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Nearly half of Washingtonians don’t like Commanders name, Post poll finds

Fans scour through new Commanders merchandise at the team store following the franchise's unveiling of a new name and logo. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Washington hasn’t warmed up to the Commanders just yet.

According to a citywide Washington Post poll, close to half of D.C. residents have a negative view of the team’s new name, with 32 percent disliking it and 17 percent saying they “hate” it.

Four out of 10 residents are positive about the new name, but their positive feelings toward the change are soft, with only 5 percent claiming to “love” the Commanders and 36 percent saying they “like” the new name. Eleven percent say they have no opinion of the name.

Of the three names the team has had since 1933, a 43 percent plurality of D.C. residents say they prefer Washington Football Team, compared with 26 percent who favor the Commanders and 22 percent who say they prefer the Redskins. Five percent say they favor another name, and another 5 percent have no opinion.

For decades, Washington’s name was denounced and even elicited protests from those who thought Redskins was racist and insensitive to Native Americans. Owner Daniel Snyder, who purchased the team in 1999, insisted repeatedly he would “never” change the name. But in the summer of 2020, as the broader national discussion about race intensified and after many of Washington’s top sponsors threatened to cut ties with the team over its name, it retired the Redskins name and logo and announced it would be the Washington Football Team until it found its new long-term identity.

The Commanders name and logo were officially revealed Feb. 2. The Post poll is the first formal survey of local residents since the announcement and captures Washington’s initial reaction to the team name. It was based on a random sample of 904 D.C. residents and was conducted between Feb. 2 and Feb. 14 over landlines and cellphones. The overall margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

“There are plenty of people who will say, ‘I’ll get used to it,’ ” said Grant Paulsen, a host on 106.7 the Fan in D.C. “That’s about the most positive I’ve heard. I don’t know that anyone loves it as a name. But you do get plenty of people who say, ‘Whatever, it’s a name; they’re all weird.’ The name Dolphins or the name Packers was weird at one point. Eventually, this won’t be weird.”

There were mixed reactions in the D.C. area on Feb. 2 after Washington’s NFL team revealed that it will now be known as the Commanders. (Video: Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post, Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

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As the Commanders kicked off a new era, the team was met with renewed interest from local officials, who two years earlier dangled a new stadium as a carrot for a name change.

Virginia’s House and Senate are working on legislative bills to lure the team to the commonwealth, with $1 billion in bonds to help finance a new stadium. Maryland lawmakers are forming a proposal to try to keep the Commanders in Landover, with hundreds of millions of dollars potentially earmarked for development around FedEx Field. And D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has publicly urged a return to the District.

But when asked about using city funds to help finance a football stadium for the Commanders, 67 percent of D.C. residents said they would oppose it while 30 percent say they would be in favor.

“I think the biggest reaction would be: ‘Daniel Snyder just bought a $50 million home. Why does he need taxpayers’ money?’ ” said John-Paul Flaim, a co-host on 106.7 the Fan’s morning show, “The Sports Junkies.”

A 2019 citywide Post poll found that while nearly 6 in 10 D.C. residents supported the team building a new stadium on the RFK site, which is owned by the federal government, it also found that a clear majority of residents opposed the city financing the stadium or building the stadium at all.

“We are not — and I would not suggest — that we finance a stadium,” Bowser said this month. She proposes the city take on a deal similar to its partnership with D.C. United during the construction of Audi Field, in which “we would get access to the land, prepare the land, and the team would have to fund and build their own stadium.”

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In 2019, 39 percent of D.C. residents supported providing land for a new football stadium, while 19 percent opposed providing land and another 33 percent opposed the new stadium entirely. D.C. residents also opposed providing funding to D.C. United in 2008 (60 percent) and 2014 (59 percent).

Although much of the early conversation around a new football stadium has centered on location — the District, Maryland or Virginia — Kevin Davis, a 56-year-old resident in Ward 4, said his priorities are accessibility, the cost to attend games and the financing to build a stadium.

“The public dole shouldn’t be used to subsidize billionaires, and that’s what generally happens with stadiums,” Davis said. “You end up floating bonds, and it’s the taxpayers that pay for it. Otherwise, extremely rich men hold cities hostage and say, ‘We’re going to move.’ ”

Current opposition to financing a new football stadium is much larger than the opposition to using city funds to help finance a baseball stadium in 2002 (47 percent opposed). But the city financing of Nationals Park, which opened in 2008, is more popular in hindsight, with a 2014 poll finding that 72 percent of residents said it was a “good investment.”

“Nationals Park is the ultimate success story as far as I’m concerned,” said Danny Rouhier, a lifelong D.C. resident and a host on 106.7 the Fan. “I don’t think the same criteria are going to apply to a football stadium from a guy with Dan Snyder’s track record. So I would love for it to be in Washington, D.C. — this is my home, and I love it here — but I don’t want taxpayers, including myself, to spend a single cent."

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Team officials said much of the 18-month rebranding process was devoted to research and legal sleuthing, trying to settle on a name that had significance to the fan base and one that wasn’t already trademarked. Commanders President Jason Wright, who led the team’s rebranding efforts, said its research revealed an “overwhelmingly positive” national response to the new name, yet he also has acknowledged many of the team’s “core fans” — in D.C. and beyond — opposed any sort of change.

“Within our core fans, it’s been mixed, and the context is that 80 percent of those fans didn’t want the name to be changed in the first place,” he said in an interview the day after the name reveal.

Kevin Sheehan a longtime sports talk radio host in D.C. currently on WTEM (980 AM), said he believes many fans have “checked out” because of the team’s persistent losing and scandal. For those who have hung around, the switch to Commanders may have been a bit jarring.

“I think the last two years have felt very interim and temporary,” he said. “The old name was gone, but there was nothing out there to kind of reinforce the reality that it was gone.”

Rebecca Silva, who lives in Ward 3, said she understood why the team needed to get rid of the Redskins name but said she liked Washington Football Team because it had a “cool, classic sounding name.” Others weren’t as sold on the temporary name.

“Calling it the Washington Football Team, I thought, was a cop-out,” Davis said. “It showed a lack of imagination. The Commanders is a fine name. They probably could’ve come up with something better, but they certainly had a chance to do worse.”

NFL hires former U.S. attorney, SEC chair to investigate Daniel Snyder and Commanders

As the Commanders begin to look even further into the future with discussions about a new stadium, many fans continually come back to the same gripes: The team has been embroiled in more investigations and scandals than it has had playoff appearances during Snyder’s ownership.

The NFL is investigating allegations of sexual harassment against Snyder that were made this month by Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing manager and cheerleader for the team. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the team’s workplace culture, which was previously investigated by Beth Wilkinson, a D.C. attorney.

Fan interest has waned, and the team’s average attendance at FedEx Field was among the league’s worst last season.

“The numbers, whether it’s the attendance or the television ratings, are really reflective of just how much this fan base has left,” Sheehan said. “… We see it every Sunday. In many ways, it’s become Jacksonville.”

Flaim believes there’s no separating negative feelings about the name change or potential city funding for a stadium from the mounting fan frustrations over the past two decades. “Nobody believes it’s going to be a home run because of the track record under Daniel Snyder,” he said.

Yet with time, Flaim conceded, the new name will eventually grow on fans.

“Winning cures all,” he said. “I do think two or three years from now people will be fine with Commanders.”

Scott Clement contributed to this report.