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MLB to Rename The Expos 'Soon'

News on Ticket Plan Expected Monday

By Barry Svrluga and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 6, 2004; Page D01

While D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp was proposing a new baseball stadium plan that could derail plans to move the Montreal Expos here, team officials continued working on details of the transition.

Expos President Tony Tavares said the team expects to announce its plan to sell tickets on Monday. Fans should have a number to call to order season tickets by midweek, "We have to get that done," he said.



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Two published reports stated that the team will be named the Nationals if they move to the District, and a source said any name could be a temporary one. Whoever buys the team from Major League Baseball will be allowed to ask to change the name in time for the scheduled opening of a new stadium in 2008, the source said.

The Washington Times and USA Today reported that baseball is likely to choose the Nationals, the name of Washington's franchise in the 1870s and '80s, over the Grays and Senators. A source told The Post that the Nationals is the favorite of at least one top baseball official, but no decision has been made.

"It's all speculation," said Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin. "We haven't made a decision. We are going to try to do it pretty soon. We've done some focus groups and at some point we will make a decision."

The choice of Nationals would not be unexpected. The Grays were a Negro League team that played games here but was actually based in Pittsburgh, and Mayor Anthony A. Williams is against using the Senators, the name of Washington's franchise in its two previous incarnations, because the District does not have representatives in the Senate.

Levin said the World Series and other commitments have delayed a decision on a name. Baseball is also taking into account the opinion of Williams, who two sources said favors Nationals. One high-ranking baseball source who is familiar with the thinking of Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, said Selig actually favors Senators, but appears willing to acquiesce to Williams to expedite the process.

With the season five months away and tickets perhaps going on sale next week, team officials must begin marketing in the Washington area immediately, and the unveiling of a new name and logo -- which should happen in the next two weeks -- are essential parts of that plan. The uniform colors likely will be red, white and blue, a baseball source said.

"We hope to have an announcement somewhere around the 15th," Tavares said. "That's a guess. And I'm not saying we'll have uniforms in hand, but we should have renderings of what we'd like to do."

Tavares said baseball officials have used focus groups of Washingtonians to try to narrow the field of potential names. Sports marketing analysts said a name is essential in establishing a presence in the new Washington market, which has been without baseball since the Senators left for Texas in 1971.

"The new name will be the most recent way to highlight that the market is coming together, and it would be something that the community would rally around," said David Carter of the Sports Business Group, a Los Angeles-based sports marketing firm. "Whatever they ultimately want to choose, that name and the colors and the whole positioning of the franchise -- the branding -- is going to start here."

Major League Baseball splits the revenue from merchandise evenly among its teams, Levin said, but a new owner could potentially generate more sales by turning to a new name or new colors. Carter, though, said that would be a risky strategy with a nascent fan base.

"To me, it could be a public relations windfall if an owner comes in and has the opportunity to change the name -- and everyone knows that -- but doesn't pull the trigger," Carter said. "By using focus groups, they'll know that the community has chosen Nationals over Grays or Senators or whatever.

"If you put yourself and the entire region in an awkward position of changing the name after the fact, obviously that's not ideal. There's the potential to create some ill will after the name has been selected, the merchandise is on the racks, and someone comes in and says, 'No, that's not my vision.' That's probably not a great way to come out of the blocks."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company