The World Champion Colts: Indy's New Brand Equity
By Michael Snyder
Taunting and loud, the voice pierced the din of the production bay at the radio station I was working at in Pasadena in 1984. “Hey Snyder,” the news director’s voice mocked, “Can you say ‘Indianapolis’ Colts?”
Long the brunt of many a “cornfield with lights” joke, ironically in a Southern California iconic city whose original name was “The Indiana Colony,” I was an overt lifelong Baltimore Colts fan. Even though the Colts at the time were the doormat of the NFL, I was still incredulous. From a west coast view, the mold seemed shattered. Against all odds, Indy was now part of the National Football League.
What was even more astonishing was the fact that there was even a place for the Colts to play. When I rolled out of Indy in 1976 – universally known in those days as “Naptown” – there wasn’t much of a noteworthy physical brand to leave behind: no Chase Tower, no One America building, and certainly no domed stadium. The downtown Circle was defined by decaying retail storefronts, presenting a strong impression that this was a city enthusiastically racing toward the 18th century.
Even a few years later, the city and state still weren’t projecting a brand that would quite attract the best and brightest. While in New York City on business later in the 1980s, I politely declined a dinner invitation, citing the fact that the Colts were making a rare Monday Night Football appearance and I wanted to catch the game. In the pre-Internet and zillion-channel satellite days, Colts games were seldom broadcast live in Southern California.
In between plays, the sports commentators seemed singularly unimpressed by the Hoosier Capital City. Based on repeated messaging, the national TV audience was left with a shallow brand perception. According to the commentators, Indy’s solitary redeeming factor was that it had a pretty good steakhouse.
Fortunately for Indianapolis and Indiana, the product is solid. “Naptown” of old is no more. Want proof of Indiana’s new emerging brand? Consider the headline from the Detroit News last year: “Michigan should fear Indiana, not India” for competitive economic development.
Regardless of how the game turns out today, Indianapolis and Indiana win dual victories. Many corporate site selectors are rabid football fans at this time of year, and the multi-faceted live commentary out of the RCA Dome only reinforces one brand fact: Indianapolis today represents a force to be ignored only at the peril of the unenlightened.
Managing principal of The MEK Group, a marketing consulting firm in Carmel, Snyder returned to Indianapolis from Los Angeles in 1993.