Quirks of Sports Team Branding

The Utah Jazz are revising their logo, going back to a more retro look.  But first, I’d suggest they stop calling themselves the Utah Jazz.  Sorry — that’s just the persnickety branding geek in me, complaining about a brand that makes no sense in its current context.

Time was, teams had names that made sense because they were part of a sense of place.  They represented solidarity with the communities where they were formed.  They had as much local flavor as, well, the beer in the stands that was often brewed at a Schlitz or a Strohs plant up the block from the ballgame.

That day is kaput.  But it leaves us with some interesting branding oddities to consider — and use as conversation fodder for the pre-game visit to the local sports bar:

  • The Utah Jazz hail from New Orleans, so “Jazz” makes sense — in New Orleans.  Last time I looked, Utah didn’t exactly have a thriving jazz scene.  Maybe the “jazz” is what’s happening on the floor.  Though it mostly plays like elevator music the last few years, IMHO.
  • Los Angeles has a habit of importing teams whose names make no sense whatsover in the new locale; in fact, they’re so particular to their place of origin, it’s almost laughable:
    • There’s no lake in L.A., so why the “Lakers?” Because they originated in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that’s why.
    • The Dodgers? Well, their nickname is one of the most rooted-in-place names in sports, a part of a locality’s inimitable cultural heritage: New Yorkers taking the trolley across Brooklyn to their Manhattan jobs would refer to the natives there, somewhat disparagingly, as “trolley dodgers.”  So when they started a baseball team, Brooklynites proudly adopted “Dodgers” as its moniker.
  • The Devil Rays was too off-putting for the Tampa Bay MLB franchise, so they shortened it to Rays, and included a little splash of sunshine on the logo.  “Rays,” get it?  Though the fish is still there, too.  As far as they’re concerned, you can have it both ways…though it makes a branding expert’s head hurt to contemplate its two-headed dissonance…
  • Ever think about how the three major sports franchises in Pittsburgh all share the same color palette? Black, white and gold are the three major colors for the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins.
  • The Detroit Pistons would seem to have an name firmly rooted in Motown, but they were originally the Fort Wayne (IN) Pistons, before owner Fred Zollner — whose company manufactured pistons, among other auto parts — schlepped the team to Detroit.

And then there’s the greatest logo in sports…

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