Aug 27, 2022 - News

Call it Charlotte, not ‘the little brother of UNC’

Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

It’s time for a spicy debate: How do you refer to UNC Charlotte?

Driving the news: It’s opening day for Charlotte 49ers football, who play at Florida Atlantic at 7pm. Inevitably, someone will refer to the program as UNCC, because it’s the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and logically that’s how you shorten it.

Yes, but: Don’t call it UNCC. It’s Charlotte 49ers, Charlotte or 49ers for all things sports related, and has been for more than 20 years.

  • Athletic director Mike Hill told me he remembers watching the 49ers play when the brand was UNCC.
  • “Habits are hard to break, and you have a community that grew up with an institution that at the time, referenced the university that way, but this institution has grown by leaps and bounds,” he said.
  • The university, which reached new enrollment records for the last three consecutive years is the, is “not your father’s or your grandfather’s Charlotte,” Hill added.

Related story: Charlotte 49ers to get bigger stadium and more with $102 million plan

Why it matters: The university was long known as a commuter school. Just another cog in the UNC system. It’s sometimes even mistaken for its sibling institution in Chapel Hill. 

  • Senior quarterback Chris Reynolds told me he understands where the confusion comes from with people seeing UNC Charlotte on social media and around campus. But “this is Charlotte,” he said.
  • He added they don’t want to be confused with other schools, and they’ll keep correcting people when they get it wrong, “in a respectful way,” he said with a laugh.

The big picture: With more than 30,000 students, Charlotte is one of the largest universities in the UNC system. The university is trying to establish its own identity on and off the field. 

What they’re saying: Senior wide receiver Victor Tucker told me the difference between calling the program Charlotte compared to UNCC comes down to a mindset. 

  • “It’s just the mindset of trying to take this program big time,” he said. “When you refer to us as UNCC, that puts us in a group with all of the other North Carolina schools, but when you look at schools like Alabama or Ohio State, it’s just Alabama [and] Ohio State. It’s not UA, or I don’t even know. That’s just the model we’re trying to follow and take this program to new heights.”

Charlotte 49ers football coach Will Healy told Axios he’s been through branding changes before, when Chattanooga transitioned from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

  • “Anytime you add UNC to something, it makes it feel like you’re the little brother of UNC,” Healy said. He added fans don’t like the little brother complex.
  • “I’m proud to be a 49ers, and … I don’t like when people diss the name,” Charlotte FC midfielder and former 49er Brandt Bronico told Axios.

The school also rebranded athletics with a new logo and CLT in 2020. The university as a whole rebranded in 2021.

💭 Axios’ Alexandria Sands’ thought bubble (our UNC Charlotte alumna): UNC Charlotte has more undergrads than Chapel Hill, plus it has the most underrated campus, and it’s growing faster than any other school in the system.

  • Makes sense to give it its own identity already, the same way ECU, App and NC State have theirs.

What’s next: Charlotte’s home opener is Sept. 2 at 7pm against William & Mary. They host Maryland on Sept. 10 at 3:30pm.

Charlotte 49ers football
Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
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