Indians won't consider name change; attendance soars

June 25, 2014
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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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  • Might as well go all the way
    If "Indians" has to be changed, then "Indianapolis" and "Indiana" are also on the block. While the word is inaccurate, it's not a slur. (Which, BTW, I agree "redskins" is and should be changed.)
    • NativAm-apolis?
      Agree with Babs! I too was wondering if we would be asked to revisit the name of our city and state...
    • Name
      We will have a long haul if we start changing names. Stop and think about it. We have an Irish Pub, a German Inn, The Scottish Rite, English Tea Room, as you noted Indiana and Indianapolis, this could goon and on. The Indianapolis Indians have always played a special part in a lot of people's heart. No one ever put a stigma on the word Indian. The Indian population should take pride in the fact the have been recognized in a special place along with all the other names we have used down through the years. The population in America cross so many different nationalities including Indian that we could take offense to almost any name you want to talk about.
    • Victory Field - Indians
      With the Indianapolis Indians Victory Field within blocks of the Eiteljorg Museum, Indiana State Museum, Indiana Historical Society, Indiana State Government Center, and the Indiana Convention Center, it makes perfect sense to proudly call our excellent home town "minor league" baseball team the INDIANAPOLIS INDIANS!!! Go Tribe!!!
    • Indiana not demeaning
      Comparing the derogatory term "Redskins" with the term "Indians" is like comparing the term "Wetback" with Mexican. The use of word Indian although inaccurate is derogatory in any way.
    • As a peace loving Irishman, I am insulted by the Fighting Irish. I am offended that we honor the Vikings who were a blood lusting genocidal people. Of course Blackhawks needs to go. While we are at it, as a USA loving American, I am offended by the cheating ways of the Patriots. And I am offended by the way the Cowboys play ball. Why don't we just do what Baltimore does to Indy. No team names, just "Indy" or "Indy Football Team". Of course there would be trouble with New York. Would you just list them as New Jersey Team 1 and team 2?
    • Injans
      Is using the term Injans OK? That's the way I always hear it in the old westerns I watch. Time to evolve I suppose.
    • It is all about money
      The Native American tribe is asking for $9 billion dollars in damages? Well, as a Hoosier, I would like to ask IU for some money because their use of the word "Hoosier" is causing me damage. And perhaps Boilermakers across the United States can ask Purdue for some money. Instead of being honored because we are naming sports teams after them, this Native American group is trying to score some money for something that is trivial. Yes, "Redskins" should change their name, but teams simply named "Indians" should not be targeted. It's just a matter of greed.
      • INTENTIONS
        I designed the current Indians logo in 1988. My goal was to reflect/respect the heritage of native tribes and respect the team's wishes to retain the name. Through extensive research (at the library), A full, hopefully politically correct “brave” face/primary logo was developed. Based on a Native American quilt pattern and stylized to create an exciting, bold mark that recalled Native American art—abandoning the stereotypical images the team used in the past. We incorporated the basic face elements of the primary logo, the cap logo needed to be simpler for use on caps and other merchandise. Two upper case Is (Indianapolis Indians) converge in perspective to form the shape of an arrow and the solemn face of a male member of a hypothetical tribe. My other intent was to actively involve local tribes to participate in Stadium events to further illustrate that this "respect" included a historical perspective. Think educational events where players help demonstrate hitting technique and where Tribal elders discuss the art form of headdress rosettas. These integrated opportunities were never realized, but would go a long way to honor the namesakes of teams that use "Indian" terms. Of course, racial slurs have no place in this use, but the Washington team could think about how to involve Native Tribes to create a brand and nomenclature that blends both goals: Respect to the Namesakes and Team loyalty. Even Cleveland (with its Chief Wahoo) has shadowed the caricature in favor of a simple block "C." When it was introduced at the winter meeting (1992) Major League Baseball marketing officials instantly approved of this identity system and it subsequently set merchandise sales records over the course of the next five years. Originally designed in 1988 (not on a computer), it was implemented in 1993 and is still in use today. It should also be noted that the logo designer has native blood in his ancestry—the Taino tribe of Puerto Rico. It was important that this was devloped carefully and with respect to all of the criteria and "players."
      • names
        Calling the team Indians is no more than calling Notre Dame the fighting "Irish". Redskins name reminds me of the childhood song you were taught: that said Jesus loves the little children everywhere. Why don't we all just try to get along and stop the craziness of looking for something to sue over.
      • Hyper-Sensitivity
        Strength, endurance, courage; these names reflect a positive image. They would feel insulted if teams were not named after them and sue for discrimination.
      • Missing perspective
        Why weren't the opinions of any Native Americans or representatives of Native American organizations included in this article? Seems like a glaring omission.
      • as I see it
        The Washington team name is a slur. "Indians" is not.
      • Huh?
        Change the Indians' mascot? Are you kidding me? Why are we wasting ink talking about this? I'm done wasting time reading about it ..
      • What a waste
        Change the Indians' mascot? Are you kidding me? Why are we wasting time talking about this? I'm done wasting time reading about it ...
      • how far do we go . . .
        Babs makes an excellent point that I have asked myself for some time . . . If we have to change all these names, do we have to change several of our state names, i.e., Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, etc.? I would compromise that we end all of this with Sports teams and keep our state names, but, then again, I am not of Native American heritage and do not know how far we must go. Personally, as an American, I find it offensive a team with the name England in it is called the "Patriots." Weren't Patriots fighting against England? This is not England nor New England, it's US of America. If the Indians do change their name, which I suggest they consult and prepare for the inevitable, let's make them the Indy Pennants. That has a nice ring to it.
      • IMHO
        As a Native American, I'm having a hard time understanding what is the point of Anthony's blog post. For me, if it's a demeaning slur or offensive portrayal against Native American peoples, then it should go. If it doesn't pass that sniff test, then move on. The use of the word "Indian" is not, in my humble opinion, a slur. It's a generic term used to describe indigenous peoples of both India and North America. You may be surprised to learn the word "Indians" is used by many tribes in their tribal descriptor...like "Seneca Nation of Indians". This article explains the Indianapolis Indians franchise HAS been proactive in removing the demeaning branding, and they should commended for that. So has Cleveland and dozens of other sports franchises. But, for all of you with the stupid analogies, wise up. You're not being forced to the back of the bus on this one.
      • It's Really Just The "Redskins"
        There isn't much controversy over "Indian names" despite what Anthony claimed. It's specifically the blunt use of "Redskins". Nothing to see here, move along.
      • Change the city and state names as well
        I'm serious. Change the state and city names. For most of my 50 years I've found the names of our city and our state provincial and increasingly offensive. As far back as college I used to joke that a European adventurer made a mistake, we named a state for his mistake, then named a city for the mistake's mistake. Imagine the PR boost we'd would get with a change. We could research the original place-names, which are often beautiful sounding (as opposed to the messy mouthful of meaningless greek-o-fication with no historic relationship to either Greece or India). Or we could simply invent something that doesn't sound to much like Minneapolis or Annapolis so we no longer have to repeat ourselves in vacation conversations. ("You're from where? Oh we Love the Mary Tyler Moore Show!" said one Irish couple)

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