The president of the KC Wizards ownership group (Ongoal), Rob Heineman, officially announced the change of names for the KC Wizards (See here) that has been rumored for some time. The Kansas City Wizards will now be branded "Sporting KC". The idea of a sports club is a European construct with the clearest example for soccer fans being Sporting Club Portugal. Much like the Dallas Burn changing their name to "FC Dallas", Salt Lake City taking the name "Real Salt Lake", and a Los Angeles based team branding themselves "Chivas USA", Kansas City seems to be taking a cue from foreign soccer influences with this name change.
Rob Heineman announced the name change last night with a tone of friendly defense as he must know most die hards are not happy about the new name. He made several references to his willingness to explain the new name and even walked through the new logo explaining what everything symbolized on the new crest. The crowd was not very responsive regarding the name change and reacted awkwardly when Jimmy Conrad and Omar Bravo came out to model the new jerseys for 2011. Try to find anyone who is excited about the name change outside of Ongoal's payroll. Lots of people know how much I love soccer and the Wizards, so I received no less than 20 emails, texts, tweets, or comments about how dumb the new name sounds. I think many people would have been fine with re-branding, but the name chosen is just so blah.
Changing to Sporting KC seems pointless to me. "The Wizards" isn't the best team name that could be chosen, but it has a history as an original MLS team, a distinctly American flair and an MLS Championship to its credit. The Kansas City Wizards is an American style team name- we include our city name and a mascot that has something to do with our regions image. Who cares what soccer teams in Spain do? What does a bunch of English po-dunk towns uniting to form a team mean to us? "FC"? Who in the U.S. calls soccer football? Americans have a different way of naming our teams, a sensible way in it's own right. Wizard, of course, refers to the classic movie about Kansas and a land called OZ. The original logo had a rainbow in it. "Sporting KC" is not how we name our teams. MLS has progressed nicely over the years establishing it's own identity and style of play. Sure, MLS is not on par with the English, Italian, or Spanish leagues, but it has nothing to be ashamed of. MLS and U.S. soccer is on a good trajectory. Naming U.S. soccer teams in a style reflective of European or Mexican clubs communicates we are not legitimate based on our own soccer merit but have to hearken to these supposed superior soccer countries. Frankly, I think the draw toward European style names might be a kind of bid to be like those sophisticated Europeans instead of us uncultured Yanks. It sure seems like MLS has made an attempt to be as un-American as possible by using European names like KC has now done. MLS has to believe it will make the league more marketable or they wouldn't do it. Seriously, how many Americans know what "sporting club" means? Heineman referred to Sporting KC not only being about soccer but also lacrosse and rugby. Seriously? In Kansas City? Ongoal is way too smart to just be playing a hunch on this. Surely they have solid market research information that indicates a positive long term effect by this name and concept change? The vision of Ongoal seems to include a concept that includes several sports and participants, the soccer team is just one of these components. They are working out a vision, not trying to tick fans off. They firmly believe the name change will contribute to a particular vision they have.
At this point I don't share their vision, I only care about supporting a solid soccer club. I don't care about lacrosse, rugby, or even a strong alliance or promotion of youth leagues. Ongoal will have to work much harder to sell the vision they have, as it's foreign and unclear to most of the people they will need to fill the 19,000 seats being bolted in place right now.
I am convinced that Rob Heineman and Ongoal are the best things that have happened to KC Soccer. They saved the Wizards from moving to a different city when the Hunt family started talking about selling. Rob Heineman and company are responsible for the beautiful new soccer-specific stadium being built up near the Legends. Ongoal's commitment to establishing and strengthening the team is what prompted me to pull the trigger and become a season ticket holder three seasons ago. They signed Claudio Lopez despite having to play in a temporary stadium (Community America Ballpark) that could never hold enough fans to make much of a profit. The players are very accessible and play a good quality of soccer, sometimes very good. MLS soccer in KC has a bright future- no hooligans, a passionate group of die hard supporters (The Cauldron), a growing season ticket holder base, a nice uniform kit, a solid group of young players, and the new stadium.
So why change the name to "Sporting KC"? Listening to Rob Heineman on Wednesday convinces me that he is convinced it is a good change. Ongoal has some kind of vision for how this will be unique, innovative, and of course, successful. Heineman is an incredibly accessible individual who is confident and careful. Again, he has to know most Wizards fans are not keen about this name change, yet he was undaunted throwing the "Big News" party in the P&L district. There wasn't great excitement expressed by the crowd about the name change or the new kits (I felt sorry for Jimmy Conrad and Omar Bravo having to model those drab shirts), but the reaction could have been a lot more hostile. Still, Heineman took the decision and vision of Ongoal right to the fans fully anticipating they will come around to see his vision eventually.
I don't know about the realization of some kind of sporting club culture, but Heineman is right, the fans will come around to it. They will have to. I hate the name. I find it embarrassing, yet, I will renew my season tickets and support the team. I love soccer, MLS, and so do my boys. Changing the name of a team isn't the end of a true fans devotion, but it is annoying and wastes a life line, so to speak.
So, Ongoal has this vision and "Sporting KC" is the name that captures it for them. Ongoal bought and saved the Wizards, they can name the team whatever they want. Period. I really despise the name and the whole need to be European trend in MLS, but Ongoal owns the team, not me. "Sporting KC" inspires absolutely nothing that I can see, but Ongoal sees it differently. Frankly, I feel like Ongoal used the euphoria of a new stadium and player (Omar Bravo) to slip this in on fans. How can we really complain against Ongoal when things look so positive for the organization going forward. Shouldn't KC fans give Ongoal a pass on this?
I think KC Fans should complain about this sorry name for a little while longer, because the name is sorry. KC fans should say it like it is- the jerseys are a step back and the logo, while meaningful to those who took 18 months to design it, is uninspiring and disconnected with KC's soccer history. KC fans should lament the fair amount of local and national mocking the name change has brought. Then, after a time of complaining, pouting, and lamenting- to go no farther than the start of training camp- should lay down the angst and take up the cause for Sporting KC.
This will be my practice heading in to the 2011 season hoping Ongoal spares us of any more such surprises.