As Redskins fumble, some fans are saying, 'See ya'

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 26, 2009

Dave Hoskins did something a week ago he had never done in eight years of going to Redskins games: He didn't go to the Redskins game.

A self-proclaimed team "addict" for 30 years and part of a season-ticket group since 2001, the Bethesda contractor woke up Sunday, looked at the likely poor weather and the likely worse game and just bagged it.

"Last weekend was the first weekend I decided to do something else," he said. "I watched most of it on TV, but I wasn't going to sit through that misery."

In most cities, a few thousand fans skipping NFL games during a bad season wouldn't be remarkable. But in Washington, the empty seats reported recently at FedEx Field have raised a question long unthinkable in Redskins Nation: Are significant cracks appearing in one of professional football's most rock-solid fan bases?

Officially, attendance at home games had fallen from 87,780 at the home opener to 79,572 at last week's loss to Kansas City. Unofficially, many fans have reported a no-show rate that would suggest the falloff has been even greater.

There are other signs that as some Washingtonians stand by their floundering team, which is 2-4 in regular-season play, others are standing a little farther downwind. Nielsen ratings show that the average TV viewership of game broadcasts for the first six weeks of this season has dropped by about 120,000 households from the same period last year.

And the national market for burgundy and gold jerseys, banners and hats has plummeted, down 47 percent in the past month compared with the same period last year, according to sales data.

"This is something new," said Matt Powell, chief retail analyst for SportsOne Source, an industry research firm. At least as judged by the merchandise sales index, he said, "nationally, the fan base is clearly abandoning this team."

David Donovan, the Redskins' chief operating officer, disputed Powell's analysis, saying that team records show a 12 percent dip in merchandise sales, which he said was understandable in a down economy.

Donovan also said that the team hasn't detected a significant decline in fan loyalty and that the team's attendance figures are accurately gathered by bar-code scanners at the turnstiles.

"I think the relentless negative coverage in The Washington Post is a real difference from previous years," Donovan said. "But in terms of the way our actual fans are behaving, we don't see any difference."

Game attendance is still far surpassing that at any other stadium in the league, he said, and he attributed the lower TV ratings largely to the unglamorous opponents the Redskins have faced in the first part of the season.

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