With the New Orleans Hornets announcing Thursday afternoon they’ll change their nickname to the Pelicans, the Charlotte Bobcats face this question:
Would adopting “Hornets,” the nickname first associated with NBA basketball in Charlotte, drive up sales of game tickets and team merchandise?
The Bobcats are already engaged in market research to find out. They’ve hired Harris Interactive, a nationally prominent polling company, to survey both current Bobcats customers and the general Charlotte sports market about a possible change.
The Observer obtained a copy of the survey Harris emailed to various Bobcats season-ticket holders Wednesday. The electronic survey takes about 30 minutes to fill out, and asks all sorts of questions about the Bobcats, the Hornets and the general perception of what would sell more game tickets and team gear.
One question, about halfway through Harris’ survey, is the crux of the issue:
“If the Bobcats were to change their nickname to the ‘Hornets,’ would you attend more games than you currently do, attend fewer games, or attend about the same amount?”
The Bobcats aren’t commenting on the situation in New Orleans, since the name change won’t become official until a Thursday afternoon news conference. However, an NBA source confirmed to the Observer Tuesday night that Hornets owner Tom Benson has been given permission to switch the nickname to the Pelicans, an iconic bird in the state of Louisiana.
A grassroots effort called “Bring Back the Buzz” has lobbied for a name change from Bobcats to Hornets for over a year. Several hundred members of that group attended Saturday’s home loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Sitting mostly in the upper deck, they wore Hornets teal-and-purple merchandise and occasionally chanted “Charlotte Hornets’’ during the game.
That group was heartened when Benson, who also owns the NFL New Orleans Saints, said he wanted a nickname more associated with Louisiana.
The Hornets name is seemingly now available. NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said in April that if the Bobcats want the Hornets name, “it’s something we would clearly look at.” Silver added that a switch would be relatively simple since the league already owns all the trademarks.
Bobcats president Fred Whitfield told The Observer last month that a name change would cost the team at least $3 million to implement. Whitfield added that the team’s current stakeholders – season-ticket holders, sponsors and suite-holders – would have a big voice in any decision.
“Some of them have invested in us for nine years as Bobcats fans,” Whitfield said.
The issue isn’t just whether “Bobcats” or “Hornets” is more appealing to the Charlotte public. It’s whether a name change would actually drive sales of tickets, merchandise and general interest in this team.
Or as one item on the Bobcats’ survey posed, “When you think of the team nickname ‘Hornets,’ what comes to mind?”
That is the $3 million question.