Rebranding Washington's NFL Franchise

And why moving forward won't be easy

Jul 14, 2020
Marketing

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  The May 25 death of George Floyd spurred a broad reexamination of institutional, cultural and corporate names and symbols long regarded – depending on whom you ask – as either benign or as representing hate and oppression. With public sentiment weighing toward the latter, the fallout rippled to the NFL’s Washington franchise, with the organization announcing it’s renaming the team and changing its logo.

“The idea of taking a race of people and using them as a mascot is wrong. It’s morally bankrupt. We know we shouldn’t be doing it,” says Maryland Smith’s Henry C. Boyd III. “It’s finally come to pass. We’re in a perfect storm.”

The storm hit D.C.’s NFL franchise with three waves, beginning just weeks ago:

1. Three separate letters – signed by 87 investment firms and shareholders worth $620 billion collectively – asked Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the team.

2. FedEx, with a $205 million stadium-naming-rights deal with the team since 1999, notified the franchise in a July 2 letter that, without a renaming, it would remove its stadium signage after the NFL’s 2020 season.

3. The same day, Nike removed all Washington team gear from its online store.

“The organization now is in a pragmatic stage,” says Boyd, a clinical professor of marketing whose consulting clientele has included the NFL. “You have a brand, and you’re going to have a new name and logo from all of this, and you’re about to build a new brand equity.”

But moving forward on a positive note is tricky, he adds, because franchise owner Dan Snyder “has dragged his feet for years, and it begs the question, ‘Why did it take so long to get here?’”

Consequently, the organization “needs to mount a campaign that signals: ‘We are not reactive in our stance, but responding in a proactive manner after considerable consumer feedback,” Boyd says. “The ultimate goal is to get the naming right this time. Such brand signaling is especially significant to the younger generations that follow the team for decades ahead. You want these consumers to have positive associations with this change in their memories.”

Warriors?

The name “Warriors” is reportedly a renaming candidate, but Boyd cautions: “You don’t have the luxury here of taking a baby step.” Boyd says Warriors, though arguably less offensive, still represents cultural appropriation. “Ideally you want to move as far away from this Native American connotation as possible, so you can put this matter to rest for a long time. So, in my view 'Warriors' is not a good choice here."

A bigger takeaway, Boyd says, is “nothing lasts forever and as society moves forward, you have to change accordingly.”

This article has been updated to remove the Washington team's now-retired name, widely acknowledged as offensive, and a photo that included a helmet with the team's now-retired logo.

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About the Expert(s)

Henry C. Boyd is a Clinical Professor in the Marketing Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is also a managing director and principal at Ombudsman LLC, a diversified consultancy. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

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