Despite all the drama about how Donald Sterling will go about selling the Clippers, it seems like only a matter of time before the team has a new owner. When that happens, I have one strong piece of advice for the new Clippers owner: Change the name.
The name "Clippers" actually comes from the teams' days as the San Diego Clippers before Sterling moved the franchise in 1984. The name was chosen after the franchise known as the Buffalo Braves moved west in 1978, and it made sense because of San Diego's boating culture.
The tie to San Diego isn't why the franchise should change its name though. After all, team names like the Dodgers and Lakers came from Brooklyn and Minneapolis, respectively. Rather, the team should change its name because the name "Clippers" is so closely associated with Donald Sterling and with a losing history.
As many LAObserved readers may know, I used to work for the Tampa Bay Rays, and I played in a role in that franchise's rebranding from "Devil Rays" to "Rays." It may seem like a small change, but I think it had an enormous impact on the organization.
After changing from a bottom dwelling fish to a bright sun ray in the sky, the team improved from the worst record in baseball in 2007 to the World Series in 2008. The rebranding changed the way the community looked at the team, and it seemed to change the way the players viewed themselves within organization. When I started with the Rays, survey showed the New York Yankees were the most popular team in the Tampa Bay region. Today, the Rays receive strong TV ratings and they are a winning team. It's well-known that they've struggled with attendance, but that has more to do with the stadium and the location of the stadium than anything else.
Two other NBA teams have rebranded in recent years. After Tom Benson purchased the New Orleans Hornets, he changed the name to Pelicans last year. The area-appropriate name and regional rebranding helped the franchise increase its attendance by nearly 3,000 fans a game this season. The Charlotte Bobcats just changed their name to the Charlotte Hornets and that franchise leads the NBA in new season ticket sales this offseason. This buzz is clearly back in Buzz City.
Changing the name from Clippers would represent a clean break from the awful Donald Sterling era. Sure, the team is good now, but Sterling's teams have three playoff series wins and 5 winning seasons in 34 years. Since he took over the Clippers in 1981, they have a pathetic .365 winning percentage, and they were once dubbed by Sports Illustrated as "The Worst Franchise in Sports History."
A new name could bring some new excitement to the franchise and help them develop a real identity. That could be valuable at a time when most Laker fans are disillusioned with their organization, but can't bring themselves to root for a team called the "Clippers." This may surprise some people, but if you ever go to a Dodger game, and see the Clippers score come on the video board, or see a Clippers player shown on the big screen, then the fans always boo. A different name and different brand could really change how the team is viewed locally.
With an exciting team that already boasts Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and coach Doc Rivers, a rebranded Clippers could really rally the local community in way that the current brand struggles to. A new name that doesn't end in "ers" would help the team escape the shadow of the Lakers. And a new name would require a new color scheme, going away from the current unattractive red and blue combination.
So what should the new name be? The Los Angeles Stars sounds pretty good, and it's reminiscent of the ABA team that played here from 1968-70. But it's possible that the trademark "Stars" is unavailable because of the NHL's Dallas Stars.
Another name that I like is "Express", like the old USFL team the Los Angeles Express. That works particularly well for their athletic running team. One other possibility could be "Condors", which would fit well with their current high-flying team dubbed "Lob City." Other ideas are Amigos, Comets, Dragons, Moguls, Mustangs, Stallions, or just the "L.A. Hoops."
Regardless of what's chosen, a new name and a rebrand is exactly what the Clippers need moving forward.