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Washington Football Team President on NFL voting initiative, social justice, TV ratings

Jason Wright, Washington Football Team President, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss how the NFL is stepping up to make sure everyone votes, and future plans for the league.

Video Transcript

- The election is now four days away, and the NFL is stepping up to make sure everyone votes. About half of the teams will be turning their facilities into election sites, including Washington's FedEx Field, home of the Washington Football Team. And team president Jason Wright joins us now along with our editor at large, Dan Roberts.

Good morning to you both, guys. So Jason, I know the league came out this week and said 90% of active NFL players are registered to vote. What is the number like for the Washington Football Team? And how are you trying to get that number even higher?

JASON WRIGHT: Well it's a pleasure to be here, and thank you for asking, because I'm incredibly proud to say that we have 100% of our players registered to vote. Every single one. And they've sent in their ballots. They were completing them over the course of the week.

And it's because we want to lead by example, as individuals and as a corporate citizen. We are members of the DC, Maryland, Virginia community, and we want to contribute to the community. So we're using all of our assets, our players, their reach, as well as our physical facilities to do something that we think is unambiguously good and nonpartisan for the community.

- Well congratulations on that 100%. That is awesome. But I'm wondering if for the greater league, do you think that one of the impediments to full registration is the fact that a lot of these players are drafted, traded, they have multiple residences, I mean, the fact that they're sort of nomads, in a way, could that play into it?

JASON WRIGHT: Very much so. It was it was not an easy task to get 100% of folks registered, because some guys were straight out of college, and the home address may still be their parents. They may have moved. There's all sorts of things that are actually indicative of the challenges that many people face in getting registered to vote. So even that process was illuminating for us and galvanized our guys in their push for social justice to recognize more of the barriers that exist.

So while we got it done, and it was challenging, it was also educational and helps us think about what we do next to better support the civic right to vote.

DAN ROBERTS: Jason, Dan Roberts here. You mentioned social justice. I mean, we're talking about this voting initiative. These are social initiatives that the league is really embracing, and I guess I'd ask you whether you think the NFL has more of a responsibility than other pro leagues to do this kind of stuff? You know, last week we had former NFL player Emmanuel Acho at our life summit. And he was talking about this same thing. The idea that because of the NFL's size and because of its position, it really does bear more of a responsibility to stand up for things than everyone else in sports does. Do you feel that?

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, I love Emmanuel. We're aligned on most things. I think the one nuance I'd give is that no one is ever responsible to do it, but because of our values as a franchise, and because of the values of the league writ large, we can choose to do it.

I never put it on a company that they have to do something. But we can, because of our values and who we want to be to the world. We can choose to do it. And in that vein, yes. We should use all of our assets with all of our capability to get it done. But I do think whether we like it or not, the conversation about equity and social justice was thrust upon the NFL. And we're not good stewards if we just let it fall to the ground. DAN ROBERTS: That's very well put. You know, another phenomenon we're watching in the sports business world is, what's happening with live sports ratings this fall? You know, the NFL has seen a dip through its first five or six weeks. MLB was way down. The World Series was the least watched ever, even though it's a great series.

I'm curious, as long as we have you, what you make of that, what you think is happening? And then, how you would define success this NFL season?

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, I'll break that down into a couple notes. Number one, if I understood what was going on, I wouldn't be in this job. I'd be rich.

I think consumer consumption of media and entertainment is changing. COVID is changing our psychology and the way we engage. As fans of sports, and more broadly. You all are experiencing that as you watch the markets go all over the place. I think it's something we're all observing and learning.

I think there are a couple things that we are realizing. It's that we can engage fans and engage the public better when we can give some sense of consistency and normalcy in what is an up and down world. And so while ratings are down, I do think the constant drumbeat of the football season should actually provide something better over time. And I expect fan engagement and viewership to go up over time. Of course, I have no idea. But I think we're all learning together about what this is doing for consumer psychology.

Secondarily, success for us, and for me actually, is all about culture and people. We've got to establish a great leadership team in the Washington Football Team. We've got to establish a hyper-professionalized organization. And we've got to get moving on a new name and identity and a new home. And that requires really understanding our fans in a deeper way than we do today.

DAN ROBERTS: Jason, how would a change in the White House impact the world of sports? Listen, there's no hiding it. The world of sports has been under attack by this president.

JASON WRIGHT: You know, I I'm not sure I can fully agree with the second statement. I think in sports, we try to be as non-partisan as we possibly can. I would argue that all the push on social justice, all the push on health care, all the different things that have come from the NFL and from teams, are explicitly non-partisan.

So it's my hope, maybe call me Pollyannish, that irrespective of who is in the White House or who's in our state legislature, we can continue to push these things. Because, again, to me, they are unambiguously good. The right to vote, removing barriers for people to participate, education and health care, all of these things are evergreen motherhood and apple pie type of things.

- We'd love to get your reaction to what happened in the MLB. Justin Turner's behavior on the field after testing positive for COVID 19. He was told he was positive during the game. What is the NFL doing to make sure-- your team doing specifically, to make sure that test results are back before a player hits the practice field or the playing field?

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, this is one where when I came into this role, I expected this to be a bit of a hot mess frankly. I expected this to be the thing that spent most of my time on. I can really tell you that the NFL has been excellent, both from the strategic lens and the execution lens.

We have great guidance from a leadership board that sits at the NFL level with epidemiologists and the best experts in the world, helping us understand rates and how things are changing. We've got the best technology in-house to do contact tracing. I wish I had it with me, I'm working from home today, or I would have had my little badge with me so you could see it.

The moment we have any, even false positive case, or inconclusive case, we can immediately know who has spent more than five minutes with every other individual, because of the technology we have. So while we can't create a physical bubble, we have created a virtual bubble. And I'm very proud of our staff and the broader NFL, with the massive size of it and all the complexities of travel, that we've been able to do what we've been able to do. And I expect that we will get better and better, even as the environment changes on the outside.

- Can you confirm for us, I had read that next weekend you plan to let a small number of fans into FedEx Field. Is that still the case? And if so, Jason, is now the time for that? I mean we're starting to see a spike in new cases again.

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, we are bringing fans back. And I've said this before, I'm actually quite COVID paranoid, if you couldn't tell. I came into this thinking, wow, it's going to have to be a high bar for us to feel safe about the protocols of bringing fans back.

But to that end, we do. We've worked closely with the state government in Maryland, closely with the county government in Maryland. And we tested our operations with friends and family for the last two weeks. We've been very cautious in our build up to it. And in an outdoor venue, with the way that we've done health and safety, and seen foot traffic flows work the last two weeks at home, we feel really good about this being an immensely safe environment, in a 70,000 person stadium with 3,000 folks attending.

- All right, well, best of luck with that. We're all going to be watching. Jason Wright, president of the Washington Football Team. Take care.

JASON WRIGHT: Thank you.