David Cope hasn't stepped on a football field since his senior year at Bethesda's Woodward High School, but the 35-year-old salesman may be more crucial to the success of the Washington Redskins than many of the players.
Coach Norv Turner may be an expert with the X's and O's, but Cope knows dollar signs. He is viewed by many as one of the most effective pro sports team marketers in the country, which is just what new owner Daniel M. Snyder needs if he hopes to make the interest payments on his $800 million team and still make a profit. The Bethesda businessman and a group of investors took title to the Redskins in July from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke.
Cope declined to be interviewed, but observers said they expect him to use his marketing and event coordination skills to accomplish two major things: Make the game experience at the 80,116-seat Redskins Stadium in Landover more festive and squeeze more revenue from the facility and team, which has been one of the most undermarketed franchises in the NFL.
"He's a first-round draft pick for the Redskins' front office . . . a hard-charging marketing guy," said Larry Lucchino, who knows Cope from the 1980s when Lucchino was part owner of the Orioles. Lucchino, who sold his interest when Peter Angelos bought the Baltimore team, is president of the San Diego Padres.
Cope has been part of a national cadre of marketers who have pushed stadium advertising to new heights. He helped create PSINet Stadium's "moments of exclusivity," in which all of the lighted signs in the seating area around the field are programmed to display the same company name for several seconds at a time.
As a junior marketer with the Baltimore Orioles, Cope, then only in his twenties, helped choreograph the retro feel at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, with its easy mix of advertising and entertainment from the days before World War II.
Cope bucked some of the marketing mavens at NFL Properties when he recruited Pepsi to be a sponsor of the Ravens, even though Coca-Cola had a contract as the national soft drink sponsor of the NFL.
Snyder lured the young salesman, who lives in Bethesda with his wife, Sara, away from the Ravens this year with a salary reported to be well into six figures, but also for the chance to work on a blank canvas. The Cooke family did not devote much effort to marketing the team, believing instead that the team's tradition of success would take care of attendance. But over the past two years, the image of thousands of empty yellow club seats at Redskins Stadium startled many fans and hurt the team's image as one of the hottest tickets in sports.
After Snyder hired Cope away, Ravens owner Art Modell was livid at losing his star salesman with only one day's notice and filed a grievance with the NFL, accusing Snyder of tampering with Ravens' employees.
But Bob Leffler, who represents sports clients around the country, said Snyder had no other choice if he wanted to get a lucrative naming rights deal for the Redskins.
"If you're Snyder . . . there is no other logical guy," Leffler said.
Those who have worked with him said Cope's organization skills and his prodigious energy have helped propel him to the top of his profession.
"He's a walking Filofax . . . indefatigable," Ravens President David Modell said.
Robin Bissell, president of Esskay meat company, which has a big outfield advertisement at Oriole Park, said Cope is "a great guy on his voice mail: `It's 10:32 and I will be in a meeting until 11:47, then I can call you at 11:49.' He doesn't mince words. He's quick on the phone."
Cope graduated in 1982 from Woodward, where he and his future boss, Snyder, were classmates. Cope was active in school politics, but many remember him for his near-obsession with sports.
"He followed everything on the sports page and knew statistics from age six on," said one friend, who declined to allow his name to be used. The son of a pharmaceutical salesman, Cope was so outgoing in high school that he was voted most popular boy in the class. After he graduated from Florida's Stetson University, he took a job handling ticket complaints and selling seats.
Cope's breakthrough came during the Orioles' disastrous 1988 season, when the team lost its first 21 games. Cope was working at the Orioles team store on Farragut Square in Washington, where he spent hours on the telephone cold-calling potential customers, sweet-talking them into buying tickets. His superiors in Baltimore noticed that despite the horrible start, the Farragut Square store was selling tons of tickets -- which they attribute to his congenial telephone demeanor and his ability to listen.
"He delivered," said Bob Aylward, Cope's boss at the time and now vice president of business and sales at the Seattle Mariners.
It didn't take long before he was negotiating six-figure marketing deals with corporate sponsors such as Legg Mason and Coca-Cola.
"We sent him to the corporate marketing area and that's where he shined because he is able to develop relationships with the sponsors," said Aylward.
Bill Allard, president of ProServ sports consultants, said sponsors like Cope because he studies the companies and is able to discuss how a sponsorship fits their needs. Clients love it.
"David tries to get as close to the European sports team model as possible, where they put the corporation's name on teams," Allard said.
For the PSINet naming rights deal, Cope made sure the PSINet's name was linked with nearly every Ravens' activity, extending to the marching band, stationery, cheerleaders, community activities and the Internet.
Cope left the Orioles in 1994 when he and an associate started the Sports Business Daily, a daily industry newsletter widely read across the country. Cope left the publication six months later and joined Washington Sports & Entertainment, where he was always the last one to leave because he returned every telephone call, according to Washington Sports President Susan O'Malley.
David Brond, director of corporate marketing for the University of Maryland Medical System, which advertises at Oriole Park and at PSINet Stadium, said, "if David says he will call you at 10:45 p.m., that phone will ring at 10:45."
After a couple of years with Washington Sports, Cope went to the Ravens to head their marketing and sales. The team sold out 28 of 30 home games, every one of its 8,200 club seats and more than 90 percent of the luxury boxes while Cope was there.
"He wasn't just good at one thing," David Modell said. "He was good at everything. Selling TV time, print vehicles, seats, club seats, [personal seat licenses], luxury suites, signage in stadium, sponsorships. He helped this organization generate millions."