The Washington Redskins’ brand crisis took a turn for the worse this week when members of the Oneida Tribe and of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association announced they will protest Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Tribe representatives say they want to remind football fans that many Native Americans find the word “Redskins” offensive.
Also this week, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and Grantland’s Bill Simmons have signaled their intention to stop using the name in their coverage of the team. King and Simmons join the ranks of non-sports titles Slate, Mother Jones and the Washington City Paper, all of whom have already announced a boycott of the name.
Still, despite the blitz of pressure from interest groups and the media, branding experts suspect the Redskins brand is too strong to sack. That’s because, despite the protests, the Redskins remain the NFL’s second most-valuable brand, according to Forbes. What’s more, its customers themselves aren’t clamoring for a change.
“It’s a hugely powerful brand,” said Ronald Goldstein, a sports marketing expert and professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in the Redskins’ hometown. “The issue for Snyder is that the brand value is billions. To change the name of the team would put that value on the line.”
Yet, as outcry against the name gained momentum, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seemed more inclined to distance himself from the controversy. He said in a radio interview Wednesday that the decision was ultimately team owner Dan Snyder’s to make. However, Goodell sounded less unequivocal in his support for Snyder’s refusal to budge than he has in the past, noting the need for “all of us to go out and make sure we’re listening to our fans, listening to people who have a different view.”
At the end of the day, that decision won’t change as long as the brand doesn’t decline in value. And there’s not any evidence of that yet.
“We’re not seeing any massive degradation in terms of the brand,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, which measures engagement and loyalty. “Brand equity erosion takes place over time and it depends on the degree to which shifts away from engagement with the brand take place. Right now I would say it’s very small.”
But the press is powerful. And both Goldstein and Passikoff concede that if a growing number of Native Americans come forth with grievances about the name, the wider public’s sentiment could shift.
And public sentiment is exactly what members of the Oneida Nation are looking to sway. In upstate New York, the tribe released a radio ad this week in which representative Ray Halbritter says Goodell should “stand up to bigotry” by denouncing “the racial slur” in the team’s name.
“We do not deserve to be called ‘Redskins,’” the Oneida leader says in the ad. “We deserve to be treated as what we are — Americans.”
“If it’s offensive to Native Americans, then get rid of it,” said Goldstein. “If it s a celebration of their history, then keep it. But that’s not for anyone else to decide.”
Certainly not Snyder, whose brand has become far more tarnished than the team he owns, says Goldstein.
“To simply blow off the issue makes him look worse, not better,” he added.
“Address the issue. Give a business case for it in the business community. Give a rationale. Just saying ‘no’ leaves it totally open for someone else to interpret what you’re thinking. The Dan Snyder brand doesn’t have the highest equity anyway, so this is not affecting the Redskins as much as it’s affecting him.”
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