Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Polar Bears? No way; we are the Jets

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Now that the Globe and Mail has assured us we'll have an NHL team next year -- though the principals haven't confirmed what amounts to an adoption -- we are left to wonder what the parents are going to call their new baby.

I don't know, but I have a gnawing gut feeling what they won't be calling it.

The Winnipeg Jets.

That's what I want. Not the Moose, or the Falcons or ---- Don Cherry help us -- the provincially politically correct Polar Bears. And if what the young fans were wearing and waving when they gathered at Portage and Main Thursday night to celebrate the unofficial return of the NHL didn't send Mark Chipman and David Thomson a clear-enough message; if what 60 per cent of the more than 11,000 fans who freely voted in a Free Press online poll doesn't get their attention; or if what local brand strategist Derrick Coupland said when he compared the marketing impact of the Jets name to the brand power of Viagra didn't give them a big visual...

If none of that makes a difference, nothing I write will, either. But that's never stopped me before, has it?

-- -- --

Let's start with the obvious, which often isn't. It was the Winnipeg Jets that took off 15 years ago and it's the return of the Winnipeg Jets we've been hoping would land again one day.

The Winnipeg Jets are us and we are the Winnipeg Jets.

If the world knows nothing else about our city, they know the name of the hockey team that did the most to introduce European players to North American professional hockey.

It's our international brand.

That's why Coupland suggested you don't have to be a marketing expert to know why the Jets should be the obvious first choice. Companies can spend millions of dollars trying to create an identity, a brand like the Jets. A name that evokes memories of childhood, place, pride and customer loyalty. All of which creates tradition. But there is no tradition without continuity.

That's part of what makes the great sports franchises great.

The Montreal Canadiens, the New York Yankees, the Green Bay Packers have all had the same basic logo and uniforms since I was a kid, and before that. Even their current uniforms have a retro look. For the Canadiens, it's the red, white and blue sweaters that link Beliveau, Lafleur and Cammalleri; with the Yankees it's the pinstripes that DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter have all worn. For the Packers, it was Starr, Favre and Rodgers passing and receiving the torch of team tradition. And for the Jets, it was Hull to Hedberg to Hawerchuk; three great players linked over two leagues by the same team name.

As I write this, I can't believe I even have to.

If people who are going to make the naming decision don't get the value of the Jets name, it's because they never wanted to and they don't understand who matters most.

The fans who buy the tickets.

Of course, the fans will learn to live with whatever name is chosen, but why wouldn't the owners take every advantage they can with a team that's destined to be a financially marginal business at best?

The name National Hockey League, or more specifically, the name of league commissioner Gary Bettman, is associated with memories of rejection and loss for our city.

The return of the NHL should bring us a sense of accomplishment.

Of doing what no one outside of the city, no one outside of a faithful few led by Mark Chipman and David Thomson, thought we could do.

So why not bring back the Jets?

Well, maybe they will, even if my gut tells me otherwise. It tells me otherwise because I don't think we'd even be discussing this if the ownership wasn't preparing us through the media for a different name.

Why another name?

Maybe Chipman wants it to be his own team, his own brand. Maybe because the NHL owns and controls the use of the name. And Bettman, the man who acts as if he's never been wrong about anything, is going to be sure the Winnipeg Jets will never return.

I hope I'm wrong.

Maybe the Jets will fly again. But if they do, it'll probably be the Manitoba Jets.

Can I live with that?

What choice do any of us have?

But first things first.

The Jets haven't landed yet.

Or the Falcons or the Polar Bears. Can you imagine? An NHL team from Winnipeg with an endangered species on its sweater.

Come, Jets, come.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2011 B1

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