The Redskins' Media Offensive
Saturday, January 14, 2006
"Redskins Generation," on WUSA, Channel 9, looks a lot like any other sports-feature program. It has highlight clips of the team's games, interviews with players and coaches and amusing features about just about everything related to the Redskins.
The weekly show, however, has an unusual pedigree. Although the program airs on Channel 9, the station has no hand in its production or content. "Redskins Generation" is owned and produced entirely by the Redskins. The team pays the station a fee to air the show during the football season. In the strictest sense, "Redskins Generation" isn't a program at all, but a program-length commercial designed to tout the team.
The show is one of several Redskins-backed radio and TV programs that have dotted the local airwaves this season. Many professional and college teams across the country, of course, have coach-interview programs on broadcast stations in their cities. But the Redskins have been among the most aggressive sports organizations in seeding local radio and TV outlets with team-owned programs. Thanks to owner Daniel Snyder's investment in a new broadcast-production studio at Redskins Park last summer, the team is self-sufficient; it doesn't have to go outside its headquarters in Ashburn to create TV shows.
Viewers, however, are unlikely to understand the extent of the team's involvement because the programs carry minimal, and often cryptic, disclosure about the Redskins' role. On "Redskins Generation," for example, an opening graphic says the program is "a presentation of Redskins.com TV." The only hint of the origins of "Redskins Game Plan," another weekly TV show the team owns, comes with the closing credits, when a single line of text appears on screen reading, "Copyright, 2006 Washington Redskins."
The Redskins have a stake in programs airing on three of Washington's four leading network affiliates, including WUSA, WRC (Channel 4) and WTTG (Channel 5). Channel 4 carries "Redskins Game Plan" and Channel 5 broadcasts the similar "Redskins Game Day." Channel 9 has two shows, "Redskins Generation," which is geared toward children, and "Redskins Late Night," a team-themed entertainment show. WRC also broadcasts "The Joe Gibbs Show," a weekly interview program that is owned by the team, which splits advertising revenues with WRC.
The Redskins tried to place a show on WJLA, Channel 7, this season, too, but the station declined, saying the financial terms were inadequate, said Fred Ryan, president of WJLA's parent company, Allbritton Communications.
On radio, WJFK-FM, the Redskins' flagship station for the past five seasons, has aired a Monday night program hosted by Larry Michael, the team's play-by-play announcer. Michael is a vice president of the team, and also is host of "Redskins Generation." Sports-talk radio station WTEM-AM broadcasts another weekly interview program with Gibbs under a deal with the club.
Soon, the Redskins might be able to cut out some of the middlemen. Snyder is nearing a deal to buy three small radio stations in the Washington area that would carry the team's games and related programs. His new venture, Red Zebra Broadcasting, also is interested in acquiring TV stations.
The Redskins-owned programs often feature familiar local reporters who cover the team as journalists. George Michael, Channel 4's veteran sports director and perhaps the area's best-known sportscaster, is intimately involved in the Redskins' paid programming efforts. Michael (no relation to Larry Michael) serves as executive producer of "Redskins Game Plan" and sometimes appears on the show. He also hosts "The Joe Gibbs Show" for the station (another Michael-hosted show on Channel 4, "Redskins Report," is independent of the team, he said).
Although the programs ensure visibility and a generally sunny view for the Redskins no matter how well the team is faring, the shows raise a journalistic question: Can local broadcasters fairly report on the Redskins when they're part of what is essentially a team-sponsored promotional exercise?
Although the programs do not ignore obvious bad news, they tend to feature upbeat -- and at times adulatory -- segments about the team.
On "Redskins Game Day" on Dec. 24, Channel 5 news reporter Michelle Sigona spotlighted the Hogettes, the quirky group of male fans who attend games wearing dresses and pig snouts. Another piece profiled a Redskins cheerleader identified only as Jessica. The show was hosted by another reporter from the station, Lou Holder, who wore a Redskins-logo polo shirt on camera.