WINNIPEG - If Winnipeg gets an NHL team back, a local marketing expert believes it might be time to retire the Jets name.
“It’s a new age in every way,” said Peter George, president and CEO of Winnipeg’s McKim Cringan George marketing firm. “We have to be prepared to move forward in this city and not cling to the icons of a bygone era.
“There’s tons to be said for tradition, but that business is done. The Winnipeg Jets were done. It would be the Jets in name only, right?”
Winnipeg’s True North Sports and Entertainment is in negotiations with the Atlanta Spirit Group about the possible sale of the Atlanta Thrashers. If a deal can be worked out, the Thrashers would relocate to Winnipeg.
And what should the team be called? Well, that’s the hot topic these days. The Jets, Moose and Falcons appear to be the three leading contenders. Holding on to the Thrashers handle is an option, while going completely off the board — Lakers, Polar Bears or Blizzard — is the preference of others.
Anders Hedberg, you get to go first.
“Oh, the Jets, for sure. No question,” the former Jets star said. “It’s a brand name. It’s well established. It’s got a great reputation in Manitoba and the hockey world. Why would you even consider throwing that away? It’s automatic.”
That seems to be the prevailing thought, although George said that could simply be the vocal minority. “No one’s out there writing letters to the editor saying, ‘Hey, I don’t want them to be called the Jets,’ ” he said.
George noted fans are still going to come out in droves even if the team doesn’t use its old nickname.
The Minnesota Wild, he pointed out, are one of the most successful franchises in the NHL, even though the state’s old team, which relocated to Dallas, was called the North Stars.
“People are coming for the product. They’re coming for the NHL, for the hockey,” said George, who prefers Winnipeg over Manitoba as the location name. “Maybe there’d be a small outcry — the same people that tried to encircle the Eaton’s building and stop it from getting torn down would be outraged — if we weren’t getting called the Jets.”
Another option is keeping the Moose name, but George believes that would be a mistake.
“A name of a sports franchise, that’s the leading wedge of your brand, and your brand is only what your audience will let it be,” he said.
“You need a good name. You need something that’s exciting. It can’t be the Moose, I don’t think, because in people’s minds the Moose is a product that is associated with the league that they’re in. It’s great hockey, and it’s really enabled the organization to be where it is today, but you need to signify that it’s a change.”
Hockey Canada owns the trademark on “Winnipeg Falcons,” but president and CEO Bob Nicholson hasn’t heard from TNSE.
“No,” Nicholson said, “but I like the idea.”
When it comes right down to it, George said the process of determining the name is simple.
“I would say talk to the fans, but don’t just listen to the fans who are vocal about it,” he said. “Talk to them and find out whether there’s a fan preference for a fresh start or whether there is a real fan preference for the old name.
“… Talk to the fans and talk to the future fans, because guys my age grew up with the Jets in the WHA and the NHL, but who are going to be the hockey fans of the future? That’s important.”
— With files from Paul Friesen