As Washington weighs its options for a replacement of ‘Redskins’ as the team name, there are several factors the team has to consider.
The most pressing issue is to please the sponsors who put pressure on the team to change the name in the first place, in turn appeasing the people offended by the current name. In doing so, the team also stands to gain new fans. But in deciding to adopt a new moniker, Washington may cause resentment in current fans, many of whom have supported for decades and don’t want the name to change at all.
Those fans likely feel a sense of abandonment, as if the team is choosing money and a different set of consumers over them. And the hard truth is that they’re probably right. According to Whitney Wagoner, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at University of Oregon, the direction Washington chooses may very well come down to what pleases fans of the future.
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“My view is that this is about the future fan base, and this is about future audiences,” said Wagoner, who spent seven years in different corporate marketing positions with the NFL. “I think there’s no doubt that the current fans don’t want it to be changed, but if I’m running a business, I need to understand where my consumer base for the next 40 years is gonna fall on this question. And that’s where I would make my decision.”
Looking at current consumers in contrast to those of the past could give some insight into what Washington needs its brand to represent going forward. Even before recent protests for social justice, it was clear that people care more about the core values of the businesses they support than people did in the past. Now, it’s even more apparent.
“Any business person has to play the long game. And the way that young consumers of any product in this country are behaving, they expect that companies they spend their money with have the kinds of values and beliefs that align with their personal values,” Wagoner said. “I spend all day every day with 20-year-old kids on a college campus, and they absolutely want to know what are the corporate values of these companies I’m giving my money to? If that company doesn’t align with their personal values, they are straight up not gonna spend with that company. And that’s not how it’s always been.”
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For some, Washington’s name and logo have been a reflection of poor company values, no matter what the team may or may not have been doing behind the scenes. Many people view ‘Redskin’ as derogatory towards Native Americans, and team owner Dan Snyder’s resistance to changing the name further cemented a negative view of those values. It took for investors to approach team sponsors like FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo, and those sponsors to put pressure on the team, for change to begin. And now, not even two weeks later, the team is expected to change its name in the coming days, according to a report.
“And so that’s the future of consumerism in this country, period, for Coca-Cola, for Nike, for Federal Express, for the National Football League, for anybody,” Wagoner said. “And so in my view, you have to play the long game, and if that means that in the short term you have a few thousand season-ticket holders for professional football in Washington say they’re not gonna renew, OK. OK. Because I am worried about who’s gonna be in my building for the next 40 years, and those people really care about this question.”
If Washington, with its new brand, wants to convince young and future consumers that its values are more aligned with their own than previously thought, the team may look to distance itself as far as possible from the current Redskins name and imagery. But Snyder’s defiance in the past could paint the move as a money-saving, public relations stunt. That’s where the team may look for a compromise to placate current fans.
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It's been reported that the new look won't have Native American imagery, but the burgundy and gold color scheme will remain. Creating new fans, while not completely turning off its current base is the conundrum Washington is faced with.
In developing an image, Wagoner said the general rule of thumb for a sports franchise is to tap into elements of a city or region that are relevant with how the people in that area identify themselves. Still, she is convinced Washington’s best plan of attack is to do so with an eye on the future.
“The tricky part is you want to distance yourself from elements that are painful and negative, while embracing the things that are positive and good, with a wholly forward-looking lens. And there’s no doubt that’s difficult,” Wagoner said. “But people have done it, and with all due respect to whatever the current fanbase feels and thinks, any business person will tell you -- especially given the average age and demography of the National Football League fan base -- they’ve gotta make a decision from what is healthy 40 years from now. And that’s not gonna be the answer that the current fans want, but that’s how that is.”
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