The Melbourne Tigers spent last season honouring the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough 1993 title win against the Perth Wildcats.
You wonder why they bothered.
Today the Tigers’ owners buried the most enduring brand in Australian basketball. It’s been replaced with a bland sop of a name and a logo that could have come from a skim milk carton.
There’s a beguiling logic to the Melbourne United rebrand: dump your historical baggage and you’ll create room for everyone to jump on board.
But branding isn’t about being generic; it’s about infusing your product with emotion and personality. Try to appeal to everyone and you’ll likely please no one. It’s as true of brands as it is of people.
Coke’s biggest business blunder was attempting to taste like Pepsi. Brands greedy for growth have a long history of changing their name, their recipe or diversifying their product range in the hope of soaking up more market share. The failures have been spectacular.
Trying to attract disenfranchised basketball fans by disenfranchising your own fans is absurd. Do former Giants, Magic, Titans and Dragons supporters want to follow a team that’s in denial over its true identity, or will they hold out for a second Melbourne team to come along – one that’s not historically compromised?
Maybe they’re just done with the NBL altogether. No one would have dreamed that the Tigers could disappear. What’s next? Why invest in a league where franchises fold on a whim?
Melbourne United’s owners might point to Melbourne Victory as evidence of how a single all-encompassing team can propel a code. But Victory was a brand new team in a brand new league. It fed off the optimism and enthusiasm that accompanied Australian football’s new dawn. Its formation was an act of renewal, not destruction.
Of course Melbourne United’s ownership wants to grow basketball in Melbourne.
But weren’t the Tigers already growing? The Cage was regularly sold out, and average Hisense attendances were over 6,000 – 1,000 up on the previous season. The team had finally cracked the post season after a four-year finals drought. Players were making media inroads. A public spat with SEN radio host Kevin Bartlett over the health of the NBL helped the club position itself as the flag bearer for the game at large. Sure it was incremental growth, but why should we expect anything more from United this season?
If you’re going to assess the viability of the Melbourne Tigers brand, why not wait until after the team had settled into the newly refurbished Margaret Court Arena? The Adelaide Oval redevelopment has been a crucial part of the once-struggling Port Adelaide’s rejuvenation. Maybe a new boutique stadium could have been the spark to take the Tigers to another level?
Melbourne United’s ownership brought stability to the Tigers after the trying McPeake years. But do they have the nous to win over basketball fans not already in their pocket? The fact that Tigers members weren’t openly consulted about the rebrand, or directly informed about it before the media announcement isn’t encouraging. If change was necessary there should have been a long term plan to bring supporters in, give them the ‘why’ and ween them onto the idea that the club had to evolve. If you can’t faithfully engage with the fan base you know, how will you engage with the wider community?
The Tigers might have been hated by some Melbourne basketball fans, but is that a reason to wind the club up? Do the Yankees have a brand problem because they don’t appeal to Mets fans? Is Manchester United’s brand weaker for not accommodating Manchester City fans? Part of the joy of identifying with a club comes from belonging to something exclusive. It’s us vs them; you enjoy ribbing your rivals as much as cheering on your team. You can’t draw money without heat.
Melbourne has a deep and diverse basketball community that deserves to be represented in the NBL by more than one team. Here’s hoping someday one of those teams proudly carries the Tigers tradition.