What's in a name?

Does it even have an Impact?

Few things generate more heat than when a club announces — or even hints at — changing part of its identity. Fans get very excitable at the prospect of the slightest tweak to a logo or colours.

There are still TFC fans that are MAD AS HELL that the club dared to put a tiny little bit of blue on their 2016 alternative strips. That it was a nod to Toronto’s soccer history as a reference to the Blizzard was irrelevant to these fans. Nor, did they care that Toronto’s city colours are actually primarily blue with white and red accents (seriously, TFC should have been blue. But, that boat has sailed…).

Nope, TORONTO WEARS RED AND MONTREAL BLUE AND NEVER THE TWO SHALL MIX was what the fans yelled. TFC hasn’t dared to be as daring in its design choices since (aside - that’s a shame because the white and red with blue trim strip is literally the only interesting TFC strip in the club’s history. Yes, literally).

That’s about a colour. Can you imagine how fans would have reacted to a name change?

Which brings me back to the Impact.

As most know, it came out late last year that the Montreal Impact were going to undertake a “major” re-branding before the start of the 2021 season. Specifically, they are dropping the Impact name and instead going with CF Montreal (Club de football Montreal, one assumes, but this is MLS so it might just be “CF”).

If leaked images from the Adidas store are to be trusted, the overall look of the club won’t change much (see below), but the name goes from the most unique name in MLS to…well, to just another generic name.

(HT to @FelixHurteau on Twitter for the image)

Yes, it’s generic. Or, I suppose, I should say “Oui” it’s generic, because the only unique thing about it is that it’s in French. It literally translates to Montreal Football Club.

Yet another “Football Club” or “Soccer Club” in MLS. It’s gotten to the point of parody now. Nine clubs in MLS are currently sporting some form of the name.

Before we continue this discussion a word on the name Impact.

It’s pretty cheesy. It’s also a grammatical error in English, if the intent was to express that the club would have an effect on the Montreal sports’ market. An impact is the result of two things running into each other. But, that’s just my J-School grammar prof’s voice inside my head.

If you were naming a new team from scratch today there is no way in hell you’d come up with Impact. It’s a terrible, dated name that screams SAWKER TEAM.

So, why are supporters so upset with the change? Shouldn’t they be overjoyed at the prospect of dropping this embarrassing brand?

Well, it’s not so simple. You see the reason that the name sounds dated is because it was named a long time ago.

To be precise, 31 years ago this year. A full six years before MLS existed. During Italia 90, for God’s sake. Maradona played in that tournament. I was a teenager. It’s O L D.

When you live through 30 years of history with a name you grow attached to it. You may understand that it is objectively bad, but subjectively you don’t care.

It may be a cheeseball name, but it’s your cheeseball name. It’s like calling your team, to pick two totally random names, the Timbers or Sounders…

There is no reason to change it.

So, why are they?

Well, that’s the million dollar question. We won’t know why until Joey Saputo tells us his thinking, if we ever fully know.

Failing a mindmeld into Joey’s brain, we can only speculate.

With the average attendance just 15,983 in 2019 — representing a drop from a high of 20,669 in 2016 — Joey must have felt that the team was losing a grip on Montrealers. The fact that it’s a single year dip and that the team, well, sucked seems to have been lost on Joey.

As for the uninspiring choice of a new name, you have to assume to marketing folks at MLS head office have determined that generic names are more recognized as being soccer teams among the general audience in North American cities.

In other words, randos that would never go to a game anyway understand that FC equals soccer and don’t mix you up with the local minor league baseball team (that they also don’t go to).

Marketing is always obsessed with finding new customers. Existing ones don’t resonate.

Marketing is the worst. I say as someone who has worked in marketing.

The soon-not-to-be Impact aren’t the first professional sports team to change their name. In fact they aren’t even the first MLS team.

Let’s have a look at how successful those changes were:

Putting aside teams that were forced into a change, or changed due to a relocation, or are the Charlotte Bobcats reclaiming their proper name from the city that stole it (so no Washington R******s, Washington Bullets, Tennessee Oilers, et al) I came up with the following teams.

  1. Tampa Bay Devil Rays to Tampa Bay Rays

  2. San Jose Clash to San Jose Earthquakes

  3. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to Anaheim Ducks

  4. Dallas Burn to FC Dallas

  5. Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City

  6. Houston Colt 45s to Houston Astros

  7. New Orleans Hornets to New Orleans Pelicans

A couple of those changes were so minor (Rays and Ducks) that they barely register, but let’s look to see if there was an attendance boost due to any of the seven.

  1. Devil Rays 1,387,603 (2007) vs Rays 1,811,986 (2008)

  2. Clash 14,959 (1999) vs Earthquakes 12,460 (2000)

  3. Mighty Ducks 15,107 (2006) vs Ducks 16,339 (2007)

  4. Burn 9,088 (2004) vs FC Dallas 11,189 (2005)

  5. Wizards 10,287 (2010) vs Sporting 17,810 (2011)

  6. Colt 45s 725,773 (1964) vs Astros 2,151,470 (1965)

  7. Hornets 15,109 (2012) vs Pelicans 13,803 (2013)

The two huge jumps — Astros and Sporting — were due to stadium changes. So toss them aside.

I’d also argue that the Ducks and Rays modest bumps were to do with ownership changes as much as a name change. So, two more off the list.

That leaves us with the Earthquakes (drop in attendance), FC Dallas (bump in attendance) and Pelicans (drop).

Hardly compelling evidence that there will be any impact to a name change in Montreal.

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