Losing money, not criticism from the White House or public, probably is the only consequence that would prompt Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change his football team’s nickname, according to a brand specialist who helped create Outlook for Microsoft and Escalade for Cadillac.
National Football League officials met for about an hour today in New York with leaders of the Oneida Indian Nation, which called for Commissioner Roger Goodell to refer Snyder to the league’s executive committee for possible sanctions if the owner continues to promote what the group considers a slur.
Ray Halbritter, the Oneida, New York-based tribe’s chief executive officer, has called the team’s nickname a racial epithet on the same level as the most vicious used against blacks.
“We were somewhat disappointed, to put it mildly, that they continued to defend their use of the slur,” Halbritter said after the meeting. “It really does require us to redouble our efforts.”
Snyder has said repeatedly he won’t change the nickname, and that it honors Native Americans. The Washington Post said he and Goodell met yesterday, with the owner reiterating his intent to keep the name Redskins.
Brannon M. Cashion, global president of the brand development company Addison Whitney, said the decision is directly tied to the bottom line of a franchise that’s on par with the most popular teams in the most-watched U.S. sport.
“If there’s not a business reason to do it, I can see why it’s going through his head -- ‘Tell me why I should do it,’” Cashion, 43, said in a telephone interview from his office in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Companies don’t change their names because everything is going great.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail the league wouldn’t confirm the Post report and that Goodell “meets or talks with owners almost every day.” Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment on the report or whether Snyder would attend today’s meeting with the Oneida Nation.
After today’s meeting, the NFL issued a statement saying “the meeting was part of an ongoing dialogue to facilitate listening and learning, consistent with the commissioner’s comments earlier this year.”
“We listened and respectfully discussed the views of Mr. Halbritter, Oneida Nation Wolf Clan representative Keller George and their colleagues as well as the sharply differing views of many other Native Americans and fans in general,” the NFL said in its statement.
Snyder paid a record $800 million in 1999 for the team he cheered for as a kid. Buoyed by the popularity of second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Redskins are worth $1.7 billion, third most in the 32-team NFL, according to Forbes.
Griffin had the league’s fifth best-selling jersey through Oct. 11, while the Redskins rank 10th in merchandise sales, according to the NFL. Merchandise revenue is shared equally. Washington made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007 and is 2-5 this year, with Griffin returning from knee surgery.
Cashion, whose company’s clients include Microsoft Corp., Carnival Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co., said it’s impossible to pinpoint how much the Redskins’ brand is worth because there are too many factors, including the size of a team’s fan base, where they’re located and how loyal they are.
The Redskins play at FedEx Field, whose 91,704 seats are listed by the league as the most for any NFL team. There is a waitlist for season tickets at the stadium in Landover, Maryland, just outside the U.S. capital city. Among those who advocate a re-examination of the team’s nickname is the area’s highest-profile resident.
U.S. President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black chief executive, said in an interview with the Associated Press this month that if he owned the Redskins he would consider changing the nickname.
“I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things,” Obama said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic congresswoman from California who grew up in Maryland, said in an interview with thehill.com, a website that covers Capitol Hill, that it “probably would be a good idea” if the team changed its name.
Pelosi said one of the first songs she learned was “Hail to the Redskins,” the team’s fight song, which contains the lyric, “Braves on the warpath, fight for old D.C.”
“I didn’t have the faintest idea what I was saying, but I’ve known it forever,” Pelosi was quoted by the website two days ago as saying.
In May, 10 members of Congress sent a letter to Snyder asking for a new name. Former Federal Communications Commission executives this month sent a letter to Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, asking her to convene a forum with broadcasters on whether they should impose their own rules about using the term. Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, News Corp.’s Fox, Comcast Corp.’s NBC and CBS Corp.’s CBS have contracts totaling about $4 billion this year to show NFL games.
Snyder, in a letter to the team’s fans on Oct. 9, referred to memories of his first Redskins game and his affinity for the club’s history.
“Our past isn’t just where we came from -- it’s who we are,” he wrote.
The franchise started as the Boston Braves in 1932 and became the Redskins the following year.
“On that inaugural Redskins team, four players and our head coach were Native Americans,” Snyder said in the letter. “The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”
Amy Trask, a former chief executive officer of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and now a CBS Sports analyst, said money shouldn’t be the deciding factor on whether Snyder sacks the team’s name.
“This is not a decision that should be entirely economically based,” Trask said in an interview with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television’s ‘Bottom Line.’ “It really is quite simple. It’s a derogatory slur, and the NFL knows better than to perpetuate this.”
Trask said Goodell could have all teams share the cost of changing the name, a total that Brett Yormark, chief executive officer of basketball’s Brooklyn Nets, said may reach millions of dollars. The NFL had almost $10 billion in revenue last season.
A change also could be an economic boon if the team’s fans buy new merchandise.
“Interesting question: Would collectors and die-hard fans load up or would sales dry up immediately,” asked Richard Peddie, the former CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which governs hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and basketball’s Toronto Raptors.
Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida Nation, said his group conducted a survey in the Washington area this month that showed 73 percent of fans indicated a name change wouldn’t weaken their support of the team.
“There is no financial set of negative consequences for moving forward with a name change,” he said in an e-mail.
Goodell first backed the Redskins name in a letter to Congress, then told a Washington sports talk radio station that the issue needed more consideration.
In addition to possible sanctions against Snyder, the Oneida Nation called today for a meeting with NFL owners during the Super Bowl, a visit from Snyder to Oneida homelands and an amendment to league bylaws that prohibits naming teams with dictionary-defined racial slurs. The tribe also provided the league with a list of editorial boards, news organizations and politicians that have called for a name change.
College athletic programs have changed their Indian-inspired nicknames and mascots, including Miami University of Ohio, where the sports teams during the 1997-98 season became the Redhawks after more than a century as the Redskins. The National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2005 banned the use of American Indian mascots during its postseason tournaments and said schools that violated the policy can’t host NCAA championship-related events. It didn’t otherwise bar Indian nicknames or mascots.
Cashion, the branding executive, said it’s unlikely a name change would hurt the Redskins’ revenue.
“I don’t want to call it interchangeable, but I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of fans say, ‘I’m done,’” he said. “The equity they’ve got is beyond the name. It’s the years of following.”