Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

What’s in a name? Super Bowl edition
What’s in a name? Super Bowl edition

TIMOTHY DEWHIRST

What's in a name? Super Bowl edition Add to ...

New Yorkers and Bostonians already have a fierce sports rivalry, but this weekend’s Super Bowl pitting the Giants against the Patriots, a repeat match-up from four years ago, should reinvigorate the quest for supremacy between the two cities.

Yet, neither of these teams actually plays in the city they’re commonly associated with.

More related to this story

Since 1976, the New York Giants have played their home games across the Hudson River in East Rutherford, N.J. Despite a significant part of the team’s fan base being from the New York metropolitan area, both states – New Jersey and New York – have claimed the team as their own.

In 1987, when the Giants won Super Bowl XXI, New York mayor Ed Koch said he regarded the team as “foreigners” and refused to approve a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan.

Identifying home was not always this problematic for the Giants. They joined the National Football League in 1925, playing their home games for several seasons at the Polo Grounds (1925-1955) and Yankee Stadium (1956-1973). The team’s legal corporate name is the New York Football Giants, which reflects initial attempts to distinguish themselves from the professional baseball team with the same name. (The baseball Giants were situated in New York from 1883 to 1957.)

In their 85 years, the football Giants have undergone several uniform and logo modifications. The logos have commonly depicted a quarterback in the act of throwing a football or stylized lettering of the team name or a lower-case “ny.”

New England, meanwhile, was awarded a professional franchise in 1959 as part of the emerging American Football League. The team was initially known as the Boston Patriots, reflecting the results of a public naming contest. During the 1960s, the Patriots played their home games all over Boston, including a brief stint at Fenway Park.

The team name obviously reflects someone who loves, supports and defends their homeland, but it also indicates New England’s role in the country’s early history. Soon after the team name was chosen, Boston Globe artist Phil Bissell sketched a cartoon of a Minuteman, the Massachusetts hero of the Revolutionary War, positioned to snap a football. Owner Billy Sullivan, a former public relations executive, liked the drawing so much that he chose “Pat Patriot” as the franchise logo. Pat was retired in 1992, excepting the occasional cameo, and replaced with the current “Flying Elvis.”

In 1970, the team moved to Foxboro, Mass., and shortly afterward became the New England Patriots. New England consists of six states: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The region shares a border with the state of New York.

Most professional teams use a city, state or province for identification purposes, but the Patriots are one of the few to be named after a geographic region. The Carolina Hurricanes, the Golden State Warriors and Tampa Bay’s professional teams are other exceptions. (Tampa Bay is not a municipality but a region in which Tampa is the hub city.)

With municipal and state or provincial governments often providing substantial subsidies for the building of stadiums and arenas, the identification of a sports team is not trivial.

Take the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The name is an oxymoron, given that the baseball team plays its games in Orange County, not Los Angeles County. Since moving to Anaheim in 1966, they have been identified variously as the California, Anaheim and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. While there may have been more brand value in reverting back to Los Angeles as an identifier, where the team was initially based, a legal battle ensued between the team and the city of Anaheim.

In the NFL, the recent announcement that the St. Louis Rams will play one “home” game in London, England, over each of the next three seasons prompted the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission to say this would violate the team’s stadium lease agreement.

So, Sunday’s game, with an expected audience of more than 100 million, will feature a clash of two brands with considerable value and meaning attached to their names and identifying places. Perhaps the winner will renew debate about where the victory parade should be held.

Timothy Dewhirst is an associate professor in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, College of Management and Economics, at the University of Guelph.

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeDebate

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories