Charlotte's NBA franchise will soon have a new but familiar look. At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Bobcats owner Michael Jordan announced that the team will change its name to the Hornets for the 2014-15 season and beyond. The official announcement follows a Friday report from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com that the Bobcats were beginning the process of formalizing a name change.
The NBA expanded to Charlotte in 1988 with the Hornets and played in the city through the 2001-02 season, when owner George Shinn moved them to New Orleans. The Charlotte Hornets built a brand on the basis of their ultra-'90s teal-heavy color scheme and the allure of young stars Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The Bobcats have not succeeded in building the same kind of fan base or image, and the New Orleans Hornets' decision to become the more geographically acceptable Pelicans has freed up the name.
Jordan explained the decision on Tuesday. From Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
“Overwhelming you wanted the Hornets name back,’’ Jordan said. “When I first played here years ago, the thing I was totally astounded by was the energy. I wanted to bring that energy back.
“(This decision) says a lot about how we’ve taken the input from our community and put that in action.’’
There are some unresolved issues. Although Jordan and team marketing director Pete Guelli sat in front of purple-and-teal sign reading, “Bring the Buzz,’’ it’s still unclear whether the Bobcats would take on the Hornets’ old color scheme.
“We haven’t even discussed that right now,’’ Jordan said of the color scheme. “This is a first step. To say today we’ve come to that conclusion would not be an accurate statement.’’ [...]
“When the time comes we want to incorporate some of the past,’’ Jordan said. “Dell (Curry) is with the team (as a television analyst) and I believe Muggsy (Bogues) is in town.’’
Jordan acknowledged this name change is just one aspect of the many fixes the franchise needs. The Bobcats were an NBA-worst 28-120 over the past two seasons and will have their third head coach in as many seasons, after firing Mike Dunlap.
MJ is correct to note that this franchise will never catch on with local fans if the team doesn't perform well on the court, but that doesn't mean their branding should be regarded as irrelevant. A sports franchise succeeds when it becomes part of the local community, an extension of the same civic pride that drives other forms of culture. Winning certainly helps move that process along, but so can a sense of continuity and history.
At the same time, the new Hornets can't appear to be a simple copy of the earlier incarnation. As Jordan noted, some teal and purple lettering does not mean the franchise will adopt the same look, and that would be a mistake. This management team needs to create something that can work in the future, not just a cute bit of nostalgia.
It's unclear how successful they will be. The Bobcats are now offering two-year season ticket packages that will cover their first season as the Hornets (and also give fans a "Buzz City" Jordan Brand jacket), but it's hard to believe too many people will be interested in them when so few details are known about the new era. Right now, this is just an idea.
Still, ideas can be powerful. More than anything, this announcement brings hope that the future can be better, even if it's horribly vague at present.