Those in charge of branding Nebraska’s newest pro soccer team passed on the state’s official bird for something more fierce.
The team’s name — Union Omaha — and crest, which features a great horned owl, were announced Thursday at a block party in Benson.
Officials considered more than 100 names the past several months as they created an identity for the USL League One team. Their goal: Stay true to the city and state roots while uniting a fan base.
Union Omaha Soccer Club (the team’s full name) is partly a nod to Union Pacific and the role the railroad company played in Omaha’s development, said team owner Gary Green. But the name also is meant to connect Omaha’s past with its future.
“The thing about Omaha is, it respects its history, but it’s also got a strong view of moving forward,” Green said. “We still kept coming back to ‘unity’ and ‘unified’ ... it just felt natural.”
The crest features the owl atop a football from the sport’s early days. To the left of the owl are three stars meant to represent Nebraska’s people, place and purpose. Those features are set against a shield similar to the U.S. Soccer crest.
Great horned owls are indigenous to the region and commonly seen during winter months when trees have lost their foliage, according to the Nebraska Extension office. The birds have wingspans of nearly 5 feet, can exert almost 25 pounds of pressure with their talons and will prey upon “almost any animal that they can catch.”
“It’s fierce, it hunts its prey at night — it’s just an intimidating bird,” Green said.
The crest’s colors, which coincide with the team’s colors, are black and white, with one notable exception: the owl’s eyes, which are “lightning yellow.”
Many Nebraskans have strong associations between colors and sports teams, said Erika Bjork, a consultant who has helped lead the branding process. Husker fans bleed red. Creighton fans adorn themselves in blue. Officials wanted a color scheme that everyone can support.
“We wanted it to look edgy,” Green said. “Black and white is edgy.”
The crest was designed by Matthew Wolff, who also helped create the crest for the Los Angeles Football Club.
Thursday’s reveal was the culmination of months of work that included community discussions. Time and again, Green said, another bird was brought up as a possible option: the western Meadowlark, Nebraska’s state bird.
Organizers considered the animal, Green said, but in the end, the Meadowlark didn’t exude the ferocity of the great horned owl.
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The team’s opening night at Werner Park is scheduled for April 25. The season will begin in March, but the team will start on the road to avoid potential weather conflicts. An exhibition is anticipated near the start of the season.
The block party Thursday near 62nd and Maple Streets had the energetic, social feel that draws some fans to the sport in the first place. Supporters wore their favorite teams’ scarves, children dribbled balls into miniature nets and, during a guided discussion with team leaders, a few chants broke out.
Ryan Youtz, a soccer fan who supports UNO, said he was one of the first to purchase season tickets to Union Omaha matches. As for the name and crest, Youtz, 35, said he’s pleased.
“I think the name is absolutely fantastic,” Youtz said. “The idea of Union is cool to me because it’s bringing everybody together.”
Green, who also owns the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers, has been traveling the country to visit other pro soccer clubs to get a sense of what works, what fans respond to and how Omaha can create excitement around the team.
In September, he attended a Forward Madison FC match in Wisconsin, the closest League One team to Omaha. Green met with the club’s supporters at a bar, marched with them to the team’s stadium and watched as the crowd chanted, cheered and waved flags in the rain.
That’s the kind of atmosphere he wants in Omaha.
“You can’t read it, you can’t watch it on TV, you need to step into it and live and breathe it,” he said.