The Cleveland Indians are the latest sports franchise to shed its Native American name.
Paul Dolan, team owner, and chief executive officer, emphasized the organization “wanted to move forward to determine a new name that will better unify and build on our legacy for a new generation."
While the name change may have surprised some, Andy Brief, director of New York advertising agency Devito and Verdi, says change is just a part of the sports world today and that fans would quickly adapt.
“More and more, fans are expecting change from their teams," he says. "Teams leave cities, change stadiums and uniforms, and players jump all over the place."
However, some fans in the short term may resist the change, says Karina Bohn, chief operating officer at Global Sports Institute at Arizona University, “but as most sports marketers will tell you, winning can have a pretty big influence in bringing people back in the fold."
Regardless of fan reaction, the rebranding of the team could serve as a teaching moment for other businesses.
What does a brand change mean for other businesses?
The Cleveland team's name change makes a few important points—even 100-year-old brands can reinvent themselves, and, more importantly, brands should feel comfortable in choosing to do the right thing.
According to Shel Horowitz, a business consultant, there could be a “positive public relations buzz for companies doing the right thing, even if it is decades late and precipitated by a national crisis around racism."
Bohn emphasizes that “while sentiment toward names and logos may fall out of favor over time—just as we have recently seen with logos for Land o' Lakes Butter, Uncle Ben's Rice, among others—solid affinity toward reliable products and services can last a lifetime."
Brand building for business owners
As we move forward, Brief says it's important for brands to understand social trends and culturally-sensitive issues. He also urges business owners to “take the temperature of the group and the communities they serve and be prepared and have a plan [to adjust to changing customer perceptions]."
For Bohn's part, she advises business owners to “make certain the product or service they sell is defining their brand, rather than their name or logo."
Howowitz stresses that this is a good time for brands to assess what they stand for and how they align with the communities they serve. Customers will appreciate being heard and reward businesses with their loyalty.
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