Even after the monumental task of deciding on a new name, the undertaking would be multifaceted and wide-ranging. Rebranding the franchise would include securing numerous trademarks, designing new logos and uniforms and replacing everything from stadium signage to paper tickets. Changing the name would entail a cluster of minute details, massive choices and unrelenting logistical headaches.
The legal process alone would take months, not weeks. One veteran NFL club official who has been through a rebranding said the process of simply picking a new logo should take 18 months. One sports branding consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he works with NFL teams, said renaming a franchise would take two years of planning.
“I guess they could do it [in about two months] if they had to, but generally it’s a big process,” the consultant said. “I would take time and launch it after the 2020 season. I don’t even know if you could physically do all that work in time.”
But it’s growing harder to doubt the work will be done. Multiple people familiar with the NFL’s inner workings believe the change is inevitable. On Friday, under pressure from major sponsors including FedEx and Nike, Washington announced it would conduct a “thorough review” of its nickname, which many consider to be a slur of Native Americans. On Monday, Target and Walmart pulled merchandise branded with the name from online stores, and Bud Light, another major NFL sponsor, said through a spokesman it was “encouraged” by Washington’s vow to review the name.
Meanwhile, President Trump indicated he would be critical of a change, tweeting that the Redskins and baseball’s Cleveland Indians, who also announced they will review their use of Native American iconography, would be bowing to political correctness if they switched names.
Assuming Washington ends up changing the name, the franchise would inherently feel pressure to complete the process in time for the season, which is slated to begin Sept. 10. It would be problematic to publicly determine a nickname is racially insensitive and then play under that name. But finding a new name and turning it from concept to reality would be a risky move in about two months.
“The preferable way to do it would be to build it all out and flip the switch,” said Matt Williams, who was the Washington Wizards’ vice president of communications when they changed names from the Bullets over a two-year process in the 1990s. “In this case, I could see them feeling some pressure to get it changed as quickly as possible.”
The NFL club official suggested Washington could play the 2020 season in generic, burgundy-and-gold uniforms and then choose a new name and brand after the season. But Williams suggested that would leave all parties unsatisfied.
“That would start getting confusing,” Williams said. “That’s when you hear people say, ‘What do you want us to call you?’ … I would say to either wait or flip it right away. That in-between, I don’t think it benefits anybody.”
The first step would be picking a name, a process that Washington has seemingly already started. Rivera said this weekend that he and owner Daniel Snyder have discussed new names, and that Rivera likes two of them as strong possibilities. Typically, that process would involve the league, apparel companies and focus groups. Franchises lean on consulting firms to develop a story behind the name that can create a new identity to energize fans.
The name would presumably lead to the creation of intellectual property — the design of a new logo, which would also mean a new secondary logo and possibly a new font. For the name itself and all the associated marks, the franchise would need to research established trademarks to make sure there are no conflicts and then file for its own trademarks.
“Those steps are not legally complex,” said Maurice Suh, a sports lawyer at Gibson Dunn. But they take months to complete, Tulane University Sports Law Program director Gabe Feldman said, and can be complicated by several factors. Squatters have attempted to claim website domain names and trademarks for potential names. Their legal rights to those names may be flimsy because their use of them is questionable, Feldman said, but it’s often more efficient and cost-effective to settle with them than fight them in court.
The franchise would also have to amend contracts with sponsors and vendors who agreed to do business with or use the logo of a team named the Redskins. Even if those parties have no issues, there are a lot of contracts and they take time to review.
“There’s a lot of unwinding to do,” Feldman said. “Some of it will be beyond their control. This will not be an inexpensive venture in terms of the trademark and creating a new logo and creating a new brand. It would be expensive for any company, much less a company as popular and in the public eye as much as the Washington football team.”
Outside experts did say it’s feasible the league has already laid some groundwork for the change, which could expedite the overhaul. In a statement Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league and the team had been in discussion over the previous few weeks.
Once legal barriers are cleared, the change would present an avalanche of logistical hurdles, both large and small. The franchise is headquartered at 21300 Redskin Park Drive. FedEx Field is covered in the name and the logo. Staffers have nearly completed a roughly 500-page media guide with the current nickname plastered all over it.
“If you take a look at each department, everything they do is going to get changed by it, whether it’s the envelopes or the stationery or the signage in the ballpark,” said Rick Vaughn, a Tampa Bay Rays communications executive when they changed from Devil Rays.
But those and other problems — including coaches, players and media members mistakenly referring to the old nickname long after there’s a new one — don’t mean Washington will face intense scrutiny for changing its name.
“The reality is, this is such a remarkable time,” Suh said. “That the sport and the teams are recognizing the importance of making sure that the sports institutions in this country are recognizing and valuing everyone appropriately is a moment. I think unlike the issues that came up several years ago when there was a discussion about the Redskins changing their name, it’s a different time. It will not be a big or complex step for most fans.”
Rick Maese, Les Carpenter and Mark Maske contributed to this report.