Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Top Republican Messaging Firm To Hold Football Focus Group About Whether Redskins Should Change Name

“It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear,” Luntz Global, the premier strategy shop run by Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz, boasts at the top of its web site. And Luntz Global is interested in figuring out what National Football League fans are hearing.

Luntz Global, which has worked on behalf of the NFL and other sports leagues during labor disputes in recent years, is conducting a football focus group in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 13, where it will pay participants $100 to share their opinions about the current state of America’s most popular professional sports league and the Washington Redskins, the NFL franchise embroiled in controversy and a federal trademark lawsuit involving its name.

An email survey meant to judge the interest and eligibility of potential participants includes multiple questions about the NFL generally, including how many games they watch and attend. It also asks about their “overall opinion of the NFL right now,” their “overall opinion of the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell,” and what they perceive as the “greatest problem or challenge facing the NFL today.”

Five questions in the survey ask directly about the Redskins. “Which of the following best reflects your opinion of the NFL team name ‘Washington Redskins’?” the 20th question asks, offering “I find the name offensive and they should change it” or “I don’t find the name offensive and they should keep it as is” as the possible answers. The next question asks respondents, “In a word or phrase, please describe the ownership of the Redskins.”

Luntz has appeared on ESPN as an “NFL consultant” relating to concussions and the litigation it is facing from more than 4,000 players alleging that the league covered up links between football and long-term brain injuries, and the NFL is listed among Luntz Global’s corporate clients on its web site. The Redskins are not listed among those clients, which include other franchises like the New York Yankees and Indiana Pacers. Neither, though, is the National Hockey League, which, according to a Deadspin report, conducted a focus group with Luntz to help form its message when it locked out its players in 2012.

“We are not involved in this,” NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello said in an email. Neither the Redskins nor Luntz Global responded to repeated email and phone requests for comment about whether the franchise or owner Daniel Snyder is involved in the focus group.

Luntz is the Republican strategist who helped the GOP change the language around issues like global warming (“climate change”), the estate tax (“death tax”), and health care reform (“government takeover of health care” earned PolitiFact’s 2010 Lie of the Year award but also caused considerable consternation among pro-reform Democrats). He has found similar success in sports, where, according to the Deadspin report, he helped the NHL craft its labor dispute messaging around “shared sacrifice” and also pushed it to bench unpopular commissioner Gary Bettman in favor of a “more blue collar” assistant commissioner when it took its lockout case to the public last fall.

It is unclear whether the Redskins are working with Luntz, but for a team that has spent much of the offseason surrounded by controversy about its name, such expertise could be useful. A recent poll found that 79 percent of Americans support keeping the name, but members of Congress, D.C. politicians, and influential media figures have all targeted it as racist and offensive. For an owner who has often had his own image problems, Luntz may be of service too. And while the league may not be involved in this particular focus group, the information Luntz takes from it could help its messaging around concussions, particularly as a new season begins and the litigation against the NFL continues to move forward.

After Deadspin reported the NHL focus group in October, Luntz responded that “the research was no different from what I and others in my field have done for sports teams, sports leagues, and players’ unions for many, many years,” adding that the objective was “to understand exactly what fans think and precisely what they want.”

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