Money talks in Redskins debate
Corporate sponsor pressure might alter Daniel Snyder's stance on mascot name
NFL players are siding with management in one of the league's most discussed social issues. ESPN.com's NFL Nation asked 286 players if the Washington Redskins need to change their team name. Nearly 60 percent said no, a result that aligns with the rest of the league's power structure.
More than anything, their collective response reinforces the belief there isn't going to be a moral uprising from within the industry to overturn the firm position held by Washington owner Daniel Snyder. Commissioner Roger Goodell supports Snyder's stance in retaining the name. NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith has said, "I'm not sure it boils down to what any particular player has to say." And to date, none of Snyder's fellow owners have raised a public dissent.
If the name is to be changed, it seems clearer than ever that the impetus will arrive from outside the industry. It's a difficult challenge, considering the resistance met already by attorneys, politicians and even President Obama. If Snyder remains unmoved by action to cancel the team's trademark, by demands from 50 U.S. senators and a subtle suggestion from the president -- and if, as we discussed in June, there is no immediate financial incentive to make the change -- what could actually change his mind?
There is one untapped sector, one outlet that speaks the language of everyone in a decision-making position on this issue. If so moved, corporate sponsors of the league and team could threaten a direct outcome unmatched by legal avenues or political pressure: Lost revenue.
The NFL and its teams eclipsed $1 billion in corporate sponsorship revenue during 2013, according to tracking service IEG. It's a fraction of the NFL's annual television earnings, which bring in more than $5 billion per year, but still one of the league's top three money-makers along with ticket sales. The league's sponsorship deal with PepsiCo Inc. alone generates nearly $90 million annually.
How would Snyder react if FedEx broke its naming rights contract for FedEx Field, which is bringing Snyder $205 million over a 27-year period? What if Anheuser-Busch CEO Carlos Brito decided he didn't want his company's name attached to the NFL or his beer sold in its stadiums? What if Visa grew concerned about the issue's impact on its brand?
This might well be a naïve conjure of corporate citizenry. After all, stepping back from such an enormously popular product could hurt the corporation as much as it would impact the NFL. It's also fair to ask what said corporation would get out of it.
Why would it feel moved to support a position -- sensitivity toward Native Americans -- that has been trounced throughout the history of this country? Companies do react to customer and stockholder pressure, but national polls on this issue have revealed split opinions and thus a middling likelihood for groundswell.
This much seems clear, however: Financial arguments are more persuasive to businessmen than moral appeals. It's difficult to imagine Snyder waking up one morning with a sudden revelation that the name "Redskins" is too offensive to carry on. His personal opinion seems unshakeable. "The name really means honor, respect," he said last month.
It's more than reasonable, however, to envision him moved to stem or prevent financial loss. If you want to get at him, you have to find a way to his wallet. And if his pride finds no bounds, one of his business partners -- be it an owner or the league office -- could step in to prevent a related associated impact on the ledgers of other NFL teams.
What a wild concept: Envisioning action from America's money-grubbing corporations to impact change on a moral/social issue. It doesn't seem particularly likely at the moment. But if Daniel Snyder is locked in, and the league office remains unwilling to step in, and players are aligned, and nothing has come from political pressure or legal avenues, then what's left?
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