Last week, I wrote about how the owner of Washington’s National Football League team promised to never change that team’s derogatory name, and that the only thing that may cause change is a trademark lawsuit that could make calling a team the “Redskins” far too costly to tolerate. A new study, however, suggests that Snyder may already be costing himself money by not changing the name.
The arguments in favor of keeping the name “Redskins” stem from tradition and nostalgia — the team has been the Redskins since 1933, when it still played in Boston. It would make sense for Snyder to worry, then, that changing it would have negative economic consequences. Team names are brand markers, and changing up the brand isn’t usually a recipe for financial success — estimates say the cost of changing the brand for an NFL team could be as high as $10 million to $20 million.
In the case of mascots that utilize Native American imagery, though, reshaping the brand identity may actually be good for business, according to research from sports marketing experts at Emory University. Emory’s Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi studied the economics of college teams that dropped Native American imagery — either team names or actual mascots — and found that the negative effects are muted, limited to only a one- or two-year time frame. After that, the costs subside — and may even turn into benefits:
In terms of financial impact, the model results suggest that school’s experience a very short (1 or 2 years) negative impact and then quickly recover. The results also suggest that in the long-term the shift away from a Native American mascot yields positive financial returns. As a follow up, we used the brand equity measures created here as a dependent variable and regressed this value against the previously defined variables related to the school’s use of a Native American mascot. In this analysis we found NO significant effects. The key implication is that switching away from a Native American mascot has no long-term negative effect on brand equity.
Lewis and Tripathi caution that the study isn’t perfect: they had to predict revenues based on winning percentages and other variables, so there’s a fair amount of guesswork involved. And men’s college basketball and professional football aren’t a perfect comparison, as they note, because football teams are more likely to be identified primarily by their mascot (“the Cowboys” or “the Redskins”) while colleges are identified by school name (“Maryland” or “Oklahoma State”).
Still, they’re confident that their “findings have a great deal of face validity.” As they wrote: “While some fans may complain, it is not clear that these fans actually change their behavior or their shopping habits. It might also be that merchandise sales become more appealing to segments that did not like the previous Native American mascot.” So even if the biggest estimates are right, the losses could be temporary, and dropping the name Redskins could ultimately cost Dan Snyder less than any number of bad contracts he’s handed out in recent years.