Ad Age | Washington Football Team Becomes the Washington Commanders
Originally published in Ad Age
The Washington Football Team, as the Washington, D.C.-based franchise has called itself since dropping its former “Redskins” moniker two years ago, today officially debuted a brand new identity: the Washington Commanders.
After months of speculation, the new name was confirmed this morning on social media, NBC's "Today" show and at an event at FedEx Field, the Commanders’ home stadium. The club’s new look keeps the same burgundy and gold color scheme used by the Redskins for decades, but swaps the brand’s indigenous imagery for military-inspired flair, such as a band of stars.
The announcement closes a temporary, rumor-filled chapter of team history that had seen the Washington Football Team hint at its new identity for several months, including by releasing cropped images and teaser videos that gave fans a vague—but inconclusive—idea of what they could expect from the new look.
“As an organization, we are excited to rally and rise together as one under our new identity while paying homage to our local roots and what it means to represent the nation’s capital,” Dan Snyder, the team’s owner, said in a statement.
A year in the making
After initially refusing to consider any changes, the then-Washington Redskins made the call in July 2020 to abandon their long-controversial name amid mounting pressure and a wave of social justice protests in the U.S., with the team’s leadership committing to revamp its name and logo—both of which were considered by many to be offensive to Native Americans.
Last February, the 90-year-old team officially handed its rebrand duties to Stagwell Group’s Code and Theory, which was the incumbent agency that also crafted the franchise’s interim identity and its “No Name But Team” ad campaign that coincided with the NFL’s 2020-2021 season.
As part of the rebrand, the New York-based creative shop solicited public input for the franchise’s permanent identity, opening a “Brand Journey” webpage dedicated to the process that eventually received over 40,000 name and logo suggestions from fans.
Last summer, team CEO Tanya Snyder revealed on an ESPN podcast an unofficial shortlist of finalists that included the names Armada, Brigade, Defenders, Presidents and Red Hogs.
The new Commanders name “doesn’t seem to have a strong tie-back to the history for the franchise or the locale of the franchise, but I wouldn’t say it’s awful,” said Mike Carr, director and co-founder of branding firm NameStormers, which has helped develop names for clients including hard cider brand Angry Orchard and auto seller CarMax.
On the plus side, the revamped identity is uncontroversial and not politically incorrect—two major considerations for a team once decried as racist—and, importantly for Carr, it also follows two core principles of brand names: “It’s easy to say [and] it’s easy to spell,” he said.
Loose lips sink armadas
Despite earlier teasers—and assurance from the team’s president, James Wright, that additional names were still in play—the Washington Football Team appears to have gone to great lengths in recent months to conceal its new identity, which may have included using limited liability companies and registering in far-flung countries with obscure copyright databases.
It’s not an unheard-of step. In 2009, Apple filed its trademark application for “iPad” in Trinidad and Tobago with the owner listed as IP Application Development LLC, while Google originally filed the paperwork for its Pixel phones in Tonga. Even the Cleveland Guardians professional baseball team, formerly known as the Indians, filed in Mauritius before announcing its new name in July 2021.
But some keen sleuths seem to have predicted the existence of a “Washington Commanders” team in recent days.
Last week, a Twitter user by the name of Larry Legend mused that “commanders.com” had been transferred to MarkMonitor, a secure platform used by many NFL teams to manage their web domains. Joe Theismann, a former quarterback for the then-Redskins, also appeared to accidentally confirm the team’s adoption of the Commanders name in a CBS Sports Radio interview on Monday.
“I think the Commanders is a name that is going to be one that hopefully people like going forward,” said Theismann, who played for Washington in the 1970s and ’80s, noting that there are “a lot of commanders in Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon, and a lot of different branches of the service.”
“So to me, that’s the way I’m looking at it, as positions of leadership when it comes to the new name,” he continued, later suggesting to a Washington Times reporter that he had no advance knowledge of the new name.
Last night brought the most significant clue yet, when a local news helicopter making the rounds above FedEx Field—which is technically in Maryland, a few miles east of the nation's capital—spotted a Washington Commanders banner inside the team store. Someone inside the shop allegedly dimmed the lights shortly after photos of the signage began circulating, making it harder to see, local media reported.
Unfortunately for Commanders fans, they’ll have to wait several months for the newly rebadged team to prove their mettle; while this year’s Super Bowl will see the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Los Angeles Rams on their home turf on Feb. 13, the Washington Football Team didn’t even make the playoffs this year, finishing the season with a paltry 7-10 record. It wasn't a shock for the team's longstanding fans. The Washington team, then the Redskins, last appeared in—and won—the Super Bowl in 1992.