July events at Victory Field include a blood drive, an ice cream social and Grand Park College Summer League games.

Indianapolis Star

A name change could be a multi-year process that costs the Indianapolis Indians hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Indianapolis minor league baseball team announced 47 days ago it would form a committee to reassess the “appropriateness” of its team name. Though the team has not commented on the progress of its discussion surrounding its team name since, brand management experts at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business say the team should already be preparing for the inevitability of a change.

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The view of the field during early inning action, Charlotte Knights at Indianapolis Indians, opening day for the Triple-A affiliate of Pittsburgh, at Victory Field, Indianapolis, Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Photo: Robert Scheer/IndyStar)

An IndyStar poll in July found 67% of respondents do not think the team should change its name. The poll, while unscientific, backs support the team has insisted exists for as long as the team name has been a part of public discourse. IU professor Neil Morgan said the team might incur steep financial costs for little upside if it makes a change to its team name and logo. But the trajectory of the dialogue points to an increasing belief the team name is inappropriate.

“This is going to be a problem that’s going to continue into the future,” Morgan said. “It’s also partly generational, so you also have to be looking at what’s the franchise going to be worth in 10 years time, 20 years time.”

Though dialogue against the name may come from a minority of the team’s stakeholders, the problem regarding the team name will only increase until it reaches a stage where a change is inevitable, Morgan said. At that point, the brand’s public perception would be damaged by standing firm.

The first thing the team would have to determine, if it chooses to change its name, is what it would like to call itself. Due to the community support the current name has, Morgan said the team’s best course of action would be to choose a name that causes minimum interruption and maintains some associations with the name. One strategy, Morgan said, would be to maintain the alliteration while disassociating from the inappropriate name. A name like “Indianapolis Independents” keeps consistent syllables from the old name, but doesn’t carry a negative connotation.

“Your question is, ‘How do we avoid being so far out there that it actually has negative consequences for the franchise?’” IU marketing professor Shankar Krishnan said. “That’s where it gets back to the values of the organization. If they believe strongly that they need to make a change, then sooner is better.”

Morgan said the team would then have to swallow its existing merchandise, develop a new logo, change its signage and incur additional advertising costs to explain the change to its fans, which could continue over a couple of years. But the team’s local following and its ability to access ticket-holders via email could streamline the process. 

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The Indianapolis team didn’t make Baseball America’s list of top-25 minor league merchandise sellers, but the team has been recognized several times in previous years. A study by researchers at the University of San Fransisco titled “Rebranding: The Effect of Team Name Changes on Club Revenue” found that a name change could have a “net positive effect” on merchandise sales in the first year.

“The average incremental boost in licensed merchandise sales to a rebranded team was only $41,343 if it moved into the Top 25 (of merchandise sales),” the study read. In 2011, the study found top-25 teams generated an average of $361,133 in merchandise sales.

But it could take years to restock the merchandise with the new name and logo, Morgan said. Krishnan said if the team has seriously considered a change, it should have already stopped production of new merchandise with the current logo.

Krishnan said isolating certain members of the fan base is a short term concern, but not enough to overlook the potential long-term damages sticking with the name could do to the brand’s public image. The team can expect to lose some ticket sales from individuals who swear off their allegiance to a team, but that could happen for a variety of reasons, including the team’s performance. And those fans don’t tend to “endure,” Morgan said.

“In a short term, there’s a limit to how many people can go anyway (due to the Coronavirus pandemic),” Morgan said. “I would be thinking about, ‘Let’s suck it up while the downside is already here. And the additional downside would not be great.'”