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Volume 21 No. 1
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Clipped?: Experts on whether the controversy has sunk the club’s brand

As the NBA begins its effort to force Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, some observers last week were asking if the team needs a new nickname along with its forthcoming new owner.

“As far as the brand identity is concerned, that in my opinion is a wait-and see-proposition,” said Ed O’Hara, senior partner and chief creative officer of SME Branding, which has done branding work for a number of NBA teams. “I believe that eventually and under the guidance of the NBA and new ownership that the brand identity must change as it now and will forever be associated with a racist owner and the only owner ever removed from his position by a league commissioner.”

Name changes aren’t foreign to the NBA, especially in recent years. The league’s New Orleans franchise jettisoned its former Hornets nickname last year to become the Pelicans. That freed up Hornets for the league’s Charlotte team, which played as the Bobcats since debuting in 2004 but now will return to playing as the Hornets — a nickname held in the city from 1988 until 2002, when the franchise moved to New Orleans.

The situation in Los Angeles, of course, is different. And while changing a nickname in the wake of a controversy such as what the Clippers are facing might be extreme, there’s little precedent for anything that’s played out in Los Angeles over the course of the past 10 days.

To that end, while some say a name change could be the best move for the franchise, others say the situation could become a positive turning point of sorts for associations with the name Clippers.

“You saw where the Clippers’ website moved from being in the owners’ corner [and having traditional operations] to that ‘We Are One’ branding by Tuesday, so it appears the franchise was already trying to distance itself from the incident and recover,” said Chris Raih, founder of Zambezi, a Venice, Ca.-based advertising and marketing agency. “You could even see a scenario where the Clippers brand has a sort of renaissance as the place where all the right things were done.”

— John Lombardo and Terry Lefton