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Melbourne United a step backwards for the NBL

The Melbourne Tigers want a rename, how about the NBL? (Image: mcsimmo)
Expert
20th May, 2014
45
1998 Reads

There’s a little too much Sydney Spirit about the Melbourne Tigers’ decision to re-brand as Melbourne United. And that makes it a very bad decision.

Teams change names. It happens. In this particular case, you can at least understand the rationale.

With a much-hated junior club sharing the same name – and the discrepancy between massive junior participation and underwhelming NBL crowds continuing to puzzle administrators – a fresh start would have presented some merit.

But the Sydney Spirit stench still lingers.

Maybe it’s because you’ve got a club legend asking for his retired jersey to be taken down and describing it as “ripping the heart out of the Melbourne Tigers”.

Maybe it’s because fans are in pure uproar, describing themselves as “gutted” and “alienated” and many vowing to no longer attend games.

Maybe it’s because neither of these stakeholders were consulted.

Maybe it’s because of the choice of name. United. Really? If it has to be cringeworthy, it should at least be marketing gold as far as appealing to children goes. None of the Big Bash team names were a hit with critics when they launched, but the kids ended up loving them. United is unlikely to strike the same chord.

Maybe, though, the real issue is that the club is now pretending to be something it isn’t.

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This is where the Spirit – the ill-fated attempt to re-brand the West Sydney Razorbacks after the cross-town Kings left the league – truly ballsed things up.

Despite the Spirit’s best attempts to claim so, it was not ‘Sydney’s team’. Rather, Kings fans saw it as the team formerly known as the Razorbacks. Razorbacks fans saw it as a team that is no longer the Razorbacks. It very quickly became no one’s team.

What Melbourne management are risking here is the exact same scenario playing out again.

Are fans of the Magic/Giants/Dragons side of the fence going to magically swarm over to the other side? Of course not. United are simply the team formerly known as the Tigers, their main rival. Besides, even as recently as yesterday more news filtered out about the prospect of a second team, with no connection to their rival, being introduced in 2015-16.

And how are Tigers fans going to feel about cheering a team not named the Tigers? On evidence so far, the majority aren’t happy about it.

Bizarrely, we’ve made it this far into the article without really bringing up history.

History shouldn’t be the central argument in an article like this, of course. Change is important, especially for the NBL today. But it was tough looking at the pictures tweeted out by Mark Bradtke and Lanard Copeland – which Andrew Gaze passed on – when this story first emerged.

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All of that is being pushed to one side. A club which has won four titles is turning its back on the name it won those titles under.

And worse, they are doing it at a time when history is one of the few things that the NBL truly has over its direct competition over summer.

How many A-League clubs have won four championships? How many Big Bash League teams have even won two? In both cases, the answer is zero. It’s a competitive advantage simply being surrendered, handed over.

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Melbourne owners Larry Kestelman and Michael Slepoy began the tough sell yesterday.

“We found it difficult to unite all other associations behind the Tigers brand,” Kestelman said.

“We tried everything to work with associations but found resistance – partially due to our name and the history of how basketball has been played in Victoria.”

You can understand the problem, but they’ve chosen the wrong answer.