How Washington Should Tackle Renaming Its Football Team:Rebrand a Company the Right Way


Political unrest continues to preside over sports names and activities including the Braves’ “tomahawk chop.” The Cleveland Indians finally changed their name to the Cleveland Guardians to avoid offending Native Americans. However, they committed a fatal error by not performing their due diligence. They forgot to check the domain availability of the brand (clevelandguardians.com) and today it still shows that it’s a local roller derby team!

In Washington, D.C., after 89 years as the Redskins, management created The Washington Football Team with the announcement that a new name and logo are coming in 2022. However, its current moniker is an act of “genericide” – no emotion or imagery and lunacy.

Changing a brand name for a sports team is no easy task. You must please current fans while recruiting new ones.

Successful ball clubs follow these guidelines:


1. Historical Perspective

The Philadelphia 76ers and New England Patriots pay homage to our country’s beginning whereas the Pittsburgh Steelers (steel mill workers), Milwaukee Brewers (beer-brewing), and San Francisco 49ers (1849 Gold Rush) salute our heritage. The San Diego Padres is a nod to the fathers who established the Spanish Missions in 1769 in California.


2. They Perform Due Diligence

It’s important to remember that just because the domain is available that doesn’t mean that the trademark is also available. Many teams have fumbled by picking a name and then having to defend it. The Vegas Knights, for example, drew blowback with its name when the Department of Army thought that consumers might confuse the hockey team with its parachute shows. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am not an attorney and always recommend that my clients consult with one before formalizing a new brand name.


3. Fearless Animals

In an attempt to avoid rooting for the Buffalo Butterflies or the Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, teams opt for ferocious animals such as the Lions, Tigers (Detroit), and Bears (Chicago). Oh my! Panthers (Carolina and Florida), Broncos (Denver), Bulls and Falcons (Atlanta), and Raptors (Toronto) also roam among our sports teams.


4. Cultural Roots

Of course, early Washington sports teams captured names like the Capitals, Senators, and Nationals and the Minnesota Wild highlights its myriad of outdoor activities.


5. Geographical Significance

Names rooted in geography work well for the Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rockies, and the Seattle Mariners. Florida and Arizona champion its scorching weather (Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns). The state of Florida also names teams after its pervasive wildlife including the Marlins, Dolphins, Gators, Rays, and Owls.


6. Alliterative Options

It’s just too easy to cheer for the Jackson Jaguars, the Pittsburgh Pirates or Penguins, Buffalo Bills, Washington Wizards or Tennessee Titans. The Washington ball club should adopt a new name and soon. After all, who wants to cheer “Go Washington Football Team?” Even rooting for the acronym, WFT, not only sounds ridiculous, but also flirts with flying into dangerous foul language territory.

A name must make sense and most importantly, avoid another team’s brand. In essence, there’s trademark infringement and mindshare infringement. One of the proposed team names is the Razorbacks; there might not be a legal issue with this identity, but I bet a groundswell of opposition is awaiting in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The short list for the team also includes options such as the Aces (already in use in The Biggest Little City), Aviators (joining a large rank of ball clubs including Las Vegas, Brooklyn, Lafayette, San Diego, and Rockford), Royals (how do you like that Kansas City?), and such generics as Football Team, Washington DC Football Club, and Washington Capital City Football Club. Really!

Keeping a soft connection to the old name and the new name makes sense. As a result, the Redtails, Redwolves (no spaces), and Red Hogs are solid choices. The team could continue an alliterative pattern with the Washington Warriors (what say ye Steph Curry?), Wayfarers (look for a counterattack from Ray-Ban) and Wild Hogs.

Me? I vote for the Washington Wild Hogs. It’s an established nickname for the offensive line giving the brand a little heritage, it’s a strong animal, it’s an alliteration, and it’s easy to create compelling imagery, logos, and cheers.

Can I hear a whoop for the Wild Hogs?

Liz

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