The Washington Football Team, formerly the Redskins, has a new name: the Washington Commanders.
The National Football League (NFL) team dropped “Redskins” in 2020 over longstanding criticism that the name was offensive to Native Americans, following pressure from corporate sponsors including FedEx, Nike, and Bank of America and settling for Washington Football Team while it searched for a permanent moniker.
Rebranding a team of this size is estimated to cost several million dollars, but brand analysts say it could be worth it if it helps win back some of the shrinking fan base.
When sports teams change their names, the cost of replacing merchandise, uniforms, stadium signage, and everything in between can run up to $10 million, according to one estimate cited by the Washington Post.
The Washington Commanders likely had to also undergo a lengthy legal process to secure assets such as an IP address and trademark recognition for the new name, according to Thomas Ordahl, a global strategy officer at brand consulting firm Landor & Fitch.
The Commanders may be well-positioned to take on such an investment. While stadium attendance has been dwindling, the team still has one of the highest valuations in the league, according to Forbes.
The next challenge for will be winning over fans, which may be no small task for a team whose home game attendance has dropped by over 19% since 2020.
The team was once a cornerstone of Monday Night Football that amounted to “NFL royalty,” says Michael Lewis, a marketing professor at Emory University who ranks the strength of NFL fanbases using metrics such as game attendance and social media following. It’s struggled to recover from “endless controversies” that go beyond its name, though, from failed draft picks to allegations of sexual harassment under owner Dan Snyder’s leadership. The Commanders’ fanbase ranked 26 out of 32 teams in the league on Lewis’s list last year.
There are certainly opportunities to profit from new merchandise and licensing deals that come from the rebrand, but the team will likely have to overcome some skepticism about the new name at first. Ordahl says it will be key for the team to re-energize the Washington fan base: “I’m sure there will be lots of people making fun of the name, and griping about it, but typically that’s short lived.”
Lewis doesn’t expect a rebrand to trigger a reversal of fortunes for the team overnight. In order to get fans back in the stands, he says, a longer-term strategy coupled with better performance on the field could help. “The team has to look at building a new brand over the next couple of decades.”