A successful businessman, Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder has benefited from dealmaking. Snyder seeks innovative agreements to improve his ballclub. He forges diverse partnerships to enhance the Redskins’ brand.
And since Snyder is so experienced at the art of the deal, here’s a proposal he should strongly consider: Stop trumpeting the club’s waiting list for season tickets and finally begin an honest dialogue about the franchise with fans, who would welcome candor for a change.
The straightforward approach would have been best begun long ago, but it’s really the right move now after a top Redskins official revealed Wednesday the club was unable to sell season tickets for the thousands of seats it removed from FedEx Field this summer.
For years, Snyder and high-ranking Redskins executives have boasted about the waiting list, claiming as recently as two years ago it included more than 160,000 names. The Redskins take pride in referencing their stadium sellout streak, which, according to them, dates from the 1966 season.
If true, it would all be very impressive, especially considering these difficult economic times and the team’s poor performance for the better part of the last two decades, which includes Snyder’s 12-year tenure as owner. In recent seasons, large pockets of empty seats during many home games seemed to indicate Redskins tickets were no longer in high demand.
Now, the acknowledgment about the Redskins’ difficulty selling upper-deck end zone tickets provides an opportunity for Snyder. The door is ajar for him to improve the club’s relationship with its loyal, but frustrated fans.
Mitch Gershman, the club’s chief marketing officer, sent an e-mail to fans Friday aimed at clearing up what he called “some recent confusion in the media” regarding the waiting list. “We continue to have one of the largest season ticket Wait Lists in the NFL, and we are one of just a few teams that has a Wait List at all,” he wrote.
Okay. Maybe there is a wait list, maybe there isn’t. And maybe it is no longer as big as the Redskins once maintained. But why continue this fixation on it?
There’s no shame in acknowledging the Redskins’ fortunes on the field have deteriorated, that the economy is still weak, and that interest in tickets has suffered as a result. It’s not as if such information would shock Redskins fans, many of whom view the waiting list as something of a myth anyway. In Internet chat rooms and on sports-talk radio, some fans criticize the club for still pushing the notion Redskins tickets are a hot item.
Considering the Redskins’ success decades ago, it’s probable there once was an impressively long waiting list. But that would have been during and immediately after the days at RFK Stadium, when Joe Gibbs was in the process of leading the team to three Super Bowl championships.
After the move to FedEx in 1997, the lack of on-field success and several stadium expansions, the facility is clearly too big for the Redskins today. It’s not suited for the club’s needs at the moment. There’s no shame in acknowledging that.
Instead of clinging to what the Redskins were, Snyder should embrace what they could become again. After acknowledging the mistakes, focus on the future and ask for patience from fans.
Despite Coach Mike Shanahan’s shaky start with Washington, he has won big in the past and deserves a reasonable amount of time to prove himself here. There were some encouraging signs of development in key players last season and many rookies in the 2011 draft class could contribute eventually.
Get on that message. Talk about what’s being done to make the club so successful again that it truly won’t have enough tickets to meet demand. The marketing slogan could be something like, “We’ve fallen and we’re trying really hard to get back up.”
Granted, that’s not as cool as last season’s branding campaign aimed at boosting ticket sales, which asked fans, “R You In?” But it’s definitely more appropriate under the circumstances.
Although the Redskins are still the District’s most popular team — by far — and still No. 1 in the region, they’re not the draw they once were for reasons painfully obvious to their supporters. Things change, and the Redskins just don’t pack ’em in the way they once did.
Snyder knows how to operate a profitable business, as evidenced by the Redskins’ ranking by Forbes this week as the fourth-most valuable sports franchise in the world. The rest of it, he still hasn’t figured out.
Here’s Snyder’s chance to show growth. Events dictate that the team’s discussion with its fans must change. It’s the right thing to do — and good business, too.