Etymology: Middle English, from Latin populosus, from populus people
Date: 15th century
1 a: densely populated b: having a large population
2 a: numerous b: filled to capacity
3 a: the new name of HOK Sport Venue Event, the Kansas City firm that leads the field of sports architecture and was named in March to Fast Company's list of the 10 most innovative companies in sports.
Why the new name for a firm that has become synonymous with its work on major stadiums, including Camden Yards in Baltimore and London's Wembley Stadium? "In essence, we had to change the name," says Populous spokesperson Gina Leo. At the end of 2008, Kansas City-based HOK Sport split from HOK in a management buyout. The unit had been operating autonomously for the past eight years, and its leadership felt that this was the time to declare independence and stand entirely on its own.
The name change comes at an auspicious—and busy—moment for Populous. This month, the Yankees and the Mets play their first games in their new stadiums, both designed by the company. Later this year, it will open a new football stadium at the University of Minnesota. And next year, planned openings include a new baseball park for the Minnesota Twins, a stadium for Ireland's national soccer and rugby teams, venues for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, and arenas for the NBA's Orlando Magic and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.
The rebranding was led by Milkshake Media, the Austin, Texas, firm whose best-known work is the creation of the brand "Livestrong" for Lance Armstrong's cancer campaign. Milkshake was recommended to the architecture firm by Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, whose city had been advised by the agency and is a good friend of a Populous executive.
The name is clever—perhaps too much so. One potential problem is its subtlety. When Leo first told me what it was, I wasn't entirely sure what she said: Populace? Populous? Populist? Once the word is clear, it takes a second or two to get to that a-ha moment, when the thing makes sense: populous = lots of people = what you find in a stadium watching sports. At least at first, the Populous staff will have some explaining to do. The short version: Leo says that the name was inspired by a question that pervades Populous' work: "What draws people together?"
As part of the company's brand-building effort, the company is inviting people to answer that question. (See their Web site—still www.hoksport.com for the moment—for some initial responses.) Leo and her boss, Bob White, will pack a couple of Flip video cameras as they head for New York and the Yankees' and Mets' home openers. They plan to roam the new stadiums asking people what draws them together. The answer they no doubt want to hear: "You."