Rebranding the Redskins, Is a New Name Enough?

Over the last week, the Washington NFL franchise has been in the news a lot.

First, the team announced they would retire the nickname, Redskins.

Second, The Washington Post published a damning story of harassment and an overall unprofessional atmosphere throughout the organization.

Finally, the team announced that one of Dan Snyder’s long-time business associates would be elevated to the role of Chief Marketing Officer to help oversee the rebrand.

These three stories combine to point towards a few observations about the nature of the Washington team, but it also highlights a few business concepts that are important to keep in mind right now, but even in good times.

Nothing will really change until a different set of actions and accountabilities are put in place:

Folks were excited to see the team drop the name Redskins, even if they were miffed that it took several corporate partners to finally apply the necessary pressure to get the name change over the edge.

No one should be surprised.

Dan Snyder was pretty vocal about never changing the name.

Of course, never say never…that should be one of those absolutes in life.

Obviously, money talks like the pressure being applied by a number of groups on Facebook right now has made Mark Zuckerberg have to pay lip service to the idea of being more open to safeguards and protections, the same goes for Dan Snyder and his team.

Money talks and it is the way to get businesses to pay attention.

But the name change alone isn’t likely to change much else without a new set of actions and accountabilities in the organization.

Over the years, I’ve watched as folks as the team has burned through a large number of well-respected professionals much more rapidly than the already ludicrous rate of change in sports business. And, as a resident of the DMV, I’ve seen the team make promises of fan friendliness, new directions, and changes in philosophy that haven’t stood the test of time.

This points to the reality that unless we see that the team takes new actions and implements new accountabilities that stick for longer than a few press cycles that we aren’t likely to really see a big change in direction from the organization.

Having seen a number of dysfunctional businesses in a number of areas in my career, I can tell you this with all certainty…dysfunctional organizations don’t just change because it is the right thing to do. The kinds of reinventions necessary to create a new culture and a new direction are painful and usually filled with fits and starts.

But they all share one thing in common: they all begin with ownership and leadership setting a new set of rules, guidelines, and accountabilities for the organization and which they hold themselves accountable for as well.

Changing the name of the team is a good start, but it is only a first step:

Don’t let me take anything away from the name change and retirement of the Redskins name, that is a victory for folks that have been pushing for the name change for years. And, it is long overdue because there isn’t any room for a team nickname to be a slur.

But changing the name alone isn’t going to make an effective rebrand.

Why?

Because brands aren’t just images, logos, and team colors.

Brands are built over days, months, years, and decades.

The symbolism of the Redskins likely only stood as long as it did due to the fact that the team had such a strong run of success under Joe Gibbs that they were given more benefit of the doubt on the name than was likely deserved.

Again, the name change is welcome, but it is only one small step in the rebranding of the team that won’t mean much if many of the other issues around the team aren’t address.

This concept about rebranding applies everywhere.

The name alone is largely meaningless without the actions, value, and consistency for that name to take on a meaning and a life that has a real impact on folks.

Be warned that this meaning can cut both ways as well, good and bad.

Which leads me to the last point…

A real rebrand of the team in Washington would include a few things:

Let’s get the low hanging fruit out of the way, the name is getting changed and that is an important first step.

Will the actual name of the team matter?

Absolutely!

It is a symbol and should be something that folks around the DMV and fans of the team around the world can rally around.

The new name should also reflect what the next phase of the team’s identity is hoped to be. I’d hope for something built around strength, community, and winning.

Second, rebranding the organization is going to require a rebuilding of the organization’s business side.

If you haven’t read the article from last week, look it up and check it out. The place seems toxic at so many levels that it seems difficult to imagine that anything other than a complete overhaul of the business side of the team is necessary.

When I think through culture, I often think of some of the conversations I’ve had on my podcast about leadership and culture, but it has to begin with respect and accountability. Moving from there to performance, innovation, and consistency.

The big point, if you don’t rebuild the business side, a rebrand is going to fall flat.

Final point, the product on the field.

The team has been largely in disarray as long as I’ve lived in DC with a few bright moments like the short window when RGIII was the savior or when Kirk Cousins was leading the team, but on the whole, the team has been one that has had the smell of turmoil and directionless leadership.

In my opinion, I don’t put all the blame on the coaches or executives because like all dysfunctional organizations there is blame to go around.

What is undeniable is that a rebrand alone isn’t going to change the perception of the team.

Winning will help because winning covers up a lot of sins, but winning without a rebuilt organization, combined with a new team branding scheme isn’t going to set the team on a new course of public perception.

For that, you need all the areas of the team to commit to and reflect a commitment to a changed culture, an emphasis on performance, and some new accountabilities and expectations that everyone in the organization lives up to.

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