It's been several weeks since the Washington Football Team announced it was retiring its former name and logo after more than 80 years. Ever since FedEx became the first known sponsor to formally ask Washington to change its name, fans have taken to social media to voice some of their favorites among potential replacements. I spoke with several marketing experts about a few of the fan-generated names, and will use their responses to make a case for some of the most popular suggestions. This is the case for a DC-themed name.
Case for: Washington, D.C.
If there was one sentiment most common amongst the marketing experts interviewed for this project, it was that the Washington Football Team’s best option for a new name is something related to the city the team plays in.
This opinion wasn’t specific to Washington, D.C., as the experts cited other sports teams with great brands related to the city they represent, but the experts did cite the unique opportunities D.C. provides for a brand.
“The general rule of thumb for sports franchise branding is to tap into the elements of a city, a geography, a people that is highly relevant, highly aligned with how people in that area identify themselves,” said Whitney Wagoner, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at University of Oregon. “The Pittsburgh Steelers are called the Pittsburgh Steelers for a reason. And that identity, that industry, working class, blue collar, hard hat kind’ve imagery really speaks emotionally to people in that city. And that is the strength of that connection, and that’s the strength of that brand. So, in general, you want to find things that really best represent the culture and the people and the uniqueness of that city, of that region.
“And so what are those things in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area about people from there? What is to be from there? And the more you can align and tap into those things, conventional wisdom says the stronger that connection, the better the fan base connection will be.”
If done correctly, the Washington Football Team should be able strengthen an already loyal fan base by picking a name based on its city. Tapping into the region is a way to not only pacify some of the fans upset about a name change, but also gain new fans in the people who were not so fond of the previous brand. Doing it correctly, however, will take time, which is why it was wise for the team to temporarily change its name to Washington Football Team for this upcoming season.
Fans have tossed around names like the Senators, Generals and Monuments, but the marketing experts don’t like any of those to win people over. The Washington Senators already existed as the city’s Major League Baseball team until the franchise relocated in 1961. The Washington Generals still exist, but as the frequent lovable losers to the Harlem Globetrotters. And the Monuments, according to RedPeg Marketing CEO Brad Nierenberg, don’t have much energy.
“They’re not gonna be a name that is gonna create energy,” Nierenberg said. “That passion, it doesn’t evoke the type of emotion that a fan base is gonna be rallying around.”
Tim Derdenger, associate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, said a name like the Monuments would become a running joke. But according to his research, if the right name does exist for the team to connect its brand to the city, that is the direction the team should go.
“I did some analysis of that,” Derdenger said, “and what I’ve found is that teams that actually have a connection -- the team brand and name that has a connection to the local environment -- has actually stronger brand equity, higher brand equity.”
If Washington opts to go in this direction, it wouldn’t be the first professional sports team in the region to do so, and by all accounts, the others have built pretty successful brands. The Washington Capitals struggled for many years after their inception in the mid-1970’s but became a successful brand even before winning their first Stanley Cup title in 2018. Same can be said for the Washington Nationals, who broke through for their first World Series title a year later. Winning obviously helps strengthen a brand, but how that brand sustains through losing is a better judge of how good it is.
Thanks to its location, Washington can create that very type of brand by appealing to more than just people in DMV area. Playing in the capital of the United States also allows the team to build a brand around a name that represents the entire country.
“I think that would be one of their strongest brand elements for them to bring forward,” said Keith Scully, CEO of Strategic-Noise Group and a graduate adjunct professor at Georgetown and American universities. “I think it would be accepted better as well, both on those current customers that they have as well as a nation.
“Taking a look at the Americans, something like that. Something that’s wholesome, and it’s Washington, D.C. How do you go ahead and develop an emotion that goes along with the country. I think they’re in the only place in the United States that can do it. Why not try it?”
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