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Washington NFL Team president Jason Wright: ‘You’re hearing new words and seeing new deeds’ from us

Yahoo Finance speaks with Washington Football President Jason Wright about how the NFL is handling the coronavirus, the future of the league, and more.

Video Transcript

- We're just a couple of weeks away from what's going to be a very different NFL season. Besides the on-the-field changes, there are some new faces off the field, including our next guest, Jason Wright. He's the brand new president of the Washington football team. Yahoo Finance editor-at-large Dan Roberts is still with us as well. Jason, first and foremost, congratulations on this position.

JASON WRIGHT: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here with you all.

- You know, I want to start with this. You know, I want to look at a-- you put out a tweet on August 16. And it says this, quote, "Similar to football, I find that in big business moments my focus returns to fundamentals." And you do have that extensive business background as you have now got a little bit acclimated with your surroundings at the team, which has seen some tough moments the past few months. Is it the only way to fundamentally change that Washington football team culture, operations, just a full on house cleaning?

JASON WRIGHT: You know, "house cleaning" is a big term. Right? It suggests that there's nothing good going on. What I've learned in my few days on the job is that there are some bright spots here in this organization. And it actually-- it goes back to what I sort of expected based on my time as an athlete in the NFL, that there are really smart, driven, creative folks on the business and football side who can make a whole lot of money-- a whole lot more money elsewhere but have chosen to work in sports because they're passionate about it.

So we have great talent to build on. But you're not wrong that getting our culture right, setting new leadership standards, having transparency, and managing to those is really going to unlock the performance of those talented folks. And we absolutely have to do it quickly.

- Jason, you are stepping into this position during an unprecedented time, during this pandemic. The plan right now is to go the entire season without fans at FedEx field. On top of that, you've got a team searching for an identity. You guys are trying to come up with a permanent name for the team. How do you effectively market a franchise in an environment like that?

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, it's the challenge for all of us. Right? It is a unique environment. I think there are a couple things that, you know, I'd say on the positive. So first off, the reason we're not having fans is because health and safety of our players, our staff, and the broader community is most important.

And the best we could see in the data-- especially what's happened with European soccer and other leagues that were traveling, it's just not a good idea for us. And that's the business decision that was made before I got here, but I'm fully aligned with it.

That said, while we can't engage fans in the stadium, we can engage them through digital channels, virtually, et cetera. And we actually can engage them in the context of establishing our new identity and name, which is something that does need to represent the whole community, which needs to not just be a logo or a new jersey but actually form the way that we reach out, the way that we engage with the public and the media, our charitable giving, et cetera.

And so it's a great moment to engage fans in something that will change-- that will be a generational decision for the franchise. And it also gives us a chance to think about and be a bit innovative around fan experience. We don't have fans in the stadium, but what can we do with a digitally-enabled, next generation set of technologies embedded into the fan experience when they come back in 2021, fingers crossed?

So those are the types of things that we're thinking about now. It is a difficult environment to market in. But if I think about how we have good meaningful touchpoints with fans, we can certainly do that.

DAN ROBERTS: Jason, Dan Roberts here. Thanks for joining us.


DAN ROBERTS: For lifelong Washington football fans-- and our editor-in-chief Andy Serwer is one of them-- there's just been a lot in the last few years. Right? The coaching changes, the troubles on the field, the name issues, and now recently the expose stories on the culture there. And there's yet another one from "The Washington Post" that just dropped a few minutes ago. I guess I'd ask you, what's your message to Washington football fans? What would you tell them to kind of reenergize them and keep them excited and invested in this team for the long-run right now?

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, I'd keep it really simple. I'd say you're hearing new words from Coach Rivera, from me, from Julie Donaldson, other new leaders in the organization. You're hearing new words, and you're seeing new deeds, the hiring of all of us, the internal investigation, swift moves to take people out of the organization that were found to be bad apples early on, even prior to the investigation.

You're seeing new words. You're seeing new deeds. Keep looking for those. And the moment that you don't see us doing deeds in that direction, you should shout and hold us accountable. But I expect that with our new leadership team, with the great talent that's in-house, you'll continue to see demonstrable steps that can't be denied that this is a new direction for the franchise.

DAN ROBERTS: And then just to piggyback off that, you know, you guys have the opportunity not just because all the eyes are on the team to change its own issues but really to end up being a leader for the whole league. Do you see the opportunity that way? I mean, you're coming in as a reformer for this one team.

But you know, here's an example. You guys have announced no fans for the season. Not every team has announced that and got that far yet. Do you see an opportunity here to take some steps to reform, not just the Washington football team but maybe come out as a trailblazer and take steps that the rest of the league can follow too?

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, I certainly think, you know, taking on that mantle you've got to have a little bit of hubris to say we're going to lead. I think we'd prefer to lead by example and in a servant leadership sort of way. So we're going to make the best business decisions for us. We're going to make the best people decisions for our culture. And we have that mission to expand the value of the franchise and treat our people well.

So we're going to make decisions that are in line with those, in so far as those inspire others. We are absolutely happy to do that. But it'll be just in the context of business as usual. But certainly from a servant leadership standpoint, we are more than happy to share information.

And that's what I've actually loved about my first few days on the job. We share information across franchises. We are in contact with each other. And so we are happy to share anything we're doing at any point if it's relevant.

- Jason, I don't need to tell you that revenue has dried up because of this pandemic. The NFL is looking at taking at least a $4 billion hit this year. You know, what revenue streams are you banking on?

I mean, sure, you've got the TV ad revenue. There could be an increase in social media presence. But how do you close the gap in lost revenue?

JASON WRIGHT: It's not happening this year. [LAUGHS] Let's just be clear. If that were my goal, we would have an utter and complete failure.

I think what we are looking towards is how do we build business process fundamentals, a level of positive fan engagement, some new creative ideas around fan experience that, come 2021, help us to have a sharp V recovery coming out of this and get back to the levels of performance and revenue that we'd expect over time. We're not looking to close gaps this year. We're looking to run a really good business, establish a good culture that's going to help us in 2021.

- Jason, this week, Commissioner Roger Goodell said he should have listened earlier to Colin Kaepernick. You know, as a former player, are you concerned that Goodell and other owners are still out to lunch on diversity measures that are needed to improve the league?

JASON WRIGHT: That's a good question. I'll answer it this way-- if you're steeped, as I am-- because of how I grew up and some of the research I did at McKinsey-- if you're steeped in the socioracial history of this country or racial inequity in general, the NFL was never going to be a great steward of this deep, intractable, complex conversation. And I actually admire all the folks, including Commissioner Goodell, who took it on because it was thrust upon them.

It was never going to go great. But I think what was remarkable about what the commissioner did in that interview with Emmanuel is state something that I hope we can all state is that our own thinking, our own knowledge, our own fluency on this topic has evolved over time. All of us are smarter.

We know more about racial inequity. We know more about these topics now. And our feelings have evolved. Our views have evolved.

For him to openly and vulnerably express, that I think should be taken as a positive. And are we-- I would argue we are all out to lunch [LAUGHS] on racial equity. It's all about us progressing in a positive direction and making better and better decisions that move our society toward a more perfect union, which is the promise that is written in our constitution.

- Jason, as a former player yourself-- one of only four former NFL players to hold the position of president for an NFL team, what's it going to be like for those players to play in front of-- in a stadium that's not packed with rowdy fans? Because, you know, football has such an in-person fan culture, it's just not going to be there. What's it going to be like for those players mentally?

JASON WRIGHT: Yeah, it's going to be different. And I think, you know, the coaches-- Coach Rivera and others are really trying to prepare them for that. Like, you know, this is going to be like a big scrimmage in some ways.

But I actually think there's a challenge for us on the business side around this is how do we create things-- and we're working with the league on this as well around crowd noise and ambiance in the stadium that gives some of that sense of fan engagement that actually helps the players perform at peak level. That's part of what we can provide. And then for the fans, there are ways that we can start to think about them having some sort of virtual engagement or presence in the stadium.

You've seen some creative things done in European football and soccer. You've seen some creative things done in the NBA. We're thinking about those things now because that is-- that connection between the players and the fans on game day is something that is unique and special about the football recipe. So it's a great question that we're developing answers to in process.

- All right, we'll leave it there for right now. Jason Wright, new president of the Washington football team. Congratulations. All of us here are looking forward to continuing to follow your journey there.

JASON WRIGHT: Thanks so much. It's a pleasure to be on.