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How to Name A “Football Team”


(The new logo for the Washington Football Team)[1]


By: Tyler Kaestner


After 87 years , the football team in Washington, D.C. has taken the field this year under a new, temporary name… the Washington Football Team.[2] Such a matter-of-fact name is joined by a new logo (above), along with new jerseys (replacing the old team name with “Washington”), while retaining the organization's classic color scheme.[3] Originally purported to be a temporary label, it now appears that the moniker could carry into the 2021 season.[4] According to team president Jason Wright, "next year is fast because of how the brand has to come together through uniforms, [and] through approval processes through the league."[5] Well, that begs the question, what is the process? Controversy aside, the decision to move forward has been made by owner Dan Snyder, and now the organization will have to figure out how to continue the franchise’s legacy around a new brand.[6]


So, how do you name a football team?


First, you have to pick the name, which may be easier said than done. After all, the reason Washington found themselves in this predicament is precisely because of their former name and the problematic imagery associated with the logo. Moreover, a name change typically comes along with another big shift for a franchise, such as relocation to a new city, new ownership, or the debut of a new stadium.[7] The Washington team is staying in the same city, with the same owner, on the same field. Lastly, the most recent NFL team to make a name change (the Houston Oilers when they moved to Tennessee and adopted the “Titans” nickname) took over a year to do so, with a recommended timetable being as long as two years.[8] This presents a few key considerations in the process: picking a name that will be free from controversy, and be embraced by fans; ensuring that they have a proper trademark for the name; and getting approval from the league, while appeasing their sponsors.


The nature of the current name change comes on the edge of a troubled history, with a widely criticized name and logo that was offensive to Native American communities. While it is reported that the organization will refrain from any other alternative Native American imagery, they have to consider the longevity of a new name as well; one that will be unencumbered by future controversy.[9] When the aforementioned Houston Oilers were moving to Tennessee, one of the potential names with local support was the “Rebels.”[10] While perhaps innocuous, one day the team got a call to their office from the ex-wife of James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., saying “that would have been a name [Ray] liked, and he's a staunch racist and you can't use that name.”[11] Such an occurrence is one that Washington hopes to avoid. Getting fan input, and conducting testing and research, is part of what makes the process of selecting the new name take anywhere from six months to a year.[12]


Now assuming that a name is selected, and tests favorably, the team has to ensure they protect that name with a trademark or ensure that the name they have selected is not already covered by a trademark. The team would have to go through a process of “clearing the trademark” to check that there are no similar trademarks already in use, or ones applied for that have priority.[13]This hurdle may not be an easy one to jump over in and of itself. For instance, one man has filed dozens of trademarks over the years for potential names that Washington might want to use, in anticipation for the possibility of the name change, including names that were rumored to be associated with the team.[14] There is also the possibility that these trademarks could be contested with the trademark office, if this man did not really intend to use the trademarks, and rather just correctly speculated as to what the team would choose, they could not be enforced.[15] Once the dust has settled in that dispute, or if Washington does pick an available name, the team can go forth and start to create their brand and merchandise as they file and await their trademark to be granted.[16] Once filed, it could take about a year to be approved.[17]


The next order of business is making sure that sponsors are satisfied. Technically, the sponsors (those like FedEx, whom the field the team plays on is named after) do not have a vote in the matter, and may not directly be in contact with Dan Snyder throughout the process. However, many of those sponsors very publicly put pressure on the owner to go forward with the change, some of which declared they would stop doing business with the team if the name did not change.[18] Appeasing those sponsors, therefore, will be part of the consideration.


Finally, the NFL would have to approve the name change, but it would not need a vote from the owners of the other teams. [19]


Once all of the procedural stuff is taken care of, the team will get to work on filling out the brand with a new logo, new apparel and jerseys, and begin to build around the new name. With a long process ahead, the “Football Team” should be a fine substitute for the time being, as an effective pivot from the previous name. Surely there will be eyes on how the Washington team fairs with this endeavor, as there is no shortage of other teams with calls to change their incendiary names as well. The Cleveland Baseball Team, Atlanta Baseball Team, Kansas City Football Team, and Chicago Hockey Team may want to take notes.[20]




References:

[1] July 23, 2020. NFL's Redskins renamed as Washington Football Team for 2020 season. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-24/nfl-washington-redskins-rename-as-washington-football-team/12488000

[2] Bergman, J. (July 23, 2020). Washington will go by 'Washington Football Team' until further notice. Retrieved from https://www.nfl.com/news/washington-football-team-nfl-name-change.

[3] Id.

[4] Pickman, B. (Oct. 20, 2020). Washington Football Team Name Could Remain Into 2021 Season. Retrieved from https://www.si.com/nfl/2020/10/21/washington-football-team-name-remain-2021.

[5] Id.

[6] Bergman, supra.

[7] Draper, K. (Jul. 16, 2020). A Team by Any Other Name Is Fine, It Turns Out. Retrieved from https://www-nytimes-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/sports/football/washington-name-change-trademark.amp.html?usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D&amp_js_v=0.1#aoh=16042424540040&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2020%2F07%2F16%2Fsports%2Ffootball%2Fwashington-name-change-trademark.html.

[8] Keim, J. (Jul 10, 2020). Renaming the Redskins: Inside the process, hurdles and possible fallout. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/29433710/renaming-redskins-process-hurdles-possible-fallout.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Draper, supra.

[13] Keim, supra.

[14] Brito, C. (Jul. 15, 2020). Virginia man trademarks dozens of possible new names for Washington NFL team. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/washington-redskins-name-trademark-martin-mccaulay/.

[15] Id.

[16] Keim, supra.

[17] Id.

[18] Draper, supra.

[19] Keim, supra.

[20] Morris, F. (Jul. 10, 2020). Sports Teams Consider Changing Team Names Amid Racial Reckoning. Retrieved from npr.org/2020/07/10/889653163/sports-teams-consider-changing-team-names-amid-racial-reckoning

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