But there’s a prevailing thought that as fans update their wardrobes, shop for Christmas gifts and finally replace jerseys and other Washington Redskins gear, changing the team name ultimately would be a lucrative move for team owner Daniel Snyder.
While Snyder probably won’t absorb all of the costs associated with the rebranding expected to come after the team announced it was launching a review into the Redskins’ name, any windfall associated with the change could be nominal. That is because of revenue-sharing among NFL owners, but it is also contingent upon how quickly the fan base embraces the new look, according to economists, branding consultants and club officials familiar with such makeovers.
A new name could result in a seven- or eight-figure bump in revenue for team and league coffers, but the unprecedented nature of the expected name change and rushed execution complicates any financial forecasting. Multiple people close to the situation say the team could be days or weeks away from announcing a change, which means it would rebrand a multibillion-dollar enterprise without the extensive polling and focus groups that typically precede such moves. Further, even team officials will have a difficult time predicting how its fan base, already divided on the issue, will react.
At the very least, regardless of any potential economic boost, a rebranding will be a financial win compared with the alternative, said David Carter, an associate professor of sports business at USC’s Marshall School of Business. With the team’s largest corporate sponsors speaking out, the franchise stood to lose money by sticking with the longtime name and logo.
“If it costs you seven figures to go through a rebrand but your naming-rights partner wants to take you to court or your pouring-rights partner says they’re pulling out . . . the economics of it are no longer tenable,” Carter said.
Winning back the fans
The biggest uptick in revenue would come from merchandising and fans who are eager to buy gear featuring a new logo. But for any NFL club, that is at best the fourth-most-important revenue stream behind television rights, ticket sales and corporate sponsors — and Snyder sees only a fraction of merchandising dollars. Because the NFL doesn’t readily share financial information, it’s difficult to say how much money this amounts to.
If a fan buys a jersey on Amazon or walks into a Walmart to nab a new cap, the league’s cut — estimated at 10 to 15 percent of the wholesale price — is then divided 32 ways, among every NFL owner. However, Snyder receives a greater share of sales made directly with the team, whether it’s from the organization’s website or the team store at FedEx Field, and doesn’t share that income with his fellow owners.
Whether there is an increase in gear sold by the team will depend largely on how the fan base reacts to a new name and logo. While many say the team can expect an uptick in sales, it’s possible that initial spike is somewhat more subdued than what other teams experienced when they rebranded, tweaked logos or updated colors.
Aside from the name issue, Washington’s attendance has dwindled in recent years as a frustrated fan base felt alienated by the on-field product and front-office decisions. While the arrival of new head coach Ron Rivera could draw fans back into the fold, a significant portion of the remaining fan base probably will cling to the old name and could resist — at least initially — the new name. It could take a year or two before those fans start updating the hats and jerseys in their sports closets.
“Whatever happens will not make everybody happy,” USC’s Carter said.
Carter says that for fans, the issue doesn’t simply disappear with a news conference unveiling a new logo. Many will continue wearing the old gear, which will mean the team and its fan base will continue to wrestle with what they collectively find appropriate.
“Will there now be a move afoot to disallow any longtime season ticket holder from wearing it into the building, like the Confederate flag at a NASCAR [race]?” Carter asked of the old logo. “It’s not as if you change the name and this all goes away.”
‘Keep a connection’
If the team wins some games, sports business insiders say the new name and logo would grow on people. Not only would merchandise start moving faster, but the team could see a secondary revenue bump in the form of increased ticket sales. To get to that point, both the club and league first will have to swallow some heavy expenses.
The trademark process can be cumbersome and involve lengthy vetting and pricey lawyer fees. The league often has done a significant amount of hand-holding in the past when teams seek major changes to their look, even absorbing some of the legal costs and consultant fees, according to two people who have been a part of the process.
One veteran front-office official said most of the items for the upcoming season have already been produced, from the cups sold at concession stands to the sports apparel in the gift shop. With last week’s announcement that the Redskins are reviewing the controversial name, anything with that logo is probably doomed for discount stores and bargain bins. In fact, Nike pulled all of its Redskins gear from its online store, with Amazon, Target and Walmart joining them in ending sales of anything featuring the logo.
“Think of all the product that’s already been produced with the logo on it, all the merchandise for the new season,” the official said. “It’s already being processed, and they have to undo what’s out there, reissue a whole bunch of stuff.”
Because there’s so little precedent for an urgent overhaul, it’s not clear who would shoulder the financial burden for these missed sales and sunk costs. Some suggest the NFL, to support its relationships with its licensees and help expedite the change, probably would help.
The NFL will be monitoring fan response closely. Most new names are associated with league expansion or franchise relocation, and there has never been a change quite like this in American professional sports, in which fan loyalty and the intrinsic connectedness to a franchise have been challenged in such a visceral way.
Michael Lewis, a business professor and the faculty director at Emory University’s Marketing Analytics Center, said the closest comparison is in the college ranks, which have seen schools such as Illinois, Syracuse, Stanford and St. John’s change their logos, names and mascots over the years. He has studied the impact on fan attendance and team revenue and said, “You don’t see any residual damage to the sports brands of those schools.” He found an insignificant effect on revenue immediately following a name change, followed by a positive trend in subsequent years.
Even for those who resist the change, Lewis found that “when those teams go back on the field and they continue to win and continue to perform, the fans always come back."
But one key is keeping those fans invested in the franchise. That’s why many suspect that even if the team moves away from Native American imagery, it will retain the familiar burgundy and gold colors.
“The effort has got to be almost a half-step that enables the connection to continue and minimizes the disruption,” Lewis said. “If you suddenly turn into the Red Tails or Red Wolves, some will say, ‘I’m not a fan of this organization — I don’t know anything about it.' The trick … is trying to preserve as much of that equity as possible. … The Redskins are unique in that they have to blow up some of the history because there’s been so much negativity, but they still want to keep a connection to the Hogs and some of the championship teams and all the good memories fans have.”
Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.