Amidst heightened discussions around racial equality in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Washington’s NFL team announced it would be changing its name and logo. For years, the team’s management had ignored complaints about the racist name, despite growing public sentiment against it.
A program at the University of Colorado Boulder played a big part in precipitating the change. First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) is a partnership between Colorado Law School and the Leeds School of Business, and its faculty and staff advocate for Indigenous People’s rights.
FPW organized an investor letter-writing campaign to reach some of the team’s biggest sponsors: FedEx ($205 million sponsor of FedExField, the team’s stadium), PepsiCo and Nike, among others. Investors warned that continued support of the franchise would be economically disastrous.
They pointed to the controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline as proof. A case study found that companies invested in the project lost about $7.5 billion, partially due to declining stock prices as the public outcry increased.
The sponsors listened, and threatened to pull their funding from the team. In turn, the team agreed to make the change. The rebranding will likely cost the Washington team several million dollars (those huge stadium signs don’t come cheap), but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the sponsor contributions they could have lost.