Sports Team Names Reveal Something… UC Santa Cruz has had the "Banana Slug" as an Unofficial Name and Mascot. Is this a Beneficial "brand" for them?

Sports teams can select names and identities that really are often interesting and intriguing. Some time ago I learned that University of California Santa Cruz had selected the banana slug as a mascot, and I took pause. They describe¬†their mascot as “a bright yellow, slimy, shell-less mollusk commonly found on the redwood forest floor…” Certainly this brand is unique and memorable, but is it positive for the school?

Recently, CNN ran an article about the origins of national football league team names in the U.S. My attention turned to professional sports around the world. Looking at the deep thought behind some names, one has to wonder. The American Football team, the Arizona Cardinals was named because the owner liked “cardinal red.” The cardinal first appeared in 1947. Radio executive George Richards bought and moved the Portsmouth Spartans to Detroit and renamed them the Detroit Lions paralleling the American Baseball League pennant champions Detroit Tigers. The Seattle Seahawks chose their name after considering names like Skippers, Pioneers, Lumberjacks and Seagulls. They rationalize the choice by saying it “…suggests aggressiveness, reflects our soaring Northwest heritage, and belongs to no other team.”

English football is not short on team nicknames. Some of my favorites are; Arsenal Gunners, Aston Villa Villans, Bolton Wanderers Trotters (does that mean they trot when they wander?), Manchester United Red Devils (my favorite team), Newcastle United Magpies, Tottenham Lilywhites (now called the Spurs), Blackpool Tangerines, Ipswich Town Tractor Boys, and Queens Park Rangers, often called the Hoops.

The Netherlands national football team is usually called Oranje, and for a time was nicknamed Clockwork Orange for their precision passing. The Japan national football team is commonly know a Nippon Daihyo, but alternatively named after the head coach during his term, such as Okada Japan being coached by Takeshi Okada. The China PR national football team has not bitten the western marketing bug and is either called Team China or National Team. Imagine well over 300 million viewers for a championship match… the marketing possibilities are enormous.

In rugby, one of the best known teams is the South African national rugby union team has been called the Springboks dating back to the 1906 season. The French team is often called Les Coqs… the abbreviation for their mascot, the Gallic Rooster. As in football, China does not yet have a mascot, not that it needs one. Netherlands is waiting until they qualify for a Rugby World Cup finals tournament. But my favorite is the Japan national rugby team, traditionally the strongest rugby union in Asia. You know, those players who don’t wear much protection and lose teeth, break bones, and get cuts and gashes. They are known as “The Cherry Blossoms”.

Team names reflect something about origins, regions, attitudes, and cultures. But do they strengthen a sports brand? Do they maximize its value as an economic enterprise? It depends on your perspective.

Can you think of interesting and appropriate or inappropriate team names? If so, please add them to the comments on this blog and we will see we have missed any worth thinking about.