Less than two months after buying the Washington Redskins, owner Daniel M. Snyder has put his personal stamp on the city's beloved National Football League franchise and set about removing that of the late owner, Jack Kent Cooke.
Snyder will hold a news conference next week to announce that Jack Kent Cooke Stadium will be renamed Redskins Stadium -- at least until the naming rights are sold. He also plans to abolish the use of "Raljon," the name Cooke -- in a tribute to his sons, Ralph and John -- gave to the 200 acres of Landover land on which his stadium and parking lots were built on. Even Big Jack beer, the stadium's official suds, will soon be replaced by another microbrew.
In an interview yesterday with Washington Post editors and reporters, Snyder discussed his priorities since buying the team, including changes at the stadium as well as in the football team itself.
"All I've been focused on is, number one, fixing the team," said Snyder, 34, a Bethesda marketing executive. "And number two, fixing the experience for Washingtonians."
Snyder admitted that when he and his partners completed their $800 million purchase in July, they underestimated the magnitude of the problems associated with the franchise.
"I didn't realize how much of a fixer-upper I had with the Redskins," Snyder said. "I had to do a lot of work -- with the stadium, the training park. Until you're in it, you don't realize how much is there."
Regarding the 80,116-seat stadium, Snyder said: "They sort of cut some corners. If they'd spent a little more early on, you wouldn't have to do as much fixing up as I'm doing now."
Among some of the changes in the stadium is an extensive renovation in the upper deck to replace railings that obstructed fans' views with glass barriers. It is expected to be completed Thursday night, in time for Friday's home preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Concession stands have been added to speed the flow of food and drink. A game-day wait staff of 450 will begin serving club-seat patrons at the Sept. 12 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. The intention is to keep fans in their bright yellow chairs, although long concessions lines could not be the only reason for the many empty seats during last year's 6-10 season.
Once outdated signs have been removed, the stadium's only reference to Cooke, the team's majority owner from 1974 until his death in 1997, will be in the "Ring of Fame" commissioned by Snyder after RFK Stadium officials refused to sell him the original. The Ring of Fame -- the Redskins' own hall of fame -- will be installed on the facade of the upper deck.
But Snyder was sketchy about other plans, including his efforts to improve traffic flow in and out of the stadium.
Snyder has replaced the stadium's management and instructed that parking officials be better schooled in routing cars in and out of lots. He is seeking permission to use two existing roads that are closed to game-day traffic.
Snyder also said the team will have what he called a "Fifth Quarter." After Redskins games end, TV sets throughout the stadium will broadcast other NFL games via satellite, encouraging fans to remain in the stadium. "We're going to make people comfortable so they'll stay and enjoy themselves," Snyder said. "Why go home after a great victory?"
Snyder also said he was "hoping to push things along" to get a Metro stop built less than a mile from the stadium.
A Largo station and an extension from Addison Road to it have been in local plans for two decades. But there is virtually no funding for the project, which would cost $430 million. Plans call for the federal government to provide about 60 percent of the money, with the state contributing the rest. If funding is approved, groundbreaking could be next fall, but even assuming the money becomes available, it wouldn't be operational until fall 2004 at the earliest, according to Metro officials.
The Redskins might have to wait for a Metro stop, but on the issue of fielding a winning football team, Snyder made it clear he will have little patience.
Snyder said he felt the Redskins have enough talent to make the playoffs. If the team doesn't, as has been the case the past six years, Snyder said: "Change would be imminent." Asked if he was referring to the coaching staff, he said: "I'm talking everybody."
Snyder also didn't rule out firing Coach Norv Turner midseason if the team fails to perform. "I'd rather not go down that road," Snyder said when asked about such a scenario. "I think you can tell I'll do whatever it takes to improve."
Snyder has been a frequent presence at Redskins practices and scrimmages since training camp opened July 25. He described his management style as that of a delegator who hires good people and lets them do their jobs. Yet Monday night, he was at the Redskins' practice facility in Ashburn, Va., until 11 p.m., supervising the final touches of a renovation he insists be completed by Thursday, when the team returns from its four-week training-camp sojourn in Frostburg, Md. Later that night, he spoke with Turner by phone, as he does each night, to review the highs and lows of the day's practice.
David Cope, whom Snyder recently named Redskins executive vice president, has already made a splash in the marketing department. According to Snyder, the Redskins have tripled their annual advertising revenue in seven weeks -- from roughly $5 million to $15 million. The stadium's naming rights also will be sold.
All but about 600 of the stadium's club seats have been sold, he said. A recent "open house" to advertise them was so successful, Snyder plans to install another 150 club seats by October.
Snyder said he has developed a good working relationship with Prince George's County executive Wayne Curry, who Snyder said was in favor of dropping Raljon and referring to the stadium's home as Landover. "In Prince George's County, all the leaders have written to me and made it clear it's insulting," Snyder said.
Curry was out of the office yesterday and did not return calls.
Edward A. Clement, president of the Columbia Park Civic Association in Landover, welcomed the decision to drop the Raljon name, which he said the community viewed as a snub.
"We think it should never have been changed," Clement said. "They didn't want to be branded as inside-the-Beltway, Landover. They just decided to use another name."
But Snyder said he would not change the team's name, however offensive "Redskins" may be to some.
"The difference is the Redskins name was taken actually as an honor," Snyder said. "So were all the others -- whether it be the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves or Kansas City Chiefs. They were never meant to be derogatory. So the intention was very, very different. Raljon was intended to be a shrine to his kids and not football. The citizens of Landover that live there think it's insulting."
Staff writers Alice Reid, Jackie Spinner and Daniel LeDuc contributed to this report.