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Sports Business

Indians won't consider name change; attendance soars

June 25, 2014
KEYWORDS Sports Business

The Indianapolis Indians have no intention of abandoning the name the team has had since its founding in 1902, despite the surge of criticism sports teams with Native American names, logos and mascots associated with them have endured recently.

The criticism has been especially harsh on the Washington Redskins and its owner, Daniel Snyder.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this month cancelled the Redskins’ trademark registration. A 99-page decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board called the name and logo “disparaging.” The decision won’t force the NFL team to change its name but fuels the fight by opponents to eliminate what they view as a slur against Native Americans.

Indians officials emphasized there’s been no such backlash in Indianapolis.

“We enjoy our name and we’ve had no negative anything directed our way based on what’s going on in Washington,” said General Manager Cal Burleson. “We’ve not given any thought to changing the team’s name.”

The Indians have good reason not to change the name—112 years of brand equity—and sports marketers agree that type of equity is impossible to replace.

The Indians franchise has become synonymous with family entertainment and profit as predictable as summer humidity, and the team is off to another strong season.

Through 37 scheduled home games this year, the team has drawn 303,771 fans through the turnstiles. At the same point last season, the team had 262,772. Revenue this year is up more than $1 million over the same period last year, Burleson said.

Last year, home attendance of 637,579 was the best since the team’s championship campaign in 2000.

This year’s hot start has Indians officials hoping to break their attendance record of 658,250 in 1999. Victory Field opened in 1996.

“It will be a challenge for us to do as well [as last year], but our advance ticket sales are ahead of last year,” Burleson said. “We’ve got another good team and some things are lined up well, so we have a shot.”

Despite the success, the larger discussion of Native American names and logos is not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Indianapolis’ AAA minor league team bears the name of its former owner, the Cleveland Indians. But the Indianapolis Indians had the name long before affiliating with the Major League Baseball club in 1952.

The Cleveland Indians unloaded the local team following the 1955 season and the local team became independently operated and publicly traded in early 1956.

Burleson said the local name has always made sense.

 “It’s a logical name for a baseball franchise located in Indianapolis, Indiana,” Burleson said.

More than a few people have asked me if the local team is considering a change to be more politically correct.

The Indians, now an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, have avoided much of the controversy enveloping the Cleveland Indians. The Cleveland club took a lot of heat over its mascot, Chief Wahoo, a caricature of a Native American with a ridiculous toothy grin.

Cleveland this year moved away from using Chief Wahoo as its primary logo in favor of a block “C.”

The Indianapolis Indians have several logos related to Native American imagery, including one of its primary marks which signifies both a capital “I” and an arrowhead.

While the Indians moniker might not seem nearly as inflammatory as Redskins, several teams—primarily colleges—have dumped Indians from their names.

All the way back in 1969, Dartmouth switched to Big Green. In 1972, Stanford changed to the Cardinal. In 1988, Siena changed to the Saints.

More recently, in 1992, St. Bonaventure changed from the Brown Indians to the Bonnies, and in 2006 the University of Louisiana at Monroe changed to the Warhawks, and McMurry University to the War Hawks.

In 2007, Indiana University of Pennsylvania gave up its Indians moniker in favor of Crimson Hawks, and in 2008, Newberry College changed to the Wolves, and Arkansas State abandoned Indians for Red Wolves.

Those are but a few examples.

Will the Indianapolis Indiana be next? With the brand equity built into the team’s name and lack of a local outcry, a sudden move is as unlikely as the team snapping its 39-year profit streak.

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