Of all the sports analytics work that I have done, perhaps the most surprising (to myself) has been my work on team names and mascots. I’m also a little surprised at how frequently folks want to talk about issues surrounding mascots. I probably take a dozen calls per year from journalists about various mascot issues.
(July 2020 Update –With the Washington DC Football team in the process of finding a new name, the volume has bumped up).
I came to the study of mascots based on a personal curiosity. I’m an Illinois graduate and witnessed the controversy surrounding the “retirement” of Chief Illiniwek. As always in these controversies, there is a lot of passion on both sides. My interest was a bit different. I was interested in the potential impact of team name changes on schools’ brand equity. In other words, I was interested in the business side of the discussion.
The linked article provides an OpEd piece related to my work on valuing mascots. The basic research question is how does a team name or a mascot change effect the value of a team’s brand or the loyalty of its fans. It is a tricky empirical challenge. I have a good deal of experience in measuring brand equity in sports but in this case.
It is hard to separate out the effects of team names and mascots because these things rarely change. And when controversial mascots do change, they only shift in one direction. My research approach on this project was to do the we can with the available data and to happily acknowledge the limitations. Why Does it Matter? I’ve come to love the study of mascots and it is one of my favorite topics to discuss.
Though I should add, that it is the topic on which I am most frequently misquoted or my views are misrepresented. In particular, liberal media outlets have often “selectively” edited my comments. It is also a topic that has some pretty interesting theoretical fundamentals. Some may believe that it just doesn’t matter if the names and symbols that are the foundation for a team’s brand are animals (Lions, Tigers or Bears), professions (Cowboys, Packers, or Steelers) or something else (Red Sox, Jazz or Lakers). There is merit to this opinion.
Winning traditions and a history of star are much more important for building sports brands. The Lakers are the perfect example. If the team has won 16 championships and is located in a media mecca it doesn’t matter if there aren’t too many lakes in the vicinity of the stadium.
But, at a fundamental level there exists a relationship between a team and its fans. Team names and mascots often provide a means for creating a focal object that can represent the team’s side of the relationship.
In some ways this is old school marketing. Charlie the Tuna or the Green Giant is the personification of the brand. The Cowboy is the symbol for the Dallas football team, Reveille is the shared pet of all Texas AM fans and Philadelphia hockey fans probably hope that Gritty haunts the nightmares of Rangers fans.
Hope you enjoy the piece and appreciate how it fits into the the larger topic of brand building in sports. And finally, Uga is the best mascot.