July 02, 2014

Rebranding in Professional Sports: The Unknown, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Charlotte Hornets

by Guest Blogger

Today concludes our three part series on rebranding in professional sports. We have covered the good, Sporting Kansas City, and the bad, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Now, we cover the unknown, the New Orleans Pelicans and the new Charlotte Hornets.

New Orleans Pelicans

The NBA: where Hornets become Pelicans and Pelicans become Hornets.

The Narrator in BASEketball may have provided the best explanation for why so many professional sports teams have unusual nicknames. As he explained, at some point in American sports history it became "commonplace for entire teams to change cities in search of greater profits. The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles where there are no lakes. The Oilers moved to Tennessee where there is no oil. The Jazz moved to Salt Lake City where they don't allow music."

Charlotte Hornets New Logo

Such is the story of the Charlotte Hornets. The team was established in 1988, but moved to New Orleans in 2002 in search of greener pastures (or maybe sweeter honey). After moving to New Orleans, the team attempted to convince the Utah Jazz - a franchise founded in New Orleans - to give up the nickname "Jazz," so that it could return to New Orleans. Utah refused. As a result, the team retained the "Hornets" moniker, becoming the New Orleans Hornets. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the franchise played a number of games in Oklahoma City and was known as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. At the end of 2012, the team announced that it planned to rebrand as the New Orleans Pelicans. The name was inspired by the Louisiana state bird, the Brown Pelican, and a minor-league baseball team that used the same name in New Orleans from 1901-1957.

As you might have guessed from the title of this article, it is unclear how well the rebranding will work. The team insists that it was important to forge an identity apart from the Hornets, which many people still associated with Charlotte. Others, like Charles Barkley, are not fond of the rebrand. During a telecast, Sir Charles referred to the Pelicans as "[t]hat team from New Orleans," and added, "I refuse to say that silly nickname. I'm not saying that name."

Meanwhile, the decision by New Orleans to abandon the "Hornets" name opened the door for a new team in a familiar city to reclaim the name - the Charlotte Bobcats. A few years after the original Hornets flew to New Orleans, Charlotte was awarded an expansion team. The team branded itself the Charlotte Bobcats. A name that stuck for a decade, until the aforementioned decision by New Orleans to rebrand. Earlier this year, team owner (and new billionaire) Michael Jordan announced that the team would be readopting the "Hornets" nickname. This rebrand appears to already be reaping benefits. New tickets sales are up almost 60% since the announcement, and the team appears to be on the verge of securing multiple new sponsorship deals. That said, the estimated cost of the rebrand is at least $3 million, and it may take serveral years for the team to realize a profit from the decision. Only time will tell. For now, enjoy these Muggsy Bogues highlights!

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