Utah's MLS team: What's in a team name? A lot

Sunday Special: Process entails more than picking something cool
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Coming up with a name for Utah's new Major League Soccer team is proving difficult for Dean Howes.

The chief executive of the team's parent company - Utah Soccer LLC - is finding the process more difficult than naming his own children.

"It's a lot more difficult," Howes said. "My wife just told me what the [children's] names would be."

Howes and the leader of the team's ownership group, Dave Checketts, intend to announce the team's name, logo and colors before the middle of August. However, they don't have a name as of yet. They say naming a soccer team is different than naming other professional sports teams.

Because soccer is more popular outside of the United States, and because MLS wants to participate in the worldwide soccer community, the American model for finding a name doesn't fit.

"We really are trying to fit into the world of soccer," said Preston Wood, a partner in Love Communications, the public relations firm heading up the naming process. "European teams take a legacy approach; it's historical."

The most popular and well-established teams internationally develop their names over time, like a nickname. The London-based team Arsenal, for instance, got its name because the original team was formed by a group of workers at the Woolrich Arsenal Armament Factory.

And certainly, names such as Manchester United and Real Madrid are unlike the names of the MLS's Dallas Burn and Kansas City Wizards. Utah's team, then, likely will not be called the Seagulls, Saints or Pioneers. More likely, names such as Utah United or Salt Lake S.C. (for soccer club) are being considered.

In an effort to fit in on an international stage, the Burn recently announced plans to rename themselves.

"They try so hard to tie themselves locally, it just feels second-tier," Alan Reighard of Love Communications said of the common U.S. model. "This is big time, this is major league."

Finding a more classic name that establishes a soccer legacy from opening day is difficult business. Wood said the naming process for many established teams is ongoing. The Utah Jazz, for instance, changed their logo, colors and uniforms in 1997 and again this summer. And the Salt Lake Buzz went through a very difficult process of changing their name to the Stingers.

Howes said the naming process began the first day the ownership group considered an MLS team. Early meetings at Love Communications involved brainstorming sessions with hundreds of suggestions written on a dry-erase board. They considered names presented in the media, including those sent in by readers of a recent The Salt Lake Tribune survey. Most were discarded, and the group now is considering variations on logos and colors to go with a handful of names.

"This is an area where everybody has a strong opinion," Howes said. "There is very much a personal aspect to this that is not scientific."

In addition to the basic look and feel of the name and logo, the group is considering issues such as possible trademark violations and how a player will look on television running down a green field. And MLS officials are involved the whole way.

The soccer team's naming process is significantly different than what the Stingers experienced. Georgia Tech forced the team into a legal battle over a perceived trademark violation after it was called the Buzz for three years. When it came time to rename, the team held a name-the-team contest and let fans give their suggestions.

"The community is really the thing that made us successful here," Stingers general manager Dorsena Picknell said. "It was important that we get them involved."

The Utah Grizzlies also were named by community vote, but not in Utah. The team, which started in 1993 in Denver, held a fan contest. The ultimate winner was the name liked best by the ownership group, and it traveled to Utah after the team spent just one year in Colorado.

"It was not that awkward to keep the name," Grizzlies official Bob Hoffman said. The Grizzlies had won a national title their first year, so bringing the name with them to Utah just made sense.

"When moving a championship team like that, you keep the name," Hoffman said. The two ZZs in the middle of name, he said, were always there. Spelling the name with two ZZs, then, was not a product of Utah's mid-'90s fad.

"We tried to stay away from that," Hoffman said. "People like to call us the Grizz, going along with that, but we'd rather be just the Grizzlies."

When the Utah Jazz moved from New Orleans, changing their name to fit the Utah market was never seriously considered.

"It was kind of the team's identity when they moved," Jazz official Kim Turner said. "It was just like when the Lakers moved from Minneapolis. They were the Lakers, and that was it."

Turner said changing the team's logo and colors is a large project, requiring approval from the league a year in advance of their implementation. Renaming the team, then, is an even larger project.

"We couldn't change it now, because that's who we are," Turner said.

The Utah Blitzz (perhaps the last Utah team to adopt the ZZ spelling) took a different approach to naming themselves. After narrowing their own list to 15 names, the team let players from several youth teams pick their favorite.

"We gave them a list of names that we were comfortable with," Blitzz coach and co-owner Chris Agnello said. Whatever name came out on top, then, would suit them.

"We don't mind it," Agnello said. "It works for us."