Charlotte Bobcats campaign touts return of Hornets name

adunn@charlotteobserver.comJuly 18, 2013 

The NBA team in Charlotte will finally get the old Hornets name back – and with it comes a new business model.

After receiving formal approval from the league Thursday night to reclaim the name of the city’s original NBA franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats are preparing a yearlong campaign to keep enthusiasm and sales high until the new brand takes the court in fall 2014.

The team will kick off a “Buzz City”-themed, purple-tinged media blitz Sunday on billboards, newspapers, radio and the Internet. A Web video that goes with it is heavy on civic pride and heritage, with the old logo and an old Muggsy Bogues jersey making appearances.

One billboard-style ad proclaims simply: “Honey… I’m Home.”

Retro Hornets merchandise will be up for sale almost immediately. The new logo, colors, uniforms and the new dance team will follow soon.

In short, it’ll be a quick transition for a team that spent years trying to build a Bobcats brand that never quite caught on in Charlotte. The new focus will try to recreate the happy times that came with the city’s first big-league team.

‘Uncharted territory’

New Orleans took the Hornets name after then-owner George Shinn moved the franchise in 2002. When the team announced that it would change its name to the Pelicans this season, Charlotte fans began clamoring to reclaim Hornets as their own.

One obstacle, certainly, has always been money. The team estimates that it will cost about $3 million to change everything from the logo to Time Warner Cable Arena itself.

Bobcats officials conducted surveys over the winter to see how the change would be received. A full 80 percent of Charlotteans supported the name change.

“I’ve been involved in a number of research studies, and I’ve never seen numbers that favorable,” said Pete Guelli, the team’s marketing director.

The Bobcats will play under their old name this season, before taking on the Hornets name for the 2014-15 season. While teams have certainly changed names in the past, there doesn’t appear to be a time when a team brought a name back after losing it to another city.

“This is kind of uncharted territory,” sports branding expert Carl Bassewitz said.

But it already appears to be paying off.

In the past four weeks, the Bobcats have sold more than 500 season ticket plans, which will cover both this season and next. That ranks the team in the top eight of the NBA.

Old gear, new gear

But how will you sell a Cody Zeller Bobcats jersey to those ticketholders when the name’s going away?

Answer: They won’t. At least, that won’t be the focus.

Expect to see closeout sales on Bobcats gear early as manufacturers control their inventory, said Ira Mayer of EPM Communications, which publishes reports on sports licensing. T-shirts may stick around since they’re easier to make and can essentially be produced on demand. Everything else, he said, will soon be in short supply.

But any lag is expected to be replaced completely with excitement for the new gear.

“I’m sure retail will be soft for six months, but then it’ll be the best they’ve ever had,” Bassewitz said. “I don’t see it hurting their business at all.”

Dunn: 704-358-5235 Twitter: @andrew_dunn

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