During my career in the sports world I’ve worked for the Philadelphia 76ers, Maryland Arrows, Washington Diplomats, Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors, Vancouver-Memphis Grizzlies, San Francisco 49ers, and Salt Lake City Screaming Eagles. But the only controversy over a team name among all those stops was the Grizzlies. More on that in a bit.
On July 13 and less than two weeks after the Washington (insert name here) franchise of the National Football League said it would conduct a “thorough review” of the Redskins moniker, the team announced that 87 years of history will come to an end.
“Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo,” the team said. “Owner Daniel Snyder and coach Ron Rivera are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition-rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years.”
No matter what the new name turns out to be, it will be debated from sea to shining sea. And forget about 100 years! They should be focused on the next 100 days.
In the best of circumstances, it can take a year or more to work out all the details of a name, logo, color, and emotional components of developing a new team identity. But the color of the fluid that runs through the veins of sports is green as the Redskins have found out all too clearly, in turn greatly accelerating that typical timetable.
FedEx founder and chairman Fred Smith, who also owns a minority stake in the team, was among several corporate heavyweights to tell Dan Snyder the time for change is absolutely now.
It is a bit ironic that the FedEx logo has a subliminal arrow between the e and x. FedEx committed $205m in 1999 for a 27-year stadium naming rights deal. But without a team name change FedEx was going to send the deal packing, and Smith is among the team’s junior shareholders to look to sell their interests.
My questions to Mr. Snyder and Coach Rivera are:
- What national experts on branding and crisis management are you working with?
- Who at the NFL is your direct report on this rebranding work? Who in the NFL will have final say on your new direction?
- What law firm is handling your trademark issues? What law firm will be handling the lawsuits coming your way on the name change issue?
- How many fan and corporate sponsor focus groups will you be holding and who is running them? Will you be sharing those results with the media and your fanbase?
- How will you utilize all the millions of dollars of merchandise with your old logos attached?
- Who will be the official spokesperson for the change in name?
- What percentage of coach Rivera’s time be spent on the name change?
- Have you had a conversation with anyone at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the more than 500 tribal councils they represent on their views of your new look?
- What will the team do when fans continue to wear Washington Redskins merchandise to the games including headdresses or other Indian paraphernalia?
- What will your uniforms look like until the new program is installed?
When the National Basketball Association’s Vancouver Grizzlies moved from Canada to Memphis, Tennessee, in 2001 it became the first NBA franchise to move south across an international border. At the time I was the team’s president of business operations.
Grizzly bears in British Columbia, sure. Grizzly bears in Memphis, no. I’m not sure there’s ever been a grizzly at the Memphis Zoo.
There were a number of other potential team names we thought were going to be high on our fans’ list, including Hound Dogs, Elvii (a nod to the late music star and local icon Elvis Presley), Qs for BBQ, Blues, and Sounds. We talked to our soon-to-be-new fans and were astounded that the majority wanted Grizzlies. It was their team and they didn’t want the name changed. Nearly twenty years later, the roar can still be heard from FedExForum as team mascot “Grizz,” a blue bear, excites the fans with dunks off of a trampoline.
The situation of the Washington (insert name here) franchise is incredibly more complicated than our situation, no doubt owing in part to the racial issues inherent to the Redskins identity. The new look and name of the franchise is going to be bounced around from coast to coast in the weeks, months, and years to come.
What name have you (inserted?). Let Dan and Ron know what you think at redskins.com. It seems that address hasn’t changed yet.