Even for notoriously impatient Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, the rise and fall of Lafemina — Snyder’s personally recruited No. 2 who was granted total control of the team’s business operations — represents stunning management whiplash. Ousted along with him in a major shake-up of the team’s business operations were the key people he brought on board: Steven Ziff, hired as chief marketing officer in June, and chief commercial officer Todd Kline, hired in August. Jake Bye, senior vice president for consumer sales and marketing, resigned Friday.
Redskins marketing employees were gathered early Wednesday afternoon in a large office that overlooks the practice fields at Redskins Park and informed that Lafemina, Ziff, Kline and Bye were no longer with the team.
In introducing Lafemina as his latest executive hire on May 16, Snyder hailed Lafemina’s “fresh thinking," “big ideas” and “genuine belief that fans must be at the center of every decision we make.” Snyder had spent nearly a full year recruiting Lafemina from the NFL’s New York headquarters, envisioning him as the linchpin for reversing a revenue slide that was years in the making in his $3.1 billion NFL franchise and laying the groundwork for a new stadium to replace FedEx Field in 2027.
But on Wednesday — just 225 days into the job — Lafemina was let go from what was believed to be a multiyear contract.
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie declined to comment, saying the team did not speak publicly about personnel matters.
The personnel changes were first reported by 106.7 The Fan.
Lafemina becomes the second top Redskins executive ousted in the past 22 months. General manager Scot McCloughan was fired in March 2017, about two years into a four-year contract.
Initially granted broad latitude by Snyder to overhaul the Redskins’ ticket operation, Lafemina worked quickly and on multiple fronts. He started with transparency — acknowledging in June that a season-ticket waiting list the team had claimed numbered 200,000 no longer existed. He instituted single-game ticket sales; launched special promotions for government employees, scouts and service members; tried to improve the home-field advantage by wresting unsold seats from the hands of brokers who had been selling divisional games to Cowboys, Eagles and Giants fans; removed obstructed seats; upgraded stadium amenities; and vowed to “treat [fans] the way they ought to be treated.”
The initiatives were based on Lafemina’s eight years in the NFL office, where he served as liaison to the league’s 32 teams, helping develop and disseminate best business practices.
In some ways, Wednesday’s parting could have been anticipated from the moment Snyder pared back team President Bruce Allen’s duties to carve out a role for Lafemina. Like a monarch with two sons, Snyder in May gave Allen and Lafemina each half of the Redskins' fiefdom to rule, announcing that Allen would supervise the football side of the operation and Lafemina would supervise the business side. Each reported directly to Snyder. In the restructuring, Lafemina inherited some of Allen’s former terrain.
Patience has not been a hallmark of Snyder’s 19-year ownership. Nor has collegiality been a hallmark of Allen’s tenure, particularly when he perceives fellow executives as smart, self-directed and threats to his authority. Heading into Sunday’s season finale against Philadelphia, the Redskins have compiled a 59-83-1 record during Allen’s nine seasons in Washington.
The team has also failed to make the NFL playoffs for a fourth time in Jay Gruden’s five-year tenure.
But it appears as if Snyder has concluded, in evaluating what went wrong in yet another disappointing season, that the team’s weakest link is its business — more so than its performance on the field, in NFL drafts or in free agency.
Lafemina’s ouster caps a stretch in which the Redskins were sharply criticized for signing linebacker Reuben Foster days after he was released by San Francisco following an arrest on a second domestic abuse incident. The Redskins were the only NFL team to voice interest in the troubled player and, as a result, landed unflattering spots on ABC’s “Nightline” and “CBS This Morning,” as well as virulent pushback on social media. On Dec. 18, defensive back Montae Nicholson, a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault after a drunken fight at 2 a.m. outside a Loudoun County bar and restaurant.
Snyder is said to be frustrated not only with his team’s performance but also with the waning appeal of FedEx Field, built in 1997, which he increasingly views as a liability. A decline in game-day revenue could have been predicted, of course, given that Snyder has downsized capacity at least three times in the last eight years — from roughly 92,000 to less than 82,000 — to convey the impression of ticket demand.
Despite Lafemina’s multipronged initiatives to boost ticket sales, the Redskins drew just 57,013 for their Sept. 16 home opener against the Indianapolis Colts. It was the smallest crowd for a home opener in the venue’s 21-year history — down more than 21,000 from the 78,685 who attended the Redskins’ 2017 home opener against the NFC East rival Eagles. It also broke what the Redskins have claimed is a 50-year streak of home-game sellouts.
The team’s desultory performance against the Colts gave fans little reason to return. Gruden’s offense failed to produce a touchdown in the 21-9 defeat.
Kareem Copeland, Mark Maske and Les Carpenter contributed to this report.