wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Monday, March 06, 2006

MLS makes the right call: 1836 becomes Dynamo

To take a turn away from the US and the World Cup and toward MLS, it’s worth noting that today the newly established Houston franchise announced their team name: Houston Dynamo. Seems like a perfectly good name to me; better certainly than Kansas City’s Wizards or Los Angeles' Galaxy.

The trick is that it’s the second time the Houston team named their side. The first name was “Houston 1836”, in homage to the year the city was founded (at the expense of its previous Mexican occupants, who were ousted by Sam Houston and company). It seems that it never occurred to the genius MLS execs responsible for the name that it would conjure up problematic associations for the city’s Hispanic population; not an insignificant fact when you consider that this is a demographic the franchise will need to court to survive.

Today’s change wasn’t welcomed by all. The predictable nub of eternally aggrieved white guys lamented the loss of a team name that appealed to them and them alone. I’m not sure what you call it when the tender feelings of cultural conservatives are hurt, but it seems analytically indistinguishable from the kind of responses from the left that aforementioned conservatives tirelessly decry as limp-wristed PC whining.

I get the general point that people can be too sensitive about these sorts of issues, and I even share to some extent in the compassion fatigue for identity politics that’s been sweeping America for some time. That said, the name-change issue doesn’t seem like a close call at all. "1836" was a stupid name from an economic, public relations, and soccer point of view.

First off, when you select a team name, it's elementary that you should choose something that appeals to all of the demographics you want to bring in. You'd have to be dumber than a dead armadillo lying by the side of a Texas highway not to realize that choosing a politically charged year as part of a team's name is going to alienate a large sector of that demographic. Choose such a name and you lose money; simple.

Second, team names often have political implications in soccer. Do you think a lot of Glasgow protestants root for Celtic, or that you find a lot of Catalan separatists going to see Espanyol? Not likely. MLS names have been weird and bland, but at least they haven't been designed to trigger sectarian feelings. The change to Dynamo intelligently continues the latter part of this trend.

Finally, even if you don't buy any of the political problems the name raised, "1836" simply missed the mark as a team name. I get the significance for Houston's history, but no other football team with a year in its name does this. The year refers to the founding of the athletic club, not of the town. 1836 made about as much sense as calling the Salt Lake team "ReAL." If you're going to ape European team names, you should at least do it in a way that makes sense.

By contrast, Dynamo seems like a great name. It's got positive connotations, doesn't give off the weird vibe of some MLS names, and is something everyone can appreciate. Kudos to MLS for making the right move.


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