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What's in a (nick)name?
by Ridge Mahoney, April 8th, 2008 6:30AM
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TAGS:  mls


Can it be coincidence that the rumors of Thierry Henry perhaps heading to Seattle sooner rather than later surfaced at about the same time was announced the team nickname, which turns out to be a paragon of compromise? There's nothing like a convenient distraction. After months of heated discussions among the ownership members and despite the adamant insistence of Commissioner Don Garber that the 2009 expansion team wouldn't carry the same nickname as a loved but departed NASL franchise as well as the current USL entry, at high noon Monday came word: Seattle Sounders FC, joining the MLS club of Football Clubs that already includes Dallas and Toronto.

This must have been a bitter battle. MLS hasn't been shy about squelching recycled NASL nicknames yet hasn't always been successful. No Rowdies in Tampa, for example, no Sting in Chicago, and no Cosmos in New York, yet when Kraft Sports Group wanted to drop the Clash and revive the Earthquakes name in San Jose the deed was done, and when AEG moved the team to Houston, MLS bargained a deal to preserve the logo and nickname.

Talk about playing favorites.

In the months since Seattle officially joined the league, getting any solid information about internal discourse regarding a nickname yielded little except how vitriolic the discussions had become.

"It's the raging debate," said Joe Roth in January. "I can't tell you. I'm in the movie business, where titles are so important. There are eight or nine of us and it goes on. We can't have a meeting without having this debate, and with each successive debate, people are consistently changing sides. So it sort of depends on the day you ask me."

Adrian Hanauer, who grew up in the Seattle area and is principal owner of the USL team: "The original Sounders were a really important part of my childhood. I went to all those games at Memorial Stadium, and went to the parties after the game and got the autographs, and went to the camps and got to see the players. The buzz that existed in the city and going to the games with my family, that really got me."

In an e-mail, Drew Carey stated, "Can't we talk about getting rid of Social Security, or national health care or something? Something that won't cause such a fight when I get together with the other owners?"

Approximately 50 percent of the voters didn't pick any of the three nickname "finalists,' so credit is due to the ownership group for listening to the fans rather than botching even further its laborious, dragged-out naming process.

The announcement came a week or so after a decree that no other MLS team could carry any reference to "United" without any explanation about how that came about. Eh? Did D.C. pay an exclusivity fee? Can president Kevin Payne and/or the operator-investors be that powerful?

Might there be a second Real in MLS or has Dave Checketts locked that up? After all, Madrid and Valladolid and Murcia and Valladolid and Zaragoza and Sociedad and Espana and dozens of others share that moniker, though certainly not as storied a history.

And why is poor "City" being shunned if there's a march to British-ize the MLS nickname brigade? I don't see "Town" on the horizon, either, or "County" or "Athletic" or "Albion."

How about "Rovers?" Hmm, not bad. It doesn't have a chance.

(Quiz: One defunct pro soccer franchise on these shores used "City" as its nickname. Without use of the internet, name it, and for extra credit, name the league.)

And how can Dallas call itself FC when its foreign club affiliate is Clube Atletico [Paranaense]? Isn't that a violation of some sort? But CAD has a rather negative connotation and DCA is an airport, so that's out.

The Colorado Rapids are still the Rapids and not the Gunners, though there's at least one executive who'd make the switch in a heartbeat given the chance and has already adopted one of the Arsenal jersey colors. The nearby gunnery offers an explanation just in case the organization leans in that direction.

But "Sounders FC," if a bit unwieldy, will at least distinguish Seattle from the other FC's, be they Dallas or Toronto or Liverpool or Schalke (yes!) or whatever.

How "Sounders" has been "transferred" - according to the official release -- from the USL team, of which Hanauer is the principal owner, to the MLS entity isn't quite clear, either.

If nothing else, the past few months have been a stark reminder that in this era of branding and marketing and team identity, what's in a (nick)name is of paramount importance. That's a pun


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