Rhino retreat: Name is 'not a done deal' NFL team idea gets poor reception

August 12, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Pity the poor rhino.

The ancient beast has been driven from its native continent by weather changes, hunted to near-extinction for the supposedly sex-enhancing chemicals in its horn and terrorized day and night by packs of hyenas.

And now the ponderous giant, after 50 million years of patient, vegetarian existence, may be denied its first shot at the big leagues by the merciless bashing of rhino-haters.

The prospective owners of the city's NFL team tentatively settled on the name Rhinos over the past week. But the reaction in Baltimore after it became public yesterday has been so swift and negative that they are reconsidering and seeking input from fans.

"This is not a done deal," said Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the head of one potential ownership group. "Glazer and I just agreed to pick a name so we can get a name out there."

The NFL asked Mr. Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer, a Florida-based businessman and rival investor seeking an NFL team for Baltimore, to agree on a name so merchandise could be prepared for sale as soon as the league's expansion franchises are awarded. Baltimore is competing with St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn., for one of two franchises to be awarded in October.

They tentatively picked the Rhinos.

"I think it's a good name. A lot of them are good names, but anything other than the Colts is not going to be liked," said Bryan Glazer, Malcolm's son.

Mr. Weinglass said: "I think it could be a terrific name. I'll tell you this: In the jungle, the lion runs from the rhino."

But because of the reaction to the name, the potential owners have agreed to consider results of a reader survey to be conducted by The Baltimore Sun. Ballots and procedures will be Sunday's newspaper.

"We both want to hear new names. We definitely want to hear what the fans think," Bryan Glazer said.

Mr. Weinglass said: "I'm not stupid. If it's going to turn 90 percent of the people off, I'm not going to do it. But no matter what name you pick, even the most perfect name, except the Colts, you're going to get this stuff."

By stuff, Mr. Weinglass meant the calls clogging the headquarters of Merry-Go-Round, the Joppa-based retail company he owns, spurred by a local radio station broadcasting the phone number and egging on rhino-bashers.

"It was kind of unanimous that no one likes it," Maryland Stadium Authority spokesman Walt Gutowski said of calls his agency received.

"Overwhelmingly negative" was how Allan Prell described the reaction on his morning call-in radio show on WBAL. He got 75 to 100 calls, and all but a handful were against the name, he said. That's a heavy day, and unusual agreement, in the radio talk-show biz.

FTC "I'm sure any name would have gotten a negative reaction, but this name is just awful," Mr. Prell said.

But, as Mr. Weinglass points out, many of the suggested alternatives are worse. Fans have submitted the Bolts, Clots, Hons, Crabs, Banners, Baboons, Bunnies and Bees. Many, still smarting from the 1984 move of the Colts, suggest kindred names such as the Stallions and Kolts.

"The Banners? What are we, an English literature class? Sailors?" Mr. Weinglass said.

The NFL also got complaints at its New York headquarters, said Roger Goodell, the vice president in charge of expansion.

"There shouldn't be any overreaction to any specific names. There are lots of names we're considering. The first objective is ,, finding a name that the team and the fans can identify with," he said.

A team name is important in sports. Consumers spend more than $2 billion a year on officially licensed caps, T-shirts and other NFL-related merchandise, generating millions of dollars in licensing fees for the league. Because the 28 teams split that money evenly, all of them have a stake in the sales of any particular team's goods.

As a result, the league considers the naming of a team a "joint decision" between the owner and league, Mr. Goodell said.

"The No. 1 objective is what will help market the team, not just sell T-shirts," Mr. Goodell said.

The brooding, endangered rhinoceros has its friends, despite its 5,000-pound size, unpredictable temperament and distant habitat (the species dwells in the wild only in Africa and Asia).

"It's totally fun," said Barbara Shelley, a publicist for Rhino Records near Los Angeles. The company, which began as a used record store, is now a $52 million-a-year recording company and music retailer. Company meetings are accompanied by rhino hats and visits from Rocky Rhino the mascot.

Mark Shapiro, president of the Louis London advertising agency in St. Louis, was asked by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to come up with a name for the city's prospective team. His choice: the Rhinos.

"We felt it was a gender-less and ageless mascot," Mr. Shapiro said. The agency suggested a plan that included Rhiney the mascot, horned RhinoVision sunglasses, "Let's Rhumble" T-shirts, sellouts at the Rhinodome and "Go Horns" cheers.

"We were really, really intrigued by the combination of power andwhimsy," he said.

The mobility of modern American life renders local connections in a name unimportant, he said. He finds the Stallions, the name picked by prospective team owners in St. Louis, dull. "All we need is another horse in the NFL," he said.

He said Rhinos would be a hit with merchandise sales and with cause-related promotions -- as in, "for every RhinoVision sale, $1 goes to preserve rhinos."

"Any fledgling team is going to need something to distract the fans from the performance on the field," he said. "It's a natural."

Name that team

Fans don't seem to like the Rhinos, the tentative choice for the name of a Baltimore expansion NFL franchise. So The Baltimore Sun will survey readers for their ideas and pass them on to the prospective owners, who have agreed to consider them. Details on how to participate will be in Sunday's editions.

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