The Major League Rugby season is just under two weeks away. Training camp is well underway, pre-season games have been analyzed, predictions are being made, and the excitement of the 2020 season looms closer. Just when you thought we were ready to kick off the season Austin shocked everyone.
The Austin Elite were one of seven clubs to play in MLR’s inaugural season. After two years of being known as the Elite, Austin rebranded to the “Herd” for the 2020 season. Now just 11 days before Austin is set to take on the Toronto Arrows in their 2020 season opener, they announced another rebrand.
The Austin Herd will go down as one of the shortest-lived team names in professional sports history. Austin announced a new owner Loyals LLC, the same company that owns the 2021 expansion team Los Angeles Loyals. Loyals LLC started their ownership with a bang by dubbing the club…the Austin Gilgronis?
Thankfully, the Gilgronis were kind enough to provide a definition of what exactly a Gilgroni is. It is a “Texas-sized cocktail, to be released soon”. Loyals LLC is originally from Australia, which is where President James Godfrey and CEO Matthew Burgess also hail from.
“Gilgroni” is a trademarked term there by Giltini Group LLC for use on clothing sports (specifically rugby) equipment and alcoholic beverages. It seems like the plan is to combine the rugby club with a drink brand. Additionally, the team seems to be pushing the nickname “AGs”. I guess that is supposed to sound like “Aggies”.
Now, the name is strange. However, I don’t hate it. Gilgronis is certainly a unique team name and I feel like it has the potential to grow on people after the initial shock of the story wears off.
The Austin Gilgronis are far from the first team in pro sports to be named after a product that their owners would like to push. The AHL’s San Jose Barracuda are named for presenting sponsor Barracuda Networks, the copious amounts of teams across all sports called the Red Bulls, Yorkshire Carnegie is named after a college, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and way more.
This also doesn’t dive into sponsorships In front of team names like the entire Japan Top League, Gallagher Chiefs, and Cell C Sharks. A sports team being named after a product is not unusual. However, my one condition on defending the use of a product as a team name is that product has to exist and be widely sold. I can drink a RedBull while watching The Mighty Ducks inside Carnegie College. I need to be able to consume Gilgronis. If not, Gilgronis just becomes a silly name.
The most unusual thing about Gilgronis is the timing. As mentioned, this is Austin’s second rebrand (a re-re-brand) this off-season. The Herd did not even make it to Week 1. Herd merchandise has already been sold, but fans have the ability to trade in their Herd merchandise for new Gilgronis gear. However, that is still inconvenient for fans. It’s very difficult to build a brand when it has been changed up at the last minute.
The week after the Gilgronis take on the Arrows in the season opener they will head to Sin City for the MLR Vegas Weekend. All the promotional material for the Vegas Weekend feature Rodrick Waters in a no-longer-correct Austin Herd kit. It’s not just the Vegas stuff. All of their marketing currently features players in Austin Herd kit. It seems a lot of marketing has to be re-done.
Of course, that leads to more questions. Where is the kit? The Gilgronis unveiled two new logos with the name announcement. Their primary logo is a baseball-esque script of “Gilgronis” with a Texan flag underlining it. The secondary logo is a stylized “AGs”. The colour scheme is a far departure from the blue and black that the Austin Herd had and more closely resembles the Texas Longhorns.
The new look resembles nothing of the previous branding for the club, so surely, there must be a new kit. Was Paladin aware of the re-re-brand and will they be able to produce a kit in 11 days? I hope something is done because wearing the Herd jersey would not be a good look.
The new identity was not the only change the Austin Gilgronis made. The new owners also announced that their home games will now be at the Circuit of the Americas instead of the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex. Circuit of the Americas is a racetrack that has hosted the IndyCar Series. It also happens to have a soccer stadium that Austin Bold FC will now share with the Gilgronis.
From a marketing perspective, it’s insane that this team is re-re-branding and moving to a new home stadium just 11 days before their season starts. Most of the work that goes into the business side of a pro rugby team now seems to have been completely undone by the new ownership with almost no time until the start of the season. The branding itself is fine, but the timing is awful.
The Gilgronis did make some positive announcements to go along with the name change. Even prior to the re-re-brand, the Gilgronis have been making strides to mend the relationship with the local rugby community. The club has promised to build the “world’s largest youth strength and conditioning centre” for aspiring rugby players to use. They have stated that they would pay for all youth player’s fees, provide kit at a less than $25 cost for youth teams, and discounted tickets for families.
They also promised to beef up the game day experience with things like pool bars, BBQ, and human fireballs. I am not sure what exactly a human fireball is, but I just picture Chris Evans in his pre-Captain America days.
Finally, they announced that Michael Byrne has been hired as their head coach. Byrne is a former Aussie Rules player that became a rugby union skills coach after retirement. He was part of the All Blacks staff that won back to back Rugby World Cups in 2011 and 2015.
The Austin Gilgronis will make their debut in their new home against the Toronto Arrows on February 9th! For all your MLR news in the build up to the 2020 season, follow @BressetteTheJet and @LaymansSports on your favourite social media network.