How Washington’s NFL Team Got Its New Name

From a Washington Post story by Nicki Jhabvala headlined “How Washington’s NFL team found its new name”:

Washington’s NFL franchise took to national television Wednesday to announce its new nickname — the Washington Commanders, a name that hearkens to D.C.’s military and political ties — a public unveiling of a decision that team officials settled on last fall.

The process began 18 months ago, when the team announced that after 87 years it would no longer be known as the Redskins, and involved input ranging from fans’ suggestions to co-CEO Tanya Snyder’s opinions on uniform design….As the franchise played two full seasons as the Washington Football Team, officials whittled a list of 1,200 potential names to three finalists, each of which was put through an extensive vetting process before the final decision was made.

Team executives worked closely with the digital creative company Code & Theory, as well as designers from Nike and NFL personnel. All along the way, team executives say they sought out feedback from fans.

The team received more than 40,000 fan submissions, letters sometimes accompanied with children’s drawings of potential logos, or a family’s generational history of attending Washington games. Some pleaded with team executives to scrap the whole project and reinstate the controversial former name. Others shared memories of watching quarterback Doug Williams, now a senior adviser to team president Jason Wright.

The team held focus groups with fans and alumni — sometimes up to five a day — and many panels included Jason Wright himself. He cold-called ticket-holders, something he has continued to do, those familiar with the process said. Versions of similar stories resonated — often about the experience of attending games at RFK Stadium, where it would get so loud that the seats would shake. Fans shared the ideals they felt a new name should convey: resilience and grit, tradition and unity, according to team officials.

While gathering public opinion, the team sought legal clearance for potential names, relying on in-house counsel, then led by Damon Jones, who since has left to join the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as outside attorneys.

Doing so often yielded clarity. Wright said in January that the name RedWolves was vetoed because the trademark was unavailable. Such was the case for another name Washington considered: D.C.F.C., for Washington D.C. Football Club. That mark is owned by the USL Championship soccer team Detroit City FC, whose colors are also burgundy and gold.

As Washington delved deeper into the legal weeds, finding a name that was a sharp departure from conventional sports terms became a priority, to avoid not only immediate legal issues, but also future conflict should the franchise seek to use the name to expand its business ventures. Wright said last year that the franchise intends to use this rebranding as “a catalyst” to create new businesses, much like the Dallas Cowboys have.

Washington officials also closely monitored the efforts of the Cleveland Guardians, the Major League Baseball team that unveiled its new name and logo last summer. The two teams stayed in touch during early in their processes…until it became clear they had very different strategies. Cleveland wanted a quick rollout. Washington wanted more fan input, which required more time.

Keeping the name a secret required legal maneuvering. One potential route could have involved filing overseas trademark applications with countries that were a part of the Paris Convention, an 1883 industrial property agreement; the records of some participating countries can’t be searched online. Another possible strategy: requiring contractors and employees involved in the process to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Team officials declined to reveal the finalists, but once its list was whittled down to three, the vetting became even more extensive. With the help of Code & Theory, logos, helmets and uniforms were designed for each finalist and tested in every way imaginable: how they would appear on a TV screen crawl, or in a lineup with other NFL logos, or in a social media avatar.

Commanders was chosen last fall, according to the team officials, and a design phase quickly followed. Code & Theory designed the Commanders logo, and Nike handled the helmet designs. Tanya Snyder, the wife of owner Daniel Snyder who was appointed the team’s co-CEO last summer and has a background in the fashion industry, was said to be heavily involved in the uniform design.

With all of this taking place during the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of the collaboration was done virtually, or in small in-person meetings. Even now, the pandemic is influencing the rollout. Fans can preorder burgundy Commanders jerseys, but because of global supply chain issues, shipments likely won’t arrive for months.

Changing the signage at the FedEx Field and the team’s headquarters in Ashburn will be another task. By the start of the season, in September, the team hopes to the integration of the rebranding will be largely complete.

Team officials said they know not every fan will embrace the change. Letters from many of them in recent months stated as much. But Wednesday’s launch was the first step, less away from a controversial past and more toward something tangible they hope will represent a collectively celebrated future.

In a moment captured in the team’s “Making the Brand” video series that offered fans a glimpse into its process, Wright and Coach Ron Rivera and Wright first laid eyes on a burgundy Washington Commanders helmet.

“I love this,” Rivera said, as he spun the helmet around. “Right on. I think the look is gonna be hot. I think the fans will appreciate the look as well.”

Nicki Jhabvala joined The Washington Post in July 2020 after spending six years covering the Denver Broncos, first for the Denver Post (2014-2018) and later the Athletic (2018-2020). She has also been an editor and producer for the New York Times, Sports on Earth and Sports Illustrated.

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