Two things are known: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that there will be no Native American imagery; as one team source said the other day, they don’t want to create future issues. Another team source said Wednesday that the plan, as of now, is to stick with the burgundy and gold color scheme.
Still, as Marc Ganis, president and founder of consulting firm Sportscorp, pointed out: It can take some teams two years to make a change. But those teams often have the luxury of time. Washington might end up doing it hastily because of more intense pressure than ever to ditch a name viewed as derogatory.
A number of sponsors, led by FedEx (which has naming rights to the team’s stadium under a $205 million deal that runs until 2025), Nike and PepsiCo have said they want the name changed. And numerous retailers, including Target, Walmart and Amazon, have stopped selling the team’s merchandise.
“Because of the pressure now, there’s more value in doing something sooner rather than later,” Ganis said.
That’s the easy part. Redskins coach Ron Rivera told The Washington Post he’d like it done before training camp; however, that may well be mostly about his desire to have it over so he can focus on football. That doesn’t mean anything will be decided by late July.
The hard part will be everything else: for example, replacing the signs in the stadium and at the practice facility.
“It’s amazing how you go through a stadium and through a practice facility where that logo exists,” said Matt Williams, a former executive vice president with the NBA’s Washington Wizards. He was with the team when it dropped the name Bullets. “It’s everywhere. It’s a process to switch that over.”
Here’s an in-depth look at what confronts owner Dan Snyder and the organization as changing the team name is explored.
What’s a typical timetable?
The league has never gone through anything quite like this, where a franchise decides to change its name after 87 years. That’s why one league source said last week that there’s no timetable, because this is a unique situation. The last team to change its name was the Tennessee Oilers in 1998 — but that stemmed from the franchise having moved from Houston.
The team’s executive vice president/general manager at the time, Floyd Reese, said the process took a year — from the announcement that the Oilers were changing their name until completion. That included getting the name Titans trademarked, along with T-shirts and any other items they produced.
When the Bullets announced they were changing their name, the process took two years to complete. And the process involves more than just renaming a team. Williams, who now is a senior strategist and vice president of media relations for Maroon PR, said there’s also time and energy devoted to logos and color schemes, the stationery and even business cards.
“There are so many tentacles to where a sports franchise’s name exists,” Williams said. “It’s quite an undertaking. … It’s a lot more of an involved process than certainly the general public thinks. They think you can paint a new logo on the field and it’s done. You could do it that way, but it’s not the preferred way and there will be hiccups.”
Does the league vote on the name?
No. The other owners will not vote on whatever the organization decides, but the NFL must approve the name. Multiple sources said Snyder has been in discussions with the league about a possible name change for three weeks.
When Tennessee changed its name, it worked in conjunction with the league office. Reese said the league had names on hand that had been tested and reviewed, including the Titans. He also said there was a group in Tennessee that wanted the name Rebels. Then one day he got a phone call from a lady who said she was the ex-wife of James Earl Ray — the man who shot Martin Luther King Jr.
“She said, ‘That would have been a name [Ray] liked, and he’s a staunch racist and you can’t use that name,'” Reese said. “I said, ‘I’ve got it, ma’am.'”
How long is the logo process?
Brian Killingsworth has had experience with this process. He was the marketing and promotions director for MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays in 2007 when they dropped the word “Devil” from their name and now is the chief marketing officer for the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s a lot more of an involved process than certainly the general public thinks. They think you can paint a new logo on the field and it’s done.”
Matt Williams, former executive vice president with the Washington Wizards.
Killingsworth and the organization announced their new AHL team, the Henderson Silver Knights, complete with a logo in May. He called that a fast process; it took eight months. When he was the director of marketing and promotions in Tampa, he said it took nearly two years to not only tweak the team name but then come up with new colors and a new logo.
“We made changes internally, and then the last step was rebranding from that,” Killingsworth said of the Rays. He also was with the St. Louis Rams for three years and said they were having exploratory conversations in 2013 and ’14 about a new logo. It was finally launched this summer.
Said Williams of the Redskins: “They’ll want to come up with a logo that resonates, and that’s not a short process. I could see them doing something like changing the name and do something generic with the logo — maybe it’s just a word this first year — and then unveiling a logo down the road. Or maybe there’s something they already like. Traditionally, what you try to do when changing the name or coming up with a name, you want to have it completely in place and everything set to go.”
This is anything but a traditional situation, however.
One nugget of hope from Killingsworth for Washington fans: In the first season after the Rays changed their name, they advanced to their first World Series.
Will public opinion matter?
A decent amount, but probably more from the standpoint of which traditions the team wants to keep. It’s likely the name will come from within and perhaps will be tested in some way, but it doesn’t appear as if there’s any sort of focus group.
Adam Schefter reports that change is coming to Washington, and he doesn’t expect the Redskins to retain their name in 2020.
The Redskins have said they want to involve alumni, Native American groups, the military and, at some level, the fans. But no concrete plans have been revealed.
Could this be a step toward a new stadium and hosting a Super Bowl?
Absolutely. Washington could have built a stadium in Virginia without changing the name, and probably in Maryland as well. The Redskins train in Virginia and play in Maryland. But their iconic former home — RFK Stadium — is located in the District of Columbia, and that’s a favored destination for the team. The city wants them back as well. But multiple city officials have been vocal about not wanting the team back unless it changes the name. Because the stadium is on federal land, the Redskins need help from the government. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, recently told the “Redskins Talk” podcast that she’ll bring a bill before Congress to buy the unused federal land in an effort to lure Washington’s franchise back — once the name is changed. That would be a huge step toward a new stadium.
The team’s land lease at its current location ends in 2027, and if it does build a new stadium, as many anticipate, it could end up hosting a Super Bowl. Snyder has long desired to host one, and after New York hosted one at its newish stadium in 2014, the league could reward Washington after its stadium opens — as early as 2028.
How hard is it to get a new name trademarked?
Washington can start using a new name before it gets trademarked. The first step, according to Michael Graif, an intellectual property attorney with Mintz, is “clearing the trademark.” The team has to make sure there are no “confusingly similar trademarks that have priority over them,” he said.
Once the Redskins do that and are confident the trademark is available, they could start using the new name while applying for the trademark to be registered. The cost: $275 per classification of what they want trademarked. That includes clothing and calendars, printed material, video recordings and much more. The costs add up.
Graif said it takes about year for a trademark to go through. It takes about three months before it even gets assigned to an examining attorney from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For fans of the name Redtails, know this: Above the Law recently published a piece by Darren Heitner, founder of Heitner Legal, about two men who live in the Washington area — Deron Hogans and Thaniel van Amerongen. In February they “jointly filed an application to register the ‘Washington Redtails’ trademark in association with the licensing of intellectual property rights.”
Heitner said that application was published for opposition on June 23. After that point, other parties have 30 days to oppose the trademark. If the team wanted to use Redtails, it still could do so because it can prove the name would be used for goods and services. That’s key. However, Washington couldn’t move forward until the other application was resolved.
“It would cause a bump in the road in terms of trying to apply and register for a name if [Snyder] falls in love with [Redtails],” Heitner said in a phone conversation.
As for changing the uniform, Heitner said it doesn’t have to take long, depending on how far along Washington is in the process. Nike, which makes the NFL’s uniforms, seems to have hit its end with the Redskins name.
“It appears from a business and legal standpoint, [Nike is] ready for the team to change its name,” Heitner said. “It has pulled merchandise off [its] online retail store. It’s not like it’s going to lose out on money it wouldn’t otherwise have received. It’s very interesting to see how it plays out and how quickly it plays out.”
There’s also the matter of making sure broadcast partners and advertisers have the right logo and designs.
How will the brand be affected?
Let’s be honest: The Redskins’ brand has suffered in recent years for reasons unrelated to their name. In fact, when it comes to percentage of home attendance, the Redskins have finished just one season above 20th since 2007 — and that was in 2007, when they were second. They were 30th in 2019 and last the year before that. Part of that stems from having a stadium fans dislike in an area that results in traffic headaches — and a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005.
Jeff Darlington reports on the Redskins’ trio of minority owners, who are interested in selling their shares and make up about 40% of the ownership group.
There’s certainly a segment of the population that was offended by the name and logo — some fans of the team included — and that didn’t help. But the name has long been controversial, yet the fan base remained strong. Until recent years, that is, when fans tired of inconsistent play, years of false hope, and a front office and ownership group they disliked.
Over the past two seasons in particular, it was common to see opposing fans outnumber Redskins fans at home games. In other words: Winning matters; the brand hasn’t been selling tickets.
“We place too much emphasis on how much money a brand generates or how many followers it has on Twitter, and not enough emphasis on what a brand stands for,” said Jeremy Dowler, a brand consultant who is a former director of marketing for Adidas in football and baseball. “Going forward, the more inclusive a brand is, the stronger it will be,” he said. “The long-term connection fans have with a professional sports team comes from the location of that team, what the organization stands for, and how it represents the local and regional community, not the mascot.”
Will there be fallout?
Miami (Ohio) endured a similar decision 24 years ago with its name change. When the school was hiring a new president in 1996, then-athletic director Eric Hyman said a main question from the dean of students during every interview was: Will you change the name Redskins? The school is not as big a brand as Washington, but the 66-year-old name mattered at a university with a storied football history. It’s known as the cradle of coaches for producing luminaries such as Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Jim Tressel, Ara Parseghian and, most recently, Sean McVay.
After beating Top 25 teams, Miami had a tradition of hanging a tomahawk in the locker room with the name of the beaten squad. That’s why, after the school decided in September 1996 to change its team name to the RedHawks, there was tension. One day, in what Hyman called a tense meeting, board member Wayne Embry — a former NBA player and front-office executive — delivered a statement. Embry is 6-foot-10 and a large presence.
“He said, ‘I was born a Redskin, I’m gonna die a Redskin, but this is very offensive to the Miami tribe and we need to change it,'” Hyman said. “It ended the discussion. People were worried about a fallout financially; I don’t think there was much fallout.”
Hyman said a protest was organized against the name change.
“Ten people showed up,” said Hyman, who grew up in northern Virginia and considers himself a fan of the Washington franchise. “[The issue] eventually died, and it wasn’t as much a catastrophe as anticipated to be. … It was quieter than I expected.”
Williams understands the cycle of this situation. The Bullets name wasn’t as iconic as the Redskins; the franchise had been known as the Bullets for only 34 years, first in Baltimore and then Washington. It did win a championship in 1978, but it didn’t have a marching band or a fight song that resonated with fans. Still, he said, it’s all about time.
“Talk to any 20-year-old who grew up in this area and he’s just known the Wizards,” Williams said. “It becomes less of a sensitive subject as you move on. Time heals a little bit and probably will here, too.”