Until this point in their history, it’s been one embarrassing charted course of disaster. A dysfunctional collection of Gilligans on the SS Minnow, from Benoit Benjamin to Wang ZhiZhi, with every other Olowokandi, Korolev and Closs in between.
There’s really nothing to gain by rehashing that rotting pile of filet o’ fish that floated up from San Diego and has been L.A.’s Titanic-sized sanitation issue since 1984.
Except that the stern is about to turn. David Stern, that is, will be leaving as commissioner soon. Trusted assistant Adam Silver will be the new man in charge working with Skipper Donald T. Sterling (not to be confused with Captain Merrill Stubing, of “Love Boat” fame)
Here’s the perfect way to turn this new Sterling-Silver connection into gold: Change the team’s name.
New coach and former Clippers point guard Doc Rivers has already lobbed the idea up there to change the culture and image by suggesting they cover up those Lakers championship banners up on the Staples Center wall whenever the Clippers are in the building for a home game.
Why not spin the spinnaker. Drop the dinghy. Reboot the rudder.
The ex-schooner, the better.
Throw an anchor around the Clippers’ nickname, and its miserable past will go to the bottom of the deep blue sea, into that garbage patch out in the Pacific, smell and all.
So, who’s throwing on a life jacket and joining us?
“You do not change your culture by changing your name,” said longtime Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler. “You do it by changing the way you do business. In case you haven’t noticed, that has been happening the past several years.
“Witness the league’s seventh-highest payroll and the current streak of 98-straight sell-outs, not to mention the product on the court and the upgraded front office.”
Witness, too, a boatload of money to be made by changing things up. Fasten your seat belts on this one.
The New Orleans Pelicans, for example, have already seen an influx of new cash, and hope, since changing its name. Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats were approved to go back to being the Hornets next season.
The NBA seems to be all kind of open in the name-changing business. The Clippers should seize the moment to rewrite history.
“A name change would signal to many that they are trying to run from their past rather than continue to ease into their future,” said David Carter, the well-versed L.A. sports expert as executive director role for the Sports Business Institute and professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business.
“Assembling a consistently competitive team with credible ties to the community achieves the same effect, namely a repositioning of the team in the eyes of fans, sponsors, and others that spend time and money with the team.”
Yeah, sure, but isn’t that what their chief rivals, the Lakers, have already been doing successfully? Even during a lean season like this one?
“The Clippers have to worry about themselves,” said Carter. “They aren’t just competing with the Lakers and their own past, but also everything else going on in L.A. To simply rebrand because of a competitor’s historic strength doesn’t make sense when your own brand is strengthening on its own and differentiating itself in the market.”
Here’s what doesn’t make sense: When discussing the dynamics of L.A.’s two-team NBA beachhead for the 2013-14 season, we asked TNT broadcasters and longtime L.A. residents Reggie Miller and Steve Kerr to assess just far ahead of the game the Clippers seem to be from the Lakers at this point.
“We’re talking now about the Clippers as if they are the Lakers – it’s astonishing,” said Miller. “Doc Rivers is bringing that championship mindset to a team that has underachieved for the last 20 or 30 years. We’ll see if this team can bring it on a nightly basis.”
“And even if the Clippers do that,” Kerr added, “ it’s still a Lakers town. I don’t think that will change.”
Or, change their name. C’mon, get creative here. You’re the Washington Bullets of the late ‘90s. Your name has become offensive.
Where’s Charles Barkley, the voice of un-reason, to make some sense of this.
“Naw, I don’t believe in doing that,” Barkley said of a name change the other day from Atlanta. “The guys who do that are just doing it to make money. The way the Clippers change is to start winning games. They’ve got a lot of talent. They just have to put it together to make it work.”
This is from a guy who just referred to this roster as “soft as tissue paper,” and sided with Matt Barnes in calling out teammates who aren’t willing to fight their own battles. How long before the Clippers’ winning overtakes the Lakers’ losing on this graphic of intersecting lines?
“Oh, I always believe L.A. will be a Laker town, no matter what the Clippers do, even if they changed their name,” Barkley added. “It’s about living in the present, not in the past, to be the best team in L.A.”
Before we decide that this rebranding ship has already sailed, maybe we need to look at all this from the perspective of someone standing a good distance from the wreckage to better assess the damage.
David E. Johnson, the CEO of Atlanta-based Strategic Vision, LLC, specializes in crisis communication. He’s frequently quoted by major media outlets as an expert in corporate public relations.
Recently, he gave advice in an Associated Press story about how the NFL’s Washington Redskins should change their name, even if owner Daniel Snyder takes a financial hit for a short time as fans fight the idea.
In the Clippers’ situation, however, Johnson sees no downside to a nickname facelift.
“If I was giving them advice, I say make a clean break from that stereotype and re-introduce yourself. Establish your own brand DNA. Establish a new story to tell, a new vision of who you are, where you’re going. Sell your new rationale.
“Start by giving fans ownership of a new name by polling them. Find a local artist, or have a contest with kids, to develop a new logo. Even if they’re not fans of the team, they’ll get excited with this creative rebirth and rebranding process.
“We’ve seen this with tech companies, lifestyle companies. It’s working already in New Orleans. You sell it to ownership by showing how this is also a great way of merchandising, and you’ll see a great return on your investment. Put it in brisk terms.”
At last, a voice of reason. A man of principles, and profits. A clear vision to seizing the moment.
Creative thinking like that, however, comes with a price.
In our due diligence to find out more about Johnson and Strategic Vision’s track record, we got thrown off track a bit.
The Huffington Post questioned polling data that his company used in trying to insert itself in the recent New York City mayoral race. The American Association for Public Opinion Research has trust issues with them. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com called the company “disreputable and fraudulent.”
That’s a little disconcerting. You’d think someone like Johnson would have figured a crisis communication strategy by now to clear his own name.
So, what have we seemed to learn here from this exercise?
But then, if this team capsizes despite all its “newness” in roster and coach transactions, what other cutting-edge techniques do they teach you to do in Marketing 101?
Name it. Own it. Buy into it.
Unfortunately, just don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. Then again, we’ve never really understood the cut of these Clippers’ jib.