The Washington Commanders Lose a Major Sponsor, as Internal Turmoil Continues

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

This sign of trouble comes as other companies pull out of endorsement deals.

On the surface, it looks like a normal corporate shuffling, as Anheuser Busch-InBev announced it would be ending its branding relationship with the newly rechristened Washington Commanders. As these arrangements go, it appears as little more than an offseason business decision, and both sides issued tepid statements about the move which displayed no fundamental strife. 

The owner of Bud Light released a boilerplate announcement about dropping its sponsorship.

“Anheuser-Busch has decided not to renew its sponsorship of the Washington Commanders at this time. We remain fully committed to Washington football fans, and we look forward to continuing our long-term partnership with the NFL and our other 26 teams to create meaningful experiences and connections for fans across the country.”

For its part, the team also issued a response that was neutral in tone, but it soon becomes clear that there are some deeper issues within the franchise, when you realize that this is the third corporate partner to walk away from an endorsement deal in the past year. The Bud Light deal was worth millions annually, with the beer company’s logos seen throughout the stadium and in numerous fan access areas. When the new team name was revealed in February, the announcement event was held in the Bud Light Pavilion.

For the beer company to walk away is significant, as Anheuser-Busch has deepened its commitment to the NFL, renewing its sponsor agreement this past December to be the official beer of the league, as well as independent deals with dozens of teams. The tell is in seeing the moves by the other sponsors.

The medical billing company Midliminal recently announced it would not renew its recently expired deal, but more telling was the news Inova Health Systems was severing its sponsorship deal, after only five years of its ten-year contract. One of the company’s members was the director of medicine for the Washington football franchise, and this means the company also will no longer serve as the team’s medical physicians.

NFL, Kneel, Washington Football Team
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The reasons for these corporate divorces seem to stem from the numerous problems in the front office of the franchise. Team owner Dan Snyder has been embroiled in a number of social problems and legal entanglements. There have been multiple charges from employees of sexual harassment in the workplace with the team, and accusations of Snyder’s direct role in some of the cases.   

The NFL conducted an investigation looking into these issues, but this too is somewhat shrouded. At the conclusion, there were some cursory announcements regarding the findings, but the documents from the investigation were not officially released. This has extended all the way to the federal government, as last month a Congressional committee on workplace issues heard testimony from some former employers on the atmosphere within the organization. 

Now, when you fold in other issues, such as the team holding the worst attendance in the league, and dealing with embarrassing stadium issues, such as a sewage pipe bursting on the fans. Before the start of last season, the team sent notices to ticket holders that they would not allow fans to don any Native American wear or face paint inside the stadium. 

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Most emblematic of the franchise dysfunction is the handling of the team name. After years of pledging to never change from Redskins, Snyder removed the mascot entirely, but without a replacement. For several seasons, the team sported a wholly generic designation, distancing fans, and stifling marketing and branded sales.

While being competent to decent the past few seasons, the football team in D.C. shows a significant dichotomy. The moment you depart the field, real problems and challenges exist with the organizations.