Friday, October 18, 2013

Washington Redskins

The glory of the National Football League returned in September, much to my delight! With it comes the joy of Monday Night Football, the frustration of Thursday Night football (it’s on the NFL Network, we don’t get that channel), and the motivation to complete my weekend yard chores before the 10 am Sunday morning kick-offs. But it also brings a recurring drudgery, specifically, the talk of whether or not the Washington Redskins football team should change their name.

There are a number of people and groups who take offense to the team’s name alleging insensitivity to Native Americans. Similar talk occasional arises regarding Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves, but it’s the NFL’s Redskins moniker that absorbs the brunt of this line of conversation.

A name change to a professional sports franchise is not unprecedented. In 1998 the Houston Oilers football team moved to Tennessee and renamed themselves the Titans. That was a change decided upon by team ownership, the former Houston Oilers, looking for a fresh start. A catalyst for the move from Houston to Tennessee was money. The football stadium in Houston at that time left a few things to be desired. Namely, the team had an unfavorable lease agreement and the stadium did not have enough luxury amenities to benefit the Oiler’s team owner. The move to Tennessee fixed that, but I digress.

In 1972 Stanford University changed their mascot name from the Stanford Indians to the Stanford Cardinals; later dropping the plural, a reference to the primary color of Stanford’s athletic teams, not the bird. That was a scenario where the university consented to pressure applied by a group of Native American students and a vote by the student senate.

Aligning Stanford’s action to what some would like the Washington Redskins to do is not equivalent. While the Washington Redskins is a private company and Stanford University is a private institution, Stanford receives millions of dollars from the government in the form of grants and financial aid. They were not entirely independent, as is the owner of a professional sports franchise, to do what they wanted. The university has not a singular head to make tough decisions, but rather yields to a consensus decision-making process.

A name change, while it would make the complainers happy, would have the downside of a significant loss of value to the Washington Redskins football team. The Washington Redskins were founded in 1932, that’s 81 years of branding and team history. That’s time enough to build up generations worth of strong affiliations. Strong enough to keep fans buying millions of dollars in Redskins sweat shirts, jerseys, hats and season tickets. A name and logo change would put the owner of the team at risk of decreasing the value of the team by hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, hundreds of millions. The team currently has an estimated worth of $1.7B! Yes, billion. A change of name and branding would mean fewer people interested in consuming the millions of dollars in team-related merchandise annually. The fan affiliation to the team would be significantly handicapped. This decrease in avid customer base, fewer customers consuming the product, would result in a decrease in team value.

I am in favor of the Redskins changing their name under one condition. The one condition is that the groups of people and individuals who desire a name change pool their funds, buy the team, and then change the team’s name to whatever they please. Do it with the team under their care, custody, and control. No way am I in favor of anyone requiring the current owner to do it. The complainers are welcome to blunder around and damage the value of their own investment, they should not be encouraged to pompously try to obligate someone else to knowingly sacrifice their financial standing. Do it themselves.