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Monday, November 18, 2013

If they wanted to, the Redskins can rebrand themselves

The team from Washington, DC had used the name for years. They had won a world championship and numerous league championships with that mascot. On the surface, to change it would be unthinkable. However, given the connotations that the name implied, the owner decided that the team couldn’t operate under that banner anymore and a change was made.  As a result, the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards in 1997.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the Washington Redskins? From the way the punditry has been talking about the controversy over the NFL team’s name, a reasonable person might come away thinking no other team had ever successfully rebranded itself. But actually, it has happened a number of times in the past – and with great success.

Today, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder finds himself with a significant branding challenge.  More than other Native American-branded teams, the “Redskins” name and mascot are perceived to be quite offensive by some. In recent months, the chorus to change the team’s name has escalated through ongoing protests by Native American groups, a Bob Costas editorial on Monday Night Football, and a casual mention by President Obama. Meanwhile, the teamhas a legion of passionate fans who claim that the mascot’s 80+ year tradition celebrates and honors Native Americans with fight songs like “Hail to the Redskins.”

The lines are being drawn, emotions are taking over, and both sides appear to be entrenched for what appears to be a big battle. Redskins ownership is faced with the ultimate brand challenge. On one hand, if they continue to use the Redskins name, they will continue to field calls to boycott the team, ongoing protests, and a scenario where the controversy is always part of any team discussion. On the other hand, the team is the third most valued franchise in the NFL (according to Forbes) with a passionate fan base who feel strongly that the team’s name is an integral part of its tradition, heritage, and ultimately its brand. If Snyder acquiesces and changes the name, how will that affect the brand’s relationship with a significant portion of the fan base? Is there any way to change the name without alienating them?

AdAge estimates that a rebrand could cost $15 million. According to Forbes, the organization is worth $1.7 billion. What Snyder, and the team name’s defenders, need to acknowledge – if they can peek up from their foxholes – is that over time, the controversy over the name will erode the brand’s value. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, originally a supporter of Snyder’s, has been careful to back down from a strong position of support. Influential sports journalists like Peter King and Christine Brennan have said they’ll no longer use the name. Members of Congress have weighed in. Snyder should act, now, before the controversy gets worse.

But how do you change a brand that isn’t working for you any more without alienating your most loyal customers? Here are some thoughts on how I would seek to resolve this extremely difficult branding problem.

First, understand your most valuable customers – and your potential customers. The team needs to understand the extent of the issue. How many are actually offended by the mascot name and how deep does it run? The Redskins must go out and survey members of the population, including Native Americans, passionate team fans, season ticket holders, and the general population to determine the degree of the controversy. They may find that a number of their loyal fans actually agree that the name should change, or that a number of potential fans would actually like the team more if they had a less polarizing name.

Focus on other elements of the brand, beyond the name and the logo.  The team has a number of attributes that go into the brand. Yes, the name is one, but there are significantly more. These attributes range from the current players, the stadium experience, and the team’s history and traditions. Research can tell them exactly where the name and mascot rank on that list, and what other factors are important.

Seek out brand managers at other teams that have changed their names and get their advice. A team mascot/name change is hardly new. Beyond the aforementioned Washingon Bullets – Wizards change, there are at least 20 teams that have changed their names without relocating:  baseball’s Devil Rays became the Rays, the Tennessee Oilers became the Titans, the Houston Colt .45s became the Astros, and this year, the New Orleans Hornets will tip off as the New Orleans Pelicans. It is critical to understand how these teams implemented their name change and rebuilt their brands. And bringing them into the conversation would remind Washington’s fans that other teams have gone through this, too.

Consider ways to use a potential name change as an opportunity to increase the brand’s value. There is no doubt that if a name change is made, a significant rebranding initiative must occur. However, who is to say that with the right imagery, a new brand name can’t be as strong or even stronger as the existing name? Lots of fans will want to gobble up merchandise featuring the new mascot – especially if significant excitement is generated. A name that aligns more closely to the Washington, DC “brand” and what it represents might give fans additional pride in their hometown team. Furthermore, letting fans take part in helping to select the new name would help make it more personal.

It all comes down to managing the team’s relationship with its fans. Think about your own relationships. Over the course of our own relationships, one member may undergo a significant change with the support of their partner. Relationships are hurt when one partner makes that change without support the other. If the Redskins decide to take this big step and change their name, they will have to earn the support of their fan base. But by understanding what they really value, they can make the change in a way that helps their most valuable customers remain loyal.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The PGA - Trappings of a One Man Brand….

With the Masters finishing up just a week ago, it has become abundantly clear that the PGA brand cannot go beyond one individual. This individual hasn’t won a major tournament since George W. Bush was president, yet, continues to be the face and the focus of the PGA. Of course, the player I am referring to is Tiger Woods and no matter where he stands on a given tournament’s leader board, you can guarantee that he will be the headline.

How bad has it gotten? Consider this, after day one, 22 players had scores at or better than Tiger Woods. What was the headline? That Tiger Woods was only 4 back. The players that were actually leading the Masters (Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia) were a tertiary headline. On day two, Woods was assessed a 2 shot penalty for the illegal drop that was taken at the 15th hole which only served to add to the headlines with the leaders, once again, taking a back seat.

That is a shame. Tiger Woods’ continued popularity is also an albatross around the PGA’s neck. He has become the brand. While he has undoubtedly brought thousands, if not millions of new fans into the game of golf, the fact of the matter is that the PGA has aligned its brand so closely with him, that it lives and dies with Tiger’s performance. And like Tiger, the PGA is also in a 5 year slump.

The consequence of this is that the PGA is perceived to be compromising its brand for one player – and that is dangerous territory. A number of players and caddies indicated that had any other player done what Tiger did at the Masters, they would have been disqualified. Many believe that because of Woods’ popularity, he was given what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Little things that you probably don’t notice also indicate how desperate the PGA is for a dominant Tiger Woods to rescue its brand. Take, for example, the leader board. If Tiger is tied with a group of players at a certain score, Tiger will always be listed first on television coverage, and if at all possible, on the first page of the leader board. The networks know that if a casual viewer tunes in and sees no Tiger on the leader board, they will likely refrain from watching.

The PGA is in this position because for years, it put all of its eggs in the Tiger Woods basket. Like the NBA’s reliance on Michael Jordan, it was a very successful strategy for years when Tiger, was in fact, dominating the game. But it has evolved into a tired, looking back type of a strategy when, in fact, the tour should be looking forward and communicating that is brand is bigger than one player. Look only to young Adam Scott, the charismatic Australian who actually won the Masters in a remarkable playoff over Angel Cabrera. It was exciting, dramatic, and nerve wracking to the bitter end. It represented the best of the PGA.

And that should be a lesson that the PGA takes forward. The brand must be more than one player. In fact, I would argue that the PGA has been engaging in lazy marketing by leveraging Woods’ prior dominance at the expense of looking at the bigger picture. Now the brand is paying the price. A lesson for the PGA: Become bigger. Leverage the holistic umbrella of the PGA brand, the beauty of its stops, the ongoing drama that takes place every week, and the tour’s array of various players and their personalities to recapture the brand’s romance with its fans. And when or if Tiger Woods becomes the dominant player he once was, all the better. Just don’t count on it in building your brand.