While the Brooklyn Nets try to figure out exactly how plain and boring their new jerseys will look like, they’ve already outfitted their contemporary persona. Their high ambition for free agents – still so early in the pudding of the 2012 National Basketball Association off season – is a sign of exactly how certain the front office is that a new identity will result into instant success. Their new face is being glimmered, polished, and given a little eye shadow in the hope that it will translate into a new fate – a desire that is all too concurrent in sports teams nowadays, and is not always compensated.
Changes in a team’s identity are interesting and can be exciting – especially for the sports memorabilia consumers – but they are not always voluntary; the former Montreal Expos were forced to become the Washington Nationals due to low attendance, financial issues, and eventually, not finding a suitable home. But the Nats didn’t explode with this new face, as some might think; many years passed before they became a noteworthy big league team and their hats became world famous. They’ve never finished a season over .500, they had two straight 100+ loss seasons not too long ago, and have finished in the bottom of the National League East five out of their first seven seasons in D.C. The Nats, forced to wait for triumph, camped out two years at the top of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft and swallowed up the two greatest prospects in baseball history, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. When free agents weren’t a viable option for the boys in red, they took the seemingly unseemly path of patience. They waited for the pieces to come together into the perfect mixture, instead of going all-in once their new uniforms came in. This tolerance and ability to keep fans just enough interested in the team has finally shown profit: They are currently leading the NL East by more than a handful of games, they bolster the best pitching staff in the Majors, and they are the best team in the National League. They’re no fluke this year, and are almost guaranteed a spot in the postseason. Change: Good.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the most successful example of a change of image in recent memory, going from worst to pretty much first after changing their logo, uniform, and name. Once known as the dreg of Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the team from St. Petersburg changed their image in November of 2007, simply hoping to rid themselves of the ties to their futile past. The Devil Rays never had a winning season, finishing a franchise-best 70-91 in 2004. After they became the Tampa Bay Rays, however, their fortunes changed, as they won the pennant in 2008, to go along with 97 regular season wins that season, and they haven’t finished under .500 since changing their name. The Rays had been preparing for transformation for a long time, acquiring many highly-touted draft picks, such as B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, and David Price. Their sudden metamorphosis was well planned out before sunshine became their logo, and it didn’t entail high spending – unlike what the Marlins dabbed in. They took the Nationals’s path of patience, acquired the right draft picks, and have succeeded as a result. They’re just glad they didn’t have to wait seven years to flourish after their change in identity like the Nationals had to do. Change: Great.
A change with less data to examine (but filled with plenty of lessons about a team’s vanity) exists in the fish. When the Florida Marlins saw that they would finally get a new stadium, they decided they needed to change the entire look of their franchise to draw more people in. They wanted fans of the game to see the Marlins as a serious team, one that could win on a constant basis instead of a flash once every six years or so. They wanted to be more than a lucky batch in a pond of east cost giants. As a result, they changed their logo, uniform, and name, along with their stadium so the old failures of the Florida Marlins could not follow them. They spent like they forgot that they weren’t the Miami Heat, signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, and getting a new, successful manager, Ozzie Guillén. Their obsession for a new identity hasn’t panned out yet, as they are fourth in the NL East, nine games back of the Nationals, and have only just reached 40 wins. In another translation, the Marlins shelled out $201 million on four stars this off season, but are trailing three teams with Opening Day payrolls less than half that sum. Change: Eh…for now.
While lessons about equanimity are being shown, the former New Jersey Nets are pursuing the Marlins’s path via high spending. They’re going to move into a new stadium, with a new city, and (which looks like it was drawn by a four year-old) a new logo. The Brooklyn Nets, with an emblem lacking color (yes, because black and white are not actually colors. Whohoo, art class, you taught me one thing!) will be adorned by the likes of Deron Williams, who the Nets splurged for in a five year, $98 million deal. Not looking to become complacent, the Nets are already in talks to trade for the Superman Center of ambiguity, Dwight Howard. Not quite as much of an investment as the Marlins put into Reyes, Bell, Buehrle, and Ozzie, but still, the Nets are trying, oh, are they trying. The soon-to-be inhabitants of the Barclays Center are hungry for their first postseason appearance since 2007, and Coach Avery Johnson is already aspiring that he will be doing interviews for the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Change: Please, Dwight, play basketball for us or we’re screwed!
Some more historic examples of teams changing their identities have been recorded: The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles and made purple-and-gold the soil of the West Coast before the 1960-1961 season; the Angels decided that California was too broad of a character, and subsequently added wings to their logo and became the Anaheim Angels in 1997; the Jazz decided that Utah needed the constant peace of jazz music to deal with their tortuous weather, thus moving to Utah in 1979 and becoming the Utah Jazz. The reasons for new team names, cities, stadiums, and logos were diverse, sometimes varying from only wanting a new look, to wanting to avoid negative stigma towards their name that suggested the crime rate of their city (oh, whatever did happen to the Washington Bullets?)
But regardless, the desire of sports franchises for a new identity is as enticing as anti-aging face lotion for women. The drool that the fans, players, and executives produce all comes from a craving for escape – an escape from an unsuccessful past or present, so they can move onto a new countenance that can make their critics forget. Nowadays, professional teams seem to think that a new name or look means they have become a completely different club, or have the sudden capability to be different. Don’t get me wrong, such changes aren’t always bad: The Devil Rays’s uniforms often looked like the puke from manta rays, and the nation’s capital was without a baseball team for decades. The tolerant ones are rewarded eventually, giving fans a new hat and jersey to invigorate exhilaration. But sometimes the change is done too hastily and foolishly seen as a right for automatic success. The Marlins and Nets see their changes in stadiums and logos as preordained facts that they will instantly jump up from the bottom of the cellar in their leagues. It’s an understandable desire, as both the Marlins and Nets have suffered through many years of futility. Waiting for a new system of thought – a Moneyball or a new-sense basketball getaway – can be a slow process – something the fans can’t stand. So, the new way to change fate is to open up your wallets and buy a new face. It’s what Hollywood does, and professional sports leagues are like Hollywood, filled with glitz, camera flashes, and impatient supporters. So hey, throw out a few crisp notes and your fate will be changed! Don’t worry if the solution is only temporary and often means nothing when your competitors have better sense than you! A new face is costly, but it means you can throw your old life behind! And if you hurry your purchase, a complimentary stadium and mega concert will be included in your package, free of charge! How great is that!