As the debate over American Indian branding in the sports world continues, the Indianapolis Indians (Class AAA; International League) are looking at how their nickname fits in the modern baseball experience.
We’ve covered the issue repeatedly, both in the context of Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. The Indianapolis Indians announced in July that the team would reevaluate team branding, which dates back to 1902. But that team branding has evolved throughout the years and morphing into a message with general American Indian overtones, as opposed to logos featuring tomahawk chops, caricature Indians and another “savage” imagery. So one issue to be addressed: Is the use of Indians as a name itself derogatory, or is the actual imagery offensive in terms of game-day operations and branding?
It’s important to note that the issue of American Indian branding is entirely situational, and it’s not clear whether we will see wholesale rebranding in Atlanta or Cleveland, never mind Indianapolis. (We’ll be discussing MLB rebranding further in coming weeks.) The Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians have already made some move on the branding front–the Braves removed a “Chop On” sign from Truist Park, and the Indians dropped Chief Wahoo–and you can expect more discussions about the topic in the offseason, though we are highly unlikely to see changes for the 2021 season. And in the case of the Braves, it’s not just changing the Atlanta name; any change would also affect its Mississippi Braves (Class A; Southern League) affiliate.
In the case of the Indianapolis Indians, we have branding experts saying that a name change is inevitable, according to the Indianapolis Star:
“This is going to be a problem that’s going to continue into the future,” IU professor Neil Morgan said. “It’s also partly generational, so you also have to be looking at what’s the franchise going to be worth in 10 years time, 20 years time.”
Though dialogue against the name may come from a minority of the team’s stakeholders, the problem regarding the team name will only increase until it reaches a stage where a change is inevitable, Morgan said. At that point, the brand’s public perception would be damaged by standing firm….
“Your question is, ‘How do we avoid being so far out there that it actually has negative consequences for the franchise?’” IU marketing professor Shankar Krishnan said. “That’s where it gets back to the values of the organization. If they believe strongly that they need to make a change, then sooner is better.”
Is a change inevitable? We’re talking about a well-managed franchise that clearly has built up plenty of community goodwill via charitable efforts. As Spokane and Florida State University have shown us, there are paths to keeping an American Indian name and stripping away much of the negative imagery.
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