Client: National Forensic League

New Name: National Speech & Debate Association

The National Forensic League is the honor society for speech and debate activities in the United States — but most people would not know that from the organization’s name. In fact, with the initials ”NFL,” it’s often confused with the National Football League. These were only a few of the branding challenges confronting the organization when Red Rooster Group was engaged. This case study describes how we turned this problem into an opportunity to tell the NFL story in a more compelling way in order to increase its visibility, engage more participants, and attract national sponsors.


Situational Overview

As the governing body and producers of national speech and debate activities and competitions, the National Forensic League enjoys a positive reputation with the thousands of forensic (debate) coaches in high schools across the country. Many count themselves as NFL alumni and are enthusiastic supporters of the organization, serving as NFL’s brand ambassadors to recruit students in their respective schools. But the name “National Forensic League” was hindering their ability to attract students.

The confusing name was also a lost opportunity to engage the public in speech and debate activities, specifically in garnering local press coverage for tournament winners, and in galvanizing financial support for activities at the schools.

The NFL set goals of doubling the number of teen members of the organization by 2020 and attracting more national sponsors. They needed a strong brand to achieve these goals.

Problems with the Name

We started by identifying the specific problems that were inherent in the name, National Forensic League:

  • It is not clear what the organization does, since people do not understand what “forensic” means.
  • The name does not convey the range of speech, debate, acting, oratory, and other activities offered.
  • The acronym, NFL, is often used as a punch line reference to the National Football League, distracting from the mission.
  • Finding the organization online is difficult and confusing.
  • It is improperly and commonly referred to as National Forensics (plural) League by many people including major sponsors.
  • The name comes across as elitist.
  • The current name does not convey the emotional power of the activity.
Brand Challenges

These problems with the name were set within the larger context of the organization’s overall brand challenges:

  • The organization is not communicating the full scope of its mission.
  • The current branding reflects the history of the organization, not its future.
  • Participants don’t fully understand the value of their membership.
  • It is not clear to the public and the media what the organization does.
  • The organization is repeatedly referred to as ”the other NFL.”
  • Sponsors have a difficult time getting support for the NFL internally.

The last point is important, since attracting more sponsors is one of NFL’s major goals. As evidence of this problem, one of their large sponsors said: “It’s difficult to leverage the relationship because of the way the NFL’s mission is buried under the acronym, and the fact that no one knows the organization or what they do.”


Conducting Research

Given that NFL’s core audiences of coaches and students were enthusiastic about the organization, it was important to get their perceptions of the NFL’s strengths and weaknesses, and feelings about the current name and a potential name change.

We also wanted to validate the need for the change with appropriate evidence, as well as refine the parameters for the name change, and uncover insights and opportunities that would be useful in generating names.

Interviews: Understanding Attitudes About the Name

We conducted 27 interviews with coaches, students, alumni, and sponsors. We heard first-hand the passion that people have for NFL and the frustrations they experience in getting recognition for the activity. It also helped us understand the feeling they had about changing the name, and helped us test questions for the survey that we were developing.

Survey: Validating the Need for a Name Change

As our next step, we created a survey to gain quantitative feedback on the name change. Separate surveys for coaches and for students resulted in more than 1,500 responses, providing good insight into a range of perspectives.

When you first heard the word ‘forensic,’ did you know that it referred to speech and debate?


Generating Names

With these criteria to guide us, we started the name generation process, developing hundreds of ideas with a wide range of creative latitude.


Articulation Nation
Communication Nation
Debate Corps
Debate It!
Hot Mic Society

Keynoters Club
Lecturn Champs
Moxie Speakers
Ovation Nation
Power Mic Society
Publicly Speaking
Ready, Set, Rhetoric!

Speak Up!
Speaking Counts
Speech Corps
Speechcraft Society
Stage Masters
Word Corps


Analytical Speaking Association
Communication Arts League
Communications Leadership League
League of Communication Arts
League of Oratory Arts
National Association of Young Communicators
Persuasive Speaking Society
Soaring Speech Society

Society of Orators
Society of Young Communicators
Speaking Arts Society
Speech Achievement Society
Speechtime Honor Society
Summit Vocal League
Vocal Corps. Honor Society
Young Communicators League

Naming Options

At this point, the NFL had some options. It could keep the original name, change only part of its name, to National Speech & Debate League, or adopt one of the new names.


The research revealed that both students and coaches felt a very strong affinity for the organization and its name. The organization adopted the name National Speech & Debate Association, which honors the organization’s 80-year history, maintains recognition of its trophies and other intellectual properties, and is more in line with the statewide and regional debating league names.

Related Projects