Sports team names like Jazz, Thunder, Magic, and Heat sound singular, but most other team names are plural. Style guides generally say to treat all team names as plural even if they sound singular, but if that sounds strange to you, you can refer to the teams by their city name instead.
I just heard that the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder are facing off in the basketball playoffs this year, so it’s a good time to answer a question about odd team names like this. Are names such as the Jazz and the Thunder singular or plural?
Most team names are plural, such as the Lakers and the Timberwolves, and both the Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style recommend treating all team names as plural even when they sound singular. So if you’re following AP or Chicago style, you’d write that “the Jazz are in the playoffs” and “the Thunder are in the playoffs.”
If that sounds too weird to you, you can always use the city or state name instead of the team name because cities and states take a singular verb. So instead of saying, "The Jazz are in the playoffs,” you could say, “Utah is in the playoffs,” just as you’d say, “Los Angeles is in the playoffs” and “Minnesota is in the playoffs.”
British English is slightly different. For example, the style guide for The Guardian recommends using the plural verb when you refer to teams whether it’s by name or by city, so a Guardian writer in the UK would say that “Los Angeles are in the playoffs.”
My alma mater, the Stanford Cardinal, used to be an exception in American English. The Associated Press Stylebook used to treat “Cardinal” as singular, even though it treats names such as Jazz, Magic, and Heat as plural, but more recent updates include Cardinal in the list of singular-sounding teams names that are treated as plural.
That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: Treat team names as plural even if they sound singular.
The Heat haven't backed off an inch. [Team name is plural.]
Miami has beaten Philly three times this season. [City name is singular.]
The Sixers are the top-selling NBA team since March 1. [Team name is plural.]
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”