'Baltimore Bombers' scores a hit from history, marketing angles

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the end, after the studies, polls and endless radio call-in shows, they came back to a simple suggestion by a childhood friend.

Call the new NFL team the Bombers, the friend said. The 'D Baltimore Bombers. It rolls off the tongue. It reflects the city's wartime aviation heritage. And the same fans who stress "Oh" during the national anthem at Camden Yards can blurt out "Bombs," as in "bursting in air. . ."

"He wants a team of rough and tumble guys. Who was rougher in history than bombers?" said Allan Charles, founder and creative director of Trahan, Burden & Charles Inc., advertising and public relations.

It was Mr. Charles, a childhood pal of prospective team owner Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who first floated the idea for the Bombers about two years ago.

Mr. Weinglass liked it, and, when the NFL asked the prospective owners of expansion franchises to name their teams last year, Mr. Weinglass submitted the Bombers. He filed a trademark application last Dec. 4.

The name then gave way to others, in part because of concerns over too close an association between the Pentagon and the sport that each Sunday celebrates the "long bomb" and "aerial attack." Then there was the World Trade Center bombing.

But Thursday night, at the urging of the NFL, Mr. Weinglass and representatives of the other prospective team owner, Malcolm Glazer, wavered between the Ravens, Bombers and Cobras before finally settling the issue.

"Put it to rest," Mr. Weinglass says to those who will be unhappy with the name. The name selection was a difficult process which grew to a fax-driven municipal obsession in the final weeks.

The Rhinos got the owners' nod in August, but the ponderous beast was beaten back by rebellious fans. Everyone's favorite -- the Colts -- is not for sale, Indianapolis Colts owner Robert Irsay reiterated last week.

The Ravens topped a Sun poll, as well as similar contests held by other media. Its popularity was fueled by the duality with the baseball Orioles as well as the connection to the Edgar Allan Poe poem. Poe, a sometimes resident of Baltimore who penned the classic poem "The Raven," died and is buried here.

But an appropriate team symbol couldn't be found for the Ravens, said people involved in the name search. Most drafts bore too close a resemblance to the symbol of the Atlanta Falcons, or looked like crows.

"We spent thousands of dollars on logos and it just didn't hit," Mr. Weinglass said.

Besides, the NFL, home to Falcons, Eagles, Seahawks and Cardinals, is already so overpopulated with birds that team schedules look like Audubon calendars.

"It's a cowardly bird anyway. It's a scavenger. I never read a book in my life and Edgar Allan Poe never met me," Mr. Weinglass said.

But, the Bombers "Is a great football name. I like the double 'B,' " Mr. Weinglass said.

Officials with NFL Properties, the league's merchandising arm, were enthusiastic about the name, he said. The selection was finalized about 5 p.m. Thursday in meetings with NFL Properties officials at the Greater Baltimore Committee offices downtown, he said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said yesterday that no final decision has been made on names for any of the cities, but everyone else involved says it is a done deal. Baltimore is one of four cities competing for a pair of expansion franchises to be awarded by NFL team owners at meetings that begin Oct. 26. The two new teams will begin play in 1995.

Among the other expansion contenders, the likely team names are the St. Louis Stallions, Jacksonville, Fla., Jaguars, and Carolina Panthers. NFL organizers in Memphis have a list of nine possible names, which includes the Blues, Bandits, Rockers, and Heartbreakers.

Joel Glazer, a son of Malcolm Glazer who has been deeply involved in the NFL bid, said he doesn't want to confirm the name choice until the NFL does. But he's happy with the Bombers, Joel Glazer said.

"We're very happy with it and very excited. It's a whole combination of the name, and the history of the city and the look," he said. "It's been a fun process and I'm happy we have something that everyone is happy with."

He said the team symbol, or logo, designed by the NFL sold him on the Bombers. The Glazers had initially favored, and trademarked, the Cobras.

The logo will not be released before the teams are awarded later this month. But people who have seen drafts describe it as a patriotic crest, similar in concept to that of the Los Angeles Raiders, the team with the league's second-best selling merchandise.

Inside the crest is the word "bombers," the silhouette of a plane, and a majestic sunburst, with rays flaring up from the horizon.

The plane that will be used for the crest is the B-26, a storied bomber built at the Glenn L. Martin factory near Baltimore from 1940 to 1945. The planes, which had a mixed history of design-related accidents and punishing effectiveness, were used to harass Nazi targets in France prior to the D-Day Allied invasion.

Team colors and uniform designs are still being worked out, and those involved will not reveal what's being discussed. But Mr. Charles says "When they take the field, it will get everybody's blood pressure up."

Joe Washington, a member of Weinglass' ownership group and a former Baltimore Colts running back, said players should like the choice.

"I would rather have the Bombers than the Ravens. You want to think of something that would enable you to conquer. . . . And I think of a bombing mission and when you go through that tunnel, you are on a mission," he said of the player's trip through the tunnel to the playing field.

John Antil, a sports marketing specialist and associate professor at the University of Delaware, predicted the name, if properly marketed, could spawn a boom in sales of leather jackets, aviator sunglasses and other merchandise.

Sales of such goods is the fastest growing revenue source for sports leagues, with football's share topping $2 billion a year in retail sales, generating about $1 million a year in licensing fees for each team. Because the teams split that money evenly, all of them have a stake in the sales of any particular team's goods.

As a result, the league considers the naming of a team a joint decision with the owner. And with the NFL leading the charge of American sports into Europe, the league is mindful of the global appeal of its merchandise, which is red-hot in countries like Japan and Germany, Mr. Antil said.

"A lot of it depends on what they do with the name. When someone says 'the Marlins' do you get excited? But it's one of the hottest things out," Mr. Antil said. Caps and other goods from the Florida Marlins have risen to No. 2 among baseball teams, even though the National League expansion team is in its first season.

Baltimore's team would not be the first Bombers in sports. There is the Canadian Football League Blue Bombers of Winnipeg. The team has, through its history, been known as the Pegs and Bombers, the latter a reference to a Royal Canadian Bomber group based in town.

There were the St. Louis Bombers of the old Basketball Association of America, which merged with the NBA in 1949. The Bombers folded in 1950.

Then there were the New York Bombers of the American Skating Derby Inc., a roller derby league once based in Baltimore. And of course there was the forgettable, 1972 Raquel Welch movie "Kansas City Bomber."

There was also a Bay Area Bombers roller derby team, not to be confused with the Bay City Rollers rock group of the 1970s.

The New York Yankees have long been referred to as the Bronx Bombers. And heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who reigned from 1937 to 1946, was known by the politically incorrect -- by modern standards -- nickname Brown Bomber.

The Martin company sponsored a number of employee teams during World War II and for a few years afterward that were known as the Martin Bombers. A woman's basketball team there was known as the Bomberettes.

Some of the teams were so successful in industrial league competition that opponents suggested employees were sometimes hired for their pitching rather than welding prowess.

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