When FedEx signed its original naming rights deal with the Washington football team 21 years ago, it was an historic agreement: an unprecedented 27-year lease worth $205 million. Six years and $45 million were remaining on the deal when FedEx announced this month it would end its sponsorship of the team over the use of the nickname “Redskins.”
But back in 1999, there was no concern about the team’s nickname, according to Donald Dell, one of the men who helped negotiate the original agreement.
“It was never a point of discussion,” said Dell, a legendary agent and marketing exec who helped broker Michael Jordan’s ‘Air Jordan’ deal with Nike and Stan Smith’s agreement with Adidas. “The use of that name was more accepted then.”
Dell said he believes FedEx founder Fred Smith, a minority owner of the team, was sincerely affected by the death of George Floyd and the ensuing movement around racial equality and sensitivity it sparked around the nation, and that’s why FedEx’s position changed.
“I think Fred decided last month that having his name, and his company, associated with that nickname was wrong,” said Dell.
The team said this week that it was retiring the name “Redskins” in favor of another it has yet to announce. The news came days after several corporations, including FedEx, began to apply pressure both publicly and privately. In a July 2 letter sent to the team, FedEx stated it would remove its signage from the team’s stadium after the 2020 season unless use of the name was discontinued, according to The Washington Post.
A FedEx spokesperson said in a statement to Sportico: “We appreciate the team’s decision to change its name and logo, and we look forward to the outcome of the next step in the process.”
To explain FedEx’s sudden change of position, brand expert Darryl Cobbin, who co-hosts a podcast with business partner Larry Taman called “Brands, Beats & Bytes,” likened it to seeing clips of Michael Jordan play in the 1990s versus watching games now.
“When I watched [the Jordan documentary] ‘The Last Dance’ I was surprised at the poor quality of the film footage,” Cobbin said. “At the time I actually watched those game in live action [and] it looked pretty clear to me. But now that I watch games in HD I can clearly see more of the game than I ever did in the ’90s. The same can be said for FedEx. I believe they’re now seeing the name in HD.”
Smith is one of three minority owners attempting to sell their shares in the team, as the Post first reported. The FedEx spokesperson declined to comment on the reporting that Smith intends to sell his stake in the franchise.
“Fred didn’t change his mind because of money,” said Dell. “He changed his mind because he thought it was right.”