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New Toronto Raptors' management regime will consider franchise name change

(Ron Turenne/Getty Images) The Toronto Raptors could have a non-dinosaur mascot in the near future. (Ron Turenne/Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors' new management regime will investigate the possibility of changing the team's nickname.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) president Tim Leiweke told reporters on Tuesday that he is considering ditching the only moniker the franchise has used in its 18-year existence.

The National Post reports Leiweke's comments, which were made during a press conference introducing new GM Masai Ujiri.

On potentially changing the Raptors’ name: “We’re definitely going to take a look at it. It doesn’t mean we’re committed to it. It means it’s a good conversation. I saw those generic uniforms today in the paper. … That won’t be the uniform, by the way. I can assure you of that. I think we need to have this conversation.”

The Raptors entered the NBA as an expansion franchise in 1995 and are now the league's only franchise in Canada after the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001. The organization has qualified for the postseason in just five of their 18 seasons as a franchise and have just one playoff series victory to their name. Despite missing out on the playoffs for the fifth straight season, Toronto managed to rank No. 13 in home attendance last season, at more than 18,100 fans per game.

Leiweke was hired by MLSE -- the company that oversees the Raptors, the National Hockey League’s Maple Leafs and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC -- back in April. The Globe and Mail reported last month that Leiweke's goal is to execute a rebranding effort that makes the Raptors appeal to all of Canada, in addition to Toronto. That effort will include a bid to host the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto.

Why are the Raptors named the Raptors, anyway? The team's website notes that the franchise's moniker was selected with the help of a nationwide contest that was swayed by the popular 1993 dinosaur-themed movie Jurassic Park.

[The Raptors' ownership group] instituted a nationwide "Name Game" contest to name the team and develop team colors and a logo.

The Name Game became one of the most popular such enterprises in league history, generating more than 2,000 entries. The final top-10 list was dominated by animal names: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs (Toronto's nickname is Hogtown), Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers.

No doubt fueled by the enormous success of the movie Jurassic Park and the popularity of dinosaurs with youngsters who would grow up to be fans in the target market, the team's new moniker, the Toronto Raptors, was unveiled on Canadian national television.

The Raptors franchise had also considered naming itself the "Huskies" after a Toronto professional basketball team that competed in the Basketball Association of America (BAA) from 1946-1947. The BAA was a precursor to the NBA.

Two other NBA franchises recently decided to pursue moniker changes. The New Orleans Hornets changed their name to the "Pelicans" at the end of the 2012-13 season; the Charlotte Bobcats announced in May their plans to become the "Hornets" at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Completing a name change can take up to 18 months, as it involves a formal process and approval from the league office.
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