The New Orleans Voodoo makes sense as a possible rebrand . . . so much so that Hornets ownership has inquired about purchasing the brand from the AFL team that owns it.
Before he actually owned the team, causing David Stern some degree of consternation, Tom Benson did what some New Orleans Hornets fans have been perpetually clamoring for: he declared that the New Orleans Hornets will be rebranded.
This general issue has been discussed at length, but the quick summary is:
Some feel the ties to Charlotte indicated a reluctance to embrace New Orleans, leading to relocation fears and more
Some feel the team can only succeed in New Orleans when it has a locally relevant brand
Some feel the team has too many ties to too many ignominious events to ever really be embraced or be a fitting representation of the city, fans, players, and eventual championship
Other concerns are much less thoughtful, such as not liking various insect puns or the incorrect belief that hornets do not exist in the region.
Recently, Jake Madison reported that Spirit and Angels were names under consideration by the new ownership.
Now, there is another: New Orleans Voodoo.
Our information states that Hornets ownership has inquired about the purchasing this brand from the AFL team that owns it, but the offer to purchase was declined. This has happened at least once, but it may have gone through a couple of negotiation cycles.
Despite the stalled purchase, circumstances can change, and so can offers. This issue is not in a nailed-shut coffin yet.
Let’s walk through the history of this brand, the pros, the cons, and other factors, then revisit this topic.
The New Orleans Voodoo was the name for Tom Benson’s team in the former Arena Football League. It’s a brand he created, and the team had it’s inaugural season in 2004, playing in the New Orleans Arena. The team was enormously popular both before and after Katrina, despite being disbanded for a time due to the storm and having most of it’s players dispersed to the Kansas City Brigade expansion team and around the AFL.
The team was among the most popular in the NFL despite making the playoffs only once, and that in their first season, winning their division. They drew large crowds, and were instantly candidates for hosting Arena Bowls, so much so that the AFL considered breaking a contract with Las Vegas to host one and move it to New Orleans. This was not done, but New Orleans hosted back-to-back Arena Bowls in the last two years of the former AFL.
The AFL collapsed shortly after Benson folded the team in 2008, but the Voodoo were reincarnated in 2010 when the Shreveport-Bossier City Battle Wings relocated to New Orleans, donning the Voodoo brand: name, colors, mascots (Bones and Mojo), logo, Voodoo Dolls, The Graveyard, and more. The Voodoo have completed their second season in the new AFL, an outgrowth of the former AF2, the AFL’s minor league of sorts that was run on a completely different business model and with independent finances. The team’s president and owner is Dan Newman, who held that position in the Battle Wings era since 2003. Mr. Newman is a north Louisiana native and a former sports journalist.
Pros for Hornets Buying the Voodoo Brand
The Hornets would be purchasing known commodity that is popular, local, and effective.
Alternatives, such as Angels or Spirit, all entails greater degrees of risk, as the public may not embrace the brands, such as with the Wizards, who some believe are considering rebranding again, possibly to the Monuments. Thus, the purchase mitigates some of the risk associated with the rebrand while addressing the `locality’ concerns.
Purchasing the brand allows more time to spend deploying the brand and running the business. Developing a brand takes resources away from the rest of the business, could end up with a large price tag, could end up being rushed, etc., and leaving the deployment has to fit into a smaller timeframe.
Cons for Hornets Buying the Voodoo Brand
The Voodoo is associated with a failed league, then a lower tier team.
There is also potential for some marketplace confusion, as there Voodoo football merchandise is already in the area (like in my closet).
Pros for the Voodoo Selling the Voodoo Brand
Money. Plain and simple. This team ,while having much larger attendance compared to that in Shreveport, and the expenses of the current AFL are not that large, is playing in a more expensive venue where they are not the primary tenant and city with higher costs for their downtown offices (Poydras, right across from the Dome). This league has undergone several seismic changes and a tense labor battle. I don’t know for sure, but the opportunity to cash in for Newman can’t be too large, except for this unique opportunity that is time-limited.
Also, by stripping the name, they can come up with their own identity. While the Voodoo brand is fantastic, the current AFL product is not. They are a spunky league, but they set an expectation with the brand that the product does not live up to expectations . . . “it’s not like it was,” and that is true. I know, I’m a season ticket holder, and was under all Voodoo eras.
A new name could reset expectations and have people accept them for what they are and appreciate their efforts as they grow.
Being a rebrand anyway, Newman likely has no emotional attachement to the name, such as Shinn had to the Hornets. As he purchased the Battle Wings from a prior owner, he would be able to further stamp the team he’s owned for ten years with his character.
Cons for the Voodoo Selling the Voodoo Brand
They lose a great brand. Plain and simple.
They will also have to take some time to come up with a brand if they don’t use the Battle Wings again, which I consider unlikely.
What’s Going On?
So all the above is playing, presumably, into the ongoing, perhaps silent, negotiations.
Voodoo attendance is down from 8,153 average to about 6,000 (season is not over, and they may make the playoffs) in just last year. This was enough for the team to relocate upper bowl patron (such as myself) to the lower bowl, a process that is continuing for next season.
This attendance drop is larger than the drop from 8,241 average attendance to approximately 7,700 this season, and will persists it seems. For reference, the Voodoo average attendance in the old AFL were 15,143 (2004), 15,338 (2005), 16, 645 (2007), and 14,321 (2008), where they ranked high in average attendance, and leading the league in some cases. Now, they are well-below average, and the drop in attendance could very well be partially attributable to the problem of expectations discussed above. Nevertheless, this is still double the attendance the team enjoyed while in Shreveport.
In a sense, the Hornets and Voodoo have opposite problems that could be solved in the same maneuver: move the Voodoo brand to the NBA team.
The Hornets rebrand will likely not occur this offseason due to NBA rules and logistical challenges. The Oklahoma City rebrand took place in this short a time, with some prior preparation likely, but it was incomplete at the season’s start. For instance, they were without a mascot until February of their first season in the Sooner State.
More likely is a partial relief of the approximately two year waiting period for rebrands to allow it to take place in the summer of 2013, allowing the newly branded team to host the 2014 All-Star Game. This exposure for the brand is worth more to the NBA than having a funeral for the Hornets brand on worldwide television. This fact, more than any other, and there are many others, leads me to think the rebrand for next offseason is the most likely.
This sets up the time for the sale of the brand. The AFL Voodoo could play next season as the Voodoo, but it’s likely better for them to play under whichever other available brand they would like to. With the team likely to rebrand in the offseason, as the Bullet-Wizards announcement was in May 1997, it would be nearly impossible for the NBA to commit to a rebrand when the brand was not in their control exclusively.
This shortens the time to have a new brand in place to Spring 2013, with Winter being better, making movement on that front an early indicator of this one rebrand: If the AFL team rebrands before the season, it is a piece of evidence that the Hornets will become the Voodoo; if not, it is a piece of evidence that the Hornets will become something other than the Voodoo.
The Voodoo are steadfastly lauding their fantastic brand to anyone who will listen, but this could very well just be an attempt to drive the price up. Benson may very well have fallen silent and be holding firm in his offering price, but this could very well just be an attempt to drive the price down.
It’s a game of chicken to some extent, but really it’s just Benson’s decision. He can buy the brand since he could just buy the team. It’s matter of him being willing to get it for the price he’s willing to pay at the time.
Like so much in sports, it depends on the decisions or whims of billionaires.
Also, criticism has been raised about the Voodoo being the image that a Catholic family honored by the Pope would want put forth. This would be further compounded by his wife Gayle’s comments about Spirit and Cardinals being names she would like, both religious names tied to Catholicism: the former being part of the Trinity, the latter being a senior figure in the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
An immediate response is that two people on the planet actively named their professional sports franchises (of this scale) “Voodoo.” Tom Benson is one of them, and he created it. Then he kept the name the same after the team did not play due to Katrina, a fine time to change the name and break with the past. Some will say Gayle would have an influence in this, but they were married in the the Fall of 2004, following the Voodoo’s first season, and have been ever since. Again, there was ample time for the influence to take hold and force a rebrand. Things can change, but the data supports a willingness to name a team “Vooodoo.”
Ready, willing, and able.
Check, check, check . . . then THE check.
This Voodoo ownership shows that Tom Benson and his group are more than capable of running two sports franchises simultaneously. The NBA is a higher level league than the former AFL, but the capacity has been demonstrated. Good to know for those that find the above new.
It’s been brought to my attention that Dan Newman may not in fact own the brand, but that the new AFL does. I think this distinction is minor in that who decides what to do changes, but the overall factors are the same: The AFL will cash in should it sell, therefore all owners some instead of just one to a high degree. In fact, if the brand isn’t making a big difference in revenue, other owners may be even more eager to make such a change then Newman would if it was primarily his decision.
Also, it could be that buying the Voodoo increases the likelihood of a rebrand happening early, whether it be next offseason or this one. The negatives to rebranding early would be mitigated as effectively as possible since the mascots, etc. are all extant. Discussions with those familiar with the Thunder indicated that the reports of the unavailability of Thunder merchandise was overblown, which would be a major concern not addressed by purchase of the brand.
Ergo, the sooner the rebrand happens, the more likely that the rebrand is to Voodoo.
The AFL season is ongoing. The Voodoo play their last regular season game on July 21, 2012, and the Arena Bowl is in New Orleans on August 10, 2012. No announcement along these lines will happen while the Voodoo are active, but the above sets up the early end of the timeframe. The latest possible date to announce a rebrand would be October 1, 2012, and this is likely too late. This is somewhat arbitrary, but preseason starts just after that date typically. This is nevertheless a window of time to pay attention to for a near-term rebrand. I would assume a declining probability distribution; in other words, the longer it goes, the less likely it is to happen.
It’ll be a tight fit for this offseason. Keep an eye on the Voodoo, regardless. They’re a New Orleans team, fun to watch, and have a shot at the title at this point.
I’d like to thank readers here and at hornetsreport for discussions that fed into this update.