Rays prove power of changing a name

By Burt Alper

October 3, 2008

Those of us in the naming business have been looking for ROI data for an eternity. How can we justify the fees we charge if there’s no way to prove that changing the name actually impacts success? In a typical business name-change, there are too many extraneous factors that impact the success of a brand. The name might be great but the product sucks. Or the name is great but the marketing team sucks. (Of course, none of our clients suck, nor their products …)

Lo and behold, the Holy Grail of Naming comes to us from the sporting world, of all places. We now have a perfectly controlled experiment in which the same product, with two different names, has a yielded a dramatically different outcome.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the worst team in the American League in 2007. During the off season, the team decided to change its name, dropping the “Devil” part and moving ahead as just the “Rays”. Admittedly, not the most dramatic name change in history, but we’ll take what we can get. So what happened? In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays broke out of the losing funk the franchise had owned since their inception. They just clinched their first playoff birth (ever), and the team finished in the top three for the best record in all of baseball. Not bad for a team that did nothing else but change its name. How’s THAT for ROI?

It’s rare to observe a case study in which all other factors remain equal. For once it is undeniable – same players, same stadium and the same coaches and managers as the preceding year. Even the same competition. A complete turnaround fueled solely by the power of a name.

Objectively, we have to say that the new name is much better. Dropping the slightly lugubrious “Devil” makes a big difference. It’s snappier, and more in line with the classic “Mets” or “Cubs”. The rhyme isn’t too shabby either; the new name follows many of  rules we naming specialists apply: it rolls of the tongue, it’s fun, and it’s distinctive. Most importantly, it is less blasphemous. (KIDDING!)

So here’s to the Tampa Bay Rays and their hopes of making the World Series after this record-breaking year. Take that new name and run with it!

And to all you other folks out there who want to turn things around, just look at the Rays. For immediate success, turn to your local naming company. We’re here to help.

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