The Elite Ice Hockey League champions, Sheffield Steelers, are no strangers to controversy. From their days being managed by former Rotherham United chairman Norton Lea, to their play-off win in April, British Ice Hockey's most hated club are never far from the headlines (or what passes for headlines given the small amount of coverage the sport gets). Today they risked enraging many of their fans by announcing via the Sheffield Star that they are dropping the Sheffield part of their name to be replaced by the name of their principal sponsors - they will, for this season at least, be known as the Field Electrical Steelers.
Steelers' General Manager Mike O'Connor defends the name change by saying that, given the ongoing move from Sheffield Arena to the Rother Valley based YES! Project site, it would be not be apt for the team to keep the Sheffield moniker. Which would be fine, if it wasn't for the fact that work on the site hasn't actually started yet, so the Steelers will be still in Sheffield for at least 2 years. But moving out of the area needn't stop you keeping the name - O'Connor clearly hasn't been paying attention to the Don Valley Stadium, just 100 yards or so from the Arena, which now houses Rotherham United FC, after the club made the reverse of the journey the Steelers will be undertaking. Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the World, don't currently play in Sheffield, they play in nearby Dronfield. Grimsby Town have been playing in neighbouring Cleethorpes for years. Even moving away from football and back to ice hockey, former Elite League, and now English Premier side Manchester Phoenix are located in Altrincham, and Newcastle Vipers will be playing half their games in Whitley Bay this season.
Of course, most fans will probably believe that the name of their team has been changed for purely commercial reasons, to highlight the name of their main sponsors this season. But the club have, in previous sponsorship deals, been known as the Unison Sheffield Steelers, the Liberata Sheffield Steelers, and last year, the Eurologix Sheffield Steelers, so why they can't just be the Field Electrical Sheffield Steelers, heaven knows. The problem with abandoning the geographic location from your name though, as has been shown before, is that people will just ignore it. Due to sponsorship deals, my club, Chelmsford Chieftains (just to clarify, I mean the club I support, I don't own the team) were known as the Wavetek Chieftains for a couple of years in the early/mid-nineties, and the previously-mentioned Newcastle Vipers were known last year as the Mincoff Vipers. Outside of official club documents, however, it made absolutely no impact on fans, media, or indeed the league tables, both teams were still known by the location of the team. Fans of both the Steelers and other teams will still refer to the as "Sheffield", and given the record of the Steelers for going through title sponsors (they've had a different title sponsor each season for at least the last five years), they'll no doubt be known as something slightly different next year.
I understand that UK Ice Hockey is in a tough situation cash-wise, but Sheffield Steelers are one of the biggest clubs in Britain, and surely some things are sacrosanct.
UPDATE - 17/08/2009
The Steelers now confirm that they will retain the name Sheffield Steelers, for now, anyway. After a campaign by the Sheffield Star and fans, it seems there are some clubs who listen to their audiences after all.