Racial sensitivities and tradition aside, there are economic costs and benefits if the Washington Redskins decide to drop their storied name, putting the franchise in a tough spot with major financial ramifications at stake.
Any name change puts hundreds of millions of dollars at risk for the team and its owner, Dan Snyder. Branding experts point to sponsorships, merchandise and ticket sales as potential pitfalls. Doing nothing, however, could prove equally costly if popular resistance to the current name continues to grow.
Ronald Goodstein, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University, values the Redskins franchise at just under $2 billion, when factoring in the brand equity it has created with fans over the years, making it one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. It could take decades for Mr. Snyder to recreate that sentiment among fans with a new team name.
“The Washington Redskins are actually worth a lot more than what they own,” Mr. Goodstein said. “How much would a name change cost me, if I’m Dan Snyder? The answer is hundreds of millions of dollars.”
According to Forbes, the Washington Redskins are the eighth-most valuable sports franchise in the world, and the fifth-most valuable in the United States. This means Mr. Snyder has a lot to lose if fans don’t go along with a new name for the team.
Mr. Goodstein said sponsors and fans would run away in droves, but other brand experts disagree.
Matt Levine, a sports branding consultant, said a name change could actually open new avenues of businesses for the Washington Redskins, because companies that do not usually sponsor football teams would want to be associated with a franchise that would become bigger than football.
“There’s an enormous market that goes beyond people who are even Redskins fans in the United States and around the world who will get excited about a new team name and a new team logo,” Mr. Levine said.
Anthony Fernandez, another sports branding consultant, agreed.
“You’re going to capture a new market anytime you rebrand yourself,” Mr. Fernandez said. “There will be companies that will naturally latch on, because they see an opportunity here.”
Neither analyst could put a dollar figure on any potential new business, but they both say it would increase from the current level.
Mr. Fernandez said whatever the Redskins lose in old business, they will more than make up for in new business.
“The benefits are only going to outweigh the negatives,” he said. “I think their existing business partners will want to be part of this. But it will also pave the way for new business. If old business goes away, there’s new business to pick up the slack.”
But Mr. Goodstein is not so optimistic.
“Some people would say, ‘But look at all the new sales they would have,’” he explained. “It is not clear to me that at that point people would get on board with that.”
Mr. Snyder, a billionaire who built his fortune in advertising and marketing, has fiercely resisted any suggestion the team change its name.
Regardless, it would be a difficult transition to make. Mr. Levine said it would take a “good, solid two years” to complete the move.
The Redskins would have to wait several years before actually changing their name to give retailers and licensees enough time to sell all of the Redskins merchandise they have in inventory, or else spend millions to reimburse them for the losses.
“It can’t be done overnight, because of all the licensees who have enormous inventory exposure with the Redskins name and logo on it and they have to clear through that merchandise and be protected,” Mr. Levine said.
The Redskins and other professional sports teams whose names make reference to American Indians — such as the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs — have long faced calls to change their team names.
But critics say the Washington team’s name sticks out; “Redskin” is a dictionary-defined derogatory term that refers specifically to skin color.
How longtime loyal fans would greet a name change is another variable.
“Everybody is assuming that all the old Redskins fans would come on board to the new team, but given the quality of the football team he has been putting out there on the field, if they were no longer the Redskins, I think a lot of fans would opt out,” Mr. Goodstein said. “The loyalty is not to the Washington football team, but specifically to the Redskins.”