|A Hockey Team By Any Other Name|
Most Canadians by now are aware that the National Hockey League has returned to Winnipeg. As of this writing, the season ticket sales drive is underway but the ownership group has not yet announced the team's name. For anyone paying attention, it's obvious that public sentiment overwhelmingly supports adopting the historic name, The Winnipeg Jets. From a branding perspective this is obviously the best choice... but why exactly? Drawing from brand management best practice, let's look at two compelling reasons to call the team The Jets: 1) Gaining instand heritage and 2) Capitalizing on the cultural embeddedness of the brand.
Instant heritage - With the proliferation of new brands entering the marketplace in recent years, it is extremely difficult for consumers to "get to know" new brands and become engaged. As we know, engagement and emotional connection create the foundation for strong brand relationships. One approach to encourage rapid consumer engagement for new brands is to attempt to manufacture heritage. People relate to the brand's story and a rich heritage provides the framework to tell that story. To the extent that a new brand has heritage to leverage, so much the better.
The NHL is steeped in heritage and legends, and the old stories that get better with time are all wrapped around the long-standing teams. Winnipeg has the opportunity to legitimately acquire decades of history including the greats like Bobby Hull. The alternative is starting from square one, and professional sport has many examples of new teams that have struggles to form an identity.
Culturally embedded - In a way, the Holy Grail for branders is to create a brand that becomes so entrenched within a community that customers feel a strong sense of ownership towards the brand that transcends typical consumer-product relationships. This can be an enormous driver of loyalty and protects both market share and margins. However, having a culturally embedded brand comes with risk. If customers perceive that management is violating the brand's ethos, they can be quick to punish and speak out against management decisions. Noted examples include the failed GAP re-branding, consumer revolt of New Coke, and the repackaging of Tropicana orange juice. In each case, consumer outcry required a return to "old ways".
Of course, The Winnipeg Jets are deeply embedded with the city, province, and arguably, to an extent, right across Canada. Ownership has the rare opportunity to essentially flip the switch and simply turn the lights back on. There is risk here as well - while it's impossible to predict the precise upside of adopting The Jets moniker in terms of sales and sentiment, there is also some risk to not selecting the name. If ticket buyers feel the rightful name of "their team" is not adopted, they could well become vocal and unsupportive, resulting in a potential drag that management could well do without.
In brand management, things are rarely black and white. Naming Winnipeg's new NHL hockey team is one of those times where the best path forward is obvious. By the time you read this, the name will have likely been announced. One thing is for sure, no matter what name is selected, come game night, the arena will be filled with fans wearing Winnipeg Jets jerseys and screaming, "Go Jets Go!".