In the run-up to the Kentucky-Transylvania University men's basketball exhibition, I was in my car channel-surfing around AM radio when I happened across sports talk show host Larry Glover raising a question I had always half wondered about myself.
In a popular culture obsessed with the Twilight movies and HBO's True Blood, how much money would Transylvania make from memorabilia sales if it changed its school nickname from Pioneers to Vampires?
"I'd guess around Halloween, we'd make a lot of money," said Transy Athletics Director Jack Ebel, in between laughing.
Said Transylvania men's basketball coach Brian Lane: "That's always sort of been a running joke around here. I'd say we would make more than we do now."
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As we see over and over in minor-league baseball, the choice of a catchy or clever nickname can make cash registers sing.
Alan Stein, the Lexington-based minor-league baseball executive who recently retired from the company that owns the Class A Lexington Legends and (part of) the Class AAA Omaha Storm Chasers, said that if Transy changed its nickname to the Vampires "it would be gigantic.
"There would be international appeal for the 'Transylvania Vampires.' They would sell all over the world in so many different genres. Vampires are a hot thing anyway and the connection to Transylvania would just be incredible. They would make a lot of money."
The Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are the current stars of minor-league baseball memorabilia sales, Stein said. "Those two logos have just exploded," he said.
To even think about reaping a potential financial windfall from becoming the Vampires, Transylvania would have to consider whether changing its nickname would in any way harm its brand as an educational institution, Stein said.
"Their p.r. and marketing people have to make a determination as to whether the increased notoriety of their brand, Transylvania University, would be positively or negatively impacted by the connection to Vampires," Stein said. "My gut is that it probably would not hurt them. People who don't know about Transylvania University anyway, that's the first thing they think of when they hear the name now."
Transylvania, the respected liberal arts college here in Lexington, has no actual connection to Transylvania, the region in Romania where author Bram Stoker set his Gothic novel Dracula.
The Kentucky version of Transylvania took its name from the Latin for "across the woods." The name traces back to Virginia settlers who came to this area in the late 18th century.
Transylvania the school was founded in 1780, 12 years before the state of Kentucky was created out of the commonwealth of Virginia. A chap you might have heard of, Thomas Jefferson, was governor of Virginia at the time Transy opened as the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains.
That history explains why Pioneers is an especially appropriate nickname for Transylvania sports teams.
"Personally, I'm a 'Pioneers' guy," said Don Lane, the venerable former Transylvania men's hoops coach. "When you think about the history and what our school represents in the area, I think the alums would have a hard time ever changing."
Even Lexington native Stein said, "I'm a traditionalist. Transy has been the Pioneers for my whole lifetime and I'd like to see them stay that way."
Transylvania the university is willing to have some fun with the vampire connotations of its name. On the school's Web site, there is a section titled "Our Name."
In part, it reads, "Since our name reminds some of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, members of the Transylvania community often have fun with the parallel. ... Don't worry, though — our students don't sparkle like Edward Cullen, and neither Buffy Summers nor Sookie Stackhouse has visited our campus. At least, as far as we know."
Don Lane said that in his time leading the Transylvania basketball program "I used to have a guy call me every Halloween from Oregon and talk to me on his radio show. He did it for 10 years, he'd call and say, 'Haven't you guys switched yet?
"And I'd say 'No, we're not the Vampires. We're still the Pioneers.'"