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Give Melbourne United a chance, owner implores fans

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Roy Ward

Melbourne United co-owner Michael Slepoy has asked Melbourne Tigers fans to give the renamed team a second look next NBL season.

The NBL club announced last week it would drop the Melbourne Tigers name and colours, adopting the new name with the Victorian colours of navy blue and white.

As a member for more than 20 years who fell in love with the Tigers after watching Andrew Gaze shoot the team to victory in a game in 1991, Slepoy said he was surprised at the anger when the name change was announced.

The Tigers name will live on at the Melbourne Basketball Association, which plays in Victoria’s junior and senior competitions.

Slepoy and co-owner Larry Kestelman want to unite Victorian basketball fans in supporting the state's only professional men’s team.

The NBL Tigers changed to yellow singlets two seasons ago to break free of the junior connection, but the move didn’t resonate with those who played against the Tigers at state level.

Slepoy compared announcing the change with walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

“On one hand you tell yourself it’s a wonderful thing, a step in the right direction, but on the other you can’t help but feel sad,” he said. 

“I thought people who loved the club like me would be shocked and sad, but I didn’t expect people to be making statements like, 'I will never support the club again'.

“I thought people supported our players and coaches more than a club logo. I’m very hopeful when people’s emotions settle they will come to the game - to me the main part of the name is 'Melbourne'.

Some fans asked why the club didn’t consult members.

Slepoy said he didn’t believe the issues could be properly understood amid the passions of a public process.

“In 1997, one Tigers split into two Tigers clubs - back then the guys in charge weren’t marketers,” he said. “Really, it should have been done then, but neither those in charge or the NBL did it.

“We have two types of members - the 500 or so who have followed us for decades and would be certainly against it, and new members from Melbourne’s wonderful Chinese community and other groups who have not been involved in basketball before.

“It’s impossible to explain to those two groups why we need this change in an open forum.”

Melbourne will ask its fans to suggest a new nickname.

“I don’t believe the CEO or owner can come up with a nickname, it comes from a club’s crazy supporters,” Slepoy said. “We will welcome anyone to come up with any positive opinion on a nickname.”

Slepoy has stepped down as chief executive and promoted general manager Vince Crivelli to the role.

Some supporters criticised the “United” name as it’s primarily used for soccer clubs.

"Maybe it’s my lack of English, but I cannot find another short work which would so accurately reflect our purpose,” Slepoy said.
“The name 'Unity' makes me think of insurance. If people have other ideas they should raise them. We want to welcome all supporters, whether they have gone for the Giants, Magic, Dragons, Titans or others to support this team.”

United will acknowledge past Melbourne NBL clubs on its website and with signage at home games, but won’t be claiming that history as its own.
Slepoy said United aimed to attract crowds of 8000 or more to Margaret Court Arena or Hisense Arena. He even offered to refund anyone who bought a Tigers’ jersey last season and felt cheated.

“I’ve still got 20 years of membership cards and T-shirts - I treasure them all, but anyone who bought a jersey last season and thinks it was a waste of money, email me via the club website and I’ll refund them.''

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