With J Hutcherson — Once upon a time, there was an idea that the future for a handful of professional sports teams in North America was regional. Why tie yourself to one city, when you could take a broader place name? Even better if you were justifying a stadium far from a city center.
When baseball expanded in 1993, both of the new teams went with the name of their State over the name of their city. Chasing a trend, the '98 expansion class went State with Arizona, and region with Tampa Bay – a team that has always played in downtown St Petersburg.
It's the Florida Marlins – one of those '93 teams – becoming the first of the baseball teams to reconsider. When they open their new stadium in 2012, they'll be the Miami Marlins. On Tuesday, the team announced that they're already dropping the 'Florida' from their away uniforms for this season.
Team owner Jeffrey Loria described the rationale for the move in a press statement, saying: "We believe this change will better reflect the team's commitment to the South Florida community and will provide an enhanced look to the Marlins brand that fans will embrace."
Considering the relative marketing value of regionalism versus city-specificity for the 1997 and 2003 World Series winners, who really can say.
The formerly regional Orioles response to baseball returning to Washington, DC was to put Baltimore back on the away shirts and the State flag of Maryland on the sleeve. That might have been overdoing it for a team that did everything they could to enforce the claim that they were the local club for a region that extended to the North Carolina/South Carolina line.
Major League Soccer has already been through the regional issue. They fell for a concept invented by the World League of American Football, naming your North Jersey team for the state where they actually played and that city across the river. Enter the New York/New Jersey Knights, who beat the NY/NJ MetroStars to Giants Stadium by five years.
When or whether or not the MetroStars ever really dropped their NY/NJ prefix is somewhat of an open question. It certainly never caught on, and it's an equally good question as to whether anybody expected it too. At the time, it was a way to officially acknowledge a broader market. The Red Bull re-branding solved that by calling the team New York.
The Tampa Bay Mutiny upheld the local tradition of adding 'Bay' in a stadium they shared with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Colorado Rapids followed the local lead of the National Hockey League in taking the State's name, rather than the National Basketball Association or the NFL.
Where MLS resisted the urge to go regional is interesting. That would be Columbus, where the World League of American Football had also setup shop in the early 90's. They moved the aptly named Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks to Columbus for the '92 season (the last before a revamp that became NFL Europe) and renamed them the Ohio Glory.
Yes, they probably were playing off using Ohio State's Ohio Stadium as their home field, but there was also the issue of Columbus as a pro sports town. To put it simply, they weren't. Things hadn't changed when the Crew began play at Ohio Stadium four years later.
Considering how many MLS teams have tinkered with their image, it's surprising that the Crew started as Columbus and haven't made any fundamental changes.
This is MLS, a league that went through a variation phase (stop me if you've heard this one, but Galaxy is another way to say Cosmos just like Fusion relates to United), a natural disaster phase, and a retro phase. They also allowed not one but two teams to tack FC before or after the name of their city. Sort of making the point, one of those FC teams has stretched the definition of broader metropolitan area.
It's the old problem with trend chasing. There was a time when every team in North America seemed to want teal and purple in their color scheme. Same with powder blue baseball uniforms in the 70's and 80's, neon for any new team or league launched in the 90's, and not trusting a city to really represent a region.
You normally end up having to make corrections, and that tends to make the whole thing seem a little silly. It's a very good reason for not looking forward to the Pennsylvania Union. Get it right the first time, and re-branding never needs to be an issue.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.