Super Rugby: History of Crusaders name was never explored

Newshub can reveal New Zealand Rugby didn't research the history of Crusaders before choosing the name in 1996.

Both their commercial director at the time and their consultants admit the brand was borne of a more ignorant time.

At the Crusaders' very first jersey reveal, a sword-wielding knight reflected Christchurch's English heritage. Locals like it and the Crusaders were born.

Twenty-three years later, the brand is now being criticised, because during the medieval Christian Crusades, popes and kings ordered soldiers to slaughter Muslims.

Brendon O'Connor was the New Zealand Rugby Union's (NZRU's) commercial and marketing director in 1996, as they rushed to start up Super 12.

"We researched the market and the fans," O'Connor told Newshub. "Once the name was landed upon, we focused on investing in those brands.

"We didn't do a lot of primary research into the history of those names at that time."

And looking back at that now, how does he feel about that lack of due diligence?

"I feel okay with that," he said. "It was a different time.

"If we were doing it now and that name came up, it would be a different situation."

Dave Clark Designs came up with names and logos, and in a statement, told Newshub: "The name we proposed - Canterbury Crusaders - was catchy and memorable, and seemed entirely appropriate for a sports team.

"If you think of what we have all learned since then about the troubled and troubling relationship between Islam and Christianity, probably not."

But O'Connor warns against taking sports brands too literally.

"When we talk about Steve Jobs and Apple, we are not talking about the fruit apple."

By considering a change, the Crusaders have already done better than the NFL's Washington Redskins - they refuse to alter a name Native Americans protest for its racism.

There have been successful re-brands, particularly across American sport. The NBA's Washington Bullets became the Wizards to counter gun violence, while baseball's Houston Colt 45s were renamed the Astros.

AUT professor Mike Hutcheson says fans strongly opposed to change usually stay loyal.

"It's essentially tribal," Hutcheson told Newshub. "In the end, people will stick with their tribe.

"They'll stick with the players."

The Crusaders' other option is to follow Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians. They kept their name and dropped mascot 'Chief Wahoo', but the name 'Indians' is still criticised for cultural appropriation.

Hutcheson says halfway measures can actually retain divides.

"Everyone says there are two sides to a story, just as there are two sides to a rugby match. It doesn't mean the score should be equal."

The Crusaders face a tough decision on a name handed to them 23 years ago, but one that will be heavily discussed over the coming months.


Join us at 7:30pm Friday for live updates of the Hurricanes vs Crusaders Super Rugby clash.