Change of names in order for Washington Bullets

June 29, 1995|By BILL TANTON

The players Washington just selected in the NBA draft may never play for the Bullets.

Oh, they'll eventually sign contracts and they'll play for owner Abe Pollin. And they'll play in Washington.

But when they get there, the team may no longer be called the Bullets. The organization is considering a new name. Bullets is seen as politically incorrect.

Frankly, I think a change would be good. Not just because the name Bullets is out of place in one of the nation's murder capitals.

The Bullets were Baltimore's team before they were Washington's. The Baltimore Bullets.

The pro basketball team here in the late '40s had that name. When the Chicago Zephyrs moved to Baltimore in 1963, the name again became Bullets.

When the team moved to D.C for the '73-74 season, it kept the name Bullets. For one year it was, officially, the Capital Bullets. Since then, it has been the Washington Bullets.

The reason a change is in order has nothing to do with giving up a name that belonged to Baltimore.

It has a lot to do with getting rid of a loser's name.

The Bullets have been lousy for a decade. This season, their first under coach Jim Lynam, they had a 21-61 record. They finished last in the Atlantic Division of the NBA's Eastern Conference.

Anything they can change at this point -- including the name -- should be an improvement.

It would be logical to change it when the team moves to a new downtown arena on F street between 6th and 7th in two years. New home. New image. New name.

But if they're going to change it, why wait? If it is changed, the choice will be a good one. Bullets president Susan O'Malley will see to that.

For my money, there's no better sports marketer than O'Malley.

Anybody can sell the New York Knicks or Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. What O'Malley has accomplished in four years as the Bullets' marketing whiz is astonishing.

Despite the team's record, it has set club attendance records every season. This year, the woeful Bullets drew an average of 17,100 fans, a team record. They had 30 sellouts, also a record.

That's marketing, bub.

And marketing, more and more, is what it's all about in sports these days.

Here in Baltimore we have a new American Hockey League team, an affiliate of the NHL Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who are owned by the Walt Disney organization.

L Now there's an outfit -- Disney -- that knows how to market.

Tell the truth now -- didn't you, at first, think it was dumb to name that team the Mighty Ducks? I did. All those tough, toothless guys? Mighty Ducks?

In truth, it was a stroke of marketing genius.

In their two-year history, the Mighty Ducks have sold out every game at The Pond. And in a league that's doing more than $1 billion annually in merchandising, the Mighty Ducks are No. 1 in sales.

So what cute and enticing name have the Disney folks laid on Baltimore's new team? Ducklings, maybe? No, they're the Bandits.

In a city with a crime rate such as ours, they could hardly have chosen a worse name. We already have enough bandits downtown without having the Bandits, too.

But, again, it's all part of a marketing plan. The Bandits' logo features a raccoon based on a character in Disney's new movie, "Pocahontas."

Hey, maybe it will work. Remember, I'm the guy who thought Mighty Ducks was a dumb idea.

Logos are key to marketing success and the Bandits say the Disney people feel we "won't be able to keep our merchandise in stock."

That's hard to imagine for a minor-league hockey team in a major-league city -- especially for a team that is a stranger to TV. Kids gobble up the stuff they see Michael and Shaq and Charles hawk on TV.

Abe Pollin's NHL Capitals recently acknowledged the importance of a logo. They adopted a new one with an eagle on the main crest of the jersey.

"It's a more contemporary look," says Ed Quinlan, of the Caps' front office. "We didn't just one day say, 'Let's put an eagle on the jersey.' A new logo is the result of exhaustive research. An 18-month study went into this."

Does it make any difference to anybody? "The response has been overwhelming," Quinlan says.

Logos. Marketing. Merchandising. Team nicknames. They are an important part of the mix today.

In our town, that master of suspense, Baltimore Football Club owner Jim Speros, promises to tell us the new name of his team the day before its July 8 opener.

Whatever it is, it won't make much difference to most of these fans. They'll still call the team the Colts. With the Big Wheel leading them, they'll still spell out

C-O-L-T-S.

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