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The Long, Secretive Process of Choosing Cleveland's New Baseball Team Name

Progressive Field
Ken Lund
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Six months after the Cleveland Indians announced it would be changing its name, the team is still undecided on a new one.

It’s been six months since Cleveland’s baseball team announced it was dropping its Indians nickname. In a recent statement, the team said it’s narrowed down the list to nearly 1,200 names but didn’t release which ones or a timeline for a decision.

WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto offered some insight into the secrecy.

Why the secrecy?
"For one, they don't want some names leaking out, and people buying trademarks. Secondly, I think they want to make sure everything is lined up. It's not just the name," he said.

The team must consider everything from imagining new mascots to determining the team's colors. And then, Pluto said, they have to get the fans to buy in, which is especially tough for a century-old franchise.

"I believe no team on the professional ranks that's had the same nickname for over 100 years ever changed it. I think the Indians are in a tough spot," Pluto said.

Many Cleveland fans have long been attached to the Indians name, which makes any decision on a new one especially challenging. It's a stark contrast to the NHL's newest expansion team: the Seattle Kraken. Coming up with the name was a nearly two-year, very secretive process. And fans were overwhelmingly thrilled when it was announced in July 2020.

Cleveland Cavaliers logo
The Cavs introduced this new logo in 2017.

"Brand new, that's the key part. If you're a Seattle hockey fan: 'My town finally has a hockey team. Whatever it is, I'm down for it!'" Pluto said.

A new Cavs logo
Pluto did some research into how other teams in Northeast Ohio approached name or logo changes.

In 2017, the Cavs introduced an alternate logo that included a black shield. "I was told it took them up to 18 months to nail that thing down. And it was just a logo! They wanted to test it with the fans, get the colors right [and] and make sure nobody is suing over anything," Pluto said.

From the Aeros to the Rubberducks
In 2013, Cleveland's AA baseball team, the Akron Aeros, changed their name to the Rubberducks under new owner Ken Babby.

"He wanted it to be something fun. And when you're thinking the minors, you're thinking kids. You're thinking families. [And] you're thinking [something] a little silly," Pluto said.

akron-rubber-ducks-logo.png
Akron Rubberducks
Owner Ken Babby changed the Akron Aeros to the Rubberducks when he bought the team in 2013.

The name change happened about a year after Babby took ownership. "But I think he was working on that from the moment he bought the team. He was thinking about starting fresh," Pluto said.

And, Pluto says even Babby ran into one trademark issue.

"There's a guy who owns a little rubber duck company. So, the little rubber ducks they sell and giveaway, they have to buy from that company. That's how they worked out that trademark," Pluto said.

And trademark issues are at the forefront of choosing a new name.

For example, many Cleveland fans want the team to be renamed the Spiders, after a professional team that played there in the late 1800s. But, there's already the University of Richmond Spiders. "And that's not some small school. And maybe you can cut a deal with them, and maybe you can't. Some people wanted to name them the Buckeyes. If I'm the Indians, I'm not even bothering making that call to Columbus!" Pluto joked.

And Pluto says Cleveland's front office is likely feeling the pressure. "Probably whatever they pick, a whole lot of people are not going to like it," Pluto said.

Indians owner Paul Dolan told Amanda Rabinowitz during an Akron Roundtable address this past March that a timetable for a decision remains up the air.

"I think it would be a mistake to drag it through the 2023 season," Pluto said.