Chicago’s hockey team is going to keep its name. So too, it appears, will Atlanta’s baseball team. This does not come as too much of a surprise, given that it was pressure from sponsors that led to the start of name-change discussions for Washington’s football team, while corporate boosters have either been silent or stood with Chicago and Atlanta.
Nobody should expect these teams with racist names to give a damn about whether changing is the right thing to do, because if that was even the slightest factor, these names would’ve been relegated to gutters of history long before now.
Maybe it would be possible to convince owners to change on egotistical grounds. It’s clear now, with momentum pushing for change, that Native-based team names all are going to have to go eventually, and there’s not only no honor in being the last holdout, there’s abject infamy. Tom Yawkey, the last MLB owner to integrate his team, eventually had his name taken off the street outside Fenway Park. George Preston Marshall, the counterpart to Yawkey in the NFL, just had his name stripped from a seating level at Washington’s current stadium by Dan Snyder of all people, and the monument to him was removed from the team’s old home, RFK Stadium.
Liberty Media, the corporate owner of the team that should be the Atlanta Hammers, might not care about legacy, what with being a corporation. In Chicago, Rocky Wirtz has seen fit to keep up a statue of Hitler enthusiast Bobby Hull, so that’s a decent window into where he stands.
But what Liberty Media and Wirtz should care about is leaving money on the table, which is what they are doing by standing fast against the notion of rebranding.
“The decision here is really between short-term and long-term,” says Christie Nordhielm, an associate teaching professor of marketing at Georgetown University. “There’s gonna be a short-term cost of changing the logo for (Chicago) or (Washington) or anybody — marketing costs, costs of figuring out new logos, and legal costs. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs in any of these situations, and the longer that any of these teams or brands delay making this decision, the greater the short-term costs are going to be.
“All of these organizations — their marketing departments should’ve been ready for a name change years ago. This is not something new. The decision to make a name change and the decision to prepare for a possible name change are two different decisions. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs.”
But there’s not just a short-term cost to making a name change. There’s a short-term cost to not making one. Chicago does sell plenty of merchandise — Patrick Kane had the NHL’s ninth-best selling jersey this season — but how many people eschew the team’s gear because they don’t want to wear that logo in public? The people buying Kane’s jersey clearly are willing to look past the multiple sexual assault claims made against him, so those might not be the people who would be put off by an offensive logo on the front of the jersey.
No team would have an easier time changing its name than Chicago, too. From their first Stanley Cup in 1934 to their last in 2015, the name of the team for newspaper purposes has been “Hawks.” Conversationally, Chicagoans refer to “the Hawks” or, yes, “da Hawks.” A beautiful potential Chicago Hawks logo, incorporating the feathers from their racist cartoon era, already exists, and has been seen on the internet for years every time this discussion takes place.
But they’d rather keep being racist and not make money. One of those things is not surprising. The other is. Then again, Wirtz wouldn’t be the first member of his family to make a stupid business decision about his team, given that his father used to keep Chicago home games off television.
“I’d say, ‘Dad, we’re losing generations of fans by not televising home games,’” Rocky Wirtz said of his father, who had the derisive nickname “Dollar Bill” for the way he operated the team. “He said it wouldn’t be fair to our fans with season tickets. But we’d gotten down to 3,400 season tickets, which meant maybe 1,500 to 1,700 fans. So we weren’t televising home games for 1,700 people? Why bang your head against the wall?”
Someone could have the same conversation with the younger Wirtz about not simply changing the official name of his team to Hawks. Who’s being served by keeping it the way it is, with pressure building alongside a legacy of resisting change?
“There’s no reason to drag this on, for any of these teams, or any of these brands,” Nordhielm says. “It’s such an opportunity. NASCAR’s already borne the brunt of all this with the (Confederate) flag. The anti-name change resistors, they’ve had their focus there. This is a perfect opportunity to break with the past and let people forget, as they forgot that the Washington Wizards used to be the Washington Bullets. It’s not new. We’ve run the study before. It’s not unanticipated. It’s not a surprise.
“The extent of the revolutionary activity now is a bit of a surprise, but it’s not a surprise that these names are going to come under scrutiny. They’ve been under scrutiny for years. This is a perfect time to just make the clean break.”