July 28, 2021
The Cleveland Indians will become the Guardians. Does the name change hit it out of the ballpark?
VCU Brandcenter copywriting professor Holly Hessler discusses the change and why choosing a new team name “is one of the hardest jobs out there.”
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Blues. Bronchos. Naps. Indians. Over the past 120 years, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team has had many names. It’s about to have another new one. Last week, the Cleveland Indians announced they would move away from a moniker long criticized as racist and rename themselves the Cleveland Guardians, effective at the end of this season.
The franchise clearly tried to cover all the bases with the new name. “Guardians” is a nod to the city’s Hope Memorial Bridge, which sits just outside Progressive Field. The bridge’s major architectural feature is eight figures representing the Guardians of Traffic, a familiar site to Clevelanders (and fans of the 1989 film “Major League,” which opens with a shot of a Guardian). To Cleveland, the figures have come to represent the spirit of the city: resilient, hardworking and loyal. A video accompanying the announcement was narrated by none other than national treasure and longtime Cleveland baseball fan Tom Hanks, evoking those sentiments.
Did Cleveland get it right?
“These things are highly politically charged so there is no real or clear ‘right and wrong,’” said Holly Hessler, a copywriting professor at the Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Hessler discussed what goes into choosing a new name for a beloved team in an interview with VCU News.
Did Cleveland nail it with this name change?
The choice makes sense. From both a linguistic and connotation standpoint, they’re staying close to where they came from. Baseball is a legacy sport. Part of the reason for the gross hesitation in making any change is fear of the fans’ resistance to it. Guardians sounds familiar enough and at the same time doesn’t drum up a specific feeling or imagery. This allows the brand to ascribe their existing meaning to the name fairly easily. However, this can also open up the brand to criticism. What is the team’s point of view on who they are? Does choosing something practically meaningless feel like a cop out? And what about alternatives that do a better job celebrating the city and its people versus clinging limply to a shred of what was? Ultimately, these answers are up to the team and the fans.
What's the rationale in announcing the name change now, but waiting until the season ends to implement it?
Fandom is a very real thing. There are people who cheer for a losing team their entire lives. Isn’t it remarkable to think a brand can fail you that consistently and you can still love it? I pose that not to poke fun but with a true sense of awe. It just goes to show that loyalty to a sports team is not to be trifled with. By announcing the name before the change is officially made, I imagine the team is giving the fans some time to adjust.
What can other teams learn from the way Cleveland handled the name change?
Hopefully, that it doesn’t hurt to make a change. Yes, there will be a transition but fans gonna fan. They get riled up about anything. It’s part of the fun. As a fan, you get to have an opinion on everything from the uniform to the first pitch thrown at the top of the fourth inning. It shows you care. At the end of the day, I believe all fans want to know they’re cheering for the good guys. If changing your team name does good for somebody, your fans will see that and stick with you. It may just take a minute for them to adjust.
“Fandom is a very real thing. There are people who cheer for a losing team their entire lives. Isn’t it remarkable to think a brand can fail you that consistently and you can still love it? I pose that not to poke fun but with a true sense of awe. It just goes to show that loyalty to a sports team is not to be trifled with.”Holly Hessler
What factors do teams need to consider when choosing a new name?
Naming is one of the hardest jobs out there because there are so many things to consider and so many things to choose not to consider. For example:
- Former team names
- Famous players
- City history
- Fan likes and dislikes
- Stadium name
- Popular snacks
- Common chants
- Mascots, existing, retired and not yet created
- The future of the team
- The team’s past
I mean, I could go on for pages.
As with all names, you want it to be sticky. To be that thing that people gravitate to. How you get there takes a lot of thought and a lot of work.
What would you like to add?
Go Dodgers ;)
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