Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Will the real Daniel Snyder please stand up?

In our never-ending search to get the story right, today a rebuttal of sorts – a second look at Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Last Wednesday’s insider “suggested” Snyder was a good NFL owner, not a great NFL owner but largely because he doesn’t get involved in the day to day operation of his football team (on the field) as do other NFL owners (Jerry Jones and Al Davis). Snyder, from the outside looking in, appeared to be at best a decent NFL team owner. Upon further review (along with several pointed emails) along with a great report from a Redskins owner, it’s time for a second look at the Snyder who purchased the Redskins for $750 million in 1999. The latest Forbes financial valuation for the Redskins pegged the teams’ value at $1.55 billion

Washington City Paper columnist Dave McKenna, admittingly not a fan of Snyder, offered some real insight into Snyder in a report (the cover piece) for the November 19 edition, titled “The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder” From A to Z (for Zorn), an encyclopaedia of the owner's many failings.

Some of the many highlights included:

$10: Amount Snyder charged fans for admission to the team’s workouts during the 2000 training camp at Redskins Park in Ashburn. He also charged another $10 to park, thereby becoming the first owner in NFL history to use team practice as a gouging mechanism.

Snyder owns the team and Redskins fans are among the most loyal fans in all of professional sports. Did Snyder attempt to leverage a rabid fan base who has sold out every Redskins home game since 1966 for a few bucks? Yes, he did. What’s wrong with what he did isn’t so much that he had the gall to charge but that the teams’ training camp represented one of the few chances everyday fans – who don’t have access to Redskins tickets – had an opportunity to support the team. And they shouldn’t have had to pay for the privilege of seeing the team practice.

$25: Price Snyder charged for a special group of standing-room-only tickets at FedExField in 2008. The cheap tickets were linked to the high-priced suites; lobbying watchdogs said Snyder was merely attempting to skirt congressional gift limits. Damning evidence: A team brochure for instructing ticket sales personnel to explain lobbying loopholes to suite customers. Snyder denied the charge. SRO tickets now sell for $152.50, with no mention of lobbying in the sales pitch.

Charging $25 in 2008 and two years later it now costs $152.50. Wow, that has to be considered price gouging. Again it’s the simplest law when it comes to selling tickets for sports events or concerts – the law of supply and demand. Still that’s an amazing price increase for any ticket anywhere in just two years.

American Enterprise Institute: Conservative thinktank that summed up Snyder’s football operation as a “leading exemplar of this tendency toward irrationality” in a 2006 report. Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at AEI, cited Snyder for running a “seriously mismanaged” operation. “I used the Redskins because they’re the most frightening example of a team that hadn’t thought through the simple economics of pro football,” Hassett said at the time. “The problems of running a pro football team are right out of the textbooks: With the salary cap, everybody’s got the same amount of money to spend, so let’s see what you’re going to do with your money. The big signing is counter to the economics of pro football. Over time, [Snyder is] spending the same amount of money as everybody else, but he’s spending it irrationally. I think they’re years away from correcting the mistakes they’ve made.”

When the conservatives assume you can’t get it right – you may have issues. Then again, who ever said conservatives get it right.

Bankrupt Airline Peanuts: What Snyder was selling to fans at FedExField. During the 2006 season, vendors offered shelled nuts in royal blue and white 5 oz. bags adorned with the Independence Air logo. Problem: The airline had gone under about a year earlier. The supplier told Washington City Paper that it stopped shipping the airline’s nuts “before Independence Air went out of business.” A spokesman for the Peanut Council told City Paper that to prevent rancidity, the recommended shelf life of a foil bag of out-of-shell peanuts was “about three months.”

This is a gem – where are the food police when you need them? But what could Daniel Snyder have been thinking? And who is the concessionaire at FedEx Field and what about their reputation? This is amazing no matter how you look at this. Did anyone die from eating bad peanuts at FedEx Field? Shame on Daniel Snyder for this one.

Conflict of Interest: What Snyder created by employing members of the D.C. media to work for Redskins Broadcast Network, wholly owned by the team. Among the many journalists who worked for Snyder while also reporting on his Redskins for major news outlets: George Michael, Michael Wilbon, Dan Hellie, Wally Bruckner, Andy Pollin, Lindsay Czarniak, Brett Haber

Snyder gets a pass on this one. While Snyder (in what wasn’t a bad business move created his own radio network) rights holders have a tenuous relationship with the teams’ they broadcast, objectivity can be questioned all too often. And with so many options for listeners – turn the channel, and do not support the advertisers if you don’t like the product.

Entertainment Tax: Ten percent fee Prince George’s County collects as part of the deal that put the stadium there. The fee, like all assorted tariffs, had historically been included in the ticket price. After buying the Redskins, Snyder removed those charges from the printed price, moving them to the invoice. The move coincided with the biggest ticket price hike in team history. The biggest losers in Snyder’s removal of fees were street sellers, since “face value” of a ticket was no longer its actual retail price.

Somewhat of a pass on this as well for Snyder. One of the biggest issues consumers have when they’re buying tickets to sports events or concerts is the ticket surcharges. That Snyder made a cash grab – every sports owner today does this. It isn’t right, but his actions are part of a greater issue.

GEICO: Insurance company and major Redskins sponsor. Snyder allowed GEICO to hand out promotional signs at FedExField last season at the same time the team had instructed stadium security to take away home-made signage, much of it involving derogatory comments about Snyder and Cerrato. David Donovan, Snyder’s attorney, said the sign ban was for “safety.”

Mean spirited on Snyder’s part but here’s a better story (and no it’s not a Daniel Snyder story). The former owner of the Ottawa Lynx (the late Howard Darwin) forced security officers to search bags at the Ottawa Baseball stadium in 1994 when the Montreal Expos and Henry Rodriguez travelled to Ottawa to play their Triple A team. Expos fans threw O-Henry chocolate bars on the field during the Expos 1994 season whenever Rodriguez came to bat. Darwin took away the bars outside the stadium but then sold O-Henry chocolate bars inside the stadium for fans to toss on the field. Sixteen years later the Expos are dead, the Lynx are dead and Howard Darwin is the late Howard Darwin.

Hill, Pat: Down-on-her-luck 73-year-old grandmother—and five-decade Redskins season-ticketholder—who was sued by the Redskins in 2009 because she could not afford to keep up payments on the 10-year, $50,000-plus club seats contract she’d signed.

Snyder would say a contract is a contract and once you set a precedent you’ve opened up Pandora’s Box and he would be right, but the optics are terrible. Who sues a 73-year-old grandmother—and five-decade Redskins season-ticketholder? Better to make the right example and honor her 50 year commitment to the Redskins then to do what Snyder did – this is what makes Snyder a legend (and no not a good legend).

Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007: Statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. The law prompted regulators to order Club Macanudo, a cigar bar on FedExField’s Club Level, to either stop selling drinks and food or stop allowing smoking. Snyder stopped food and drink sales for one season. But the establishment reopened as the Montecristo Club in 2009, with the team explaining that the new facility was no longer a bar, but a tobacco shop, and therefore not required to comply with the state code. Unfortunately, a promo film for the tobacco shop posted on the Redskins website featured a bartender pouring a Bud Light from a tap, a clear violation of the law.

Pretty obvious by now that Daniel Snyder will do almost anything to make a dollar or two. The good news is that anti-smoking laws are here to stay and they’re getting tougher every year. The bad news – a perceived community leader attempted to circumvent an anti smoking bi-law, this one is really wrong on every level.

Pentagon Flag Hat: A Redskins cap sold for profit by Snyder to “commemorate September 11” in time for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Ads boasted that the $23.99 caps, really just black Redskins hats with a red, white, and blue Pentagon sewn on the side, were “expected to be worn by the Redskins coaches.” No other NFL team put 9/11 commemorative products for sale during the 2006 season, for profit or otherwise. Snyder had previously added a $4 “security surcharge” to the ticket prices soon after the attacks.

Ok, its official: Daniel Snyder has no shame. To attempt to make money off what happened on September 11, 2001 is an act so perverse it is astounding. One question, why didn’t the NFL step up and stop this practice? This serves to embarrass the National Football League, but at the end of the day its Daniel Snyder who embarrassed himself

“Several Million Dollars”: Amount Snyder was paid by StubHub as part of the Redskins’ 2008 deal with the online ticket clearinghouse, according to StubHub spokesman Sean Pate. At the time, Snyder had been taking tickets away from season ticketholders for violating team’s policy against reselling tickets. The Washington Times reported that the team even repossessed six tickets from the Braloves, a D.C. family that had had them “since the 1940s,” after Redskins detectives found that they’d put some tickets up for sale on eBay.

Ticket reselling has become its own unique sports and concert animal in recent years but this is a good example of the practice gone wrong. There are plenty of examples from nearly every sports franchise. The sports industry needs to get this right before it really begins to hurt the entire industry but this is but one example (a good one) of an opportunity that isn’t working very well.

Weasel Stew: Menu item at the Princess Restaurant in Frostburg, Md., conceived in 2000 after the Redskins broke their training-camp lease with the local college. Jack Kent Cooke and Maryland lawmakers had worked out a 10-year, $331,000-per-year deal, designed to bring tourist dollars to western Maryland, as part of the agreement that brought the Redskins to Prince George’s County. Shortly after buying the team, Snyder defaulted on the deal so he could hold training camp at Redskins Park, where he charged $10 admission and $10 parking. In 2001, Snyder paid the school $750,000 to settle the matter. The school used the money to establish an endowment named for Cooke.

In May 1999, Snyder purchased the Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium for $800 million following the death of previous owner Jack Kent Cooke. At the time, it was the most expensive transaction in sporting history. The deal was financed largely through borrowed money, including $340 million borrowed from Société Générale and $155 million debt assumed on the stadium. The only question that needs to be asked, based not on the Weasel Stew example, but based on his ‘track record’ as Redskins owner and how he may have besmirched the franchise’s reputation, is if the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke had a chance to do it all over, would they sell the Washington Redskins to Daniel Snyder?

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this report: The Washington City Paper

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