With their stadium lease falling through at the end of this season, the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League needed a new home. And after years of weak attendance in Plymouth (a suburb just west of Detroit), their owners decided that the only feasible move would be to relocate the team.
And yet, of all of the possible relocation options in or around Ontario, the Whalers decided on Flint, Michigan. Starting next season, the team will take up residence at the decades-old 4,000 seat Perani Arena in Flint. That's right: the one and only Flint, as seen on Time Magazine's "Most Dangerous Cities In America" list. That place that people from Detroit warn you not to visit - and that's coming from people who live in Detroit.
When it comes to cities with bad reputations, you'll often hear locals saying that it's not as bad as everyone thinks. "Oh, Cleveland's only bad in some places." "Don't worry, Baltimore's fine in the daytime." With Flint, though, it seems like even the locals say "no, seriously: this shit is dangerous."
On top of being notorious for their ranking as America's murder and violent crime capital for the past decade, a lot of Flint is just straight-up abandoned, with a bankrupt local government and a lack of investment leading to a city straight out of a Mad Max sequel. From the Wikitravel article on Flint:
Crime aside, much of Flint is abandoned and has been poorly maintained for years. When traveling through a neglected area, be on the lookout for broken glass, downed wires, or other obstacles. Most worrisome are potholes, some of which are large enough to disable most vehicles if they are hit at speed.
Now, imagine dropping a bunch of precocious, 17-year-old zit-faced hockey players from small-town Canada into downtown Flint to live for 8 months of the year. This should be interesting!
But enough about Flint's status as a dilapidated post-apocalyptic nightmare-world. A new sports team means the most exciting thing in the world: picking a new name and a logo! And on that front, people immediately got excited about the possibilities for a sports team in Flint.
From the outset, two joke-y potential names came to the forefront on blogs and on Twitter. One was the "Flint Stones", har-har-har. And the other was the "Flint Tropics", named after the ABA team in the not-as-funny-as-you-remember-it 2008 Will Ferrell vehicle Semi-Pro. Would the team actually have enough of a sense of humour to pick either name, or would they just cop out with some stupid name like Flint Power?
To get the ball rolling, a few weeks ago the team decided to launch an open contest to see what names fans would submit. Here's the entire list of every entry submitted on the name submission site, as acquired by MLive. Now, keep in mind that these are right from the name submission form, so this is a completely unfiltered look at every single stupid name people entered. It's worth a quick browse just for a bizarre look into the psyche of Michigan hockey fans.
There are lots of gems. Lots of misspellings. Lots of ridiculous joke submissions (Flint City Tigershark Panther-Wolves!) Lots of appeal to blue collar roots and automotive nickname - one guy submitted "Flint Blue Collars (honoring hardworking trades)", while another separate guy wrote "Flint City Blue's( blue-collar in honor of the working class)". Also, there are lots of names that are just earnestly terrible. I mean, The Vehicle City Strykerz? The Flint Swag? The Flint Freedom Fighters? My God.
With that long list of suggestions in hand, the owners of the new Flint OHL franchise registered five potential trademarks with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs earlier this week, seemingly narrowing their hunt down to those five. And, unfortunately, the Tigershark Panther-Wolves didn't make the cut.
Here are the five names that were registered by the team:
1. FLINT PRIDE
I can straight-up tell you that this is a garbage name. "Pride" is the sort of empty, vague concept that marketing firms started giving teams in the 90s, and almost universally, all of those teams names are awful. The Minnesota Wild, the Orlando Magic, the Houston Dynamo, the New England Revolution, pretty much every team in the WNBA: all of these meaningless, non-plural nouns are just hollow cop-outs that give no real branding or depth to a team's identity. This is a bland, uninspired choice. That's why they'll probably pick it. GRADE: 0/5
2. FLINT PHOENIX
I know that this name was popular on the fan submission form, because I saw it misspelled about 6 different ways on the list. I get it - rebirth, the story of the phoenix, the rebirth of Flint as a city - it all just seems a little too on-the-nose, and a little too cheerful for a city like Flint, you know? Plus, this presents another weird singular/plural thing. The plural of Phoenix is Phoenixes, so would you say "two Phoenix chase the puck in the corner", or two Phoenixes? Not to mention that in hockey circles, the word "Phoenix" is generally synonymous with "failed hockey market." GRADE: 2/5
3. FLINT VIKINGS
Sure, I guess. I don't know what Vikings have to do with Flint, but alright, this is fine. It's not an objectively bad name or anything. The logo possibilities of a hockey-playing viking are pretty dope, if nothing else. GRADE: 3/5
4. FLINT SPARKS
Again, this is a fine name. It's playful, it ties in with the city's automotive history, you can make a solid sweater out of it. It's a little WNBA-ish, but ultimately, there's nothing wrong with the name Sparks. GRADE: 3/5
5. FLINT TROPICS
The sons of bitches actually did it. They submitted Tropics in their top five.
This is clearly the one that everyone is rooting for, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited about the idea of an actual OHL team called the Flint Tropics. The only problem is, Semi-Pro isn't exactly one of the great comedy classics of our time - it had lukewarm reviews and a middling box office response, landing it somewhere in the back row behind Old School/Anchorman/Elf/Talladega Nights in the grand Will Ferrell oeuvre. So, even though it works great as a reference, "Flint Tropics" is by no means a slam dunk. I'd wager that most hockey fans who'll see the team name have never seen Semi-Pro, which, without the "hey, I get it!" reference value, stands alone as just a really stupid name for a hockey team.
Still, just because it's a pop culture reference doesn't mean that it's the wrong choice. People will accuse this choice of being gimmicky, but you know what else is gimmicky? Minor-league sports. This is an Ontario Hockey League team we're talking about, not the English Premier League. In junior sports, having stupid gimmicks is the name of the game. The AAA Albuquerque Isotopes named themselves after a brief reference from a Simpsons episode under similar circumstances following a fan vote, and in their first season, they led all of minor league baseball in merchandise sales.
Ultimately, I'm on the fence about the name Tropics. Not because it's a joke name that dishonours the noble traditions of junior hockey, but because Semi-Pro was kind of a forgettable movie that, unlike a classic Simpsons reference, just won't be part of the cultural conversation 10 years from now.
Then again, that's assuming that a hockey team in Flint, Michigan will survive for 10 years.