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Name That Team!

NHL Seattle leadership will announce the team name in early 2020. A look inside the process, plus bonus material on how other NHL clubs were named

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

SEATTLE -- Since Ron Francis was hired July 18 as NHL Seattle's first general manager, the steady flow of resumes to his email box has not stopped. Not for one single day.

Same goes for the gusher of well-wishers congratulating him on the GM announcement via texts, emails, phone calls, voice mails, in-person meetings and random encounters pretty much everywhere he goes here in Seattle or while settling affairs back in Raleigh, N.C. The congrats frequently comes with follow-up.

"The number-one question is what's the name going to be," says Francis.

NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke appreciates the hyper-curiosity about the name. He says NHL Seattle leadership intends to take full advantage of the mutual decision between league and club to start play in the fall of 2021 rather than 2020.

"When we realized 2020 wasn't in the cards, it bought us additional time, not only to research the name but to better understand who we are and what we stand for," says Leiweke. "We have become better listeners. A great name not only speaks of who you are but also speaks to what you're not."

 

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Leiweke says fans can expect the naming announcement to be made "in the first quarter of next year."

As the naming process continues-more on that in a moment-there's value in sampling how other NHL franchises were named.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia joined the NHL for the 1967-68 season, when the league expanded from six to 12 teams. Their team names both hatched during family conversations.

Carol McGregor, married to Pittsburgh co-owner Jack McGregor, asked her husband what people called the decade-old Civic Arena, where the new team would play. His answer: The Big Igloo because of its giant, white, spherical roof. Carol suggested the alliterative "Penguins" even if there are no wild penguins living in Pittsburgh nor North America for that matter.

 

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The late Ed Snider, founder of the Philly franchise, took in a Broadway play one night in 1966 with his wife, plus his sister and her husband. On the drive back, the group stopped for ice cream. They brainstormed team names over a few of Howard Johnson's then-28 flavors. Snider's sister suggested "Flyers," imagining the fast pace of NHL skaters and, yep, it checked the alliteration box too.

Some NHL team names pivoted on an owner's background. Toronto played as the "Arenas" when it joined the NHL in the founding year of 1917, then changed its name to the "St. Patricks" during most of the 1920s. Conn Smythe bought the team in the 1927 and sought a new name that encouraged patriotism. He chose Maple Leafs because the uniforms of most Canadian military regiments featured a maple leaf badge during World War I. Fun facts: 1. If Conn Smythe sounds familiar, it's because the Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP trophy is named after him; and 2. The maple leaf didn't appear on the Canadian flag until the mid-1960s.

In 1925, Madison Square Garden president G.I."Tex" Rickard began lobbying for an NHL team. A year later, he was awarded one. Local fans and media developed a habit of referring to the team as "Tex's Rangers" and the New York Rangers now stand as one of the league's "Original Six" franchises.

Geography can certainly influence the team name. Alberta is brimming with oil fields, hence the Edmonton Oilers. Sharks swim the waters of Northern California, including San Jose. Tampa Bay has the most lightning strikes of any U.S metropolitan area.

A good number of teams have conducted team name contests. The Arizona Coyotes beat out "Scorpions" in a showdown of desert inhabitants. Buffalo went with Sabres despite any connection to the upstate New York city.

Most names considered by NHL Seattle derive from fans, whether during listening sessions with ticket depositors, reviewing hundreds of names submitted to digital channels and, yes, everyday conversations with fans, neighbors, city officials, teachers, store clerks, food servers, medical personnel and, ahem, you name it. Wearing NHL Seattle swag or pinning a "Return to Hockey" button to your backpack expedites the name exchange.

 

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 "I've read every name submitted whether it be on our channels or the Seattle Times," says Leiweke. "We take every single name take to heart.

"Every name has a nuance. Our job is to think through the nuances. Sometimes the best intended names can mean one thing to one group and another thing to another group. It is important the name reflects the values of the Pacific Northwest."

The process is ongoing and thorough. Leiweke emphasizes the naming work is not finished.

"Those who think we are sitting on a predetermined name, nope," the CEO says. "We work on this every day. We are right on time with the naming process. We are still on a journey of self-identity but also on a journey to understand not just what we are but what we aren't. Names that might have made sense a year ago, today don't make as much sense."

Supporting the work is Perch Partners, a strategic brand advisory firm led by Seattleites Kathy Savitt and Adam Diamond.

"We are really excited that right here in Seattle we have firm with a lot of expertise," explains Leiweke. "Perch Partners is working closely with our organization, doing terrific job helping define final criteria that will act as filter for ultimate name selection."

For example, the naming group is using objective scoring tools to determine name finalists. Each name is evaluated for potential activation on game days and overall broadcast programming, plus merchandise sales and community outreach.

Another important filter is trademark research; not all names pass the legal rights test. The team keeps in touch with NHL attorneys and executives on the trademark process and the overall name decision. NHL partner Adidas (authentic outfitter of on-ice uniforms and official supplier of licensed apparel) is also involved.

For his part, GM Ron Francis says he looks forward to the visual presentations associated with final name nominees.

"It is exciting for me that Tod has involved me in the process," says Francis. "I am probably the least qualified person in the room when it comes to branding. I am impressed we are crossing all of the 'T's' and dotting the 'I's'. I think the name is one thing. I think seeing the names paired with logo makes a big difference."

 

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Great point from Francis if you think about your favorite sports team marks, whether NHL or otherwise. And we haven't even talked team colors (another day, another article, promise).

In fact, one NHL team had its logo determined even before the team was named. In 1971, construction workers found a nine-inch fossilized sabretooth tiger fang on a building construction site in downtown Nashville. When the NHL awarded Nashville an expansion franchise, the powers that be identified the sabretooth fang as integral to the team logo before settling on "Predators" as team name (the winner over Ice Tigers, Fury and Attack).

Leiweke and NHL Seattle leaders will keep sinking their own teeth into the naming process.

"We want to represent the ambition of the fans," says the CEO. "We have listened. Fans want us to represent Seattle but also a brand that stands the test of time, a brand that's recognizable not only in hockey but perhaps even globally. They want it to be a name that players are proud to wear across their chests. A name that looks great on the sweater."

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