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The Economic Power of Rebranding

As a sports fan, you want to be proud of your team. One thing that can’t always be controlled is how the team performs on the field, on the court or on the ice.

Fortunately, your team having a great identity is relatively easy to do, that is, if the ownership is willing to understand that branding and identity is important.

A good case study for this is the new Charlotte Hornets — the team that was formerly the Charlotte Bobcats. The franchise realized that 1) the Bobcats brand was terrible, 2) the Hornets brand resonated with people in the Charlotte, NC metro area, and 3) that the marketing of the Bobcats was never going to be successful due to the stigma that the franchise had around the name.

Many people in the Charlotte market didn’t understand the power of branding back when the Bobcats were considering the name change. They thought, and they were right to a degree, that the team nickname, colors and marketing didn’t matter, and that if the team actually put a quality team on the court, they would increase their attendance and thus the interest in the team.

While having a good team on the court definitely helps, nobody is going to buy merchandise of a team that has a terrible logo or colors.

Let’s give you a quick history of the Charlotte Bobcats. The franchise named the team after the owner, Bob Johnson — who was a somewhat controversial figure that rubbed many people the wrong way. The team had started out with a color scheme that featured orange as the primary color. The nickname was weak, the logo looked like a cat hacking on a hairball, the uniforms were ugly and despite having Emeka Okafor — NBA rookie of the year in 2004 — the team was pretty dreadful. They catered almost exclusively to an urban Hip Hop crowd with their in-arena presentation, which turned many people off. They chose to broadcast exclusively on the digital cable tier of Time Warner Cable — which left all satellite and regular cable subscribers in the dark when it came to watching the games. Add to that some completely dreadful collegiate drafts, and you had an absolutely dreadful start for a franchise that was replacing one that had recently led the NBA in attendance for many years.

Nobody went to the games because the team was bad. Nobody wore the merchandise because it was ugly. Nobody watched the team because it wasn’t broadcasted to them. In fact, throw-back Charlotte Hornets merchandise was more popular than the then current Charlotte Bobcats merchandise.

It was a disaster.

Fast Forward a few years to 2015. NBA legend Michael Jordan is now the majority owner. The Bobcats have been rebranded as the Hornets and the iconic purple and teal color scheme that was all the rage in the ‘90s is back. Merchandise sales have increased a whopping 77% for the franchise since the name change was announced in 2013.

All the games are now on TV via FOX Sports. People are talking about the Hornets in the community and on local radio, which was a rarity during the Bobcats days. Attendance at games has grown dramatically. Season ticket sales have exploded. The Hornets (per the Charlotte Observer ) have attracted more new season ticket holders than every team in the league except the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.

The team has added 30 new corporate sponsors, such as Mercedes and McDonald’s, that want to be in on the team’s renaissance.

HORNETS – Comeback :60 from BooneOakley on Vimeo.

It’s been a complete 180.

Granted, having good players helps, but fans feel more connected to the brand. The Hornets was their brand, and when the team left in 2002 many people were angry.

Groups like the guys at Bring Back the Buzz organized events and raised awareness via social media and local events.

Jordan and his team realized this, and listened to their fans. Once the New Orleans franchise rebranded themselves as the Pelicans, the Hornets nickname was available. The Charlotte franchise jumped at the opportunity to reboot their image.

The result has been astounding. Per the Charlotte Business Journal:

“The Hornets franchise is worth $725 million, according to Forbes, ranking 26th among 30 NBA teams. Jordan paid an estimated $175 million for majority interest in the team in 2010.”

Last season, the Hornets were valued at $410 million. That’s a 77% jump in valuation, year over year.

So what does this tell us?

1) Quality is always important. The Hornets realized this, and made moves to make sure they had some quality players. Looking at the roster, the only real marquee player they have is Al Jefferson. One could argue that the Bobcat’s team that featured Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace and Boris Diaw had more quality players. Nonetheless, the Hornets have worked hard to rebuild their roster through the draft and by signing Jefferson.

2) Having a great brand is crucial. The hornets brand resonates with people in the Charlotte region, both from a nostalgia standpoint and the whole Hornet’s Nest historical standpoint.
Know your market. Listen to your customers. Know who you are selling to and what they want — then give it to them — while making them feel good about it. That only leads to a favorable outcome.

3) Build trust with great service. Go the extra mile to make people know that you appreciate them. A little goes a long way.

So what does this mean for you?

This example illustrates the power of perception. By changing your branding and your approach to your customers, you can turn around your public perception and increase your revenue.

If you are interested in a renaissance for your company, contact us for a free consultation and get on your way to building a successful brand.