Cliff Rucker thought he decided on a catchy name for his new pro hockey team – The Worcester White Hawks. He had a logo created and even ordered checks with the team’s name on them.
But there was a problem. White hawks are native to Central America, not central Massachusetts.
The reaction on social media convinced Rucker, the team’s owner, to shift gears. The ECHL team would be called the Worcester Railers to celebrate the city’s railroad heritage.
Portland’s ECHL franchise faces a similar decision – what to name the hockey team that will debut in October 2018.
Select the right name and it can establish fan loyalty, defined by ticket sales and merchandise receipts. Choose one that fans are indifferent about, and well …
“It’s a huge decision,” said Brian Corcoran, founder and CEO of Shamrock Sports and Entertainment, a marketing group based in Portland. “It has to be authentic and relevant.”
Portland’s ECHL franchise has narrowed the possible name down to five finalists, culled from fan submissions earlier this summer: Lumberjacks, Mariners, Puffins, Watchmen and Wild Blueberries. The team is conducting a poll on its website, allowing fans to choose their favorite among the five. It has already generated 15,000 votes, said Adam Goldberg, the team’s vice president/business operations.
Seeking fan submissions was a smart move, Corcoran said.
“Let people have a voice, in a fun way of getting them involved in the process,” he said. “Plus, it’s a great way to increase awareness.”
So what makes for a winning name?
“The most important part of any sports name, especially in minor league sports, is identity. It must represent the hometown,” said Jason Klein, a co-founder of Brandiose, a San Diego-based design firm that has become a leader in sports team branding.
“You want a (name) that is something unique to the community, with a logo that people have to see,” he said.
‘A NAME THAT SAYS … FAMILY FUN’
Klein said the five finalists for the Portland team “are all great names.”
He said the name and logo must also communicate fun. Brandiose made its mark with minor league baseball teams – Richmond Flying Squirrels, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Akron RubberDucks, among many others – but the company also works with other sports, including hockey. It helped the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL become the Swamp Rabbits in 2015, complete with a logo featuring a fierce-looking bunny.
“Eighty percent of the fans (at a game) are looking for fun, 20 percent follow what’s going on,” Klein said. “You want a name that says you’re in the family-fun entertainment business.”
When Worcester went with the Railers, its logo featured a train traveling through the seven hills of Worcester. The team’s mascot is a dog named Trax, complete with a conductor’s hat.
“It’s great for marketing,” said Eric Lindquist, the team’s vice president for marketing and communications. “What little kids do not like trains?”
‘MARINERS’ LEAD INFORMAL POLL
Other teams use the railroad theme, including hockey’s Roanoke (Virginia) Rail Yard Dawgs (with a dog mascot named Diesel), and baseball’s Hartford Yard Goats (whose logo features a goat with a broken bat in its mouth).
Goldberg used to work in Hartford, Connecticut, with its minor league hockey team – a team that changed its name from the Hartford Wolf Pack to the Connecticut Whale in 2010, and then back to the Wolf Pack in 2013.
“That was an interesting part of my career,” he said. “Any time a team name is changed or introduced, there is a lot of passion and opinion.”
Goldberg remembers when the Yard Goats name was introduced in 2015.
“There was a lot of negative reaction,” he said. “Now it’s beloved. People wear Yard Goats merchandise all over town.”
Goldberg – no surprise – would not say who is leading the team’s poll so far. He said previously that fan voting on the name will not be the sole deciding factor.
An informal internet poll being conducted by the Portland Press Herald had 46 percent of 3,307 respondents favor Mariners, the name of the original American Hockey League team in Portland, from 1977-92. Watchmen is in second place (17 percent), followed by Lumberjacks (14 percent) and Puffins and Wild Blueberries (12 percent each).
Corcoran is among those who favor the Mariners because he grew up watching the team. “I have such positive memories,” he said.
ANNOUNCEMENT NEXT MONTH
If Maine Mariners is selected, there may be a legal hurdle to clear. There is a pending trademark request for the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by former Portland developer Michael Liberty (who is facing a four-month prison term for federal campaign finance violations). Liberty’s request was opposed by the Seattle Mariners baseball team and is currently suspended.
Goldberg registered the internet addresses portlandpuffins.com and mainewatchmen.com on Aug. 10, according to the WHOIS domain registry. He told the Press Herald two weeks ago that the team has secured other internet addresses based on variations of the five names, although he declined Thursday to reveal the exact URLs. There is not a trademark request pending for either Portland Puffins or Maine Watchmen.
Goldberg said a decision on the team name should be announced by mid- to late September, with a logo and colors announced by late October or early November. Whatever name is selected, it must spark water-cooler conversations.
“The worst thing (possible with a team name) is that people are apathetic,” Klein said. “You want them to hate it or love it – and the lovers always convert the haters.”
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: