Ravens never out of focus Probable NFL name consistent favorite in polls, group research

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore's NFL team will announce its name today at noon at Harborplace. To find out the winner, call Sundial after 1 p.m. today at (410) 783-1800 and enter code 6130. One thing became clear through the weeks of studies, polls and focus meetings conducted by Baltimore's new NFL team: This city's first choice for a team name is the Colts.

But it also is the name of a team that moved out of town 12 years ago today, and it isn't coming back.

The replacement that will be announced today -- almost certainly Ravens -- is the result of thousands of hours of sifting through ideas and testing the reaction of likely fans.

A phone-in poll conducted by The Sun at the request of the football team began yesterday and ends at 10 this morning, allowing fans to chose from among three finalists: Ravens, Americans and Marauders.

By 3: 30 p.m. yesterday, the volume of calls surpassed 14,249, the old record for Sundial, The Sun's phone-in service. The record was set over three days in 1993, when readers were asked to name a potential expansion NFL team and picked Ravens.

If Ravens wins this time, that would be consistent with other phone-in polls taken in recent days. Channel 45 viewers picked Ravens by 79 percent, with 16 percent for Marauders and 5 percent for Americans. Channel 11 viewers voted 53 percent for Ravens, 15 percent Marauders, 13 percent for Americans and 19 percent for none of the above.

The process of picking the name began in mid-February, almost immediately after the NFL approved the move of the franchise to Baltimore and the settlement of a lawsuit with Cleveland. The agreement specified that the Browns would leave their name and colors behind for use by a team the league has promised to have in Cleveland by 1999.

"We wanted to generate a name that would be instantly recognizable and appreciated by the fans and we wanted it to have a historical tie to the community and exemplify the team," said David Modell, the team's marketing chief who coordinated the name selection.

Modell met with officials of NFL Properties in New York, where they sat around a table for four hours and pored over lists of hundreds of possible names.

The ideas came from a variety of sources: names considered by the league for expansion and its World League teams; suggestions received in a 1993 phone-in and mail-in poll by The Sun and a phone-in poll done by Channel 45, and local marketing research.

From there, the group came up with a short list of 17 names, from Admirals to Steamers.

Three "focus groups," or small groups of representative area residents, were selected by a marketing firm and brought together Feb. 27 and 28. Two of the groups were strong NFL fans, roughly divided by age: 25-35 and 35-45. The third group had people who considered themselves casual fans.

The groups were asked a series of questions to gauge their attitudes, first on their community, then on what would make a good football name, and finally about the specific candidate names.

They were asked questions such as, "If Baltimore were a car, what kind of car would it be? What person would you say most represents the community?" The consensus picks were a Jeep and Cal Ripken. They suggested a city that values sturdiness over flash, utility over aesthetics -- important factors for a name.

Then they were played the soundtrack from a short series of mock football games, with the announcer alternating the different names with crowd noise playing in the background.

Some conclusions emerged from the sessions. First, even though some people didn't want the new team to grovel for it, there was strong support for getting the Colts name back.

Asked for reaction to specific ideas, the groups, in general, thought: Admirals was too stuffy; Lancers too wimpy; Banners too dull, and Bulldogs too common.

They also thought Knights could work, but it didn't grab anyone; Pride, Spirit and Stars were not "NFL enough," and Bay Cats sounded too much like a Roller Derby team.

Mustangs was a polarizing pick. Some people liked it a lot, others believed it was too much a second-class substitute for Colts.

Steamers sparked a lot of conversation, and the groups said they liked the idea of a powerful locomotive, but they weren't too hot on Steamers in particular. Marauders also won support as a strong name, but one group thought it hard to spell and visualize.

Bombers, the pick of the league for Baltimore had the city won an expansion franchise in 1993, also was well-received, and fans noted that it lent itself to a lot of marketing possibilities, such as flight jackets. The avid fans weren't bothered by the connotation of terrorism or violence, but the less-serious fans found it troublesome.

Ravens was a consistent favorite, even among people who did not know it was the name of a poem or that Edgar Allan Poe is buried in Baltimore. Fans liked the tie-in with the other birds in town, the Orioles, and found it easy to visualize a tough, menacing black bird.

When they were divided into six smaller groups and asked to rank their top five picks, the testers put only two names on all six lists: Colts and Ravens. Three of the groups picked Ravens as their first choice, two picked Colts and one took Bulldogs.

Shortly afterward, at an NFL meeting in Florida, team owner Art Modell met with Indianapolis general counsel Michael Chernoff, who said bidding for the Colts name would begin in the "tens of millions" of dollars -- a price Baltimore's team believed was too rich.

Meanwhile, Bruce Burke, vice president and creative director of NFL Properties, called the B&O; Railroad Museum asking for some rail-related substitutes for Steamers. A list compiled by museum executive director John Ott contained a number of possibilities, from Stokers to Yardmen, but one caught the fancy of Burke and David Modell: Americans.

It is the name of a class of locomotives built in Baltimore and elsewhere around the middle of the last century.

A new short list then was subjected to a random telephone poll of area residents.

"Colts was very strong, not to anyone's surprise," said David Modell. "But Mustangs and Ravens was in the next tier, very strong. Then, in the next tier, was Americans, Railers and Marauders."

A few nasty faxes from the Arena Football League, where the Milwaukee Mustangs play, added to other trademark issues raised by that name and took it off the list.

Ravens won little support from within the club, but as poll after poll demonstrated, it seemed to be the fans' favorite. The team decided it could live with any of the final three, submitted the list to one more fan poll, and will go with the roar of the crowd.

"The first promise we made was we would bring this back to the fans in some way," David Modell said. "That was important to us."

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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