Rebrand of Maine’s pro basketball team is a strategic play

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Rebrand of Maine's pro basketball team is a strategic play

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The new name for Maine Red Claws pro basketball team should please the fans of its parent club, the Boston Celtics. But the rebranding should not come as a surprise.

The Red Claws, purchased two years ago by the Celtics, on Monday officially became the Maine Celtics. The team will sport a new, Celtics-green logo when they take the court for the full, 50-game NBA G League season expected to start late this year.

Boston Celtics Team President Rich Gotham said in a news release, “When we purchased the Maine franchise in 2019, we immediately made that organization a part of our family. The decision to rename the team to ‘Maine Celtics’ is the next step in that evolution, and a nod to our diehard fan base, which extends throughout the great state of Maine.”

Maine Celtics Team President Dajuan Eubanks said, “I’m as excited about this change as I was when we started the Maine Red Claws back in 2009. Directly aligning our franchise name with the iconic Boston Celtics brand creates a new era of heritage building for basketball here in Maine.”

Neither team would discuss the cost of rebranding the Red Claws, or whether it will pay off in dollars and cents. But a shared name seems to be part of doing business in the G League, the NBA’s player development organization.

With the addition of the Maine Celtics, 12 of 28 G League teams now carry the same name as their NBA owner franchises. Another nine go by names that are similar to those of the parent teams. (In addition, one G League team, an elite squad known as Ignite and sponsored by the league, has no parent team.)

“It has become increasingly common for an NBA franchise to rebrand its G League team by giving it the same nickname as its parent club,” wrote Luke Adams, a columnist for the sports website Yardbarker, on Monday.

Another example is the twin Suns.

In 2016, after the NBA’s Phoenix Suns purchased the G League’s Bakersfield Jam, that team moved from Bakersfield, Calif., to Prescott Valley, Ariz., and became the Northern Arizona Suns. 

Such strong brand connection may be important because most relationships between the parents and development teams are only recently forged, and the NBA has made major investments in the G League over the past few years.

The G League was launched in 2001 as the National Basketball Development League with eight loosely affiliated franchises. It changed its name to the G League in 2017, when Gatorade became the title sponsor.

The Red Claws debuted in the 2009-10 development league season as an affiliate of both the Celtics and the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Charlotte Hornets). The Portland team was launched with a $2 million investment by a 15-member ownership group that included Jon Jennings, a former Celtics scout and assistant coach and currently Portland city manager.

Three years later, the Claws and Celtics formed an exclusive affiliation, in which Boston guided basketball operations while the Maine owners ran the business. Meanwhile, other NBA teams began buying up their affiliates. Until its purchase, Maine had been one of the last independently owned G League teams.

The name repetition among pro basketball franchises stands in sharp contrast to the identities of other minor-league sports teams.

In Minor League Baseball, there are over 150 teams, the vast majority of whose names are nothing like those of Major League Baseball parents. In the Triple-A League — the steppingstone to the bigs — only four of 30 teams use a Major moniker.

In the American Hockey League, considered the next level below the NHL, only six of 31 teams borrow the parent team’s brand.

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