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Pelicans? Who dat?

By Paul Donaldson -- January 28, 2013 1:44 PM EST


All of New Orleans and the NBA community seem to be in an uproar over the renaming of the New Orleans Hornets to the Pelicans. When you ask Big Easy residents why they hate the new name so much, many tell you that "Pelicans" just isn't the type of fear evoking or ferocious sounding nickname a sports franchise needs. Never mind that their beloved NFL franchise is named after great human examples of holiness (Saints) and dons the symbol of a French lily on their helmet (fleur de lis).

The reason for the name change in New Orleans is to more appropriately align the NBA franchise's nickname with region. The area has been known for nicknames which closely relate to the culture or unique aspects of the region with current examples of the Saints (rich Catholic history of New Orleans), the AAA baseball Zephyrs (a famous roller coaster on Pontchartrain Beach), the arena football VooDoo (unique voodoo history of the region), and the minor league soccer Jesters (link to Mardi Gras). Historical examples of now defunct or relocated franchises include the minor league hockey Brass (area's famous jazz music and brass instruments) and the ABA's Buccaneers (historic pirates of the New Orleans and gulf region). And perhaps no other team name has been loved and lost as much as the NBA's New Orleans Jazz which only called the city home for five years before moving to Utah.

One of the leading thoughts around why the Hornets have struggled to gain support in New Orleans is that the franchise doesn't have a name which personifies the region, hence the name change. No name will ever replace the Jazz in New Orleans and oddly enough Utah doesn't seem to want to part with it, though there's absolutely nothing jazzy about Salt Lake City. With the Jazz likely gone for good, other appropriate options either have already been used or don't fit for other reasons. The Buccaneers would be a great use of a former name, would be more ferocious than the Pelicans, and would be regionally meaningful, however, rabid Saints fans would have a hard time cheering for a team sporting the name of a heated NFC-South rival (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). The brown pelican is not only the state bird in Louisiana, but it's one of the iconic symbols of the region.

Will the name change spark more passion and support from the fanbase? We'll have to wait and see but the more likely issue with support is the struggling economy and population of New Orleans. The city just isn't in a position to support two major franchises, regardless of what you call them.

With the Jazz heading to Utah, New Orleans lost a nickname which identified closely with the city and region and Utah gained a name which didn't fit at all. Brand development often creates these strange nickname-city misfits when franchises relocate. Los Angeles seems to the capital of nickname misfits including the Lakers which were originally named for their location in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, the Dodgers which were affectionately named for the "trolley-dodger" city of Brooklyn, and Clippers which were originally renamed from the Braves to represent the boating and sailing found in the San Diego bay region.


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