The Washington Redskins, who a few seasons ago boasted a waiting list for season tickets of more than 200,000 names, have removed thousands of seats from FedEx Field for the third time in five seasons, further decreasing the capacity of what was once the National Football League’s largest stadium.
The move follows two of the worst seasons in modern Redskins history, with the team amassing a record of 7-25 amid infighting and dysfunction, and fans threatening to stop paying for the product.
At an open house at FedEx Field for fans interested in buying season tickets on Saturday, thousands of seats had already been removed from the top eight rows of many sections in the stadium’s upper deck. They had been replaced by tall metal poles jutting out from the concrete floor of the grandstand.
The team said in a statement that the move was “part of an overall plan based on season ticket holder feedback,” and that it would unveil full details of the plan shortly.
The team listed its stadium capacity at 85,000 last season, but attendance never topped 81,000 and averaged less than 78,000. The Redskins led the NFL with an average attendance of 88,090 in 2007 but have averaged fewer than 80,000 four seasons in a row.
The Redskins still remained near the top of the league in attendance; the league average last season was 68,776. The Redskins say every home game for the past 47 seasons has been a sellout.
Fans in recent years have complained of a poor experience at the Landover stadium, marked by snarled parking, rowdy fan behavior, long lines, frequent advertisements and large numbers of interlopers from visiting teams. At the same time, the home viewing experience for fans of all 32 NFL franchises has dramatically improved, thanks to large high-definition TVs and the NFL’s own RedZone network, which shows every scoring play.
“It’s just more fun to watch at home, without spending eight hours of your day,” said lifelong fan Jen Riskus, whose family shed two of its six tickets several years ago and another two this spring. “It used to be that everyone wanted to go with us to the game. Starting two or three years ago, we couldn’t get anyone to go with us. We couldn’t even give them away for free.”
It appeared on Saturday that somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 seats had been removed. The team declined to provide any details about the scope of the reduction, or what would be replacing the empty rows.
FedEx Field opened in 1997 with a capacity of 80,116, a huge jump over the 56,454 capacity at RFK Stadium, the team’s former home. After Daniel M. Snyder bought the franchise in 1999, he began to increase the stadium’s seating capacity.
In 2000, the team added more than 4,000 seats, many of them high-end “premium” seats, turning FedEx Field into the league’s biggest venue. The Redskins added several hundred more seats in 2001 and more than 5,000 seats in 2004, after Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs agreed to return.
By that time, the Redskins said there were 90,000 fans waiting for the chance to buy season tickets. Four years later, Snyder put the number at more than 200,000.
The team’s listed capacity peaked at 91,704 from 2005 to 2010, but both local forces (the team’s on-field decline) and national forces (the introduction of high-definition broadcasts and the increased appeal among fans of watching games on TV while interacting with a mobile device or laptop) began eating into demand.
“The move to smaller stadiums is a trend in the NFL,” said Marc Ganis, the president of Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp. “There’s a lot more competition sitting in your living room now, so people expect the view you’ll have in the stadium will be far better than what they expected when the Redskins’ stadium was first designed. . . .
“[A smaller stadium] has a corollary effect of providing the same facilities for a smaller number of people: bathrooms, concessions, parking. It has a benefit, for some people at least, of enhancing their day-of-game experience.”
The Redskins removed thousands of seats from FedEx Field’s upper level in 2011 by cutting away large sections of the stadium structure in both end zones, and again in 2012 by turning seats into standing-room-only sections. A top team official explained the 2011 project by saying fans did not want to buy the removed seats.
At least some fans, though, said the problems have persisted.
“I just got tired of the subpar product on the field and in concourses,” said Brian Laliberty, who gave up his two season tickets this offseason after consistently seeing lower priced tickets in his section on the secondary ticket market. “The only good thing about attending games was the tailgate beforehand with family and friends, and they gave up their tickets before me.”
Another fan, who asked that his name not be used, recently gave up seats he said had been in his family since World War II. “It was an emotional decision, I’ll be honest with you,” said the fan, who kept the seats despite living on the West Coast for more than a decade. “We love the team, but it’s a miserable experience being at the stadium, absolutely miserable. And we just didn’t see any reasonable prospects into the future.”
The Redskins began acknowledging such complaints in recent months; team President Bruce Allen sent a contrite letter to fans in March. “Redskins fans deserve a stadium experience worthy of your loyal support,” Allen wrote. “It’s clear from your feedback that in several areas, we need to do better.”
Allen promised several measures to improve the experience, including some meant to reduce congestion in the parking lots and entering the stadium. Allen has suggested that Washington’s next stadium will have a smaller, more intimate feel, similar to RFK. Allen also said at the fan forum that the large number of visiting-team fans at Redskins’ home games is partly a product of FedEx Field’s size.
Jeff Greenberg, the owner of ASC Tickets, a local ticket broker, said the best way to increase demand would be by winning more games, but that a smaller facility could be a boon.
“Even if they get better, I think it’s going to be better in a smaller stadium,” he said. “You can raise the prices, you can make the experience going in and out better, and you can make the demand better when it’s smaller.”
Several fans who are giving up their tickets said they would continue to go to some games, buying seats in the secondary market and watching the rest on television.
Mark Britto had four seats on the aisle of section 401 in row 23. While browsing his account recently, he noticed his seats had been changed without warning; he called the ticket office and was told that everything above row 21 was gone. Britto is accepting his new location but said he would have liked a bit of advance notice.
“Nobody on that big waitlist wanted seats?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m just waiting for them to say there’s no Santa Claus.”
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