In 2021, Major League Rugby will welcome two new teams to the competition, one in Dallas and one in Los Angeles. While we still don't know much about the Dallas team, the LA team has recently made a big splash on social media, unveiling their name, logo, and potential venue. Ordinarily, that would be a fun moment of excitement in our otherwise troubled world.
However, they probably didn't get the reception they were hoping for with their announcements. They were met with a wave of confusion, bafflement, ridicule, and even anger. What prompted these negative emotions? Put simple, it was the name:
Yes, that is the actual name of an actual team that is actually joining Major League Rugby. It is not a typo. As far as I can tell, it's not a prank. Starting in 2021, there will be a team named the LA Giltinis playing for the MLR Shield.
How did this happen?
As most of you probably know, this isn't actually the first time that this has happened. Just weeks before the start of the 2020 season, the MLR franchise in Austin was purchased by Loyals Rugby, a company owned by a man named Adam Gilchrist. With this change in management, the Austin team was renamed from the Herd to the Gilgronis.
Per the press release at the time, a Gilgroni was a brand-new "Texas-sized cocktail" based on a Negroni. The name was derived from an inside joke, taking the owner Adam Gilchrist's last name and smashing it together with various cocktails.
When they bought the Austin team, Loyals Rugby was already the owner of another rugby club, the future LA expansion team. When it was announced that LA would be joining the league, it was assumed that they would be named the Loyals after their ownership group. Even after Austin was purchased, it was assumed that the LA team would stick with the Loyals name.
Instead, everyone was taken by surprise when the team unveiled a second cocktail pun, this time based on a martini. No word yet on whether the cocktail will be California-sized.
Why any of this matters
It's easy to say that none of this is particularly important. Sure, the name "Giltinis" is dumb, but Major League Rugby has number of oddly named teams and what's more important is the product on the field. But for a variety of reasons, it does actually matter what the LA team is called.
The Seattle Seawolves, Utah Warriors, Houston Sabercats, New England Free Jacks, and Toronto Arrows all have straightforward and traditional names in the [Location] [Mascot] format. The San Diego Legion follows the same format just with a collective noun as the mascot, while the NOLA Gold and Old Glory DC use abstract concepts as mascot. Notably, they all feature mascots that symbolize strength, fierceness, dignity, or some other competitive attribute. Even with New England, their mascot sounds vaguely patriotic, even if no one knows what a "Free Jack" actually is.
There are two teams that don't follow the standard [Location] [Mascot] format, Rugby Atlanta and Rugby United New York. It is easy to find quibbles with both of these names (the former is boring while the latter implies that they've united all of rugby), but they nonetheless evoke a certain sense of dignity by mirroring the traditions of European soccer clubs.
Then there are the Austin Gilgronis. Let me start by saying that this is a bad name for a professional team. It follows the traditional [Location] [Mascot] format, but instead of having a dignified, competitive mascot, they have an alcohol pun. However, despite it's flaws, the name is not entirely irredeemable.
Austin was a disaster of a team going into 2020. They hadn't won a game in an eternity, they struggled to draw in crowds to games, and they had a shaky relationship with the local community. So a dramatic change was already necessary. Rebranding to a wonky name gave them a way to look less like a disappointing failure and a more like a lovable underdog. Combined with increased investment in the community, they have actually managed to create a fun and goofy brand.
The LA team's name is a step too far. It takes a bad pun and tells it again, this time saddling a fresh new team with a literal joke for a name. It doesn't even try to evoke dignity. It's impossible to take seriously, rendering a brand new team as a joke before they've even picked a home pitch, much less played a match.
This reflects on the league as a whole, especially given that the Gilgronis already exist. Do we want this league to be a farce? A punchline for one man's inside joke? That may seem like an exaggeration, but right now that is exactly what a sixth of the league is.
On a more individual level, this name will hurt attendance and fan support of the team. Who wants to explain to their family and friends that, yes, the Giltinis are a real team? Who wants to try to convince a colleague to spend $30 to catch a Giltinis match with them? Who expects kids to look at the Giltinis and think "rugby is cool, I'll play that"? Who wants to proudly state that they are a Giltinis fan?
The effect of the name will be marginal. But marginal effects matter, especially in a sport like rugby that starts out so far behind. It needs to be easy to get into, easy to enjoy, easy to like. It needs to be cool, or at least obviously uncool. Because every avid supporter who turns into a reluctant supporter, every casual supporter who instead turns away is a loss for the team and a loss for the league that we simply can't afford.
So for the love of rugby, MLR, please make Adam Gilchrist change this name.
PS. The only way that this is likely to change is if fans complain. The easiest way to do so is to voice frustration on social media as loudly as possible. You can also sign this petition, email the LA team's ownership group directly at [email protected], and contact the MLR through the contact form on their website. I recommend using every method.