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James Phillips on "Behind the Mascot"
What's In A Name? - April 2008
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What's In A Name? (April 2008)
By Pat Walker, President Pat Walker Productions
It's a very intriguing question - and the first of many that I want to help this readership answer in my new column.
Before I launch into the subject matter, I'd like to give a little insight on how this came to be and what my goals are. As some of you may have learned from my recent interview with gameops.com, I've made the transition from working for the Seattle SuperSonics & Seattle Storm for six years - and founded Pat Walker Productions, a consulting company which focuses on game presentation and event production.
I'm assuming that you've found your way onto this page for one of three reasons. A) You work in the world of game operations and are looking to increase your knowledge and effectiveness in the industry; B) you're an avid internet surfer and have bookmarked gameops.com because you occasionally have the need to purchase a 900 square foot dodgeball net system; or, C) you know me personally and want to see how I do with my first stab at published writing.
Regardless of the reason, I'm glad you're here and I look forward to helping all of you create some productive brainstorming sessions (the root of all great game ops ideas) or simply enlightened conversation at the water cooler. The topic we're going to tackle this month is names - more specifically, the strategy behind naming elements of your game presentation, everything from performance groups to sponsor promotions.
A name is not something to be taken lightly or to be assigned in a rushed moment. It's an identity, a description, a brand - once it's been labeled, it will stick, whether we like it or not. When my parents were filling out my birth certificate, they could've gone with any number of names - Ted, Nick, Amadeus or perhaps Bozo (if you must know, I was going to be Jennifer if I was a girl) - and I got Patrick, which branched into Pat and PW. To me, those aren't just names, but synonymous with who I am.
When you think of names in the world of sports, many come to mind. Player nicknames often become a moniker that identifies them independent of their real name. Think how perfect a fit "Sweetness" was to Walter Payton's gliding running style, "Magic" to visualize Earvin Johnson's impossible passes, or "Mr. October" to describe Reggie Jackson's historic postseason heroics.
Some names describe a group of fans, such as the intimidating "Black Hole" in Oakland, the rowdy "Dawg Pound" in Cleveland and the enjoyable "Bleacher Bums" at Wrigley Field. Some even represent an entire stadium, like the "Swamp" in Gainesville, Florida.
There were likely a few names that were established at your team well before you started working there, such as your team name and mascot name. These generally reflect the history or notoriety of the region in which your team plays. A well-known historical name is the San Francisco 49ers, which commemorates the gold rush of 1849, an event that established the city's credibility in this nation. The Denver Nuggets mascot's name, Rocky, is a direct reference to the geological area in which the city lies, perched amongst the Rocky Mountains.
Let's turn our attention now to names that you will likely need to create at some point. As you begin the naming process, keep a few things in mind. Catchy phrases work well, so rhymes and alliterations can generate great names. Also remember to avoid industry terms that fans would be unfamiliar with - most of your co-workers know that an S.T.H. is a Season Ticket Holder, but Joe Fan is likely to shrug his shoulders when asked what the acronym stands for. And finally, if it's a name that'll receive high profile coverage, make sure it's not already legally copyrighted - better to pick an alternate name and avoid the lawsuit.
The first category we'll cover involves sponsor elements, which often provides one of the most challenging naming processes. Sponsors come on board with teams in order to be associated with a community asset they view as having a positive association with their company. That being said, they still have marketing efforts and taglines that need to be considered. Game ops is a service department and the ideas we come up with can make our sponsorship department look like geniuses to their clients.
When naming sponsor elements, aim for something that is perceived as hip, rather than something that feels like it's forcing advertising onto the fan base. When I started with the Sonics, the promotion interns had long been known as "Gang Green", associated with the team's primary color. A few years ago, Mountain Dew decided to sponsor this group and part of the deal was a name change. From that, the "Dew Crew" was born. In essence, the only thing that changed was the name and the logo on the polos - but a new identity had been created that pleased the sponsor and added the cool factor for Mountain Dew's target audience.
Often times, on-court contests are created for a new sponsor. Taking a previously developed contest and renaming it to fit a corporate identity can accomplish this. For example, "Beat the Buzzer" is a popular contest that many basketball teams use - each contestant has five seconds to go the length of the floor and hit a shot before time expires, the one we all acted out in our driveway as a kid. When working with the NBA at All Star in February, T-Mobile wanted a contest to showcase their Hot Spot marketing - so we utilized the above mentioned contest model and named it the "T-Mobile Hot Spot Buzzer Shot".
Performance groups are another element that you will likely participate in a naming brainstorm at some point. With teams adding everything from dunking ushers and dancing grounds crews to dance teams featuring big guys busting out of their jerseys, it's important to give them a fitting name - one that depicts their identity. One of my favorites is the "Used to Bees", a group of older gals who perform for the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets dance team is dubbed the Honeybees, so this name plays off of that in humorous fashion.
One naming session I participated in during my time with the Sonics was for a break dancing group we were bringing on board. We wanted a name that captured the energy, power and amazement of the acrobatic moves these guys were taking onto the court. We decided on the Sonics Boom Squad - if you look up "sonic boom" on Wikipedia, it states the term is commonly used to refer to the shocks caused by an object flying through the air at supersonic speeds. The name was a perfect match and also lent itself to strong punctuation of the "Boom" by the Sonics PA Announcer, which has become their signature intro at KeyArena.
So now that you've had your lesson on the importance of a name, I'm going to ask you to do a little homework assignment. This is the first column I've ever written and while I think it went relatively well, it still lacks an identity - simply put, it doesn't yet have a name.
On a monthly basis, I'm going to write about topics that span across all sports and all aspects of game ops and event presentation - but before I take the next step, I need a name for it all. As in any brainstorm, all ideas will be accepted and considered - simply email me with your idea and I'll announce the new name in my May column. Thanks in advance for your help.
Patrick Walker is the President of Pat Walker Productions, a Seattle-based event production group. Pat shares over a decade of expertise in Game Entertainment and Operations in a monthly column called Walk & Talk and blog posts on Gameops.com.[patwalkerproductions.com] [LinkedIn - Pat Walker] [Follow Pat Walker on Twitter]
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