Novelty, Loyalty, and the Giltinis: Anatomy of a Bad Brand

Earlier this year, in a long overdue move, Cleveland’s baseball team changed their name. Previously the Indians, they changed their name to the Guardians, and immediately became the recipient of groans and sighs across the Cleveland fandom.

This is to be expected – fanbases are built on loyalty and tradition, so any change is likely to face knee-jerk distaste. But the Guardians is actually a great name. Sure, it’s less evocative of “attack” than “defend,” which may not appear that valiant at first. But baseball is a defensive game after all – there are always more people on the field who are trying to stop anyone from reaching home anyway.

The name is also a nod to the Guardians of Traffic, a series of statues that dominate over Cleveland’s Hope Memorial Bridge. As best as I can tell, this makes the team name one of only a few named after a piece of architecture (the only two counterexamples that come to mind are the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones, named after the Coney Island rollercoaster, and the San Francisco State Golden Gators – although strictly speaking they’re named after the geographical feature and not the bridge that spans over them). This immediately gives the name a sense of civic pride that can connect their fans together even more.

More importantly, “Guardians” are not the name of any groups we’ve committed genocide against. So, ya know, it’s got that going for it.

If you’re looking for bad team names, however, I’ve got a much better one for you. It’s so bad that it exemplifies many of the basic principles of branding – negative examples as they may be. It’s so bad, that in the US city with the most amount of professional sports teams – the same city in which I live, actually – no one I have spoken to has even heard of them. I myself only found out earlier this week, in the very same moment they were winning the national championship no less. 


Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 2021 Major League Rugby champions – the Los Angeles Giltinis.


What, who, and why is a Giltini, you ask? Great question. According to the team’s press release, the Giltinis are named after a special cocktail, a portmanteau of the classic martini and one Mr. Adam Gilchrist, the owner of the team.

You read that right. This guy named a cocktail after himself. And then he bought a rugby team and named it after that cocktail.

It gets better. Where can you find the Giltini? What does it taste like? Is this a canned RTD (ready-to-drink cocktail) or is it something that Gilchrist wants to see mixed up in bars and restaurants? The answer to all of these is simply “I don’t know,” because the cocktail is yet to be released. Publicly, there’s no recipe, there’s no can art, there are no pairing suggestions or recommended glassware.

And the same goes for Texas’ team, also owned by Gilchrist – the Austin Gilgronis.

I shit you not.

So these names are obviously bad. But let’s explore why, and in doing so, let’s see what makes a team name – arguably one of the most powerful brand types you’re likely to encounter – better than this one.


Not us, you

Naming your product after yourself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Dr. Scholl brought authority to his shoe inserts by giving it the name of a podiatrist. Marie Calendar offered her motherly kindness to her pies. And Ralph conjured up the image of a local grocer we hope is at the heart of a giant supermarket.

But sports teams are bigger than one person – they have to be. If your brand is built around the star quarterback, what happens if he gets traded? More to the point, sports fans hate their owners. At every game, they see the guys on the field putting their bodies on the line for the team – and then the camera cuts to the owner’s box, where the pudgy billionaire is holding a beer and a cigar. Not exactly the hero we need.

Shared Identity

A good brand will bind its audience together, so they become one group out of many individuals. That’s why naming yourself after a civic feature gives you a head start here – claim a part of the city as your trademark, and you put yourself at the center of a conversation already in progress. Here in LA, we love our sports teams because they represent characteristics that are so intrinsic to the Los Angeles experience – like the colonial Clipper ships that sail our bay, the trolleys we Dodge on their way to Coney Island, or the 10,000 Lakes that dot our landscape.

Ok, bad examples. But you get the point. While identifying with the city around you in your name isn’t a requisite, it certainly helps. And a name like Giltini begs the question, “why here, why now?” Although, in a sense, perhaps there is a part of LA represented in the name that speaks more truly to who we are. But it might get the point across more if it were a little more direct – “The Los Angeles Shameless Self-Promoters”

Go, Team, Go!

A brand is a rallying cry. A sports brand doubly so. It should represent who you want your team to be in the most crucial moment. Would you rather face off against the Giants, or the Lilliputians? The Eagles, or the Sparrows? The Warriors, or the Pacifists?

Give your team a good name, and you’ve put the cheer into thousands of fans’ mouths. I love a good martini, but I don’t exactly want to root for it. It’s a drink that elicits thoughts of effete repose – more Carrie Bradshaw than Terry Bradshaw. There might be some drink out there that would make for a good team name, but the one that comes in a glass that’s impossible not to spill from is probably not it.

Synergy isn’t what it’s Cracked Up To Be

There’s a clear reason why Gilchrist picked this name, and that’s because he wanted to sell some booze. He’s not unique in this motive – one of the reasons the Washington Redskins got rid of their name was the threat they’d lose the trademark – and all of the valuable merchandising opportunities that came with it. That loss of revenue could easily bankrupt a team.

But the attempt here is so bald-faced, it makes any would-be fan so disgusted that they never bother to get invested – much less open their wallet to buy a jersey. It’s the children’s movie that starts working on the action figure before they start working on the screenplay. The cash grab is so blatant that they don’t have any time to earn the goodwill that will build loyalty.

There’s another obvious threat here, and that’s that the alcohol space doesn’t tend to take kindly to novelty. Longstanding alcohol brands build their fanbase around cachet, which is most often built through a long history and ancient tradition. Fads like hard lemonade, wine coolers, hard root beer, and spiked seltzer are great at getting people to try them, but over time drinkers always gravitate back to beverages with history. The Giltini has no history – it doesn’t even have a present, and maybe not even a future. So what happens when production stops on the beverage, and your franchise is forever tied to a product that didn’t make it two years?

The Giltini name is a uniquely bad one, and consequently the team that bears it is likely doomed for failure. Which is a shame, because there are so many people depending on it to succeed – not just the players, but the fans yearning for more rugby in America, and the rest of the league who presumably don’t want to be seen as a joke.

Pour out a Giltini for them.

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