Edmonton Eskimos accused of using ‘astroturfing’ firm to defend name

The Edmonton Eskimos may be accelerating the ongoing review of their controversial team name, but the way the Esks have gone about their research is being questioned.

The Eskimos released a statement last week saying they would not be changing their team name due to an extensive consultation process they engaged in with Inuit communities last February that generated no consensus on the name. The team has since backtracked and promised more engagement following major sponsor Belairdirect’s threat to withdraw support from the organization.

The results of the consultation process have never been made public by the community-owned club and a new report suggests there may be a more nefarious element at play. According to a report by PressProgress, a non-profit news organization funded by the progressive Broadbent Institute, the research was conducted by corporate public relations firm Edelman Canada, a company well-known for creating astroturf campaigns.

An astroturf campaign is a marketing strategy that artificially generates public support for an issue by making it seem like a grass-roots movement. Edelman has previously been embroiled in astroturfing controversies concerning the Energy East pipeline, where indigenous communities were specifically targeted. The U.S. branch of the company has been used by the oil industry to spread disinformation around climate change and by Walmart to squash employee unionization, as well as several other prominent PR campaigns.

It’s unclear what role astroturfing may have played in the Eskimos branding strategy or if it was even used. While views on the name within Inuit communities do indeed differ greatly due to a variety of factors, as former Inuit NHL player Jordin Tootoo highlighted in a public statement, Edelman Canada would be well qualified to boost perceptions that the majority of Inuit either like or have no problem with the name.

The issue will not be disappearing anytime soon and the Eskimos have done themselves no favours by keeping their research internal. Until the publicly owned franchise engages openly, their results will be subject to speculation and criticism.