Sports

WFT eyeing how Guardians ‘navigate’ new name

RICHMOND, Va. — If the Cleveland Indians endure any issues with their name change, there’s one team that could benefit: the Washington Football Team.

Washington’s president, Jason Wright, said he will monitor any roadblocks Cleveland encounters with its new name, the Guardians, in the hopes of learning lessons and what to avoid in the future.

Wright said once again that Washington will unveil a new name “in early ’22.” But even though the team announced its intention to adopt another name before Cleveland did, Washington could benefit by the fact the baseball franchise announced its new name first. Cleveland unveiled the Guardians on Friday.

“One of the things I’m continuing to watch is … what happens from here on out? What are the legal and trademark things that pop up?” Wright told ESPN. “How do they navigate those going forward? Just the little boogeymen of implementation that might pop up is interesting to me.”

Indeed, Cleveland also has a roller derby team called the Guardians, which could present legal challenges. The roller derby team has played in Cleveland since 2016 and owns the domain clevelandguardians.com. It’s likely the sides would come to a financial agreement in order for the baseball franchise to buy that domain, as well as other social media handles. Regardless, it provides a blueprint for Washington.

“It will never be perfect,” Wright said. “But I do want it to be as seamless as possible and of the quality it deserves so these little things, these gremlins that can pop up in the implementation process, is of great importance to me. Once we roll this out it needs to be something, irrespective of the initial reaction of the fans, that we don’t do anything to self-inflict making that process more challenging.”

Wright said he has long been in contact with Cleveland officials as they travel a similar path.

“I know they feel good about being on the other side of it,” Wright said. “They are confident, much like I’m confident, that the ties of the fan base are deeply loyal, that people want to believe the best about the franchise and the real work tends to happen on the back end of the announcement. How does the new name get integrated into the experience? How do you win consistently under that new moniker for it to take root? I paid attention.”

That’s why Wright wasn’t bothered by the fact that Cleveland settled on a new name before Washington. Wright was hired by the franchise 11 months ago and needed to not only help find a new name, but also put together a new business structure, which meant hiring new people with no ties to the organization. Cleveland’s situation was more stable.

“In an ideal world you do a lot of work before you announce the name change,” Wright said. “You do a lot of the important legwork and research well in advance of an announcement. That’s the ideal way to do it. We picked up something different and that’s fine. We believe really strongly that the process laid out is the right one.”

Like Cleveland, Washington must deal with an emotional fan base tied to a previous name that had been around for generations.

“Stewarding that is a heavy weight and a heavy weight takes some lifting to be carried properly,” Wright said. “To be able to be buttoned up in early 2022 and release a name fully fleshed out with new merchandise and swag and logos and mantras and aspects of the new fan experience and rituals ready to go, that’s the right time for us to do it.”

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