Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kickin’ Around a New Name: Minnesota soccer plays the name game…and loses

Editor's note: The President of the Minnesota United FC, Nick Rogers, responded to this post and his comments are below. 

About a month ago, the Minnesota Stars* decided that it was time to re-brand themselves after the then-league-owned team was purchased by former UnitedHealth CEO, William McGuire.  Like naming a child, choosing a name for a professional sports team is a rare occurrence that provides the owners/parents the opportunity to provide the team/child with the opportunity to be successful while also acknowledging familiar surroundings and family ties.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays recently determined that supporting the underworld’s patriarch was not good for business and decided to drop “Devil” from the team’s moniker.  The New Orleans Hornets, after moving from Charlotte to New Orleans (and then to and from Oklahoma), will begin anew as the Pelicans next season.**

*You may know them as the Minnesota Thunder, or even the Kicks if you were tracking soccer during second half of the ‘70’s and the Strikers in the mid-80’s.  By the way, the Strikers would be a great name if group of editors, pitchers, or union members were to form a club soccer team.  For more, visit this history page.

** I initially thought that the Hornets-to-Pelicans switch was a downgrade in fierceness, until I saw a pelican swallow a pigeon and try to eat baby ducklings in front of mama duck.

When the Stars announced the name change, I figured that it would be to complete a re-brand that added an intimidation factor or a Minnesota flair.  Was I ever disappointed with the results: Minnesota United FC?

This name is disappointing for several reasons.  First, the “FC” (standing for Football Club) at the end of the name is an annoying nod to European soccer teams that seemingly every U.S. team is emulating.  Even more of a problem with the new name is that the team just changed its name only about four years ago.  The Minnesota Thunder was pushed out by a cold front of financial problems and, when a new team was created by the National Sports Center, the owners chose Stars as the new name.  The team was called the “NSC Minnesota Stars” until 2012 when the awkward “NSC” was dropped and the obligatory “FC” was tacked on to the end.  The lack of consistent naming over the last few years would create nightmares for any marketing consultant.  But more importantly, it has been a consistent struggle for fans to explain “which professional soccer team is playing again?”

The choice of Minnesota United FC is also disappointing because, in the next several years, the team will have the opportunity to step up to the MLS.  As the Viking’s new stadium is completed, there will be discussions about using the venue to host an MLS team.  The likely candidate for this spot is, of course, the United.  While I am very supportive of this transition, because there is already a “United” team in the MLS, transitioning would mean another name change for the team.  This lack of foresight on the part of team ownership says that consistent branding and aspirations for the MLS are really not all that important to them.

Having been to the last two Loons’ matches (look closely at 2:55), I know that while the official name is bland, the games (and the giant Loon puppets) are anything but.  I almost didn’t make it though.  To buy my tickets I first had to find the team’s website.  Because I am lazy googler, I typed “mn united” and got a surprise.  Instead of receiving a link to the soccer team, the first link is to Minnesotans United – an organization that campaigned against the 2012 constitutional amendment banning gay marriages and is currently lobbying for the allowance of gay marriage.* In an attempt to clarify my Google search, I (unwillingly) added “fc” and “wikipedia” to the end of my initial search.  Google, with its algorithmic wisdom, decided that I wanted to learn more about Manchester United FC, not the Division-2 professional team in Minnesota.  Using the “google standard,” this new name is failure.

*Relatedly, the team deserves kudos for being the first professional franchise to sign the Athlete Ally Pledge which states that management, coaches, and players will, among other things, “respect and welcome anyone of any sexual orientation.”

In a summary of the team’s branding campaign, I found it interesting that the readily apparent problems discussed above were not a part of the marketing firm’s calculus.  While the name is a flop, the loon logo is stellar.  It is so good, that one may wonder why the team didn’t go with the Minnesota Loons as the new name.  Then again, maybe the United name is intentional…the new owner is the ex-CEO of UnitedHealth.  Coincidence?

Not likely.  However, such an outlandish explanation might be needed to justify the owners’ decision to take on such a boring name, make their team difficult to recognize and find information about, and hurt any chance at an MLS promotion in the near future.

***Update*** Posted 4/22/13

The Minnesota United FC’s president, Nick Rogers, responded to the above post and he allowed me to share what he said.  Please note this conversation took place via Twitter and any changes below are my own and are intended to portray the comments as accurately as possible. 

He (accurately) summarized three of the major points of the post “So, (1) you don’t like FC, (2) the name was changed recently,  and (3) you think it hurts the odds of us moving to [a different] league.”  He continued by saying “On point 1, our aspiration is to be an [international] brand and ‘football club’ is what pro soccer teams are called around the world.  But that is a valid point of disagreement and I don’t expect everyone to feel the same as us about that.  On point 2, nobody knew the Stars existed and the name is strongly connected to hockey in Minnesota.  On point 3, we like the league we’re in.  We've beaten two MLS clubs in the last 12 months.  Why should we want to change leagues?”

President Rogers makes excellent points.  In response to his comments, I would first thank him for responding to my post.  He is a very busy person and I appreciate him taking the time to read and reply to this article.  To the use of “FC,” I still feel that it has just become the trendy thing to do, but I understand that the United is doing this because it is a distinguishing characteristic of soccer teams around the world.  President Rogers characterization about the anonymity of the Stars in the Twin Cities is spot on.  This is really unfortunate because this team went to two straight NASL championships – winning one of them – and beat two MLS teams (as away games, nonetheless).  The confusion between the Stars and the departed North Stars hockey team is also a really good point.  Finally, President Rogers’ response to the team’s aspirations to go to the MLS is reassuring.  In writing the above post, I had assumed that the team was gunning for an expansion slot in the MLS, thus making the name United redundant with the MLS’s DC United.  However, if the Minnesota United is content with the NASL, I am too.

Again, I would like to thank Nick Rogers for his thoughtful responses.  Also, I would like to encourage EleanorAve readers to check out the next the next Minnesota United game.  


  1. hey man, interesting read. couple thoughts:

    1. as for the MLS possibilities, the new vikings stadium has minimal -- if any -- affect on chances of a franchise. MLS now has just three teams playing in football stadiums, and US soccer as a whole is trending away from using them. any owner group awarded an MLS franchise will need to build a soccer-specific stadium to house the team, so piggy-backing on the vikes' stadium is unlikely.

    2. even if they did gain MLS membership, I don't see the "united" name as that much of a problem. english soccer has several noteworthy "uniteds" (man u, west ham united, leeds united, etc.), "citys" (man city, stoke city, hull city, cardiff city). these teams usually go by a different nickname, though, so that's where "loons" could come in.

    glad to see more talk about soccer tho.

  2. Minneapolis United would be way more awesome. The badge and "loons" are tight though.


Keep it civil.