We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The best news about the new name of the Washington football team (née Football Team) is that it is, in fact, a usable name. Commanders is inoffensive (literally, which is an upgrade from their previous moniker), unremarkable, and a basic plural noun like most sports team names. So at a bare minimum, we here at City Paper will be able to write about them without torturing the English language into subjective-verb agreement submission for our ledes. That’s a net plus.
On the other hand, the name is inoffensive, unremarkable, and just a basic plural noun like most sports team names, with no particular ties to the region, to the fans, or to the team’s history. It’s probably safe to call that a negative.
The rest of the rebrand is a net neutral, no matter how much complaining you hear.
In one of my very first columns for City Paper, way back in 2015, I wrote about the team through the lens of the Ship of Theseus paradox—that is, how many parts of a thing can you replace and have it still be the original thing. (The simplest version of this is George Washington’s axe: If you replace the handle of an axe, and then you later replace the head of the axe, is it still the same axe you originally had?)
It’s a useful way of thinking about being a fan of a football team (or any sports team, really). The players change. The coaches change. The owners change (slowly and not frequently enough, sure, but they do change). The uniforms change. The strategies and philosophies change. The number of players on a team, number of games in a season, number of teams in the league—if you stick around for long enough, it all changes. You either stay a fan or you find a reason to leave.
For some people, the name change will be a reason to leave, and that’s fine. I mean, it seems weird to stay a fan as a quarter-century of mismanagement and failure ruins the franchise’s reputation but leave because of a name change, but that’s just me. Everyone has their own breaking point.
Conversely, I’m sure the new name and brand will bring in some new fans: people who were put off by the previous nickname, masochists, people who really like the letter W, etc. And that’s fine too.
But for most people, and for the most part, it’s really not going to matter much past today’s round of social media mockery and sports radio shouting. If the team ever actually gets its act together on the field, the fanbase will grow. There will be dress-wearing Commandettes (or their 21st century equivalent) and Star Wars-themed Commandalorians and people in burgundy-and-gold variants of Cobra Commanders outfit, and so on. There will be a fight song of some kind, and a whole bunch of stadium traditions, and a whole generation of new Commies.
If the team continues to linger in the middle-to-bottom of the league where it’s been for the last couple of decades, the fanbase will continue to dwindle, the team will become increasingly irrelevant, and all the brand consultants and marketing gurus in the world won’t be able to save it.
(The same is true of the stadium location, if we’re being honest. If the team gets good, you could put the stadium in Virginia Beach and people would sit in traffic to get through the bridge-tunnel into Hampton Roads every Sunday. If the Commanders maintain their current level of mediocrity, you could put the stadium in my backyard and I still would just watch on TV in my living room so I could flip to RedZone at halftime.)
In the end, despite two years of increasingly incompetent hype and build-up, the name reveal is a meaningless non-event. It’s appropriate that it wasn’t the most important NFL-related morning show segment on its appointed day (that honor goes to former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores discussing his racism suit against the NFL and three of its teams on CBS Mornings), nor the most important D.C.-football-related national story of its appointed week (that would be today’s congressional roundtable, “Examining The Washington Football Team’s Toxic Workplace Culture”).
What really matters is that now, for the first time in my City Paper career, I can clearly and without tortured syntax express this thought: The Commanders really need to get their act together on the field and in the ownership suite, otherwise their decline will continue indefinitely.
And that, to my mind, makes this a successful rebrand.