Note: Robert Kutrow of Charlotte wrote for the Hoofprint at Myers Park High School until graduating and enrolling at UNC Chapel Hill. He still follows events in Charlotte closely. Kutrow, 19, offered this perspective on the NBA Bobcats considering whether to reclaim the old Charlotte Hornets name.
On Jan. 24, the New Orleans Hornets announced a campaign to rebrand the franchise as the New Orleans Pelicans, slated to begin this upcoming offseason. The announcement kindled a frenzy of speculation among Hornets-loyal Charlotteans regarding a potential homecoming for their beloved mascot, Hugo Hornet, and his colors.
An online campaign advocating for the return of the Hornets entitled "We Beelieve: Bring Back the Buzz," proliferated quickly through social media. It has garnered more than 18,000 likes on Facebook, especially among those 25 to 34 -- the generation raised on Hornets basketball.
During the Bobcats' meeting with season ticket holders this past Tuesday, many Beelievers expected the rebrand announcement they have anxiously awaited, only to hear NBA commissioner-to-be Adam Silver say that the rebrand process would take 18 months at minimum. However, Silver was photographed holding a We Beelieve sticker following the conference, and seemed supportive of the movement, according to the group's Facebook page.
Retro Charlotte Hornets merchandise is certainly en vogue at the moment; Cam Newton was spotted donning a Hornets hat while seated next to Michael Jordan at a Bobcats game, and even tween sensation Justin Bieber has been photographed in Hornets apparel. The "throwback" gear is synonymous with 90's fashion: a vivid purple and teal color scheme, snapback hats, and Starter jackets.
But an NBA franchise based on a nostalgic cultural appeal is not a functional business model. The expected cost of a rebrand for Charlotte's basketball team could be up to $12 million, with no real guarantee of a revenue boost for the team. The Bobcats have conducted market research on the subject, but so far this has not been released to the public.
An initial spike in ticket sales and merchandise could be expected, but continued interest and sales is a gamble. What many advocating for this change seem to forget is that changing the colors and the uniforms will not change the skill level or entertainment value of the team that set the record for the all-time worst season just last year. Fan interest would wane as the "Buzz" wore off and the team continued to perform poorly.
Perhaps we should allow the Charlotte Hornets logo and colors to stand as a memento to a golden period in our city's history. The acquisition of our first major professional sports franchise marked the crossing of a threshold from one of America's up-and-comers and into the big time. Through the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia, we should remember the success and diehard fan base of the Hornets as the result of a city in a growth spurt. Let's not tarnish this memory by applying those revered jerseys to a team playing so far beneath par.
Further, our loyalty to Charlotte basketball, whatever it may be called, should be rooted to a sense of pride in place rather than a set of brash, 90s colors and a logo. We don't need to be called the Hornets to play like a hornet's nest of rebellion.