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The mishandling of the brand: The continuing failure of leadership on the business side of the Washington Commanders franchise

Things are not going well

WFT new team name Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

WARNING: This article is over 8,000 words. If you aren’t interested in reading that much, or if you simply don’t have the time to read something that long, then I suggest you turn back now.

As an option, you can read the article in 4 sittings of about 2,000 words each; it is written in 4 major sections, and you should find natural stopping points that make it fairly easy to read that way.

Former team president and sometimes-GM of the Washington Redskins, Bruce Allen, was terrible at his job.

At least two full-time head coaches failed at their jobs on his watch, and for very different reasons. The alpha male, Mike Shanahan, was too strong willed to work for a guy like Allen. His successor, Jay Gruden, was probably too weak to make the kind of broad organizational changes that were needed to transform the Redskins and return the franchise to the pre-Dan Snyder glory years.

New Year’s Eve of 2019 was supposed to mark the end of two decades of Dan’s dysfunction. Bruce Allen was fired...finally. New blood and a cleansing fire was supposed to enter the building and create a new and highly successful organization that would return the franchise to the lofty status and universal esteem it had enjoyed in the last two or three decades of the 20th century.

Two men were identified to be the prime movers — the force behind this business resurgence.

The first, Ron Rivera was given broad powers and responsibilities to transform the football side of the franchise. Despite facing a number of unexpected challenges, like the COVID pandemic and a personal cancer diagnosis along with a sudden and surprising abandonment of the team’s historic Redskins name, Ron instituted an immediate housecleaning and began the difficult process of changing the entire organizational culture. Along the way, he hired help, including GM Martin Mayhew, and former Panthers GM Marty Hurney.

The other prime mover is Jason Wright, who was hired in August of 2020 to replace Bruce Allen as team president. It would seem that succeeding in that job would be pretty easy. Bruce Allen had been slimy and inept; by just being the opposite (not-slimy and ept?) Wright should already be a huge improvement.

But with big changes afoot, Jason Wright faced immediate challenges far above and beyond what most NFL team presidents have to face. He had to take care of all the normal stuff, but he also had to play an integral role in the culture change being spearheaded by Ron Rivera, and he had to be the spokesperson and public face for the re-branding of the team that — in August 2020, when he was hired — was known as the Washington Football Team.

Like head coach Ron Rivera, Jason Wright had to do this with the handicap of working for (possibly) the worst owner in the NFL, Dan Snyder.

While Ron Rivera has yet to reach the level of on-field respectability that all fans hope for, he has generally seemed to have the ship pointed in the right direction, and he seems to be working on a plan that has a chance of working. There’s an air of professional competence that makes him a respected figure across the NFL.

To be honest, I was very excited when Jason Wright was hired to be the team president. Intelligent, well spoken, and a former NFL player, Jason Wright appeared to be the kind of professional businessman and communicator that the organization needed to recover from the twin disasters of Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen, and he seemed to have all the skills needed to lead a complex rebranding of a professional sports team.

Unfortunately, in the two years that have passed since Jason Wright joined the Commanders, nearly everything that has had his fingerprints on it has been half-assed, sloppy and amateurish in its execution. It’s hard to know where to point the finger of responsibility (blame) except for straight at Wright, who is the man in charge of the business side.

In July 2020, the team was forced by financial pressure from some of its major sponsors to give up the Redskins name that had defined it for close to nine decades, and while that was not the choice that Dan Snyder wanted to make, it created an opportunity to reinvigorate the brand through a professional and well-run process. It was an opportunity to position the franchise to attract fans to a refreshed organization — to refurbish and rebuild the crumbling structure into something new and attractive to 21st century NFL fans. That’s why it seemed to make sense to hire Jason Wright, who was a slick management consultant trained at McKinsey & Company.

However, the making of the new brand — the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that was offered to the Snyders and to Jason Wright to re-build a franchise’s identity from the ground up — is quickly becoming the mishandling of the brand. The brand new Commanders identity is being covered, not in glory, but with the dirty footprints and embarrassing graffiti found on a run-down and untended building in the abandoned part of town.

From the day of the announcement in early July, 2020 that the franchise was immediately abandoning the Redskins moniker it had used since 1933, outside of the happenings in the games on Sundays, the primary topic surrounding Washington football had been the new name. Social media, talk radio, blogs and even mainstream news outlets spent the entire 2021 offseason focused on little else related to the Football Team.

As long as most of us are alive, it will be remembered that the potential team name that garnered the most support among fans and which seemed to have the most energy behind it going into the season was Redwolves. Even those who never liked the name will acknowledge that it was the most popular choice in every fan poll conducted.

Despite the promise from Jason Wright that the front office would listen to the fans, the rather unpopular Commanders name was chosen, and Jason Wright attempted to soothe the (largely) unhappy fan base with a story about how copyright and trademark concerns made the fan favorite unworkable. Many fans felt then, and many still feel now, that the Commanders name was preordained by Dan Snyder, and that the months of asking for fan input was a sham designed to placate the (dwindling) masses.

With a chance to use the rebrand to reinvigorate a fanbase that had been depleted by two decades of embarrassment on and off the field, the team’s front office, led by new team President Jason Wright, seemed to completely forget how to manage the media or pull a fan base together.

The two years since he was hired have been punctuated by a series of grotesquely bad outcomes that seem to point to repeated reliance on a flawed process. Even some of the “good ideas” ended up backfiring because of bad timing or poor execution.

Making the Brand video

On August 16th 2021, shortly before last season began, the franchise released an installment of its “Making the Brand” series of videos.

The decision to release this particular video as training camp was winding down was a mistake for two reasons.

Firstly, the entire offseason had been focused on the ‘name debate’ and there was fatigue among the fans. With real football in pads happening and the regular season just over the horizon, it was time to think about rosters and games. The timing of the video was all wrong.

Secondly, the video contained a bunch of “Easter eggs” designed to tease the fan base — they included eight specific names and a number of potential logos. This led to a ton of confusion about whether or not the eight names comprised the list of eight “finalists” (even Tanya Snyder seemed to be confused about whether they were or weren’t the final list of possibilities), and created a new and mostly divisive debate among fans just at the time when the start of the season should have been bringing them together.

Sean Taylor jersey retirement

Things were not about to get better for the front office in its efforts to remake the brand. In October, the team announced that it would retire Sean Taylor’s jersey, No. 21. It’s hard to imagine an event that would be better received or more enthusiastically embraced by the fan base. It was as close to a slam dunk as the team’s front office could get.

Yet, here’s a short recap from John Keim prior to the ceremony:

Amid skepticism Thursday morning over the timing of the Taylor announcement, a team spokesperson said in a statement that the organization started planning the ceremony before the season started and wanted it to be part of the franchise’s alumni weekend.

The team’s statement read, in part: “We have been planning this weekend’s tribute to Sean Taylor since before the start of the season in partnership with Sean Taylor’s family and as part of our Alumni weekend activities. ... We apologize to fans who would have liked more notice and will continue to share with fans ways we will be celebrating Sean Taylor’s legacy over the next month.”

Wright also apologized to fans for how the announcement was handled. Many fans on social media felt it was meant as a distraction to current issues, from negative emails involving Allen or from a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation into trainer Ryan Vermillion.

But others disliked hearing about it only three days before the game. Wright said the franchise targeted Sunday because it coincided with their alumni weekend. Wright said they want to retire more numbers in the future.

“But we screwed up the execution and, as a result, we realize that we hurt many of our fans deeply,” Wright wrote on the team’s website. “And for that I and we as an organization are sorry.

Among his statements that week, Jason Wright said that the organization “didn’t realize that so many [fans] wanted to make a trip to FedEx Field to be present for this moment”, which prompted a lot of raised eyebrows, as this could only be dissembling on Wright’s part, or else a complete lack of awareness of the organization’s history and the passions of the fanbase.

As mentioned in the John Keim article, there was a lot of suspicion that the ceremony was thrown together at the last minute to distract from the ongoing issues associated with longstanding dysfunction with the franchise; specifically, involvement in ‘the Jon Gruden emails’, a DEA investigation that seemed to involve the team’s head trainer, and a victim of alleged sexual harassment in Washington reporting that she and other women had been offered cash settlements conditioned on their silence.

The execution of the Sean Taylor ceremonies on the day didn’t do much to discount those opinions.

This was a massive failure — a missed layup — by the Commanders front office team, and it dominated the headlines and talk radio for a week or more. Fans still reference it as a head-shaking example of how inept the Washington front office continues to be, even under the supposedly professional guidance of the former management consultant Jason Wright.

2.2.22 - the big announcement

Once the 2021 season ended, the franchise wanted to pivot quickly to the rebranding; in fact, they made the announcement shortly after the conference championship games had been played, not even waiting for the crowning of the season champion at the Super Bowl.

After 19 months of intense planning and the reported involvement of internationally recognized brand experts, there was every reason to expect the franchise to handle its once-in-a-lifetime rebranding with slick professionalism.

Instead, we were treated to a night-before leak (well, lots of leaks) of the name; one from a video shot through the stadium windows from a helicopter, but many from merchandise suppliers who were stocking up the new branded merchandise.

The uniform reveal was a handful of local press and some former players sitting in the freezing February early morning on folding metal chairs to look at three department store mannequins clad in the home, away and alternate uniforms. Owners Dan and Tanya Snyder were on hand to give speeches in ill-fitting lettermen’s jackets.

The logo and crest unveiled that day were underwhelming. While the “W” logo was something of a letdown after 19 months of waiting, the new team ‘crest’ was downright puzzling, as it listed the team’s championship seasons by the years in which the championship games were played rather than the year the regular season started, which is the norm in the NFL. Once again, this became something that Jason Wright tried to rationalize after the fact, as if neither he, nor anyone in the front office knew how championship years are referenced in the NFL.

But the biggest “WTF?!” moment came when the name was announced on the Today Show. The big reveal looked unrehearsed, disorganized and anticlimactic. The show host seemed to think that Jason Wright was going to make the announcement, but he passed it like a hot potato to Doug Williams, who leaned out of the camera frame to drape his arm around Jonathan Allen, and the new era of Washington football began with Doug Williams announcing, with no fanfare whatsoever, “We are...the Commanders”.

swag boxes

In the weeks that followed, the team scrambled to resolve the issue with the dates on the crest and to defend the rather chilly reception the uniforms had received. In what seemed like a good move, the team sent expensive and high-quality swag boxes to current and former players and media members, who often posted photos to instagram, facebook and twitter. An issue arose, however, when some fans started posting photos of the swag box that they had received. Suddenly, a seemingly good idea from Jason Wright’s team was once again — like the Making the Brand Episode 3 video — dividing the fan base instead of uniting it as some vocal fans began to ask why they hadn’t been included in the giveaway. Why, they asked, are some fans special while others are not?

Let’s change the focus of the article for a few minutes

As the 2021 league year drew to a close in March, I think it’s fair to say that the rebranding effort was foundering on the rocks. The reception for the name, the logo, the uniforms and the announcement itself was tepid at best, with many long-time fans openly hostile about having been forced to trade in the Redskins name they had grown up with and loved for a new Commanders identity that they had not wanted and did not embrace.

But there were other troubling events that had nothing to do with the rebranding effort. The efforts that Ron Rivera and Jason Wright were putting forth were taking place against a background of continued bad ownership by the Snyder family.

The Owner(s)

Of course, Dan Snyder is the architect of all that ails the Washington franchise, having bought it when it was the most valuable sports team in the world in 1999, and then overseeing its steady decline into dysfunction and ridicule over more than two decades.

The Beth Wilkinson investigation

Snyder’s disgrace seemed, for a while at least, to have reached its nadir in July of 2021 when attorney Beth Wilkinson’s report into the toxic Washington workplace was finalized. At that time, Dan Snyder was either suspended or he voluntarily stepped away from day-to-day running of the team, naming his wife Tanya as co-CEO to oversee the team and its operations in his absence.

Wilkinson’s summary findings stated, among other things, that “for many years the workplace environment at the Washington Football Team, both generally and particularly for women, was highly unprofessional. Bullying and intimidation frequently took place and many described the culture as one of fear, and numerous female employees reported having experienced sexual harassment and a general lack of respect in the workplace.”

During the months between the July 2021 non-release of the Wilkinson report and the start of the new league year, while Dan did not disappear entirely, he took a step back and Tanya was more visible as the face of the ownership.

Mrs. Snyder found out almost immediately how difficult it is to speak publicly about troubling issues.

Tanya and the Adam Schefter podcast

Around the start of the 2021 season, Tanya appeared on the Adam Schefter podcast. Here’s what the New York Post had to say in the wake of her appearance:

Washington Football Team co-owner Tanya Snyder on Friday claimed she was “selectively quoted” after her comments about backlash her family received over the team’s scandals drew outrage.

In an interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday, Snyder whined that her children, who are in their teens and 20s, caught flack for the teams’ recent scandals and their less-than-stellar on-field record.

“It’s been one of the most difficult years for me, Dan and our family’s lives,” she said, referencing her billionaire husband and team co-owner, Daniel Snyder.

“It’s hard. I get a lump in my throat. It’s a cross between a crime show and a nightmare movie,” she whined about the public relations disaster.

“I again today reiterate that apology. In addition to our words of apology, our actions — including the many changes made to employee support and training, the leadership team and my taking over the role of co-CEO — demonstrate on a daily basis our commitment to having the Washington Football Team be a professional and respectful workplace, and a source of pride to our employees and the entire community.”

In December 2020, Dan Snyder reached a private $1.6 million sexual misconduct settlement with a former staffer who reported an incident on a 2009 private airplane.

Then in February, a group of former cheerleaders settled with the team over claims that a lewd video was made of them using photos from swimsuit calendar shoots.

The women claimed that in 2008, the team’s in-house broadcasting unit was ordered by two high-ranking team officials to make the video of revealing outtakes for Dan Snyder.

Former employee Megan Imbert, who left the team in 2011 after years as a producer in the team’s broadcast, told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that she found Tanya Snyder’s interview “insulting.”

“The lack of acknowledgement [from Snyder], this self-centered arrogance, that aura of ego we’ve seen and we know. She showed her colors of what that duo [Dan and Tanya] really is,” Imbert told the outlet.

“[Snyder said] she had to stop reading [the investigator’s findings] and said it was ‘too ridiculous’ — is that because you were completely stunned, or are you implying it wasn’t real. It left us feeling completely discredited … We’ve shed a light on the truth but somehow you’re the victim of the past year?”

Following a burst of outrage from and on behalf of the victims of abuse, Tanya Snyder quickly issued an apology for her remarks on the podcast, but couldn’t quite bring herself to apologize for saying the wrong thing. Instead, she blamed others for not understanding what she was trying to say:

It is disappointing that comments of mine [on] the Adam Schefter podcast have been selectively quoted and taken out of context,

Tanya has been notably absent from podcasts and public microphones ever since.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform

As bad as things had been, in October, about a month after Tanya’s outburst on the Schefter podcast, they apparently got worse as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform announced that it was launching an investigation into the widely reported allegations of the Washington Football Team’s unacceptable workplace practices.

In February, at a congressional roundtable in front of the committee, Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the team, levied a new allegation against Snyder, accusing him of touching her without her consent at a work dinner about 13 years ago. Snyder issued a statement denying her allegations.

The result was that the NFL launched a new investigation into the allegations — this one overseen by Mary Jo White. White is a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and a former chair of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. She had previously conducted the NFL’s investigation into allegations against former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

It seems safe to say that, as the short Washington Football Team era came to an end and the new Commanders era was kicking off, the Snyders were not covering themselves in glory. Things looked as grim as they ever had on Dan Snyder’s watch.

As the 2022 league year began in March of this year, in off-the-field matters, the long-awaited rebrand of the Redskins-Washington Football Team had largely fallen flat with a poorly coordinated and amateurish rollout. Instead of using the exercise as an opportunity to unite and re-energize the fan base, the process had been more divisive than otherwise, and the front office was showing incompetence and lack of awareness of team history and fan passions. Much of the criticism for this fell at the feet of new Team President Jason Wright, who had taken on the mantle of being the face of the rebranding effort, and he found himself repeatedly apologizing for not understanding what was expected of him and the team.

The owners, meanwhile, were persisting in their annual ritual of getting Washington in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. After a fight with the minority owners in 2020 that led to the abandonment of the Redskins moniker and logo, and a change in ownership, the negative press kept on coming. The team was implicated in the “Jon Gruden emails”, and allegations of toxic work practices that were raised by a series of Washington Post stories led to an in-depth investigation that resulted in Dan Snyder either voluntarily or involuntarily stepping away from the team. In one of her only attempts to speak publicly on behalf of the team, Tanya Snyder struck the wrong tone, and ended up having to apologize almost immediately after for her comments — an exercise that showed she lacked the grace or humility to apologize effectively. This was followed by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform launching an investigation of their own into the team’s decades of bad work practices. This hearing raised new allegations that prompted the NFL to instigate yet another investigation into Dan Snyder and his management of the team.

In short, from January to March 2022, things were going badly for the Commanders organization on and off the field. The new era of Washington football looked very much like it had throughout Dan Snyder’s tenure, which is very bad indeed.

More about the rebrand

Gone are the Redskins and all Native American imagery.

Gone is the Washington Football Team and its unique non-brand generic-ness.

The Commanders are here, and the new brand brings a host of challenges along with it.

In an effort to placate older fans like me who had strong and deep ties to the Redskins, the team announced early on that the rebrand would not be something completely new; rather, the team would seek to honor the past and maintain connections to the history of the franchise. Perhaps nothing was more emblematic of this than the early commitment to retain the burgundy & gold color scheme which, aside from the Redskins name and logo, fans associated with the franchise more than anything else.

A second commitment made by the new team President Jason Wright was that the rebranding process would be both transparent and inclusive. Early on, Wright wrote regular messages to the fan base to explain what was going on and keep fans up-to-date, and the team released videos such as Making the Brand as part of the effort. The front office also set up a “Fan Ambassador” network, sent out surveys and invited fan submissions for the new name and logo.

The announcement of the new Commanders name in February, however, fell a bit flat with both the fanbase, who had used the process of engagement in 2021 to become attached to other team names, and with NFL fans nationally, who saw the name as being generic (ironically, almost more generic than Washington Football Team in some ways) and uncreative.

Many believed then (and many still believe now) that the promise of ‘inclusiveness’ was a smokescreen (or outright lie) and that the name was predetermined by Dan Snyder. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory, I count myself among the fans who feel disillusioned with the final result.

In my case, I have no malice at the decision to leave behind the Redskins moniker — I believed then and I believe now that it was past time to make that decision — and I have no issue with change. My personal objections have been that the process has been a poorly managed Dan Snyder production, with team president Jason Wright as the front man; it has lacked creativity and it has stuck too much to the traditions of the past, missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop an NFL brand for the next generation. In short, I think the decision-makers made a mistake by not having enough change, and by trying to placate old fans who never wanted to let go of the Redskins name, no matter what.

My view is not widely shared, but, while other fans have different reasons, the fact is, the new name has not been well received, and the creative/marketing team appears to be struggling mightily to figure out how to turn the Commanders name into a brand.

I do want to point out that, as a whole, Hogs Haven has not been very supportive of the Commanders brand since it was announced in early February. This, however, is not universal; there is a large chunk of the fan base who have wholeheartedly embraced the change and reject any criticism of the new brand.

Whether they love the brand or are simply committed to being positive about the team is unclear to me, but it must be acknowledged that, just as there are fans who cling to the Redskins name and refuse to change, there are other fans who fully embrace the Commanders brand and support every move that Jason Wright makes in its development. He has plenty of supporters who seem to think he’s doing a good job.

I, on the other had, keep seeing him stepping into piles of dog poo.

The band & the fight song

Washington has a long tradition of having a live marching band and a fight song that is played after each touchdown.

Last year, after a short hiatus that was at least partly due to COVID issues, it was announced that the team’s marching band would be reinstated. This was a popular move with most fans.

In an associated announcement, Jason Wright said that the team’s fight song, Hail to the Redskins, would be retooled and launched at the first preseason game. The new version, Hail to the Commanders, was — like so many elements of the rebrand — poorly executed, with a couple of words changed to shoehorn “Commanders” into the lyrics and replace any wording that related solely to the Redskins name or Native American imagery.

The result is...disturbing.

The fight song was unveiled at the Panthers game, and I think that even the rabid Commanders fans who are ready to embrace all the new changes were left feeling a little dizzy at the new lyrics and rhythm of the fight song:

Hail to the Commanders!
Hail victory!
Fight for our Commanders!
Fight for old D.C.!

I wouldn’t be shocked to see another ‘tweak’ or two to the fight song before it is all over.

The mascot

Washington has never had a mascot in my lifetime or memory.

The Redskins had a logo based on a real human being — the best logo ever in the NFL.

Now, with Jason Wright seeking to eliminate all Native American imagery from the new brand, the team wants to do what most sports teams do — develop a mascot. I will take a moment here to express my personal distaste for the exercise. After seeing the fantastic logo of the Washington Redskins on the helmets and at midfield for most of my life, seeing it replaced by some sort of cartoon figure is personally disturbing, but, as the players say, “It is what it is.”

The team launched the development of a mascot at the Panthers game by asking fans to choose from among four themes. Presumably, the most popular theme will then be developed into the team mascot in short order (unless Dan Snyder has secretly already made the decision).

Personally, I’ll be surprised if the fan base chooses anything other than a hog, but now is your chance to vote.

Click here to vote on the Mascot theme

I’m a little stunned at the sick feeling I have in the pit of my stomach that, after watching Jason Wright’s team botch one opportunity after another, the mascot (which will be announced in Week 17 of the regular season) will be the next bad job.

Figuring out an identity for the Commanders

There is a simple issue that lies at the heart of the struggles with things like fight songs and mascots — nobody has a clear conception of what a Commander is, aside from a sort of vague understanding that it’s someone who is in charge of...something. The term is so generic that it has no associated image or concrete symbolism. There’s no mental image for fans, and no obvious connections to...well, anything at all.

I guess this allows for a lot of creativity in defining team image going forward, but I think we’re seeing early struggles with the brand because of that very fuzzy conception of what a Commander is.

Mixed response to uniforms

I guess there’s nothing more subjective than uniform designs. Regardless of the team or the sport, if you show a group of fans a uniform, the opinions will range from absolute enthusiasm to absolute disgust.

The fan base initially reacted to the Commanders’ uniform unveiling in February in a way that was probably disappointing to those who had a hand in designing them. I imagine that the biggest issue was the fact that they just don’t look much like the uniforms that Washington has worn in the past. Personally, I am happy to embrace change, but we had been told repeatedly by Jason Wright that the team would retain the burgundy & gold that fans overwhelmingly wanted to keep. In other words, the players on the field would play in uniforms that looked like the team that we’d all grown up loving.

The flat reception that the new uniforms got from many fans wasn’t because they were objectively bad; the problem was that they weren’t what Jason Wright had spent over a year telling us we would see — they weren’t the traditional burgundy & gold look that had always defined the Redskins and the Washington Football Team. The home white jerseys, in particular, used burgundy that was the same shade as the dark road jersey, but because they also used a white gradient in the numbers as a design element, they looked to the human eye like a shade of red. The white uniforms looked like Cardinals or Falcons jerseys. The one element that fans had been promised they would continue to see — the burgundy & gold colors — were not recognizable on the new home jersey design. And then, there was the introduction of black to the color scheme, creates a confusing lack of consistent identity for fans who were already shell-shocked by so many other changes.

The answer from most fans over recent months has been to focus on the helmet, which is the one uniform element that seems to be universally hailed as being ‘just right’. But comments on the jerseys, pans, colors, stripes, etc have been varied and, at times, rabid.

We got the first good look at the team playing in the new duds in Saturday’s game against the Panthers. I saw many comments online from people who loved the all-whites. I wasn’t a fan of the look; I thought the white pants without the stripe were a step in the wrong direction that compound the issue with the gradient numbers, but that’s just my own subjective response.

Look at the side-by-side comparison and decide for yourself, but I feel like the uniforms aren’t quite on par with any of the old ones yet.

The 90 Greatest

Last month, the team celebrated its 90th anniversary, and it decided to continue a tradition that dates back to the 70th anniversary when the team named the 70 Greatest Redskins; that list was supplemented in 2012 with the naming of another 10 to expand the list to the 80 Greatest Redskins.

The PR and Marketing team obviously spent some time considering the pitfalls of the name — to call it the 90 Greatest Commanders would certainly invite blowback from fans who would point out that no one on the list had ever played in a Commanders uniform.

The event was, instead, wisely branded, Command Legacy: the 90 Greatest, sidestepping an obvious landmine.

The problem came in the rollout of the website support for the program. It included information about each of the 80 members of the current list, and a list of nominees that fans could vote for.

There were a couple of problems.

First, the list of nominees had at least one obvious oversight — despite the fact that active players like Kirk Cousins were on the list, Trent Williams, probably Washington’s best player of the past decade, was not. Many fans assumed that this was a petty move by the franchise or the owner to “pay back” Trent Williams for some perceived sleight. After a day or so of public outcry over the omission on social media, the front office made the decision to add two nominees — Trent Williams and Robert Griffin III.

The second problem had to do with the career histories of the 80 Greatest Redskins that were posted on the site. It was inexcusably loaded with errors, a few of them small, but many of them egregious, with player dates in the wrong decade, photos of players in other team’s uniforms and the like. Radio hosts, bloggers and even mainstream sports reporters spent a couple days identifying the errors on the air, on Twitter and in articles. It was a spectacular embarrassment.

Just this week, president Jason Wright made an effort to explain what happened:

“The 90th anniversary rollout, with the wrong dates and all that stuff, it’s less about institutional knowledge and actually just checking our data because what rolled out was stuff that had been on the website for years. And our team’s mistake was just not doing the simple double-checking of what had previously existed.

“So what’s funny about it is like, whoever put that up before was probably the people who you would have said were institutional knowledge. So, while that is not necessarily an indicator of that, it’s something that I think we have taken seriously and adjusted for.

Unbelievably, Wright’s ‘defense’ is that it’s not his fault because he and his team were simply copying someone else’s homework and didn’t bother to check it before they turned it in.

He’s not even good at blame-shifting.

Stadium, falling attendance

The issues I’ve been addressing in this section (aside from the name itself) are all transitory and can be developed or changed. The band, the fight song, the mascot, and the uniforms are all malleable concepts that can be re-tooled, just like correcting the championship dates on the crest, which has already happened.

But one huge elephant in the room is FedEx Field stadium and its future.

Dan Snyder made some almost laughable comments under oath last week, saying:

Our stadium, we’ve dramatically upgraded. We’re encouraging everyone to come to see all the changes we’ve done to the stadium this year. I think it’ll be quite impressive. We’re going to have some big-time attendance shortly as our staff, our leadership team, [president] Jason Wright and...the team have done an amazing job. We’re very, very optimistic also on the season. We finally have ourselves a quarterback.

It’s a fact that Dan Snyder didn’t build FedEx Field, but he’s owned it since before the start of the new millennium, and it’s a dump — probably the worst stadium in the NFL. Adding a few tables and laying new turf this year isn’t enough to change that.

It has been widely reported that the Commanders fell to 31st in the league in attendance in 2021. This was due in part to the team’s extended period of poor play and in part as a protest against Dan Snyder’s ownership, but it is also a reflection of the poor condition of the team’s home stadium.

Financially, the lost attendance is a drop in the bucket for other owners as far as revenue is concerned, but it is a bad look. TV broadcasts showing empty seats at games are not good, and Washington D.C. should be a premier market for the league.

Dan Snyder’s answer to that problem, apparently, is to have fewer seats to fill. Recent reports have said that Snyder is contemplating building a 55,000 seat stadium, which would be the smallest in the NFL. This is a drastic change in direction from that taken by the previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, who built the Redskins into one of the most successful sports franchises in the world in the late 20th century. Cooke’s Redskins played in RFK stadium and had an incredible waiting list for season tickets, prompting the then-owner of the team to build the biggest stadium in the NFL, which Dan Snyder initially enlarged in the early part of the new millennium.

Of course, the stadium seating has been going the other direction ever since. Seats have been removed or covered. The current reported capacity of the once-giant stadium is 67,717, and it is often largely empty or filled with fans of the opposing team on game day.

A team’s stadium is, in the 21st century, increasingly a part of the team’s identity. The Cowboys are linked with AT&T Stadium, the Rams with SoFi Stadium, and the Raiders with Allegiant Stadium, each of which is a palace or an architectural work of art in its own right.

Dan Snyder and Jason Wright have already overseen a botched re-branding to start this decade; should they be trusted to oversee the construction of a stadium that will be integral to the team’s identity for the next 30 years or more? Does the NFL want the league’s smallest venue to be in the nation’s capital, once the home of its largest?

Does anyone trust Dan Snyder or Jason Wright to oversee something as complex as the development and construction of a 21st century stadium?

The clock is ticking. The current lease on FedEx Field runs to 2027. Since the stadium belongs to Dan Snyder, the team can continue to play there beyond the end of the lease, but I can’t imagine that staying in FedEx Field any longer than necessary is something that anyone wants to do.

The owner continues to embarrass himself and the franchise

Dan Snyder fled the country, or so it seemed. For months now, the owner of the Washington Commanders has been at sea on his luxury ocean liner personal yacht. He has been tracked all around the Mediterranean Sea. He has claimed that his travels were, initially, related to team business, and later, connected to the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death.

The Congressional Committee

According to Dan’s lawyers, both issues made it impractical for Snyder to testify before the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform in June or early July.

When the Committee chairwoman tried to subpoena Dan Snyder, his lawyer refused to accept service, and a standoff between the team owner and the legislative branch of government seemed destined to come to a dramatic climax.

In the end, the two parties found a compromise solution, and just before the end of July, Dan testified voluntarily via video link. His testimony reportedly lasted around 11 hours, though, unlike the testimony of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Snyder’s was not publicly televised. The Committee chairwoman has indicated that at the appropriate time, a transcript of Snyder’s testimony will be made public.

Snyder speaks under oath to a hearing of the Maryland Gaming Commission

I mentioned in the previous section Snyder’s August 10th comments to the Maryland Gaming Commission. Here is the video clip.

I think it’s fair to say that this video clip was met with great derision from NFL analysts and fans who are skeptical about the claims of upgrades, increased attendance, and the idea that the team “finally” has its quarterback.

The Mary Jo White investigation

Honestly, it’s a bad look when you have to name the investigations into your football team to keep them all straight. If you say “the investigation into the team” and people know what you’re talking about, that’s bad. If you say it, but people are unsure which investigation you are talking about, then you’ve jumped the shark.

The current investigation into Dan Snyder and his management of the franchise may or may not be more damning than the Beth Wilkinson investigation, but it has to be recognized that the current environment of the league will affect how much impact the new report will have.

The current environment of multiple investigations and harsh punishments
The NFL just took draft picks away from the Dolphins, and temporarily suspended Miami franchise owner Steven Ross. Ross also has been fined $1.5 million, has been removed from all NFL committees indefinitely and may not attend any league meeting prior to the Annual League Meeting in 2023. This punishment was for tampering by entering into talks designed to lure Sean Payton and Tom Brady to the Miami franchise when they were each under contract with other teams.

In the Deshaun Watson affair, the league office has appealed a six-game suspension and was seeking a much more dramatic punishment for the Browns quarterback. On Thursday, news broke that the NFL and NFLPA reached a settlement establishing an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine for the Browns quarterback.

This seems to be a “good news, bad news” situation for those Commanders fans who wish only the worst for Dan Snyder. On one hand, the league is signaling tougher punishments in high profile cases. However, one risk of too many investigations is that NFL fans become a bit desensitized to them, and the findings of wrongdoing against Dan Snyder becomes “just one more”.

The other troubling thing is that Steven Ross was accused of actively trying to undermine the competitiveness of the league by encouraging the head coach to lose games in order to improve draft position. In an NFL that is trying to associate itself with the money to be made from legalized betting, this kind of allegation is a potential disaster. The league and the Commissioner seemed to engage in a lot of dissembling and prevarication in order to rationalize the decision not to punish Ross for this major transgression.

The NFL has already stepped up in the form of Roger Goodell to guard Snyder’s back. Doing so for Steven Ross is an indication that, no matter what the findings are in Mary Jo White’s investigation, Dan Snyder will continue on as he has for the entirety of his ownership, stomping around in muddy boots and creating a mess that never really gets cleaned up.

The rebrand continues to limp along. The latest disappointment seems to be the poor reaction to the re-tooled fight song.

Of course, the ownership team of Dan and Tanya Snyder continues to bumble and stumble at every opportunity. They both seem incapable of actually organizing an organization or leading a team, and each has proven ineffective at speaking publicly on behalf of the team.

This has left a void that has been filled by two people — team president Jason Wright and head of everything football Ron Rivera.

Jason Wright as spokesman for the franchise

Wright appears poised, professional and polished in his written and verbal delivery, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that just about everything that he has appeared to be responsible for since being hired has been handled in a haphazard and ham-fisted manner — or at least the results of the processes have been woeful.

The list of bumbled projects includes the selection and announcement of the new name, the poor timing of the Making the Brand video in August last year, the disastrous handling of the Sean Taylor jersey retirement, the unveiling of the team uniforms on mannequins, the incorrect championship dates on the team crest, the inept handling of the 90th anniversary and Command Legacy: the 90 Greatest, and the anticlimactic 2.2.22 unveiling of the team name. Fans have cringed at the re-tooled fight song this week, and now we’ll have to wait and see what happens with the development of a mascot.

Jason Wright’s latest misstep — one that once again divided the fan base — was his Twitter attack on a reporter who was overly aggressive in an interview with Carson Wentz. While the reporter was hardly blameless, Jason Wright publicly went after the reporter, and seemed to threaten his team access. In an ongoing theme, the effect was to split the fan base into those who applauded Wright for his defense of the player, and those who condemned him for the public attack on the reporter. The man who should be the catalyst in uniting the fan base seems to somehow regularly show up at the center of things that have the opposite effect of dividing the fanbase against itself.

Those who condemned Wright for his Twitter outburst against the reporter seemed to have two primary objections. One was that it was bad form to punish sports journalists for asking tough questions, but the more widespread complaint against Wright was simply that he exercised poor judgement in handling the issue publicly as the team president instead of handling it privately or leaving it to the team’s PR department to handle.

Again, Wright addressed his mistake this week and didn’t back down. Here’s his explanation:

When I saw that that interview with Carson, it was me and my lens as a player. I’m very reactive to any time when I feel like a player is being dehumanized or condescended to. Because already, as a player, you are already putting your body on the line. You always fight this mentality of you being a commodity, and being just something that can be used and batted around. And I’ll never lose that mindset. As a player, I experienced that very viscerally.

It seems as if Jason Wright can’t separate his feelings as a former player from the judgement he needs to exercise in his current role as the team president. I mean, when former player Antonio Brown goes on a rant, people shake their heads and feel sorry for him, muttering concerns for his mental health and stability. Jason Wright isn’t accorded the same indulgence. He is supposed to be a trained and professional communicator who understands appropriate wording and communication channels. He doesn’t have the luxury to be “very reactive” or to respond “viscerally”. For the team president, the expectations are much higher than for someone who is merely “a former player.”

Basically, the idea from many critics was that Jason Wright actually called a great deal of attention to a video report that had, prior to his intervention, largely flown under the radar. Wright made the report and the reporter into headline news and once again gave the fanbase something to bicker about.

With training camp closer to the end than the beginning, and final roster cutdowns just two weeks away, the franchise is limping along the same now as it has been for 23 years, and that’s unfortunate. In Washington, it’s situation normal, with Dan Snyder making the same sorts of bad decision that have defined his entire tenure as the team owner.

Jason Wright was hired to be the antidote to Dan Snyder. He was made team president so that we’d have a serious professional with serious skills in charge.

But it hasn’t worked. Whether Jason Wright simply isn’t strong enough to overcome his boss’s worst tendencies, or whether Wright is, himself, in accord with Dan Snyder and enabling him, the result is the same. Jason Wright’s team is not succeeding at building a well-respected model NFL franchise; instead, he is overseeing a string of embarrassments and bad results that are helping to perpetuate the national narrative that the Commanders franchise is a clownshow run by incompetents.

Washington fans deserve much much better.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in DC—we simply can’t get Snyder out.

(with apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer)