Is it possible to completely rebrand in a digital age? We take a look at Portland’s own sports stadium and home to the Blazers as a case study for how SEO should be considered when rebranding.
The sparingly sunny, yet always strange city of Portland, Oregon has been the home of the NBA’s Trail Blazers since 1970. As the only professional sports organization within in the big four (NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB) in the City of Roses, a unique bond developed between Portland and the Trail Blazers. The Blazers began playing their games in Memorial Coliseum, a modest arena with a deep sense of history and an architecture design all its own. “The Glass Palace” in Portland hosted a slew of historical moments: UCLA and John Wooden won the 1965 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, The Beatles and Elvis Presley performed sold out shows to thousands of screaming fans, and Gerald Ford became the first president to attend an NBA game in 1974. The relationship between the Memorial Coliseum and the city of Portland flourished for over 30 years until the new, state of the art Rose Garden opened its doors in 1995.
The City of Roses embraced its identity by backing the creation of the ‘Rose Quarter’, which featured the new Rose Garden arena along with the Memorial Coliseum. The integrity of the Memorial Coliseum had been held intact, and the new Rose Garden arena seemed to capture the spirit of Portland as it became the home of the Trail Blazers and all other major indoor events.
In August of 2013, a decision was made that seemed to go against all of the Portlandia stereotypes you can imagine: the Trail Blazers sold the naming rights of the Rose Garden to Moda Health. The deal was valued to be worth around $40 million.
The initial backlash from the community was loud, featuring petitions against the name change and t-shirts created to support the cause. The Mayor of Portland, Charlie Hales, even chimed in on the issue, “It’s a bit of a head scratcher...I wish them luck in getting the new name to stick.”
Despite protest from prideful Oregonians, the name change went through without much of a hitch.
Now, nearly two years later, the Moda Center is still standing and does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, as nearly $16 million has been poured into the arena for renovations. The Rose Garden may physically be no more; however, it is still living on in a very real way today: digitally.
Let’s look at some data from Google Keyword Planner.
Comparing Searches: Before & After
In the past year, the average search volume of the term “Rose Garden” has been averaging 2,400 per month in the Portland area, with highs of 3,600 in January, March, and May. This average monthly search volume is on par with other Portland landmarks such as Voodoo Doughnuts and Salt & Straw.
Looking at the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for “Rose Garden” and “Moda Center”, you can see the first organic results are both a direct link to the Rose Quarter’s website. There are no advertisements on the Rose Garden’s SERP, while the Moda Center contains three ads to various ticket outlets. Both knowledge graphs on the right hand side of the page feature the Moda Center, along with upcoming shows, directions, reviews and ratings for the arena. In fact, both search queries pull the exact same knowledge graph.
Why is this happening? If the Rose Garden is no more, why can you Google “Rose Garden” and get directions to an arena that no longer exists?
Simply put: Google is deeming the term “Rose Garden” to still be relevant despite the fact in no longer technically exists.
The number of “Rose Garden” searches has significantly decreased since the naming rights have been sold to Moda Health; however, the Rose Garden still has a pulse in the digital world. The search term “Rose Garden” still drives a large portion of traffic to Rosequarter.com according to Amazon’s Alexa.com.
Measuring Incoming Organic Traffic
RoseQuarter.com is the main website for all events occurring in the Moda Center. In May 2015, Rose Garden related searches made up 22.16% of all searchs and three of the top five keywords directing users to rosequarter.com. Nearly one out of every four people arriving at Rosequater.com via a search engine discovers the website by searching for a variation of the term “Rose Garden”.
It is difficult to completely rebrand a business with a digital footrprint. Especially a brand, like the Rose Garden, which consumers were passionate about and had been established for a relatively long period of time. According to ESPN.com, Blazer game attendance has declined in both seasons since the name change, despite the team making the playoffs both seasons and even winning their division in 2015.
SEO Tips for Rebranding
So how much of this is related to the digital presence of their former brand?
That is a question Moda Health and the Rose Quarter have to ask themselves, along with all other businesses, before considering rebranding. The internet does not forget. We have seen pictures, posts and tweets come back to haunt people for years to come, and it appears that this same concept translates over to brands. With complex digital histories, it's important that companies create a digital rebranding strategy to connect the dots online and help search engines and users with a name change. Time and a good SEO team can help make a rebranding successful online, but as we've see with the Rose Garden, old search habits die hard.
Nearly two years and $40 million later, the Rose Garden is still standing. Well, more like digitally holding its ground. Those protesting Portlanders should be proud.