Sports Marketing

Team Naming: Winnipeg’s NHL Debate – Jets, Moose or Falcons?

This issue of Brandscapes takes me back to the early days of my career and my first job with a business card – sports reporter for CJOC radio in Lethbridge, Alberta.  One of my most memorable assignments was reporting on the first ever game of the Calgary Flames who had just moved to Calgary from Atlanta.  When the franchise left Georgia for Alberta it kept its name, just as baseball’s Milwaukee Braves did when they relocated to Atlanta in the 60s.  Unlike the Flames move to Calgary, the latest relocation of an Atlanta hockey team will likely result in a new name for the franchise.
 

A Public Naming Debate

There is a very public naming debate raging in Winnipeg.  With the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers moving to Manitoba, the big question is: what will the team be called?

Intense discussions are taking place in the media, online and at the corner of Portage and Main.  Thousands of people are offering emotionally charged opinions on the team title.

The Frontrunners

Should the team become a new version of the Jets?  It’s the name known to all hockey fans, but it is tainted with memories of abandonment – the original Jets migrated to Phoenix 15 years ago.

Should the Manitoba Moose name be called up to the big league?  True North Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the NHL franchise, has spent the last 15 years building the Moose brand as a team name in the International and American hockey leagues.

Should the team resurrect a title from the city’s hockey history?  The Winnipeg Falcons won the first ever Olympic hockey gold medal in 1920.

Or should the newly relocated franchise take on an entirely new name?

How To Decide?

How should the new franchise owners decide?  Blindly adopt the most popular name from the online polls?  Not if they want the best long term result.

As demonstrated by the fans’ passionate fervour in the debate, naming is an emotionally charged endeavour.  Emotion is a powerful force and an inevitable part of any naming project.  But to base name selection solely on emotion is a recipe for disaster.

Love Is Blind

When ill-informed love takes the leading role and logic is brushed aside, substandard results usually follow.  Companies select names that feel good inside, but don’t measure up to the time tested criteria that determine the name’s marketplace effectiveness.  Products end up permanently burdened with names that impair economic performance:

  • Names that position products as commodities
  • Names that are readily confused with those of competing products
  • Names that are awkward to pronounce
  • Names that customers avoid
  • Names that blend in rather than stand out.

Strategy Must Come First

To avoid the perils of blind love, Winnipeg’s NHL naming debate, like all naming projects needs a strategic framework.

A comprehensive strategy will help True North assess the three front runner names and any other candidates under consideration.  On client naming projects I typically build criteria in more than a dozen categories, which is far more than I can address in this article.  But to give you a feel for the type of analysis needed I’ll discuss three criteria: imagery, phonetics and visual brandability.

Imagery

The name is for a professional sports team competing in the world’s most elite league.  The name needs to evoke big league imagery and fit the context of “the world’s fastest game.”  The name needs to convey a sense of excitement and inspire the players who will wear the uniform.

Among the top three contenders, the Jets name is the best for imagery.  Jets are fast and powerful.  Jets are sleek, impressive and high tech.  Jets soar to great heights.

Falcons also take to the skies.  They are agile flyers, but are nowhere near as fast as a jet.  A falcon is a cunning bird of prey, but only capable of killing rodents and other small animals.  A falcon might be able to take down a duck or a penguin, but wouldn’t stand a chance against a bruin, panther, coyote or shark.

Moose are plodding, ground-based creatures that spend a lot of time knee deep in the marsh munching on bulrushes.  Moose are backwoods herbivores.  The Manitoba Moose was a great name for a minor league hockey team, but probably lacks the urban cachet NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is looking for.

In the hockey world a Falcon would be a speedy right winger – dynamite on a breakaway but ineffective and hesitant in the corners.  Moose would be an appropriate nickname for a super-sized, flat footed defenseman.  Calling a player a Jet would be a supreme compliment, as it was for Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet and former Winnipeg Jet.

The Jets name is best for imagery.

Phonetics

Phonetics can make or break a name.  Letter combinations need to create sound qualities that fit the product.  Ideal ice rink phonetics should be confident, crisp and authoritative, like the Canucks.  (It’s too bad for Vancouver fans that their team’s performance in game seven of the Stanley Cup final didn’t measure up to these phonetic qualities)

For phonetic qualities, Jets and Falcons are both acceptable.  The opening sounds of both words – the J in Jets and the F in Falcons – are a bit soft, but both words end well.  The Jets name has a crisp, definite ending.  The –con finish in Falcon is strong and commanding.

The Moose name on the other hand is bulky and a bit clumsy.  It lacks definition, like a baggy pair of sweatpants.

Given the phonetic qualities of the names, a chant of “Go Jets Go” or “Go Falcons Go” has a far more decisive cadence than “Go Moose Go.”

For phonetic qualities, Jets and Falcons are both good.

Visual Brandability

The name that the team selects will be seen without exaggeration billions of times in the years to come.  The name will be printed in newspaper stories, tickets, programs and signage.  The name will be viewed on TV screens, webpages, Twitter feeds and blog posts.  And perhaps most importantly from a team revenue point of view, the name will be embroidered or silk screened onto jerseys, T-shirts, ball caps, duffle bags, coffee cups and trinkets of every kind.

The team needs a name that will be a star performer in each of these visual applications.

Shorter Is Stronger

While any of the front runner names can be made to work, the Jets name is the strongest because it is shortest.

The Jets name is tight and concise, just four letters in length.  The Moose name has only five letters, but because the letters are all wide and bulky, it looks much longer.  The Falcons name is seven letters long.

In logo form the Jets name can be used in a small square space.  The Moose and Falcon names need more horizontal space.  In the same horizontal span, Jets can appear twice the height of Falcons and 80% larger than Moose.  The bigger font makes a stronger impression.

The Jets name is the best option for visual brandability.

The Best Name: Jets

There are many strategic factors to be considered in selecting a name for a company, product or NHL team.  This is not an exhaustive analysis.  But based on the factors of imagery, phonetics and visual brandability, the Jets name is by far the best of the three frontrunners.

What Do You Think the Team Should Be Called?

How About Your Company?

Do you have a product that needs a name?  Make sure you establish a comprehensive strategy to guide the naming process.  If you have a question around what factors need to be considered, give me a call to discuss your project.