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The Margin: The Washington Commanders’ ’emotional rebranding’ could boost merchandise and ticket sales, experts say


Washington’s NFL team has finally revealed its new name: the Washington Commanders.

After two years of being called the Washington Football Team, the NFL franchise in the nation’s capital revealed its permanent new name and logo on Wednesday. The D.C. team’s previous moniker, which it had since 1932, was changed after decades of criticism that it was offensive to Native Americans.

Owner Dan Snyder celebrated his franchise’s rebranding on stage at FedExField in Landover, Md. on Wednesday, just a few years after saying he would “never” change the name. Now he hopes to make back the estimated $10 million spent on the Washington Commanders rebranding, the Washington Post reports.

Some industry experts suggest he’s got a shot at making that happen.

““Not every Washington fan will go out and get a new jersey, but many will.””

— Matt Powell, senior industry advisor at NPD Group

“Not every Washington fan will go out and get a new jersey, but many will,” Matt Powell, senior industry advisor at research firm NPD, told MarketWatch about the potential rebranding in 2020.

Indeed, jersey sales are among the most popular team gear for fans. And they are a major driver of merchandise sales. So even though Washington hasn’t had a player rank inside the top 10 in NFL jersey sales in the past nine years (according to NFL licensing partner Fanatics), the rebranding and subsequent rush to buy jerseys with the new name and logo could allow Washington to outsell other teams, Powell said.

Take the NFL’s Raiders, for example, which underwent a rebrand in 2020 when the franchise changed its name from the Oakland Raiders to the Las Vegas Raiders. The team saw an uptick in merchandise sales afterward, according to data provided by retailer Lids.

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James O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, thinks the Washington Commanders could enjoy similar success.

“Great name. The logo needs a bit of work, but the organization kept the burgundy and gold colors they’ve worn for 90 years,” O’Rourke told MarketWatch. “The name and colors will promote loyalty among fans and provide an opportunity to sell new branded merchandise.”

““I think it’s safe to say that this will be a significant source of revenue for the Commanders.””

— James O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business

O’Rourke added that when other sports teams have rebranded, notably minor league teams, “estimates of change in merchandise sales have roughly doubled,” he said. “This is an emotional rebranding, though, and many Washington fans who abandoned their previously named gear may restock in large numbers. I think it’s safe to say that this will be a significant source of revenue for the Commanders.”

A boost in merch sales may increase revenue for the team, but it’s somewhat capped due to revenue sharing agreements in the NFL.

See also: Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores is suing the NFL, alleging racism in hiring process

Revenue sharing among merchandise sales and national TV contracts is collectively bargained by team owners and the players union. Teams do get to keep all the revenue from merchandise sales within their own stadiums, industry sources confirmed to MarketWatch.

So will the rebrand lead to an increase in ticket sales?

Well, it can’t hurt.

For the 2021 season, Washington ranked dead last in the NFL in attendance, on a percentage of the stadium basis. Some of those attendance issues could be related to the strictness of the team’s COVID-19 protocols, but Washington has ranked near the bottom of the NFL in attendance several times over the past decade — a low ranking as the fifth most valuable team in the NFL at $4.2 billion.

Powell predicts that the team being renamed the Commanders could have a “positive impact on ticket sales,” as he’s seen fans buy tickets to attend a team’s games simply due to a name change before.

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In the NBA, for example, the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats changed their name to the Charlotte Hornets back in 2013. And ticket sales spiked 59% that summer, according to Pete Guelli, the Bobcats’ executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

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