How to change the ‘Redskins’ name: Pay Dan Snyder off

November 26, 2013

Justin Moyer is on the staff of Outlook.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused good advice from diverse quarters on changing his team’s offensive name. He’s ignored the pleas of Native American tribes. He’s ignored President Obama and Post columnists Charles Krauthammer and Mike Wise . When protesters showed up in Minneapolis at the Redskins-Vikings game in early November, he ignored them, too.

After years of ineffective rallies, op-eds, lawsuits, House bills and D.C. Council hearingsabout this controversy, one remedy remains for those who want Snyder to change his mind:

Pay him off.

In an Octoberletter to fans, Snyder waxed eloquent about what the team means to him: “I still remember my first Redskins game. . . . I was only six, but I remember coming through the tunnel into the stands at RFK with my father, and immediately being struck by the enormity of the stadium and the passion of the fans all around me.”

If Snyder wants to play sentimental, he can go ahead. But he’s not running a national park. He is running a business that happens to be the NFL’s third-most-profitable franchise. And as a good businessman, he’d respond to financial incentives to change his brand.

The bill wouldn’t be small. Forbes magazine valued the Redskins, who earned $381 million in 2012, at $1.7 billion in August. National NFL merchandising is worth $3 billion per year, split evenly between the league’s 32 teams, save the Dallas Cowboys, who have their own deal. The Redskins’ annual share of this pot is about $100 million.

So, how much of the value of the team is tied up in tomahawks and headdresses?

“There’s no doubt that if they would change the Coca-Cola brand name, it would be a serious problem for the brand,” said David Haigh, founder of Brand Finance, a brand-valuation company hired by big names such as Shell, Heineken and Vodafone. “Every brand is different. The Redskins have a football stadium, a franchise and a team that people come to watch. That’s not going to change if you change the name.”

Changing the name could be more profitable than keeping it. If the Redskins backlash grows, removing merchandise with the R-word from circulation could mean more sales of team gear, not less, as customers embrace a new nickname and shell out for rebranded jerseys, T-shirts, coffee mugs and banners. (Snyder could even continue to sell Redskins merch, just as the Washington Wizards sell Bullets gear despite late owner Abe Pollin’s principled stand against the name.)

And whether the team becomes the Skins, as Krauthammer suggested, or the Red Clouds or the Pigskins, it will remain valuable because it plays in the nation’s capital, one of the wealthiest metro regions in America.

“They clearly have an extremely loyal fanbase willing to act as a permanent ATM,” said Patrick Hruby, a former reporter for ESPN.com who’s written about the Redskins brand for his blog Sports on Earth. “I’ve lived here for 20 years, and I find it hard to believe that even the most diehard fans of the franchise will say, ‘I’m not going to care about this team and root for this team because they have a different name.’ ”

In August, Forbes put the value of the Redskins brand — calculated as the team’s total value minus the value of its stadium, shared NFL revenue and value attributable to the lucrative Washington area market — at$145 million.

Let’s use this figure to start the bidding. No Kickstarter campaign has ever raised more than seven figures, let alone nine. So, unless activists such as Suzan Harjo want to try their luck on Indiegogo.com, additional money would have to be found elsewhere.

Where to look?

The D.C. Council denounced the name, but would it pass a much-loathed tax on, say, game-day liquor sales to build a kitty? Perhaps wealthy, politically correct Washingtonians reluctant to root for the Redskins could take up the slack. Or maybe not: According to a Washington Post poll, two-thirds of our city doesn’t think the name should be changed. Even sportscaster Bob Costas, who called the team’s name “a slur” and makes something like $5 million each year, couldn’t foot the bill.

No, name change advocates can’t rely on crowdfunding, bake sales and car washes. They need a billionaire.

Finding one wealthy person to help pay Snyder off is the most elegant solution to the Redskins stalemate. Given Washingtonians’ apathy, finding Mr. or Ms. Big avoids the messy collective action demanded by doomed boycotts or half-measures such as Wilson High School’s proposed ban on Redskins gear. Snyder, a billionaire himself, may prove receptive to a cash-on-the-barrel offer from an even more in­cred­ibly rich person.

According to Forbes, there are about 1,400 billionaires in the world. Who would step up?

Unfortunately, there’s no marquee Native American Croesus. Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Indian nation flush with New York gaming revenue who’s spoken out against Snyder, recently denied that he’s a billionaire. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Saudi magnate Walid bin Talal don’t seem to have the Skins on their radars. Given her close relationship with Obama, Oprah Winfrey might be a good candidate — then again, her OWN network only recently began turning a profit, and she declined a chance to promote the Affordable Care Act.

What about new Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos? A petition is already circulating urging him to ban the use of the term in these pages.

I know: The idea of bribing a wealthy NFL overlord to do something he should do anyway will bring critics of the name no small amount of psychological suffering.

Big deal. Suffering is what political change is all about. Under this scheme, Redskins fans don’t need to stage sit-ins, endure beatings or go to war. Those who want to make a difference have it easy — they’ll just need to open their wallets.

Paying to change the Redskins’ name would be less a political act than a consumer choice: not marching on Washington but coughing up more to drink Coca-Cola out of a bottle instead of a can.

Snyder has responded to emotional arguments about his team’s name — Change this name because it hurts us — with an emotional argument of his own: Changing this name will hurt me and my team’s fans.

But what if an organized group of Pigskins advocates — plus a wealthy donor — came to him with a substantial payoff that proved that their hurt was bigger than his? What if they sweated to raise a massive sum, then humbled themselves before Snyder and were willing to fork over the cash in exchange for a promise?

How could Snyder turn them down?

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Justin Moyer is deputy editor of the Morning Mix.
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