Today, if all goes according to this Yahoo! Sports post from yesterday, the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets will hold a press conference to announce their new team name: the New Orleans Pelicans. This particular organization becoming the Pelicans is made all the more interesting because it used to be the Charlotte Hornets, and now Charlotte’s pro-basketball team is called the Bobcats. Will Charlotte go back to the Hornets? Will New Orleans embrace a team that shares a mascot with the Louisiana State Bird? Is a pelican really the best idea for a professional sports team’s totem animal?
These are all interesting questions when it comes to the role that professional sports play in the American cultural landscape. Knowing the paths of teams as they move from one city to another can provide helpful context when trying to puzzle out why a team has its particular name. The Los Angeles Lakers, as its been pointed out many times in the past, were once the Minnesota Lakers. That makes sense considering that Minnesota has, you know, a whole lot of lakes, whereas Los Angeles is comparatively bereft of such aquatic phenomena. And the Milwaukee Brewers? They used to be the Seattle Pilots. I know this because I’m smart and also awesome.
That’s the other thing knowing the history of franchise names provides: it makes you feel smugly superior in trivia contests, which is always a good thing.
But the reason that the Hornets becoming the Pelicans is interesting on this site is the effect it may or may not have on the collectibles bearing the team’s name. After this season comes to a close, there will be no more New Orleans Hornets gear being made. So will the value of Hornets jerseys and memorabilia go up, because they represent a bygone era? Or will the value go down because it no longer accurately represents the franchise?
It’s a tough question to answer, and I think it depends on a lot of variables. To try and figure it out, I started comparing the memorabilia of teams that had transformed in one way or another to see if the value increased or decreased after its name had changed or moved cities. The results, by no mean scientific or definitive, surprised me.
First up, I checked the old NHL team the Winnipeg Jets, which moved to Arizona to become the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. The Jets’ Keith Tkachuk went with the team from Winnipeg to Phoenix, so there are two representative collectible categories for him. The highest-selling item I found for a Jets collectible was a jersey bearing his name, which sold at online auction for $60. The highest-selling Coyotes item? A jersey that went for $99. Clearly the current franchise pulled more weight there.
What about an NBA team, that’s changing its name in the same city? In 1997, the Washington Bullets changed their name to the Washington Wizards (for reasons that seem pretty obvious today). The highest selling Bullets item for veteran Juwan Howard was a jersey, which sold for $34.95. A Howard Wizards jersey from the next season? That one sold for $85.51.
Based on these two examples, it seems as though changing names will simply result in the older stuff going down in value, so unless you’ve got a nostalgic attachment to your New Orleans Hornets gear, you may want to try and sell it as quickly as possible if you were hoping to get a return on your investment.
There are exceptions, though. When Kevin Durant joined the NBA in 2007, he played his rookie season for the Seattle Sonics, during which he earned rookie of the year. The next year, the team moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. Because Durant’s an NBA star still in his prime, gear and memorabilia like trading cards from his rookie season commands much higher prices than that of later seasons—that is, until he wins a championship.
And the one-season Seattle Pilots? The highest-selling item I found was a game-worn jersey for $1,075. But the highest priced item for the 1970 Brewers was a bobblehead doll…which moved for only $102.50. Obviously the fact that the franchise only produced one year’s worth of collectibles had an incredible effect on Pilots memorabilia.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the collectibles market over the next few years. Will my theory of decreased value for defunct teams bear out? Keep an eye on the auctions to find out.