After years of outrage and protest over the franchise’s name, it was the shipping company FedEx of all things that appeared to break the camel’s back, finally breaking through and prompting Washington’s NFL team to change its team name and logo. Last week, the company said it had “requested” that team owner Daniel Snyder, with whom the company has done business for two decades, change the franchise name from what’s widely considered a slur. The corporate sponsor’s request resonated not only because the team has played at FedExField since 1999 as part of a 27-year $205 million naming-rights deal, but because FedEx founder Frederick Smith is also a minority owner of the team. After years of stonewalling, Snyder agreed almost immediately to a “thorough review” of the team’s name, a concession that made change appear inevitable. What changed? The Washington Post reports FedEx actually went well beyond a corporate “request” for a name change and issued an ultimatum to Snyder, pledging to remove its name from the team stadium if the name and logo aren’t changed by the end of the upcoming 2020 season.
FedEx issued its threat on July 2 via a two-page letter from its general counsel, according to the Post, that said the team name posed a reputational threat to the Fortune 100 company and ran counter to its corporate values. The Post reported on a paraphrased version of the letter:
As paraphrased by the person familiar with its content, the FedEx letter noted that the company was founded on a “people-first philosophy” and embraced and practiced diversity and inclusion. As such, it explained, the company is obligated to its stockholders, team members and customers to ensure that its corporate values were shared by its business partners. The letter indicated that affiliation with the [team’s] name essentially jeopardizes all that makes FedEx customers feel favorably toward the company and good about using its services. As a result, the letter served noticed that the company would remove all signage from the field at the end of the 2020 season (two decades into a 27-year naming-rights deal) unless the name is changed. The letter closed with the hope that a name change would help create a more positive public perception of the team, restore the team’s reputation and lessen the company’s concerns.
FedEx’s move was publicly supported by Pepsi, Nike, and Bank of America, three significant corporate sponsors of the team. Days later, Smith, FedEx’s founder, and two other minority shareholders in the team said they were looking to sell their stakes, which amounted to 40 percent of the club.
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