Las Vegas NHL expansion: What goes into naming a pro sports franchise?

What's in a name? When it comes to a pro sports team, quite a bit. With an NHL expansion franchise expected to begin play in Las Vegas during the 2017-18 season, speculation is already beginning to swirl about what the team will be called.

Black Knights has been rumoured as a possible nickname

The NHL has reportedly made Las Vegas its choice for expansion, provided organizers can come up with a $500 million US fee. (L.E. Baskow/The Associated Press)

What's in a name? When it comes to a pro sports team, quite a bit.

With an NHL expansion franchise expected to begin play in Las Vegas during the 2017-18 season, speculation is already beginning to swirl about what the team will be called.

Black Knights keeps coming up because the Vegas expansion bid is run by a company called Black Knight Sports and Entertainment, the same name as prospective owner Bill Foley's financial services company. Foley graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which calls its sports teams the Black Knights.

With that in mind, here is a rundown of some nicknaming decisions and some of the factors that were at play.

Toronto Blue Jays (MLB)

With Toronto getting a Major League Baseball expansion team in 1977, the ownership group held a name-the-team contest for prospective fans. After getting more than 30,000 entries, the Blue Jays was chosen as the winner, with the entry citing the blue jay bird as "strong, aggressive and inquisitive." 

Perhaps not coincidentally, the "Blue" in the name worked well as an advertising avenue for the team's original owner, Labatt Brewery, whose signature beer is Labatt Blue.

Toronto Raptors (NBA)

The Toronto Raptors went the same route as the Blue Jays to acquire their nickname, holding a contest when the Toronto was awarded the franchise in 1993. The top-10 list ended up being an animals-only group, featuring the Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers.

The Raptors ended up being the choice, largely because Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park was taking the world by storm at the time.

New Orleans Pelicans (NBA) 

The Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season but switched their name to the Pelicans in 2013. The brown pelican is Louisiana's state bird. At the time of the switch, team owner Tom Benson noted that the Hornets nickname "didn't mean anything to the community" and added that "the pelican represents New Orleans, just like the Saints."

Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)

When the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, they abandoned the Sonics nickname and decided to call themselves the Thunder. The 45th Infantry Division that is based in Oklahoma City has a Thunderbirds nickname. Oklahoma also is part of Tornado Alley, making the Thunder nickname appropriate.

Charlotte Hornets (NBA)

When the New Orleans Hornets switched their name to the Pelicans, it cleared the way for Charlotte's expansion team to start calling itself the Hornets. The expansion franchise originated as the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, but team owner Michael Jordan said season ticket holders and fans "overwhelmingly" wanted the Hornets name back.

The change didn't come cheap. Costs included changing the name and logo on everything from uniforms to letterhead to office signs. Pete Guelli, the team's executive vice-president and chief sales marketing officer, said changing the name would cost about $3 million US.

Tampa Bay Rays (MLB)

Tampa Bay's expansion franchise began play in 1998 as the Devil Rays, which was chosen from among 7,000 suggestions offered by fans. They announced late in the 2007 season that they would switch their nickname and chose the Rays over candidates that included Cannons, Stars, Wave and Dukes.

While the Devil Ray was a type of fish, the Rays nickname was more of a reference to the sun and weather. Stuart Sternberg, the team's principal owner, said the switch would give the franchise a new identity and added that "we were tied to the past, and the past wasn't necessarily something we wanted to be known for." Sure enough, in the first year with the Rays nickname, Tampa Bay posted its first winning season and reached the 2008 World Series.

Houston Texans (NFL)

The three nickname finalists for Houston's NFL expansion franchise were Stallions, Apollos and Texans. The Texans nickname previously had been used by the AFL's Dallas Texans before they moved out of state and became the Kansas City Chiefs. Although the Texans didn't begin play until 2002, they decided on their nickname in 2000.

With files from CBC Sports


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