From the moment Washington’s NFL team announced Monday morning that it would “retire” the name Redskins at the conclusion of an internal review, the clock started on the announcement of a new name.
“They have to do it soon because of the uniforms,” that person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations.
Which means team owner Daniel Snyder has two weeks to complete a process that most corporations take a minimum of two months to finish.
“Wow,” said Lea Chu, group director of naming at global branding firm Siegel+Gale.
Chu and fellow group director Aaron Hall help big companies do exactly what Washington is scrambling to achieve: They recast organizations with new names, looks and approaches. And while Chu and Hall have worked quickly on corporate naming projects, neither has moved as fast as Washington’s NFL team apparently is trying to go.
“I will be curious to see how they do it,” Hall said, adding that the team picking and vetting a name and navigating trademark issues in that little time “will be one for the history books.”
Little is known about Washington’s review process, which has been kept mostly secret since it was announced July 3, a day after top sponsor FedEx sent a letter to a team attorney saying the company would terminate its stadium naming deal and cancel the $45 million left on the contract if Washington didn’t change its name.
Two people familiar with the review said Snyder is relying heavily on a small group of advisers that includes Coach Ron Rivera. Aside from Monday’s name retirement announcement, the most revealing details have come from Rivera, who said in a July 4 interview that he and Snyder have been discussing the team’s name since May. Rivera also said he and Snyder have talked about replacement names, including two that Rivera really likes.
Chu and Hall, who are not working with Snyder and haven’t heard of any companies in their industry who are, emphasized that the team should work carefully and deliberately to get the new name right. Both said the organization needs to have people working to smooth over potential trademark issues and ask a broad and diverse group of people to suggest potential names and react to the final possibilities. The franchise needs to be sure a favored name will not be problematic, they said, especially given the way the current name is being retired after decades of protest that it is a racial slur toward Native Americans.
One of the people familiar with Washington’s name review said Snyder worries possible new names or logos could leak if he involves too many outside opinions, and therefore he wants to keep the process as tight as possible. Chu and Hall said they understood such concerns, but the team must call in Native American leaders, asking them to sign nondisclosure agreements if necessary, to give feedback on the name possibilities.
Rivera said in the July 4 interview that he wanted to speak to both Native American groups and the military to be sure the new name honored both, but it is unclear whether the team has done so.
“It’s important to have a story of how many voices have been included,” Hall said, adding that it is essential to be able to tell the public how the team came up with the replacement name “so you don’t say, ‘Here is our new name, because we had to change it.’ ”
When Snyder is ready to reveal the new name, Chu and Hall said the team needs to plan the unveiling carefully, advising against an emailed news release and Twitter post as the team did in announcing its name retirement Monday. They instead suggested a release ceremony for the new name and logo — with Snyder, who has been out of the country for much of the past three months, speaking at the event.
Mostly, though, they cautioned against rushing into a decision. Both said there is nothing wrong with holding off on an announcement, perhaps saying the team will be called the “Washington Football Club” on a temporary basis, as one person with knowledge of the situation suggested as a possibility Monday. The most important thing, Chu and Hall said, is that the team gets this process right.
“The worst thing,” Chu said, “would be that you have to change it again.”
Mark Maske contributed to this report.
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