on the move, much like the largest city in the United States. The name Jets also works as a parallel to New York City’s other junior, rebel alternative sports teams – the New York Mets and Brooklyn Nets, the younger alternatives to the Giants and Knicks. But the problem, uh, well…. See, the Jets don’t actually exist anywhere within the entire state of New York…. They play in New Jersey, where they also get their taxpayer extortions and have most of their fans….

62: Seattle Seahawks, NFL
If you’re even a tenth awake in any matters regarding the NFL, you already know from the coverage of the most recent Super Bowl that a seahawk is basically an osprey. Ospreys are more birds of prey, rendering this a pretty generic name, which you would think would be even more so since they decided to use a term with the word “hawk” in it. There’s one very important thing that I love about the Seahawks name, though: the “sea” in seahawks is a really cool allusion to the city’s name, which begins with the same three letters. That gives it an awesome form of regionalization which it really has no right to have. It sticks out and brands the team in a way you would be hard-pressed to forget.

61: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
A buccaneer is a particular kind of pirate, giving this name a lower originality rating than it deserves. But it has a really cool, jumpy sound, and you at least have to give it credit for using a nickname no one ever used before, making it fairly memorable. I think the nicknames Buccaneers is better suited to New Orleans, but it actually does have a grounding in Tampa Bay Area lore: Tampa hosts an annual event called the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which celebrates a popular legend revolving around a Spanish pirate captain named Jose Gaspar. He’s a popular figure in Florida folklore, but there’s no evidence of his existence before people started writing about him in the 20th Century.

60: San Diego Chargers, NFL
The Chargers have lightning bolts on their helmets. It’s a good allusion, but it doesn’t have anything to do with anything else in San Diego. It has to do with the original owner wanting to present a certain kind of image – an amorphous concept, as it were! If given the old application, a charger is a very old way of referring to a horse – horses charged back in the medieval era as knights tried to knock each other off. Unfortunately, between the name and the imagery, the only association people will ever make with chargers in this day and age is something that powers up your cell phone or computer battery. Technological evolution has given a comical meaning and image to a name which might not have been so bad a decade ago, and there’s a new generation of children being born wondering why a football team would ever call itself the Chargers, no matter how important actual chargers can be. The future, you can’t escape it. And in thinking forward, the San Diego Chargers brand evolved into an image which now makes the name completely comical. I guess you can’t really blame the original owner for that.

59: Dallas Stars, NHL
This is actually a better name than most people give it credit for. Keeping the Stars nickname after the move to Dallas is a very obvious but still a cool way to evoke the state’s pride in trying to get them to appeal to everyone in Texas. In this case, it works because the Dallas Stars are the only NHL team in Texas, and Texas is famously known as The Lone Star State. The state flag of Texas is easily the most famous in the United States, out of the sheer simplicity and symbolism of it: Red and white horizontal stripes, with a vertical blue stripe that has a single white star on its foreground; held to a special reverence in Texas. Unfortunately for the Stars, the negative end of the branding cancels out the positive. Texas is quite famously a football state. The Cowboys, Dallas’s NFL team, are one of the league’s glamor teams, and their official logo is a large, bold star of navy blue. So by calling themselves the Stars, Dallas’s NHL team looks like it’s trying to leech off the popularity of its far more famous NFL cousin. It doesn’t exactly help matters that, before becoming the Dallas Stars, this team already had one of the coolest names in history: They started out as the Minnesota North Stars.

58: New Orleans Pelicans, NBA
The name change of the New Orleans Hornets sparked a ton of outcry when the name New Orleans Pelicans was announced. But you know what? Fuck that, pelicans are awesome! I think the outcry was sparked out of ignorance: Ignorance of the fact that the brown pelican is the official state bird of Louisiana; ignorance of the fact that pelicans are the most carnivorous birds on the planet; ignorance of the fact that they are capable of not only swooping in, but diving a good 40 feet underwater to catch prey. New Orleans has also fielded more than one minor league team in other sports called the Pelicans, so it’s a nod to the city’s sports history as well. The only real problems with this name are the branding, which is difficult because people are dummies who got way too many impressions of pelicans from Warner Brothers cartoons; and the fact that New Orleans Pelicans is a very jumpy, clunky name which has an unpleasant sound to it. Still, major props to the team for avoiding a generic name change and using a wildlife-related name which honors the city and state.

57: New York Rangers, NHL
This name is such an institution that we tend to forget how dumb it really is. When we think of rangers, we think of bold people on wild frontiers. You could make a case that New York City is a wild frontier, but as for bold people there? Rich white collar thieves and rich, white, useless coffeehouse intellectuals are hardly bold. Ranger also evokes images of an open range with wide skies, and that is not New York City. The Rangers got their name because the man who first brought them to the city was nicknamed Tex, and the team was frequently referred to as Tex’s Rangers. The name does have a nice roll to it, though, and lord knows the branding certainly stands out because of the misplacement.

56: Dallas Mavericks, NBA
Honestly, we hear the work “maverick” so often these days that I just want to clock people who use it to describe themselves. The term is used to describe people who are stand out as lone dissenters among their associates or pursue rebellious policies or ideas. In other words, “maverick” is a good way to describe Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, but the term itself is like the whole San Diego Chargers thing: It’s slowly starting to devolve. Most of the politicians who call themselves mavericks these days are unquestioning slaves to blind prejudices, and more and more frequently, they’re also getting caught in monetary scandals. In other words, they’re trying to fit in with an enormous swath of people that still sees it their way. If we want to think of Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun, well, he was a dangerous and self-destructive pilot who realistically would have been booted from the Navy about ten times over for all the shit he pulled.

55: Philadelphia Flyers, NHL
Is this another concept or an actual noun that a real image can be attached to? It’s difficult to decide, because flyer is such a general term. It’s also downright silly when you try to think of anything in Philadelphia the term could possibly be applied to. Philadelphia is known for a lot of things, but aviation prowess isn’t one of them. Honestly, I have no clue how this name ended up ranked in the 50’s. It ignores virtually everything about the city and its people, it’s weak, it has a bad balance, there’s no regionalization, history, and the branding gets a passing grade only because the Flyers have been one of the NHL’s premier teams for decades now.

54: Detroit Red Wings, NHL
This is not a generic name, that much can be given to the Red Wings. That automatically gives it a higher standing than Lions or Tigers. But it also brings up the question of just what the hell a red wing is supposed to be, anyway. What’s a red wing, where did it come from, and how does it work itself into the local mythos of Detroit? Detroit Red Wings is another name with good balance and heft, and the Red offers it more intensity and ferocity than a name like the Blue Wings or Green Wings would have ever provided, while the wing is a good abstract reference to the speed of hockey. That at least give it a very unique and abstract way of branding itself and offering some heft to the name, but I’m afraid it loses points for, you know, not making any damn sense.

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About Nicholas Croston

I like to think. A lot. I like to question, challenge, and totally shock and unnerve people. I am a contrarian - whatever you stand for, I'm against.

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