This article was originally published in Washington Business Journal.
The day that many in Greater Washington thought would never come — when NFL franchise owner Dan Snyder announced he is changing the local team’s long-derided name — is here.
Since the team said July 3 it was undertaking a review of the name, many suggestions have since been bandied about. While a renaming process often takes years — the Washington Bullets’ transition to the Wizards took two years, according to The Washington Post — Washington’s NFL team looks to be expediting the process, potentially planning to rename before the 2020 season.
Washington coach Ron Rivera suggested last weekend that there was a short list. And Snyder is apparently working with advisers, including Jay Leveton of The Stagwell Group on the new name, according to the Post.
So what do other D.C.-area marketing and branding experts think? We put a call out to some of the region’s largest marketing, advertising and public relations firms for their input on what the new name should be and why it works from a branding perspective. Here’s what they said.
BLACK CREATIVE GROUP: Krystal Glass
Recommended name: Washington Redtails
Why: “As a marketing agency that specializes in messaging, we know firsthand that words not only have meaning, but feelings attached. While the team name ‘Redskins’ is adored by many, it is without a doubt offensive to many, specifically our Indigenous community. We believe in doing what’s best for the greater good. Changing the ‘Redskins’ name at this juncture in time, following the toppling of confederate statues around the country and the ongoing fight for racial justice and equality, it’s not only necessary, it’s the right thing to do.
We agree with Washington’s QB: ‘Redtails’ would be a great name transition, given it sounds similar and fixes the most controversial part by removing the term ‘skins.’”
YAMANAIR CREATIVE: Yaman Coskun
Recommended name: The Washington Monuments
Why: “Because the Washington Monuments represents the awe, respect and gratitude the nation felt for its most essential founding father. This name transfers those values to its hometown team as well as exuding competitive power. Just say it: ‘The Washington
Monuments playing against …’ Well, how can we not win?”
KAH CONSULTING: Kerry-Ann Hamilton
Recommended name: Washington Redtails
Why: “I strongly believe the name should imbue meaning and reflect the values and spirit of fans and the community. That said, while the Washington Warriors is gaining some traction in the Twitter world — I personally like that the Redtails is rising to the top. Given D.C.’s roots in African American excellence, the Redtails has several positive associations and would honor the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military aviators. The team, alumni, fans and the community deserve more than a Twitter contest. There is a lot in a name; the most powerful names are memorable and meaningful to the community. Rebrands by nature are fraught, so the best processes are thoughtful and inclusive. The Washington NFL team could gain so much texture and richness from engaging its loyal supporters to identify the attributes, values and spirit essential for the new name.”
W2 COMMUNICATIONS: Stephen Mackey
Recommended name: Washington LibertyWhy: “To remind us of our storied past and confront daily our missteps and the hard lessons we continue to learn, while inspiring ourselves and our opponents to raise their heads and look toward building a better future. I wish that every utterance of the team name would give one pause, so that we might ask ourselves, ‘What do these words mean to me today? How can I change my thoughts and actions to ensure every citizen actually HAS these liberties we espouse?’ It is past time to move beyond merely putting a ‘Redskin’ — or, if we’re going retro, spears — on the side of a helmet. I wonder aloud, ‘Does such iconography truly intimidate a 320-pound lineman anyway? Would opponents not be more intimidated by the power of more than 200 years of grit and determination bristling inside each jersey?’”
RP3 AGENCY: Beth Johnson
Recommended name: Washington Red Wolves
Why: “They need to come up with a name that can support a narrative based on a connection to the team but that is not tied to Native Americans in any way. As a marketer, I would shed any name or visual identity that relies on a Native American trope or stereotype — or that on any other group of people, either. So a name like Warriors could refer to military rather than Native Americans, but its history and origin is still rooted in Native American culture. For that reason, it would be off the table for me.
I prefer names like Red Wolves or Redtails or RedHawks. Of these, I like Red Wolves the best — at least it’s based on an animal indigenous to our region and I can only imagine how much fun fans will have howling in the wind when our team comes back from the dead and eventually wins a Super Bowl! Yes, wishful thinking, I know, especially given the recent performance of the team.”
ROI: David M. Nellis
Recommended name: Washington Americans
Why: “Because the D.C. area already has the Nationals, the Capitals and the Diplomats, all names that spring from our position as the nation’s capital. So, the ‘Americans’ fits there. Plus the name is all-inclusive, representing all races, genders, etc., of American’s citizenry.”
EDELMAN U.S.: Lisa Osborne Ross
Recommended name: Washington Federals or Senators
Why: “As a native Washingtonian who grew up in a household of diehard ‘Skins’ fans — though, I am not — I have natural and vested interest in this. Overall, I’d counsel them that it’s time for a comprehensive restart. I wouldn’t hold onto ‘red’ or to ‘skins,’ both of which have been discussed at length. The damage to the franchise has been done. It’s time to apologize and move forward.
Similarly, I would counsel them to move entirely away from using Native or Indigenous imagery. Names like ‘Warriors’ and ‘Braves’ have been floated, but my sense is that history won’t view that kindly, especially when fans paint their faces and wear Native or Indigenous apparel to the games.
A name like the Washington Federals or the Washington Senators reflects the spirit of our region and aligns with our other sports teams — the Nationals, the Capitals. I’d also recommend a public rededication to Native American socioeconomic advancement — to show that the team is listening and learning.”
BROTMAN|WINTER|FRIED: Steve Winter
Recommended name: Washington Freedom, Justice or Liberty
Why: “I think that in order to maximize the marketability of the team while demonstrating empathy and understanding of the real reasons why this name change is necessary that it’s critical that the team initiate a clean break with anything and everything that refers to Native Americans as well as the terms ‘red’ or ‘skins.’ At the same time, I feel there is a need to ascribe a name that serves to dispel the fundamental national perception of D.C. as a government town, which really means that names such as Senators, Federals, Monuments and Diplomats should also be avoided. For this reason, I would recommend such names as the Washington Freedom — yes, they were a local women’s pro soccer team — Justice or Liberty. All these names connote basic American values without being overtly political, which creates a plethora of branding opportunities. As for the colors, retaining the burgundy and gold might assuage the fan base but you can’t go wrong with the good old red, white and blue.”
BORENSTEIN GROUP: Gal S. Borenstein
Recommended name: Washington Warriors
Why: “Because it represents the fighting spirit of the past. From a branding perspective, you want an authentic name that brands the team legacy DNA positives as core beliefs and align them with the future inspirational message that we want to convey. That’s the only way to expand the base, achieve diversity, and sustain the legacy of success.”
LIVE WIRE STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Jeff Goldberg
Recommended name: Washington Redtails
Why: “It would be an ideal solution to the name change debate. The Redtails nickname was used by the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation’s first African American aerial combat unit who broke the color barrier during World War II. Not only would the Redtails nickname honor one of the most storied military units in American history, it would also give recognition to a group of individuals that stood up to systematic inequality to create significant and positive change that altered the course of history. In this moment of reflection and action regarding race relations in America, the Redtails nickname would show the world that the Washington region is dedicated to promoting ideas, themes and people committed to change and inclusivity.
Furthermore, picking a name rooted in the military would recognize how strongly the D.C. region’s identity is connected to the armed services. This gives the name a true local connection that appeals to fans from all different races and backgrounds, much like the makeup of the military itself.
From a branding perspective, the Redtails nickname would allow the Washington football team to preserve its burgundy and gold color scheme, leading to interest from existing fans who so strongly associate the team with the traditional colors.”