Looking at the Potential Names of PRO Rugby’s Five Franchises

The finalists for PRO Rugby’s team-naming competition have been unveiled for about a week now and many of the reactions have been uncomplimentary, to say the least. Some of the criticism has been nit-picky but branding is important enough that being a little overly critical is acceptable. Personally, I would have gone in a different direction for just about every single team but there are a number of names here that I think are surprisingly clever.

My hope for these names going into this contest is that they would be unique for American major league sports teams (I’m sorry Canadian fans, but no one in Denver will think “Why do we have the same name as Calgary’s CFL team?” if Stampede is selected) and that they would sound like major league team names. The league nailed the first part, but the results are mixed for the second.

Here are the choices, with the voting results at the time of this post:

Denver – Stampede 42%, Vipers 34%, Peak 24%

Colorado has a propensity for naming teams after either native animals or the Rocky Mountains. If you want to break from those trends, then Vipers is your choice. It may not be a native animal, but I’m not sure that’s as much of a prerequisite as people believe. You won’t find a single Bengal tiger in Cincinnati or a bull in Chicago (outside of a zoo, that is). In my opinion, Stampede is the best name of the three. It cleverly alludes to the Broncos and Buffaloes and Rams without getting too close to copying any of them. “The Denver Peak” sounds really odd to me. I don’t have much more to say about that one.

Ohio – Aviators 60%, Flight 31%, Presidents 8%

It looks like the team in Obetz will be going by an aviation-related moniker as the fans are rightfully rejecting the name Presidents. I think both Aviators and Flight are just fine, with Aviators winning out because Flight is a little too Arena Football-esque (and there will be enough names like that elsewhere in the league).

San Diego – Breakers 37%, Admirals 35%, Destroyers 29%

This is a pretty close race between three nautical-themed names. I liked Destroyers the most initially, but I can understand why it might be a little too “in your face” for some. I’ve come to the conclusion that Breakers is actually a pretty brilliant name for a team that breaks the line quite a bit. The name Admirals is fairly boring when you consider what all could be done with the naval theme (the aforementioned Destroyers, Dreadnoughts, Commodores, Armada, Cruisers…)

San Francisco – Rush 38%, Fury 34%, Miners 28%

This is the only team where I feel like all three names are unsuitable. San Francisco Rush would be OK if it wasn’t already the name of an arcade game. Miners is way too close to Niners. Fury is too minor league sounding, and both Fury and Rush are plucked straight out of early-2000s Arena football. Scrap these and choose something else. My suggestion was the San Francisco Knights, which is admittedly a pun on a song about the city by The Animals but is also a solid name not used by any other American professional sports team. The Grizzlies is available too, which would have worked for either Northern California team.

Sacramento – Express 42%, Pioneers 30%, Steamers 28%

I’m not stoked about these names either, but I’d rate both Express and Pioneers as “OK”. Express sounds a little too minor league to me. The Pony Express is a suitable inspiration but a name like Stallions (my suggestion) works as an homage while sounding more professional. Steamers is not acceptable (search Urban Dictionary if you don’t understand why) and it’s kind of remarkable that the name got this far.

Bonus note: Sacramento’s motto “Urbs Indomita” translates to Indomitable City, and the Sacramento Indomitables would make for either a phenomenal or ridiculous name but I’m leaning toward the former.

In the future, I think the league might want to steer in a slightly different direction on this part of the process. Fans should have some say in the matter with a vote much like the one currently being held, but casting a wide net for the names beforehand has lead to sub-par choices. Instead, give local designers the chance to create a full team identity – name, colors, kit, etc. – and let the fans choose from 3-5 of the top submitted designs. Fans still get to select the name, but this way you can also limit the submissions to those who are both more gifted at creating brands than the average fan and more in-tune with the local audience.

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