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SEC blocks FedEx shareholder vote on naming-rights deal


As the opposition to the name of the Washington NFL franchise continues, the federal government has blocked an effort to cancel the naming-rights deal at the stadium where the team plays.

Via Mark Holan of the Washington Business Journal, the Securities and Exchange Commission has concluded that FedEx is not required to permit shareholder discussion and vote on the question of whether the company is suffering “reputational damage from its association with the Washington, D.C., NFL franchise.” The SEC ruled that the issue falls within the “ordinary business” of the company, making it beyond the scope of shareholder approval or action.

The request for consideration of the issue came from, among others, The Oneida Trust of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Calvert Investments, Boston Common Asset Management, Walden Asset Management, and Trillium Asset Management.

“We regret that FedEx is censoring our effort to promote an open and productive discussion amongst FedEx shareholders on this critically important issue,” Brandon Stevens of the Oneida Tribe told Holan via email. “It’s not too late for FedEx and CEO Fred Smith to do the right thing. They should demonstrate their commitment to diversity and respect for Native American culture and tradition by taking a stand against this racist team name and at the very least allow the proposal to move forward.”

Stevens added that “this issue is not going away,” and that action will be taken from the floor of the shareholder meeting in September.

FedEx CEO Fred Smith, who also owns a minority share of the team, previously has declined to disclose his personal views as to whether the name of the team should change. His own views likely don’t matter in this specific instance. FedEx has purchased the naming rights for the stadium well into the future. It’s unlikely that owner Daniel Snyder would ever agree to let the company walk away from the deal -- unless, of course, another company would be willing to pay more to take the place of FedEx.

It remains to be seen whether any effort to boycott or otherwise pressure FedEx takes root as football season approaches. While it’s a given that ongoing efforts will be directed at the team and the league, the movement could soon result in more direct challenges to those who do business with the franchise, including the 31 other owners who partially share in the revenues generated by merchandise bearing the team’s name.