Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How Much Does a Soccer Nickname Matter in Atlanta, Minnesota and New York?

Branding is the name of the game in capitalist America.

How much is a good nickname worth?

It could be the difference between failure and success for a professional soccer franchise in the U.S.

I know it seems a little curious or impertinent to say a franchise's fortunes rise or fall on a nickname, but the nickname is typically representative of a bigger ideal.

Nicknames inspire and galvanize attention. Communities can become more involved depending on a nickname.  A great nickname can make it seem like there's a greater cause to be made.

There are times when the ideals behind a new team/club trump any average nickname.  If there is an awesome stadium, great players or passionate support groups, an average or bad nickname can be overcome.

Overall, what attracts fans to watch their local pro soccer team live or on Tv is determined by an array of factors.  It's a long conversation.

But, to disregard the influence of a nickname is a mistake.

If the right nickname is branded well and the area accepts it as their own, then, it becomes harder for any new investors to come in and steal a franchise away.

I think the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers are perfect examples.  Why reinvent the wheel and brand a new team if the nickname matches perfectly to the area's identity.

While in the minor leagues, the owner of the Sounders was able to position himself to sell off interests in the team at a much higher price when the prospects for MLS came around.  Seattle's owner, Adrian Hanauer, did that in 2007 and did very well for himself even though Seattle was in the minor leagues averaging 3,000 fans or so in attendance per home game (In Portland, they were able to brand 'Timbers' while the team was in the minor leagues, too.  Branding an area's team in the minor leagues is also happening in outstanding fashion with the Indy 'Eleven'.).

It can be said that a battle involving nicknames in pro soccer is waging or about to be waged in Atlanta, Minnesota and New York.

In Atlanta, it appears Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL Atlanta Falcons will be trying to start an MLS franchise very soon.

What will be the strategy for the new MLS team?  Will they try to buy the NASL Atlanta Silverbacks naming rights?

Last year, the NASL Atlanta franchise did a survey and voters got to choose their team's nickname between 'Silverbacks' or 'Chiefs', which was an old NASL Atlanta soccer nickname.  The voters selected 'Silverbacks.'

What I like about 'Silverbacks' is the actual animal, which is unique and neat, but I also like the idea of a shortened nickname to just 'Backs.'  It can be used as a mascot with a gorilla theme and it also goes well in soccer with positions like 'fullbacks.'

The question in Atlanta becomes whether the Silverbacks are considered Atlanta's soccer team or not, like the discussion above relates.

In Minnesota, there appears to be two sides going for an MLS team.  One side are the NFL Minnesota Vikings owners and the other side is NASL's Minnesota United FC (partnered with the owners of the Minnesota Twins).  Again, part of the solution is in the question of whether the branding is complete and United FC is the team or not.

My feeling is that the obvious best nickname for any pro Minnesota soccer team is the 'Kicks.'  If it were me with the big bucks, I would buy the rights to the 'Kicks' and reload on my branding (and probably get a more modern logo).  This could be the best of all pro soccer nicknames.

In New York, again, I gotta go with the obvious.

-With the New York Red Bulls technically playing in New Jersey, I see them belonging to a variety of communities, including ones in Jersey.

Any pro soccer team in New York with big bucks should be thinking of only one nickname, 'Cosmos.'

Right now, the team without the big bucks playing in New York is the NASL New York Cosmos and the new team getting ready for MLS has a pretty sour and dour name, NYCFC.  There are challenges ahead with an FC name, just ask Dallas and Toronto.

I project this all to end in the new MLS New York team's favor.  Inevitably, they will see the light and fork over the big bucks to buy the rights to 'Cosmos.'

Originally published January/2014


  1. For Minnesota, I think bring back the Kicks name is a bad idea. We (in MN) have had continuous pro soccer for the last 23 or 24 years (I forget which); all under other names. The longest period was as the Minnesota Thunder, but that team was run into the ground by a [literally] con man - who fled the country without paying the players or staff. Local entities supported follow on teams under the Stars banner (the Thunder name was held up in litigation). Now that MN United FC has real owners, their branding is solid.

    Check out the MN United website, and I think most would agree that the logo, uniforms, brand are good. (For the record, the nickname is the Loons - and the jersey and logo depict a loon - the work of Zeus Jones). Even though the Kicks had a season with avg attendance above 30k (second only to the Cosmos), most MN soccer fans identify more with the Thunder/Stars and now the Loons. And with ownership investing in the team and the brand, I think the Loons will only get better.

    No reason to bring back the Kicks.