By Phil Hecken, with Rick Pearson and Jerry Wolper
Day Two of Paul’s “Uni Watch Power Rankings” is now up and running.
Meanwhile: We’re going to go a bit “off-uni” today, during my penultimate weekday post during Paul’s well-deserved hiatus. And by off-uni, I mean that the subject matter deals primarily with something besides the “Obsessive Study of Athletic Aesthetics.” That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not a subject we haven’t broached on Uni Watch before. And it’s something I’ve been wanting to explore for some time.
“Civic vs. Corporate,” for lack of a better phrase — or, to what extent do the owners of a professional sports franchise “owe” the fans of a certain city? It’s a subject that frequently gets brought up when we speak of the Cleveland Browns precedent of relocation to Baltimore, but not being allowed to take any of the uniforms, colors, logos, records, etc. with them — in essence, creating an expansion franchise with an existing team. But franchise relocation and name changes (or keeping names) have been going on for decades. Do the Dodgers belong to Brooklyn or Los Angeles? Do the A’s belong to Philadelphia, Kansas City or Oakland? What about the Senators/Nationals? And that’s just baseball.
Do teams “belong” to the cities that have loved and supported them for decades — and should their names and records remain a permanent part of that city forever — or are they, like any other business, free to move and take all of their property (and the cachet the franchise name carries) with them if they move? Is there even a concrete, pat answer, or do circumstances dictate the proper course of action? Although I was not alive when it happened, New York lost both the Dodgers and Giants in the same year, and I feel no attachment to either team — but my Dad lived and bled Dodger Blue, so of course, he was affected in 1958 and beyond. Before he died last year, I asked him if he felt any ‘attachment’ to the Dodgers (of course he did), but did I think the Mets should have been allowed to take the Dodger name or records when they were born in 1962 (of course not). Why then, did Cleveland make such a stink about the Browns? What is it that drives fans and fan bases to feel “their” team should never be allowed to leave, and if they do, no other team should ever be allowed to have their name and colors?
It’s a debate that re-opens itself in strange places, and following articles that sometimes have nothing to do with “Corporate” or “Civic” entreaties. And a good example of this can be found in the first comment string of this article. Emotions get heated, and we get arguments like the following:
The Baltimore Colts ended when they moved to Indianapolis and the franchise SHOULD have changed its name. I’m not looking at the accounting books or the legalities, etc., but at the notion of a club representing a city or region. You move: you assume a new identity. It’s just the civil thing to do, right?
Why? Should the Raiders have changed their named when they went to LA? Then changed it again when they went back to Oakland? What about the Rams? They were in Cleveland first. The Los Angeles Rams should’ve never existed? Should the LA Dodgers and San Francisco Giants should have different names as well?
I believe you are looking at this from a legal and economic point of view. The business side. The side of the team ownership.
I am looking at it from an emotional point of view. The psychological side. The side of the fan left in the wake.
There are more impassioned pleas than this, of course, but for better or for worse, I feel it’s a debate worth having. I have on several occasions entered this debate, and I’ll conclude this segment with my own views. But first, today, I’m joined by Jerry Wolper and Rick Pearson (whose birthday is today, dontcha know?), who will debate the “Civic vs. Corporate” responsibilities team have and should consider with regard to the cities (and their fans) in which they play. And to what extent those teams “owe” their fans should they ultimately consider relocation. We’ll begin with Ricko:
It is what it is.
This entire discussion always turns into a classic Subjective/Objective, Emotion/Logic, Truth/Fact confrontation. That means, of course, that it never will be resolved except to go with, “Okay, what does it say on paper? What’s the law?”
“But that takes the spirit out of it,” you claim with alarm. Yes, it does. It’s supposed to. That’s the whole point of many rules, regulations and laws. They provide benchmarks to resolve issues that sometimes get emotional. Justice wears a blindfold, not a team jersey.
What a privately held professional team accomplishes, what it wears, its “heraldry”, et al, are its property, a part of its equity…for whatever they’re worth. They belong to the organization that paid for them, even individual records by dint of having paid those who amassed them. Unless some sort of agreement is made to the contrary such as the Cleveland Browns anomaly, if a team/franchise relocates those things go with them. A new team nickname doesn’t change that. As long as that company continues to exist, such things are part of its holdings, whether used or not. Sure, the owners can surrender them if they choose. But they certainly have no legal obligation to do so, and neither can ownership of those things simply be appropriated.
Using the recent Nationals throwback event as an example, the fact is that the team/franchise that left town after the 1960 season won the 1924 World Series. Not the city of Washington. Not its people. The team/franchise won it; the people watched. That’s fact. “But, but, but…” But, nothing. That’s fact.
“Okay, how about cities helping pay for ballparks, etc.” So? One way or another, the state of Minnesota shoved millions upon millions of dollars at Northwest Airlines over the years. And it isn’t alone in such efforts. Local and state governments choose to sort of “co-invest” in private businesses all the time for the public good. But that doesn’t mean they gain any ownership in them. What the community gains are the benefits—real or perceived—for as long as the assistance aids the company.
“Fan”, of course, is derived from “fanatic”, a clear indication that emotion rather than logic is likely to lead any discussion from them. That’s why, for those arguments to the contrary of objective/logical/factual, we can pretty much do a universal copy-paste-replace using, “But it’s what I want.” That’ll work just fine (and save time) because it’s essentially the core of virtually every argument they make.
And now to Jerry:
This is a complicated question.
Somebody owns the intellectual property. It hasn’t always been important, though. Many NFL teams borrowed the local baseball team’s nickname (the Giants are the only survivor). When the Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis, they didn’t change their name, and the baseball team didn’t take action. Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, and San Diego Padres were all in use by minor league teams (and major, briefly, in Baltimore) before the current major league clubs adopted them.
Now, when apparel sales are such a big part of the business, those rights are more valuable.
If the problem is individual owners hoarding their intellectual property, the league or its Properties subsidiary can actually own the logos and uniform designs and then license them back to the team. They could even own records if it’s important. It’s not much different than the NFL owning a local exhibition broadcast where the rights have been sold by the team and the station produces the broadcast.
The larger issue, though, is the emotional one. Part of what makes sports what they are is the shared civic experience, and that doesn’t move with a franchise. (Phil suggests, correctly, that it’s different in a multi-team market where part of the city isn’t along for the ride.) The 1964 NFL Championship works well as an odd example because the winner ended up in the loser’s city, but no Cleveland or Baltimore fan thinks of it that way, and no Indianapolis fan really cares. No LA Dodger fan could ever feel the excitement for the 1955 Dodgers finally winning a Series that Phil’s pop and other Brooklyn fans did. Similarly, the name Rick Monday will never disgust Nationals fans the way it does Montreal fans. And I doubt that Kirk Gibson’s homer caused much special response in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, or Kansas City.
In 1996, I flew out of and back into Pittsburgh between the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. USAir, which had a hub there at the time, allowed their agents to wear Steeler sweatshirts instead of airline uniforms if they so desired, and I enjoyed seeing that as I walked down the concourse. (I’d probably have appreciated similar Cowboy apparel if I’d flown through DFW.) This kind of civic response has nothing to do with ownership, any more than the local lingerie shop that puts a Terrible Towel in the window with the bras when the Steelers are in the Super Bowl. It’s just a kind of pride that no other local business generates, and it doesn’t move with the franchise.
These emotional ties are what make logos and team names valuable. Time and accomplishment have an effect, too. I don’t know that there are many Clevelanders who still have an attachment to the Cleveland Rams’ legacy, but the Browns’ success in much more recent times matters there. Yeah, there’s something to be said for consistency, but the NFL also means a lot more now, and even when the Browns joined it, than it did when the Rams were in Cleveland.
There are several statues outside the ballpark in San Francisco. All of them are of players who played in San Francisco. It’s not that the organization doesn’t care about what McGraw and Mathewson accomplished, but that history is less important to Bay Area fans than the history that actually happened in the Bay Area. The statue of Johnny Unitas is outside the stadium in Baltimore, and that seems right for fans in Maryland and Indiana.
The 1950s wave of baseball moves was secondary teams in two-team markets moving to be top dog in their own markets, and there was no real reason for the team that stayed behind to adopt their erstwhile competitors’ records in the other league. In other sports, movement was usually because of lack of support. Over time, leagues stabilized, and most moves of the last few decades have had more to do with an owner who couldn’t cut a deal for a new facility than because nobody wanted to watch his team. As we see leagues move back into those abandoned markets, there are many people who fondly remember the team that left, and would like to see the new team adopt the old name and colors.
Baltimore would have been thrilled to have the Ravens be the Colts, but it was not to be. Winnipeg, on the other hand, got exactly what it wanted. Because the city of Cleveland was immediately negotiating with the NFL, they were able to officially “keep the history”.
New York is an especially odd case because two NL teams left, so there wasn’t one legacy for the Mets to latch onto, and choosing one would have alienated fans of the other. Hence the blue and orange.
In terms of throwbacks, I think they mean more to the city than the franchise. The Devils might be the rightful owners of the Rockies’ NHL legacy, but there would be a much better response to those sweaters in Denver than there would be in Newark. (Unless there was a game in Kansas City, only the uni-obsessed would get excited about seeing Scouts throwbacks.) Regardless of where you think the Senators’ history belongs, it apparently means more to Washingtonians than to Minnesotans or Texans. And if we say that teams can only throw back within their franchise’s history, does that mean they can’t do Negro League or minor league unis? If the rationale for those is that they’re public domain, can any team wear Minneapolis Millers unis?
If this was about what people want, Seattle basketball fans would still have the Supersonics. What they have instead are memories of Slick Watts and Downtown Freddie Brown and Shawn Kemp and a championship against the Bullets. Oklahoma City fans have their own moments with Durant and Westbrook and Harden, but those are in blue and orange. The green and gold were in Seattle, and those are the fans to whom Sonics history means something, regardless of who owns it legally, or, if the NBA puts another team there, what the new team is called.
Like I said at the top, it’s complicated. I remember reading that when Carroll Rosenbloom traded the Colts for the Rams, he kept the Lombardi Trophy that his team won in Super Bowl V. It was his property, but that didn’t mean that anybody else in LA (or St. Louis now) would feel any pride in that trophy. And while the Ravens, the St. Louis Rams, and the Indy Colts have all won their own trophies since, to the delight of their fans, that SB V trophy means the most in Baltimore, regardless of where it resides now.
Thanks Rick and Jerry. After all has been said and done, I come down (slightly) on the side of Ricko, but that doesn’t mean Jerry hasn’t made excellent points. There is, of course, no “right” or “wrong” answer here — just opinion. I tend to agree, especially in the early 2000’s, that while we certainly live and die by our teams, franchise relocation, player movement due to free agency, the advent of 24/7 television and the ability to watch any team at virtually any time, there is slightly less “civic” responsibility now than there was back a half a decade ago. But really — one of the best quotes on this matter, offered up by Jim Hamerlinck above, boils the matter down to this:
I believe you are looking at this from a legal and economic point of view. The business side. The side of the team ownership.
I am looking at it from an emotional point of view. The psychological side. The side of the fan left in the wake.
And while it isn’t uni-related, isn’t that really the essence of what this is all about? What say you, dear readers?
Never mess with the guy who had Phyllis Diller when she was Phyllis Driver…what, too soon?…
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#NoUniAds Campaign…Day 33
This will be a regular feature on Uni Watch until the NBA rescinds its incredibly offensive and stupid proposal to place corporate advertising on uniforms.
And now, a personal note from Paul:
It’s important that we keep making our voices heard: Call the NBA’s publicly listed phone number (212-407-8000), ask for Adam Silver’s and/or David Stern’s office), e-mail deputy commissioner Adam Silver at his his publicly listed address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and tweet to @NBA with the hashtag #NoUniAds. Do it now.
Now, more of your letters to the NBA:
I am writing to express my opinion that I feel it will be a mistake if the NBA goes ahead with its decision to add advertising to the uniforms. As a sports fan, I am bombarded with advertising from every direction whether attending the game, watching on TV or listening on the radio. The uniform has been the one saving grace. The uniform is the connection the team has with its fans. It is the one constant that links generations and serves as a timeline for a franchise.
It is most shocking that a league that has been very self aware about its history would make such a misstep. If you go ahead with this decision, I will not spend another dime on anything related to the NBA nor will I continue to support the team that has decided to eliminate this connection with the fans.
One more point to consider… Just for the sake of argument let’s say you made this decision 2+ years ago and allowed BP to sponsor the New Orleans Hornets. How would that have looked if your New Orleans basketball franchise had an emblem for the largest polluter in US history? How would the New York Knicks looked in 2009 with a NYSE logo? How about the Chik-Fil-A Hawks in Atlanta this season? Once you allow an outside entity to alter your image, you are no longer in control of how you are perceived.
I am truly amazed that this is being considered. It is greed in its purest form and it is disgusting.
I am a 65-year-old man that grew up and still lives in the Rochester, NY area. I never got to see the Rochester Royals play before they moved to Cincinnati in 1957-58 but was fortunate to meet several Royals stars through my work. I worked for one of Rochester’s premier sporting goods stores from 1967-88. Through my work I met former owner-coach Lester Harrison, Bobby Wanzer, Bobby Davies, Arnie Risen, Arnie Johnson, Al Cervi and George Glamack. All but Davies stayed in Rochester after they retired. Davies was the area sales rep for Converse Shoe Co. Wanzer became men’s basketball coach and athletic director at St. John Fisher College. We sold Bobby Wanzer basketball uniforms for his teams at Fisher. They chose the basic Celtics style in their colors.
I did attend many Buffalo Braves games during their tenure in the Queen City. Although I’m a Celtics fan I would purchase the 10-game ticket plan for the Braves and got to see some wonderful basketball. Through my work I got to go into the Lakers’ dressing room in Buffalo. After the Braves left Buffalo we would go to Toronto a couple of times a year to see the Raptors.
Which brings me to the point of my letter. The store I worked for sold many, many basketball uniforms local high schools, colleges and church-league teams during my years there. And the majority of these uniforms were made using NBA or ABA-style uniforms as the template. The most-popular team uniforms chosen were the Celtics, the Bulls, the Lakers, the Cavaliers multi-striped pattern, the Sonics horizontally-striped short pattern and two Hawks patterns. The original pattern from the 1950s-’60s and the pinstriped trim pattern of 1972-73.
How proud these schools were of their new uniforms. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well with the number of pro-styled uniforms we sold I feel that the schools in the Rochester area were in love with the NBA.
So the very thought of desecrating a Celtics or Lakers or Bulls jersey with an advertising logo (irregardless of size) sickens me. Knowing how influential corporate marketing people can be when offering large sums of money and how some owners (can you say Mark Cuban?) would sell ads on the players’ athletic supporters if they were visible the eventual scenario would evolve to something like this.
The ads start out a 2″ x 2″ on the upper-right chest. But after a year the XYZ Corporation decides that the small ad just isn’t working. So XYZ tells the team that if you let us put a full-size logo on the shirt front in place of your wordmark we’ll up the ante by big bucks. Then ABC Corporation decides that they want to get in the act. ABC offers to pay for their ad on the back of the jersey over the numbers where the name would normally go. And on and on it goes until the pristine Celtics or Lakers or Bulls uniforms end up looking like a bunch of Euro teams where ads are even on the socks and the arse end of the shorts.
Therefore I emplore you to not go down this slippery slope. My fear is that if your league does it then how soon will MLB, the NFL and the NHL follow suit? Your leagues that make up the “Big Four” of North American (and don’t ever forget that your league was born and bred in the USA, not Europe or Asia) professional sports should stay above sullying your classic uniforms with advertising. You and the other three leagues set the standard of competition and prestige in each of your particular sports. Stay at the pinnacle of that sport that we fans have helped you to attain by keeping the uniforms pristine. You really owe us fans something for all our years of support. It’s the least that you can do for us.
Thanks for keeping the faith readers! We can stop the NBA if we can keep up the pressure.
Thanks to Tim E. O’Brien and Chris Giorgio for the image in the upper right of this section!
“Benchies” first appeared at U-W in 2008, and has been a Saturday & Sunday feature here for the past two years.
The “Karma Khameleons” are on the clock…
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Uni Watch News Ticker: We begin today with George Chilvers, who says this is the area for visiting fans at a Polish Second Division football team, Znicz Pruszkow. Yes, he knows its not uni-related, and no, I don’t read Polish. Here is something uni related, also from George: The Premier League Handbook for 2012/2013 which has now been published online. It contains everything you need to know about PL clubs (including registered kits) and the rules they work under. … Tony Crespo says, “I know how a lot readers feel about putting your own last name on the back of a pro team’s jersey(personally think it’s the smartest move in this day and age of free agency), so I can imagine how many people’s head will exploded once they start to see fans putting their Twitter handle on jerseys.” … Ken Singer brings up a point we’ve addressed before, but still continues to generate comments: “I am not if you have addressed this before. It looks like the 49ers field players have two shoulder stripes, the QBs have 3 shoulder stripes and the punter has 0 shoulder stripes. Do you know if there is significance to this? If it was just based on the length of the sleeve the punter should have 3 stripes. The QB pictured is Alex Smith, but Tolzien (no photo) also had 3 stripes, so it is not any kind seniority thing.” … Paul checks in with this: This new SDSU helmet photo has been circulating in recent days. I checked with the school’s media office and was told that this is one of several designs that have been considered for 2012, with a formal announcement expected next week. … Couple rugby kits from Caleb Borchers: “The good news is that Nike did replace the horribly ugly jerseys they gave Argentina for their June Test Series. The bad news is that the replacement is also horribly ugly. Diagonal stripes? Different colored sleeves? Pattern cutting off 2/3rds across the front? They must be missing Adidas.” … John Sheehan sends this: “Thought you’d get a kick out of this (Natty Boh helmet).” That sound you just heard was Robert Marshall beating, um, a path to John’s door. … According to Joshua Ringer, there are new uniforms for Valdosta State (Valdosta, GA). He say they look like the West Virginia-style template. … Paul isn’t the only one making lists. Chris Mahr brings us College Football’s Top 10 Ugliest Helmets. … “No idea where my husband found this, but felt that as infographics go, it’s concise and to the point!” says Ilana Hardesty (I’m guessing Flip Flop Fly Ball, but I’m too lazy to check to be sure). … Two submissions today from Brendan Slattery: Life Magazine (1968). Promo for “NFL Training Table Foods.” and Life Magazine (1968). Bob Lilly strips down for Chap Stick. … Here’s another one I think we had in the ticker before, but I’m not sure we ever got an answer. Ian Henderson asks, here is a “picture which appeared on the marquee of MLB.com’s homepage today. I was curious: what is that object on David Prices’ hat from the fauxback night the Rays hosted a little while back? Is it a pin? A photographic artifact? I was wondering if you could provide any insight as I am curious about its identity.” Anyone? … James Kim notes that at some point, “Everton player #7 Nikica Jelavic lost his NOB and number during yesterday’s match against Man Utd. I’m pretty sure I saw him wearing a proper kit earlier in the game so I’m not sure what happened.” Interestingly, Thom Armitage saw the same thing and here’s his writeup: “Just finished watching ManU/Everton and there was a strange jersey mishap. Croatian Nikica Jelavic, who started the game wearing #7 for Everton, took a nasty elbow to the face around the 60th minute and had to leave the match due to blood on his jersey. This happens quite a bit in the EPL and they just put a backup jersey on and re-enter. For some reason, Jelavic had no backup shirt with his name on it as he came on wearing a blank jersey, creating a strange scene when the camera pulled out to show various players’ backs at once. Had a bit of a rough game, did Jelavic, as he got injured later and had to depart – that was the only closeup I was able to snag off my laptop, somebody with DVR can probably get a better closeup from when he first re-entered the game.” This soccer must be pretty popular because Timothy Burke noted, “Two Everton-Manchester United uniform snafus today — Anderson’s NOB misspelled, and Jelavic had to put on the blood shirt. … Jake Hurley sends a photo of Rockies Rookie Patrick Johnson #17. “In his hands are a pair of white tube socks and a 9 inch pair of my black stirrups. I knew it all along but I proved to myself that it’s much easier to work the minors, especially the Pioneer league.” … “City’s under shirt message,” says Kenny Loo, “Using premiership league’s font article.” One more from Kenny (also seen above): “Man u game Fail NOB” … Clint Richardson notes “The Facebook pictures of all the Kentucky uniforms strike me as odd. All the jerseys have the OLD pennant SEC logo, versus the new circular one, that even Kentucky was sporting not too long ago. Are these old jerseys used for the pictures? Or old pictures just now released?”
And there you have it. Lots to discuss today — for those of you who don’t like these long posts, fear not, for tomorrow will be my last weekday post on UW for a while (possibly until next Summer). We’ll have part 2 of Paul’s UW Power Rankings shortly, and that will certainly be basis for even more discussion. And of course, don’t forget to wish Ricko a Happy Birthday!. Have a great Tuesday, everyone.
“The NFL really needs to get over this Los Angeles thing. If they wanted a team in LA, they should have told the city of Cleveland to STFU back in 1996, and the 1999/2002 expansion should have consisted of Houston and Los Angeles.”
—THE Jeff Provo