The Business Case for Changing the Name of the Washington Redskins

Redskins fans cheer against the Dallas Cowboys Photograph by Larry French/Getty Images

Earlier this week, 10 members of Congress sent a letter to Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder asking him to change the name of his football team because it’s a racial slur against American Indians. It’s a good argument, but apparently not compelling to Snyder, who has vowed never to budge on the team’s name. Setting aside the offense to millions of people, Snyder is missing an opportunity for profit. “I think in the worst case it would be a break-even over a three- to five-year period,” says Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor Associates, the branding shop that helped Andersen Consulting make the switch to Accenture. “The financial excuse is not a good excuse.” Here is how a name change could be a good thing for the franchise:

1. It makes news. The reason companies usually avoid name changes is because they lose the associations consumers have with the old brand and then have to pay to build up awareness for the new one. This is not a problem for the Redskins. Washington is one of 32 teams in the most popular league in the country: Nobody is going to wonder where the franchise went. “If the Redskins decide to change their name,” says Derrick Daye, managing partner of branding consultant the Blake Project, “no matter what day of the week they did, it’s going to be the top news.” This is free media—and better than the kind the team is getting now. “It creates news,” Adamson says. “It creates interest. It will draw people in.”

2. Angry fans will still be fans. Sure, a big part of that news would be fans complaining about the betrayal of the team’s heritage and the lameness of the new name, no matter what it is. Some will swear they will never watch the team again. They’ll be bluffing. “If [the Redskins] do this, they are going to get people going ballistic on Facebook, but they are not going to have an empty stadium,” Adamson says. “Memories are short when you are in a monopoly market.”

3. It’s new stuff to sell. The Redskins profited from novelty last season when rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III set a jersey sales record. A new name is another way to keep fans coming back to update their jerseys, sweatshirts, and seat covers. “You want to have a point of difference to give a reason to purchase,” says Pete Canalichio, who specializes in licensing at the Blake Project. “This is a great way of doing that.” The Redskins have to share their merchandise bounty with the rest of the NFL, which limits the gain but also limits the risk. “The downside is also protected if they sell 10 fewer hats,” says Adamson.

4. And old stuff to sell. When the NBA’s Washington Bullets changed their name to the Wizards in 1997, the organization said it was because of the old name’s association with gang violence. That hasn’t stopped the team from selling throwback Bullets gear. The Redskins could do the same. As soon as the old team-branded products officially became a piece of history, there would be intense demand. “The price of the old merchandise will go way up on EBay,” says Adamson. The team could sit it out at first, to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy, and then wade in after the story dies down. “You can make the argument that it’s not really critical that [the team] stop [selling], because it’s going to be out there anyway,” Canalichio says.

5. It’s a fresh start. “The reason you change a name in the business world is to say, We’ve got a new story to tell,” Adamson says. “It’s a signal that says, Take another look at us. We’re new and improved.” The Redskins haven’t won a Super Bowl in 22 years. Signaling a new beginning might not be a bad idea. And a name change leaves plenty of room for continuity of the brand. “It can still be maroon. It can still be yellow. It might even still have a feather,” Adamson says. “You could even still maybe have a picture of a Native American if you wanted.”