The St. Louis Rams are once again the Los Angeles Rams. My excitement about this is through the roof. I grew up with the team being the Los Angeles Rams with Eric Dickerson and then later with players like Jackie Slater, Henry Ellard, and Flipper Anderson. Unless you were at one time a football junky like I was none of those names would mean anything to you. The fact that I remember these players is a microcosm of the impact the branding the team did in concert with the National Football League (NFL) they represent. The NFL rose to the most popular sport in the United States during the 1980’s and 1990’s. The Super Bowl is the league’s championship game that is played now on the first Sunday in February and has annually over 100 million viewers. Even with their move from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995 they kept the Rams name. When trying to gain insight on their business rebranding in 2016, and back to identifying themselves as a team representing the City of Angels we should start there.
Before you can understand the element of business rebranding you first must know what makes up branding. By definition branding is the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes a product from other products. Branding is as simple as picking a company name or a logo. The Rams franchise name change to St. Louis Rams was a form of branding. The Rams franchise had now branded themselves as representatives of the city known as the Gateway to the West. The NFL as a conglomerate can do this with any franchise and, therefore, the teams are not necessarily tied to the city, they are more like tenants. The franchise could be considered modern-day carpetbaggers that are more of a detriment than aid in the opinion of some. The Rams first moved in 1995, and now in 2016 is linked to leveraging one of these cities into building a new stadium for the team to play. This stadium purpose is to increase revenue exponentially for owner Stan Kroenke. This article could delve further into the argument from the cities perspective and Kroenke’s, but that for the sports media and ESPN have it covered.
Let’s get back on topic. The Rams situation is unusual since they are in the midst of business rebranding. They have already been residents in L.A for nearly 50 years, so they are now reestablishing themselves with this name. The re-locating has me to thinking has this ever happen before? In the world of business, it would be like Apple Inc., going back to the rainbow logo. For you nostalgia buffs out there I am sure there would not be many complaints if Apple Inc. made this change. In the modern sports era, I cannot think of this happening at this moment if someone else does, please leave a comment. The franchise will not change the logo, team colors, or any other symbol at least immediately. While the team was in St. Louis one of their primary colors went from a yellow to gold in 2000. The only thing different is the city name swap. The hope the franchise has the team will be more attractive then their heyday in Los Angeles during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Which is far earlier than the NFL’s rise in popularity to the levels we see today. We can ascertain that the Rams have never experienced their full potential in Los Angeles. The Rams had Super Bowl contending teams in the 1980’s even reaching the Super Bowl in 1980. However, by 1990, the franchise performance waned and also competing with the competitive Los Angeles Raiders for the city’s heart their popularity turned into cynicism and eventually led to their relocation. The business success is dependent on selling tickets, merchandise, and most importantly winning. The Rams already have an established brand in L.A., and the Raiders are not going to be there at least in 2016. The key to this re-brand is community engagement, merchandise and apparel sales, and performance on the field. They must resolve any residual bad feelings the franchise left in the wake of their departure, build excitement around the upcoming season, and build excitement for the new stadium opening in 2019.
Business rebranding can be a complicated process, and the Rams may very well fail even though the City of Champions Stadium will ensure the team will be a part of Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. Below are a few successful rebrands and some takeaways that may help the Rams or your business.
Los Angeles Clippers
Let’s start with an L.A. team. The Los Angeles Clippers were always considered little cousin to the Los Angeles Lakers after their move to the city in the mid-eighties a time the Lakers were dominating the league with the Boston Celtics. The team rarely had a winning season after relocating from San Diego. The situation took a turn for the worse when their owner at the time Donald Sterling was recorded making racist comments and forced to sell the team. New owner Steve Ballmer for chief executive officer of Microsoft challenge was to change the image of the franchise. The new brand identity is more modern, eliminates the similarities the logo had to the Lakers, and signified a new start. The Clippers are currently one of the better teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) while the Lakers have struggled to be competitive which has also helped their business rebranding.
I picked my hometown team as the second example because the Buffalo Sabres have gone from a surplus of season tickets to a long waiting list. The popularity for the franchise thanks to new owner Terry Pegula is through the roof. Before the purchase of the team, the Sabres was once a prime candidate for relocation. The indictment of owner John Rigas for bank wire and securities fraud resulted in the National Hockey League (NHL) took control of the franchise. Tom Golisano took over the franchise in 2003. The brand identity for the team changed for the second time in ten years to stylized buffalo. The logo was considered locally to have a resemblance to a slug. The big idea was the re-introduction of the franchise’s original color scheme, but the logo overshadowed the goodwill. Golisano and the Sabres franchise seem to acknowledge the mistake in 2010, by re-branding to the old logo. The Rams may find success in changing their color scheme from gold back to yellow. Within a year of the brand identity switch, they sold the franchise was sold to Pegula and the Sabres reestablished themselves in Western New York.