The initial headlines about the Frank Luntz-led Redskins focus groups held earlier this month focused on the team name. But that issue only occupied a small part of the two-hour session, according to one of the participants.
“That came up, but that was just one of literally hundreds of topics that was being spoken about,” said Richard Dassing, a 65-year old retired D.C. police sergeant and lifelong Redskins fan, who now lives in Gettysburg, Pa. “We covered every topic, from the game experience, the fan experience, management, owners, players, the draft, the name, who was offended, who wasn’t offended, why it offended them. It was interesting, to say the least….Anything and everything that could be asked in a two-hour focus group, it was talked about.”
Without discussing specific questions from the event, team spokesman Tony Wyllie said the goal was for the franchise to listen to its fans and solicit feedback that would help improve the overall fan experience. The sessions were similar to town hall events the team has held in the past, events that led to stadium improvements and other changes, he said. There are plans for further sessions later in the summer.
This month’s event was held in Northern Virginia and featured 25 participants, with 25 more in a subsequent group, according to Dassing. And, by his retelling, several of the topics would be of extreme interest to fans.
For example, at one point, Luntz asked “Who would like to see a game played at RFK Stadium?” and “the place just erupted,” Dassing recalled. “He pointed to just about everybody there, and said when I say RFK Stadium, what do you think about? The Hogs, the ’80s, tradition, Super Bowls. It just went on and on, and everybody was in favor of that. Of all the topics, I would say that was the most popular topic that was talked about.”
What else was discussed? Concession selections at FedEx Field. Beer prices. Parking and accessibility issues on game day. Participants were also shown pages and pages of images — photographs of Robert Griffin III celebrating and of RGIII getting hit, of cheerleaders and Chief Zee, of Daniel Snyder and FedEx Field tailgaters, and on and on. They were asked to identify the photos they liked the most, and the ones they reacted most negatively towards.
Dassing said the most popular photos included Griffin’s celebration in New Orleans that spawned “Griffining,” Griffin perched on the laps of fans after his 76-yard touchdown run against the Vikings, and Alfred Morris showing off his trademark home-run celebration.
Dassing said Luntz stressed to participants that this was not a political session, and that he didn’t want to hear about Democrats and Republicans. When the name issue was brought up, Dassing said about six of the 25 participants indicated they had any issues. Luntz asked for possible replacement names, and “Warriors” was the only suggestion.
Participants received a $100 Visa gift card, and sandwiches during the session, Dassing said. And before they left, they got an unexpected surprise.
“At the very end, Luntz came in and said ‘Let me see a show of hands, everyone who thinks the Redskins will have a winning season and make the playoffs,’ ” Dassing recalled. “Everyone raised their hands. At that point, the door opens and in walks Bruce Allen….We knew we were being filmed, but we had no idea Bruce Allen was there. He came in, raising his hand.”
Then the team’s GM shared small talk and jokes with the fans.