Tom Dunmore provides his take on the questions surrounding the ongoing “Name the Team” discussion for Indy Pro Soccer
A rose by any other name…wouldn’t smell as sweet. Not if it was called Red Bull Indianapolis, for example, to pick my own least favorite name in Major League Soccer (soccer team’s identities should reflect their communities, not hyperactive soft drinks).
The name that Indy Pro Soccer chooses for its team in the North American Soccer League (NASL) matters. It will inform the identity it takes from the crest to the colors, and could even determine how seriously some fans take it. I think you all already know this, or there wouldn’t be 600+ comments on the Name the Team survey page.
Perhaps it would help to go back to some first principles and ask some basic questions about what a professional soccer team’s name should represent – please bear in mind these are my thoughts, not necessarily those of Indy Pro Soccer, and (civil) debate on them would very much be welcomed in the comments.
1) Location, location, location. Should the name include Indiana, Indianapolis or something else? A team name should obviously identify where a team is from. What does that mean for Indy Pro Soccer? Well, should it be Indiana or Indianapolis? Using the state name is more inclusive for its only pro soccer team – but is less specific to the actual city the team will be located in. Another option is Circle City: it’s catchy and alliterative, and it makes sense…if you live in Indiana. If you don’t, Circle City isn’t obviously descriptive. That has some counter intuitive appeal, but it’s not very practical for a sports team. Indy, of course, will probably be used in common parlance if it’s Indianapolis, rolling off the tongue. . .and onto what?
2) Should the name end in Club, like Manchester United Football Club (to pick one of thousands of examples worldwide)? There’s a good argument that it should. A Club suggests inclusivity, an organization made-up of members who support its activities. And in return, the Club serves its members’ interests. It’s a symbiotic relationship that in principle, binds the team and its fans together for the common good. In some places, that bind is literal: FC Barcelona, for example, is actually owned by their 100,000+ members (socios), who elect the Club president. Other Clubs have different kinds of membership schemes with varying benefits and responsibilities. A “Club” embodies the idea that a team is a mutual effort, thriving on common investment that brings a return for everyone. Players should feel they are offering their last drop of sweat for a team that its fans, owners and staff are all a part of. But what kind of a Club is it?
3) Football Club? Soccer Club? Fútbol Club? The debate on this has become pretty heated in the Name the Team thread. My opinion – which isn’t worth much – is that “Soccer Club” makes the most sense for a team in the American Midwest. It’s typically what the sport is called here, and the team will be playing in the North American Soccer League, after all. Still, being called Football Club hasn’t much hurt Portland or Seattle, even though they play in Major League Soccer. Oh, and by the way, I’m English, so I do understand it’s called football elsewhere. But just as the English cleverly coined the word soccer to distinguish Association Football from another code of football that was then as popular as “soccer,” Rugby Football, so it is known here in the Midwest as soccer to indicate that we’re not discussing the more popular game of American Football. Fútbol Club is interesting: it allows it to be FC as well, and incorporates the name that is probably most commonly used for “soccer” in North America. But not necessarily in all of Indianapolis, of course. Perhaps there is a broader option that could help. . .
4) What if it’s a sports club, not just a soccer/football/fútbol club? Athletic Club or Sporting Club could be used if the club partners with teams in other sports that help embed the team further into the community. The downside of A.C. is it doesn’t describe the primary sport Indy Pro Soccer will be playing. The upside is it allows the Club to be connected to more than just soccer, if it is indeed able to be part of a multi-sport based community. Sports clubs around the world that now have soccer as their primary activity still field teams in other sports: Club Atlético Boca Juniors might be best known in Argentina for Diego Maradona and six Copa Libertadores titles, but they also have teams in a dozen sports from taekwondo to volleyball. Passion in these other sports can run high: here are the ultras of Panathinaikos Athlitikos Omilos in Greece supporting their basketball team with as much passion as they do their famous soccer team, one of 16 sports the Athens-based club competes in. “Sporting Club” could be used as well as Athletic Club, though the latter would have a little more uniqueness in the Midwest given the existence of Sporting Kansas City. Which brings us to the final question, attracting the most attention so far. . .
5) Should the team have a nickname? MLS’ Sporting Kansas City were once the Wiz, and then the Wizards. An expensive rebranding effort helped relaunch the team as it opened a new stadium, one that now features packed crowds and an atmosphere unthinkable a few years ago, when small numbers of hardy souls supported a team whose name was mocked by many. Cause and effect? Debatable, but there’s no doubt the club has connected to a broader fanbase, coupling the name change with a membership-based club. As Sports Business Daily put it, “the management group is putting on a virtual clinic on how to connect with a community and make fans feel part of the process.”
Nicknames were once the rage in MLS, following the example of, in particular, minor league baseball. Yet as soccer has grown its appeal to an adult, urban demographic often used to define its marketing cache, so more traditional soccer appendages like “FC” (Toronto FC), Sporting (KC) and even the slightly absurd La Liga import of Real (Salt Lake) are now used in place of “minor league” names with explosive, cartoony logos – some of which have been used for soccer teams here in Indy in the past.
A simple team name without a nickname – Indianapolis Soccer Club, for example – would allow fans to build an identity around the team, whether that’s informed by Circle City imagery or the passion that already exists around the Brickyard Battalion (‘Mon the Brickers!) or simply the team’s chosen colors. Alternately, a name that nails on a smart connection to Indiana could give it an immediate buzz and there’s a mix of support among the name the team options given so far (as well as plenty of write-in options to consider). Nicknames can work: the Chicago Fire works for both youth soccer and adult crowds (admittedly, I’m biased as a Fire fan). It’s catchy and is deeply connected to the history of Chicago, and what the Great Fire means for the city. But nicknames can go wrong: it’s worth remembering that if it hadn’t been for Peter Wilt, Chicago’s MLS team might well have been called the Rhythm (for real).
One thing I do know: while discussion should remain civil, the fact that so many people obviously care so much about what the team will be called shows it’s already attracting the kind of passion that can make it a lasting part of the Indiana sports landscape, whatever it is ultimately called.