Wildcard Wednesday 5/4/16

Here's my hardline, no-exception, absolute rule (because no compromise is the best way always!): the name of a professional sports team should stay with its place of origin. If I’m deciding a rule applicable to the ownership of a professional sports franchise I decide on that rule immediately. I believe that strikes a fair balance between the freedom of the entrepreneur and the investment of the local fans. A good name, the best names (according to me), intentionally reflect the place (sure probably in order to attract monetary gain, but ideally commerce and the broader reality seamlessly commingle. Am I right? I think I'm right).

In order to secure a consistent stream of funds the franchise needs to appeal to the people that can realistically and regularly attend the competitions. Fans in the immediate area can realistically and regularly attend consistently. Ingratiating the team to them makes good business sense. But, removing the team and the franchise history from the place removes the foundation on which the fandom rests. It’s quid pro quo. This for that. Except one side has the option to remove the “this” on a whim. To hold those who want “this” hostage, demanding extreme “that” as the ransom. Usually “that” constitutes a new stadium or building. Notice that "hostage" and "ransom" aren't particularly positive terms but I think they're probably accurate.

Now the argument can be made that a rule of that form limits the freedom of the owner who paid money for that team. Of course the one making that argument probably holds an array of personal beliefs that already conflict with my supposition. However, I would contest that the owner of a team seeks benefit from the community, and intentionally appeals to them. It seems fair then to imply a relationship between the broader community and the ownership of a franchise. But, the owner is free to leave whenever the owner decides, sticking the community with the remainder after the absence. That violates the implied relationship. Plus I’m generally supportive of a cool name over free enterprise for sport’s team owners. Power to the people!

Listing names of a few professional sports franchises and explaining what makes them good or bad demonstrates efficacy, or the lack of. The Utah Jazz. The Milwaukee Brewers. I’m from Wisconsin so that probably helps foreshadow my preferences.    

The Utah Jazz. One thing that definitely comes to mind when I think jazz music: the State of Utah. An impromptu jazz jam might erupt out of nothing down the street anywhere in Utah. Let me take you to funky town, or as some know it Salt Lake City. It is Utah after all. Oh, Utah's not funky? It's not jazzy? Not at all? In fact jazz is maybe the antithesis of the general conception of Utah? Hmmm. That seems counterintuitive. Maybe Utah is ironically jazzy? I guess they should be the popular hipster franchise or something.

The Jazz actually originated in New Orleans. Ahhh. New Orleans and jazz music. Wow. That actually makes complete sense. Those two seem to match perfectly. New Orleans, a funky, rhythmic haven? Absolutely. Knowing that, I can’t help but feel a little disappointment every time of hear something about the Utah Jazz or the New Orleans Pelicans. Oh what was and what should still be.

Alternatively, the Milwaukee Brewers. People often refer to Milwaukee as“cream city,” referring to brick color. But, more applicable here, Milwaukee also often receives another moniker, “brew city.” Laverne and Shirley (that was a TV show back in the day) lived in Milwaukee and worked at a brewery. A slogan of Schlitz beer was, “Schlitz, the Beer that made Milwaukee Famous.” Beer and Milwaukee have grown to become synonymous with each other. I remember the smell of yeast from the various breweries permeating the vehicle as we drove through Milwaukee in my childhood. So the name of the baseball team explicitly appeals to the community. Brewers make beer. Especially in a small market, the local fan base and the team must form a symbiotic relationship for the team to even survive much less thrive. 

Despite the difficulties, enough success and money can overcome the struggles a name might create. But why create unnecessary struggle if the goal is monetary gain? The Lakers originated in Minnesota. I wasn’t around when they moved or I would have railed, likely unsuccessfully, for “Lakers” to stay in Minnesota. Now the Timberwolves could be the Lakers and the L.A. Lakers could be something relevant to people in Los Angeles. Minnesota is a place where the populace identifies with the concept of lakes. Naming the basketball team after lakes appealed directly to the populace. The Minneapolis Lakers is a cool name. Really cool.

I currently live in Los Angeles. I have never heard a single person make a single utterance about L.A.’s lakes. L.A has no lakes! At least not many and certainly not prominent, dominating ones. LA’s near the ocean. Not only does the name, the LA Lakers, seem random and arbitrary when applied to L.A. but it seems extra those things because it so fittingly applies to the originating place. Since removing the team from Minnesota effectively severed any meaning from the name between the new fans and and the franchise, the ownership leveraged success and money to fill the hole. Of course, many fanbases would more than accept that trade off, but for many fanbases that option fails to exist. Especially in a small market, the franchise cannot usually afford to consistently put out a winning product - and spending never really guarantees winning anyway. 

If an owner arrives at the decision that it makes monetary sense to transfer locations, monetary concerns clearly supersede others for them. A locality from which a team departs cannot choose to make a team suddenly viable. If the the owner has chosen to place finances above all else, as most owners will, then it makes little sense to carry a previously locationally incisive name with anyway. It makes much more sense for the owner to appeal directly to the likely already extremely interested fanbase by directly tying the team name to the place. It signifies a commitment of the owner to the locality for a longer term. 

So, it seems to make the most sense for a franchise to create a new name when arriving in a new place if the franchise plans to even attempt creating any sort of connection to the new locality. And, since the old name no longer bares any relevance, it also makes sense to leave it where it came from. “What’s in a name?” Apparently a lot!