Daniel Snyder owns the Washington Redskins, but even he couldn’t change the team’s name without a complicated, and possibly lengthy, process that might include winning approval from both the NFL and some of its many sponsors, according to experts on the way the nation’s most prosperous sports league conducts its affairs.
The financial stakes in such a move by one of pro football’s most valuable franchises would be considerable for the 32 NFL owners, who have a revenue-sharing agreement that covers much of the more than $9 billion the league generates annually.
“The unique dynamic of professional sports is that teams essentially give up some of their rights as far as names and trademarks to the league as part of the joint venture,” said Gabriel Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University. “While an individual team owner makes business decisions primarily affecting the one team, there are also decisions made by the league and the other owners that tend to affect the league as a whole.”
The Redskins have made it clear that they have no intention of changing the team’s name or logo, despite recent criticism from Native Americans, the media and others that both are racially offensive and should be abandoned. The Redskins have said they don’t mean to offend anyone and are proud of the team’s history and traditions.
But the fierce debate has glossed over both the financial implications of a name change and the procedural issues that would be involved. All of those considerations would be significant, people familiar with the situation and outside legal and business experts said.
According to two people with knowledge of the NFL’s policies on such matters, the league exerts great control over the use of trademarked team names, logos and colors.
One of those people, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said he presumes the NFL would take the position that team names are set by the league constitution and any name change would require league approval.