Jul 22, 2020 - Sports

The complicated process of changing an NFL team name

An illustration of the redskins logo being peeled off
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Changing a team name is a complicated process and typically takes years, but the Washington Redskins are trying to do it in a matter of weeks, amid a pandemic, while concurrently conducting an internal sexual harassment investigation.

The state of play: The last NFL team to change its name was the Tennessee Oilers — now the Titans — in 1999, but that stemmed from the franchise having moved from Houston.

  • In Washington's case, the team is staying in the same market, and the name is being changed because it was viewed as derogatory — two factors that make this unprecedented situation even more pressure-packed.
  • "A typical rebranding process includes lots of focus groups, fan engagement and community involvement. If the process is sped up too much, even the largest organizations can miss the kind of nuances that are really important, particularly in this case," Mori Taheripour, business ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, tells Axios.
To-do list
  1. Name: Choosing a new name is a delicate endeavor, and in this case, the most important decision in the franchise's 87-year history will be a rushed one.
  2. Logo: Sports experts say they wouldn't be surprised if Washington waits until later in the season, or even next season, to unveil its logo. The team will reportedly retain its burgundy and gold color scheme, so removing the logo and play with generic uniforms is an option.
  3. Apparel/merchandise: New uniforms, practice jerseys and other team-issued gear needs to be manufactured and distributed. Same thing goes for jerseys and other merchandise that the team will want to make available to fans as soon as possible.
  4. Digital footprint: Team and league staff need to update everything from websites and email addresses to social media handles and mobile apps — and not just on Washington's properties, but for the other 29 teams and the NFL itself.
  5. Physical footprint: A team's branding is everywhere, from its stadium and practice facilities to its business cards. And oftentimes, its name and logo are literally etched in stone. Under different circumstances, a team might keep banners and mementos hanging around. But Washington has a tougher decision to make regarding historic displays that feature its former name.
  6. Paperwork: Team and league staff have a mountain of legal paperwork to complete, starting with trademark filings, copyright and licensing agreements, and a wide array of legal, medical and governmental documents.
  7. Coordinating with partners: Sponsors and media partners need the new name, logo, color tones and lettering so they can update their own properties. Making those changes can take months and requires a lot of back-and-forth communication.

The bottom line: "Think about all the sponsors who are the 'official [blank] of the team.' They're all impacted by this change, and it takes a coordinated effort to make even the smallest changes, like updating the logos on Pepsi trucks, with PepsiCo being the team's official non-alcoholic beverage," Marty Conway, sports marketing professor at Georgetown, tells Axios.

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