“Everyone who left was looking to leave,” one ex-employee said. “Maybe five of them left because they had a better opportunity. All those other people were looking to get out as fast as they could.”
The former workers said Lafemina’s arrival in May 2018, after Snyder spent nearly a year recruiting him from the NFL’s New York headquarters, had brought hope of not only reversing a trend of sagging attendance and declining fan interest, but of changing a work culture they described as stagnant and dismissive of any opinion beyond that of a tiny handful of top executives.
Upon his hiring, Lafemina was granted total control of the team’s business operations, a responsibility previously held by team president Bruce Allen, who was left in charge of the team’s football decisions. Lafemina set out to overhaul the Redskins’ ticket operation, including acknowledging a season ticket waiting list the team once claimed numbered 200,000 no longer existed; instituting single-game ticket sales; offering discounts for government employees, scouts and service members; and pledging to “treat [fans] the way they ought to be treated.”
But when early-season financial returns showed a sharp downturn in attendance and revenue, Snyder and Allen blamed Lafemina’s fan-friendly approach rather than any shortcoming in the team’s performance or with FedEx Field itself, according to a person with knowledge of their thinking. In particular, Snyder and Allen second-guessed Lafemina’s disclosure that there was no waiting list, his decision to discount tickets and the perceived implication, in vowing to treat fans well, that the Redskins hadn’t always done so.
Many of the business employees had been considering leaving the organization before Lafemina was hired but were so inspired by his leadership style they put off job searches in the hope he could make a difference. They felt deflated when Lafemina and those he brought with him — chief marketing officer Steven Ziff and chief commercial officer Todd Kline — were let go on Dec. 26, just days after another vice president hired by him, Jake Bye, resigned.
“Once they left it was like the bottom dropped out,” one said. “A lot of us felt hopeless after that.”
“It was almost like getting your heart broken by a significant other,” another said. “We got our hopes up only to have them broken again.”
Professional sports teams will often have significant turnover on the business side when a franchise is sold or a new team president takes over. Redskins officials have suggested the current turnover is not any different than another team that has made a change at the top. The one difference in Washington’s case, however, is that Allen, who was eventually put back in charge of both football and business operations following Lafemina’s ouster, returned to a role he held less than a year before.
“The personnel changes made to our organization are part of a forward-looking plan created by our leadership team and, like any organization, are driven by our continuous motivation to improve as a team both on and off the field,” Tony Wyllie, the Redskins’ senior vice president of communications, said Tuesday.
A key moment was a hastily called staff meeting on the day Lafemina was fired, led by Terry Bateman, a team executive who is now chief marketing officer. The workers described the announcement as stunning, and employees were shocked team officials seemed to have no plan for replacing Lafemina. “If Brian’s dismissal broke the camel’s back, that meeting somehow made it worse,” one former employee later said in describing the frustration of many of the workers.
“You could literally feel the negative energy in the building that day,” one ex-employee said. “Everyone felt so crushed and devastated. The feeling was: ‘We literally can’t stay here.’”
Some of those who have left point out that while it was a thrill to work for an NFL team, their jobs were the kind of early-career opportunities that even in the best of times would not have life spans beyond four or five years. According to their LinkedIn profiles, only about a third are still working in professional sports.
Washington radio station 106.7 the Fan first reported on the departures from the Redskins’ business staff.
The majority of those who left were not people who were brought in by Lafemina when the team hired him. Instead, they were employees ranging in employment from 11 months to 12 years.
“It was a symbol things weren’t going to change,” one former employee said of Lafemina’s firing. “It seemed to me it went backwards. It went back to where they were.”
Many of the former employees said they had been excited to work for an NFL team and enjoyed their colleagues, but they complained of low pay, a feeling that no one at the top of the organization cared about their work and a sense the franchise was not moving forward after Allen was put back in charge of both football and business.
“What I’ve learned is that every organization in the NFL is going to have its quirks, but not to the level of the ‘Skins,” one said.
The team has hired several new people to replace those who departed but hardly ever announces or acknowledges personnel moves on the business side of the franchise.
Lafemina was hired in April as the chief business officer of the organizing committee for the 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.
Alex Andrejev and Liz Clarke contributed to this story.
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