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Toronto Raptors won't change nickname despite franchise's rebranding effort

The Raptors are launching a re-branding effort, but are likely to keep their nickname. (Ron Turenne/Getty Images) The Raptors are launching a rebranding effort, but plan to keep their nickname. (Ron Turenne/Getty Images)

After weighing the possibility of a name change, new management for the Toronto Raptors has decided to execute a rebranding effort that keeps the team's current moniker in place.

The Toronto Star reported Monday that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) president Tim Leiweke told reporters that the Raptors will remain the Raptors, although the team will undergo a rebranding effort that includes a new color scheme and jerseys. Leiweke made the statement at an NBA news conference announcing that Toronto will host the 2016 All-Star Game.

Toronto is entering its 19th season of existence; the Raptors' moniker is the only nickname the franchise has used.

Shortly after he was hired earlier this offseason, Leiweke told reporters that he would consider a new moniker for the organization.

The National Post reports Leiweke's comments, which were made during a news 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 joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1995 and are now the league's only franchise in Canada after the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001. Toronto has made the playoffs only five times in 18 seasons and has only one series victory. 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 -- 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.

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 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.
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