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Tony Kornheiser

Season Ticket: $2,350 . . . Redskins MasterCard: Priceless

By Tony Kornheiser
Monday, January 31, 2005; Page D01

Maybe if the Redskins were like the Patriots, and contending for the Super Bowl every year, this credit card thing wouldn't seem so smarmy. Or maybe if the Redskins were like the Packers, and making the playoffs every year, this credit card thing wouldn't seem quite so snarky. Heck, maybe if the Redskins were simply finishing above .500 once in a while this credit card thing wouldn't seem so totally cheesy.

But the Redskins aren't winning.

Businessman, marketing genius and Redskins owner Dan Snyder has an amazing offer for you. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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Year after year, they aren't winning.

And while I'm not for a second questioning the owner's desire to win or his commitment to win, it just seems like this is not the time to tell your loyal fans that they'd better use a certain kind of credit card to pay for their season tickets.

With a winning team you could say, "Ahhh, that's just business."

With a losing team you say, "That's crapola."

See, now it's not only that you have to get your money to the team months and months before the season starts (so the team has access to your money long before you get any product in return) -- now there's a specific credit card you have to use to get it there so early. A Redskins Extra Points MasterCard, which allows you to redeem those points you accumulate for your charges to acquire a bunch of Redskins gifts. As in whoop-de-damn-do.

Of course, you can still pay by cash or check -- at least for this season. But if you choose to charge your tickets, you must use this specific credit card. The Redskins say this is going to "streamline" the ticketing process. And, okay, if it makes the Redskins a little extra money on the side because of a sweetheart deal with the credit card company, what's it to ya, huh?

It's perfectly legal to do this, to specify the method of payment for something. There are plenty of businesses that won't take credit cards at all; they insist on cash or check -- plenty more that won't take certain types of credit cards.

There are plenty of teams that partner up with specific credit card companies, and offer merchandise, like team jackets and T-shirts and sweatshirts as incentives to use that kind of card. Colleges do this all the time, too. You regularly get mail from your school urging you to show your school spirit by signing up for one credit card or another.

But if you want to buy a decal from your college, you're not usually prohibited from using another brand of credit card besides the one your alma mater is in business with. Usually, any kind of credit card is good.

Not any more with the Redskins. They are committed to this one card now. And, consequently, so are you. Their partners are now your partners. Mi casa es su casa.

Now maybe that's just shrewd business. Maybe shoe-horning every seat possible into that stadium is just shrewd business. Maybe selling obstructed-view seats is just shrewd business. And charging an exorbitant amount for parking (because there are no places to park close to the stadium) is just shrewd business. I'll say this, Dan Snyder is a heckuva businessman. He paid more than anybody ever for an NFL team, and he's turning a big profit. Clearly, he's a marketing genius. And let me say again that I think he's been putting his money out there trying like crazy to acquire the best talent on the field and on the sideline. Portis, Spurrier, Gibbs, Coles, Deion, Bruce Smith, Jeremiah Trotter -- oh, he is trying his darndest.

But for me what this comes down to is a taste call. People who buy season tickets are real fans -- particularly people who buy season tickets for a team that hasn't won squat in the last decade or so. And now it seems that being a real fan isn't enough. Now they don't just want your loyalty and your money -- now they want a specific kind of your money. In return, you won't necessarily get a good team, but you may be able to get enough points to get a seat upgrade. Maybe from obstructed to clear.

If the team was winning, this might not be so hard to swallow. It's amazing how winning can be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.

But now it seems small and petty, and designed to go just one way: theirs.

One part shrewd business, three parts crapola.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company