As Commanders football stabilizes on the pitch, its business operations stumble

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The Washington Commanders lost a major partner last week when global beer company Anheuser-Busch InBev decided to pull out of its sponsorship deal.

That contract was worth at least $4 million a year, per NFL and team sources, and ranked among the top four major sponsorships for commanders. The only transactions of equal or greater value are with Pepsi, FedEx and Bank of America.

[Ed. Note – NBC Sports Washington has a business partnership with the Commanders.]

The loss of sponsorship from InBev, which owns popular beer brands like Bud Light and Budweiser, follows Washington’s loss of its partnership with Medliminal, a health insurance adjustment company, last month. This small business was worth only six figures, a pittance compared to exclusive beer sponsorship.

Walk around Commanders’ FedEx Field and the Bud and Bud Light logos are plastered everywhere.

When Washington officially announced in February that the team’s new name would be the Commanders, the announcement took place in an area of ​​the stadium called the Bud Light Party Pavilion.

The beer giant’s decision is baffling given its presence throughout the NFL. InBev has sponsorship deals with 26 of the league’s 32 teams. The NFL did not respond to the decision when asked to comment on NBC Sports Washington.

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For many of these offers in the league, beer sponsorship is not exclusive. Teams can and do get sponsorship deals with multiple beer companies.

In Washington, however, the deal was exclusive, and team and league sources said it was highly unusual for InBev to go from an exclusive deal to no deal rather than simply reduce its financial commitment and switch to a non-exclusive contract.

The loss of the multimillion-dollar sponsorship comes at a time of significant upheaval in Commanders’ business operations. Team and league sources have explained that at least 20 non-football staff have left since the start of the year. According to a former team employee, “this place is a mess”.

Commanders paint a different picture of the current atmosphere.

A team spokesperson said that even with the loss of revenue from the Anheuser-Busch deal, sponsorship revenue is on track to top 2021. Regarding employee turnover, the spokesperson admitted that c It was a time of “intense change” for commanders but the end of the football season in January marked a natural turning point for personnel transition.

Attendance remains an issue as empty seats have become the norm at FedEx Field over the past five years — and that was before Washington landed at the bottom of the NFL last season in terms of tickets sold.

However, sales are trending up now, according to the spokesperson. Commanders have sold more new subscriptions in the past three weeks than in the previous three years, a significant feat. But also keep in mind that fans weren’t allowed to attend most games in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s also the undeniable state of FedEx Field itself, which has suffered a number of embarrassing incidents, including plumbing issues and a dangerous railing collapse.

Even during the rather successful rollout of the team’s new name and logo last month, a Commanders crest displayed the wrong dates for the team’s three Super Bowl championships, prompting outrage from fans. . Eventually the crest was corrected with commanders declaring on social media: “We heard you loud and clear.”

This is in addition to the NFL’s ongoing investigations into sexual harassment and workplace culture under Dan Snyder’s ownership.

A new headwind against the organization has emerged with the BoycottDan.com websitewhich provides email addresses for fans to contact team sponsors and encourages companies to “sever all ties with Daniel Snyder and the Washington Commanders NFL team.”

Ironically, the football situation of the commanders seems the most stable in the last five years. Head coach Ron Rivera is firmly entrenched at the top of the organization’s football hierarchy and the team just traded for new quarterback Carson Wentz.

A former MVP candidate, Wentz is insecure after being dealt twice in two seasons by the Philadelphia Eagles and then the Indianapolis Colts, but he’s been Washington’s leading passer since Kirk Cousins ​​left via the free agency after the 2017 season. Washington has won seven games in each of Rivera’s first two seasons, and the coach has made it clear he expects more from his team this fall.

Although the name of the commanders is new, the arrival of a new quarterback and the disruption of business operations are not.

In 2018, Washington traded for veteran QB Alex Smith to replace Cousins ​​and hired a team of executives to overhaul and modernize its business operations.

Less than a year later, all of those executives were gone, and the team lost around 40 employees as a result of their departure. Smith suffered a broken leg in his fall and never returned to the same level of athleticism after the injury.

The new commanders’ executive group doesn’t believe the 2018 comparisons, and all previous efforts to revamp Washington’s organization, have much current relevance.

“The most important thing is that we have to get out there and build trust with the community,” said Jason Wright, president of the Washington team. said last month at an Economic Club forum. “For us, we need the humility to approach every conversation knowing that we have to build trust. That it’s not just there, it has to be earned or regained in places where that trust has faded. .”

The effort to rebuild that trust, however, takes a hit when a major sponsor like Anheuser-Busch InBev decides it doesn’t want to pursue a financial relationship with the Washington brand. The Commanders are actively seeking a new alcohol sponsor for 2022.

Speaking with league sources about Washington this offseason, one message has become clear – despite Rivera’s efforts to improve the team’s reputation, Commanders are not a prime destination for talent. NFL. Washington has never been in contention for elite quarterback options like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson.

It looks like that could be the case for major NFL sponsors as well.

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