Friday, December 7, 2012

In the end, "Pelicans" really is the best team name for New Orleans' NBA franchise

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Admit it, New Orleans, this makes for a pretty cool logo
  • Photo concept found on a Sportslogos.net forum
  • Admit it, New Orleans, this makes for a pretty cool logo

It’s been a few days since the news leaked out that the New Orleans Hornets will seek to change their name to the “Pelicans” as soon as the 2014 and, as has been widely reported, the initial reaction wasn't exactly positive. Now, this being the future and information and opinions circulating faster than ever, the backlash to the backlash against the name Pelicans was quick and at least two major national media outlets have come out in support of the name change. But while the national conversation has taken a tone of detached amusement, locals — the people actually affected by the name change — have had a decidedly tepid response. Here's a sampling of notable one-liners and local opinions on the name from Twitter:











Clearly, of the three reported names that were in consideration — Brass, Krewe and Pelicans — the decision the Hornets have reportedly made came a distance third to the other options preferred by NBA fans in the Crescent City. Surely, seeing the topic being turned into a national punchline (and even the supportive comments are sort of tongue-in-cheek) is also likely making locals even more nervous about the validity the name for New Orleans’ professional basketball team.

The subject may seem trivial, but as local actor and businessman Wendell Pierce pointed out on twitter, the city’s NBA franchise will serve as a de facto ambassador for New Orleans worldwide. There is certainly an argument to be made that it’s in New Orleans’ best interest to make sure that its professional sports teams are branded in a way that reflect the culture of the city. At the same time, exactly what would naming a New Orleans team the Brass or Krewe really accomplish?

It’s true that Brass would tie directly to the city’s musical heritage and give us a way to thumb our noses at the Utah Jazz for stubbornly holding on to what’s rightfully New Orleans’ basketball team name. But ultimately, the term Brass will always be a consolation prize and never this city’s first choice for a music-inspired nickname. My thoughts are that we just let go of the fact that Utah has rights to the Jazz name and console ourselves with the fact that their totally out-of-whack team name is the hippest part of that entire state.

On twitter, Pierce has made the most ardent case for “Krewe of New Orleans” because of how it could help the team’s local brand, despite arguments to the contrary that it would be too hyper-local and would be to vague to translate to NBA fans in markets within the U.S. and especially abroad. Pierce has presented a compelling argument: “Krewe of New Orleans” would be a distinctly New Orleans-themed named and would make our NBA franchise stand apart from every other team in the NBA. Also, anyone who’s been to a Hornets game during Carnival Season knows that there’s no shortage of possibilities when it comes to Mardi Gras-themed mascots and color schemes.

But once again we come upon the problem of identity. Do we really want our city’s pro-basketball team co-opting the image and ideas of the unique and wholly-unrelated cultural symbols of Mardi Gras? Imagine, for a second, what would happen if the Hornets do change their name to Krewe: 41-home games (and possibly more than a few playoff games) of fans participating in a dumbed-down Carnival that’s been scrubbed clean and sanitized to fit within the NBA’s marketing machine. A Faux Mardi Gras being shoved down our throats from October through June would become tiresome and wear thin and run contrary to Mardi Gras’ appeal as a once-a-year celebration looked forward to for 10 months out of the year.

Pelicans may strike some as a bland or even timid choice, but when you consider how the name Pelicans allows the team to form a direct bond with the city and state it represents while also allowing for it to establish its own identity as a brand, you realize it's actually the best choice. After all, the modern NBA is nothing but not a brand-factory. If the team were named Brass or Krewe, it would share the same thought-space as the more distinctive and much older traditions of New Orleans. As the Pelicans, New Orleans would have the only team name that is also the state bird and would be the only franchise in the NFL, NBA or MLB whose mascot also appears on the state flag. What more could you ask for as a representative for Louisiana on the global stage?

And though it seems counter intuitive, there's actually some exciting marketing potential with the New Orleans Pelicans. Already, there are a few fan-made logo concepts floating around that look pretty cool and the bird itself has proven to be a resilient and apt mascot for all of Louisiana. Even when you consider the possibility that snarky website will jump to showing pictures of oil-covered Pelicans when the team loses, the downside isn't that bad. After all, anyone making the lazy connection to the oil spill will be, intentionally or not, reminding themselves and whoever is listening of an environmental disaster that will affect us for decades to come and should not be forgotten. The name Pelicans could potentially become the face of rebuilding Louisiana’s coastline and, as the years go by and the BP oil spill recedes into distant memory, people will hopefully associate the birds more with recovery and what will hopefully be a thriving Louisiana wildlife and a successful basketball franchise.

Really though, NBA fans in New Orleans have to realize that we’re much better off with a team name like the Pelicans than most other fan bases. Looking at a list of NBA mascots, can you really argue that Pelican is any worse than the Wizards, Nets or Magic? Aren’t names like the Spurs, Pistons, Thunder and Suns kitschier? Is there any more logic to having teams named the Lakers, Kings, Raptors or, yes, Jazz?

All the griping and snickering at Pelicans won’t stop it from becoming the name of New Orleans’ NBA team and, barring any sudden change, it’s something all local residents should start getting used to. Really, the only thing that would make a team name like the Pelicans embarrassing is if the team playing on the court turns out to be terrible every season. But if the Pelicans one day end up winning an NBA title, who in New Orleans is really gonna care what their name is?

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