Get Our Newsletter

Tech Cocktail DC

Brand Management: A Redskins Case Study

Smart companies realize that they no longer control their brand.  Social media has given voice to the consumer and democratized public opinion.  Brand’s have become like NASA-launched deep-space probes.  You build them, design them and then launch them into the ether and hope you maintain contact, can exert some control and avoid being hit by a meteor.

There’s notional evidence that social media provides over-amplification for  the disgruntled few as the satisfied masses remain silent.  You make someone angry and they now have a soap box.  Savvy marketeers monitor the tweets, twits and blogs and transparently, non-obtrusively  engage in communications to influence the influencers and shape the conversation. Comcast does this well.  Amazon and Dell do this well. Daniel Snyder and his NFL team, the Redskins? If they were a NASA designed deep-space probe, their brand would be, “Houston we have a problem.”

Some marketers pretend they can control public opinion.  Case in point, Daniel Snyder.  Daniel Snyder and his sister created a multi-billion dollar empire from the sale of their company, Snyder Communications. Snyder Communications was a direct marketing company – the kind that interrupted your dinner with a phone call because they thought you would rather switch phone companies than spend quality time with your family.  Those countless interruptions provided the capital to purchase a Washington DC Institution… the Washington Redskins.  Unfortunately, he has attempted to exert so much control and yet so successfully damaged the brand that even congress has higher approval ratings than Mr. Snyder.

For the 30 year period prior to Snyder’s purchase of the team in 1999, the Redskins winning percentage has dropped from a 30 year average of 53% to a lowly 45%.  Play-off appearances have dropped from an average of 1 per season to less than .5 per season and Superbowl appearances and wins went from .17 and .1 per year to a big goose egg.  All this while paying big money for failed coaching experiments and wooing away expensive superstar free agents who just didn’t pan-out.

Censoring the media.
A couple days ago, the hosts of a local Snyder-owned radio station, ESPN980, asked fans for input on the difference between the teams who had made it the conference championship games this past weekend and the Redskins.  Asked to call in to suggest what was the Redskin missing ingredient, a friend of mine called in with the following answer, “The missing ingredient was competent ownership.  We could easily fix our problem by trading our owner and a couple draft picks for the owner of the Stealers, Mr. Rooney.”

And you know what the call screener told my friend?  “That’s funny but I’m sorry we can’t put that on the air.”  You see it’s like this, Danny owns that radio station and like Tom Cruise in the film, “A Few Good Men,” Danny can’t handle the truth, and even if he did, he doesn’t understand that in this new age, he can’t squelch the truth.

This is just one symptom of a disease that goes much deeper.  Traditional media people are afraid of retribution from the Redskins organization if they speak-out too harshly.  There are people in the media who know that if they want access to the Redskins they have to play by Snyders rules.  His employees can keep naysayers off Dan’s radio stations.  He can ban former Redskin hero’s from earning a living on Daniel-run stations, as he did with Redskin’s Superbowl XIV hero and star running back John Riggins after Riggins spoke out against Redskin mismanagement.  He can bar access to the press that speak out too harshly but he can’t hide the truth of the facts.

The internet and social media are forces that can easily distort the truth, and yet thanks to the law of  large numbers the truth eventually wins-out.  Mr. Snyder is living in the old days of his past success.  The days when telephone services were sold by interrupting your dinner.  The era when a privileged few could broadcast and control the message to the many. The days when brands were controlled by traditional broadcast and print media.

Many companies understand that traditional media is a way of launching your brand, but it no longer allows a company to control the brand.  Eventually, like a deep-space probe, external elements like solar flares, radiation, meteors, Twitter and blogs exert more and more control.  You can design a brand strategy like you design a space probe – you can launch it, you can give it directions and try to control it’s path. But in reality, it is out there and very quickly in deep space on it’s own. You just can’t prevent it from being crushed by a killer asteroid.

Brands, you can’t hide from the truth.
You have to design your brand with integrity and purpose.  You can plan it’s path and make adjustments, yet when it’s out there… it’s out there on its own.  When it gets tarnished, you can’t pretend it’s still shiny. You can’t block or avoid the facts.  By trying, you facilitate presiding over the disintegration of your brand. The truth is the truth and there are too many independent empowered voices with too many channels to successfully suppress the truth. Heck, if the government couldn’t keep wikileaks from disclosing that Gaddafi likes blond nurses, then let’s face it….someone’s going to figure out that under current Redskins management, the brand sank faster than any Six Flag roller-coasters on that first harrowing drop, which is not as fast as six flags stock dropped to bankruptcy after Snyder purchased the company.

Social media is out there and a major force.  It is not only used by school kids to flit and flirt. Smart brand managers listen to what people are saying and skillfully get themselves invited to the conversation.  They conduct themselves like interested, caring adults and they shape, not control their brands.

Good corporate social media strategy calls for marketeers to act as honest agents on the new media stage.  Transparency and integrity are key.

Editor’s Note: Guest author Glen Hellman is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist.  He muses on his blog and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.  He’s a principal at Driven Forward, member of the board at The University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and is a mentor at the Founder Institute, which is a good excuse but not the reason he is such a horrible hockey player.

Get more delivered to your inbox just like it!
Get Our Newsletter
Sorry about that. Try these articles instead!
About the Author'

Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.


5 Responses to “Brand Management: A Redskins Case Study”



    Glen –

    First of all, insanely jealous that you figured how to write a post linking the three most interesting forces in the modern era – branding, technology and the Redskins

    The Redskins do employ some very forward-thinking new media strategists, who are doing interesting work for them (not sure if they want to be outed or I would pontificate), but I wonder if sometimes you can only be as creative, sociable and open as the people you're managing. Perhaps Snyder's corporate policy is totalitarian, but more importantly, his personality is, which is the really tricky thing to hide. Social media, for the reasons you suggested above, only make that more visible.

    Perhaps the future of the Redskin's rebranding will involve convincing Snyder to chill out. For example, the best coverage he received in WashPo in a year came after he admitted mistakes (see:… and….



    Hi adamsfallen

    What? Only the 3 most interesting not 4? Not a Trekkie or Star Wars fan?

    You have a point, Snyder's handlers and purportedly his wife have pushed him to craft his image to have him "appears" more human. The issue lies in the fact that you can take a turd, shape it like a Baby Ruth candy bar, even put it in a Baby Ruth wrapper, but unless the turd is magically converted into a Baby Ruth, it will still stink and be inedible. PR isn't going to change Dan Snyder, years and years of psycho analysis might not change him.

    Do you know how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb? One, but the bulb really has to want to change.

    He is suing the City Paper and Dave McKenna for an article that does a pretty good job of documenting the sleeze factor of Washington's little man tyranical banana republic dictator – Dan Snyder. That's good PR for the city paper and horrible pr for Danny.

    Snyder may change when he is truly comfortable in his own skin. Right now he seems like the nerdy friendless geek in high school who had some Cinderella transformation to powerful billionaire and is now worried that the clock will strike midnight and he's going back to geekdom.

    (anyone keeping count of the metaphors here?)


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)