You’ve got to be either a drunk, a gambler or Daniel Snyder to tank your business in the NFL. The Washington Redskins owner has firmly established just what a bad investment risk he is. It is therefore the height of irresponsibility for any local government to even think of giving him a dime of public money, or a foot of free land, for a new stadium. It would be nothing but a bailout, welfare.
For 19 years Snyder has run the team as a wild personal indulgence, while a seemingly inexhaustible fan base picked up the tab. But no more. Oh, he’ll never go broke, for the simple reason that it’s virtually impossible to lose money as an NFL owner, especially of such a marquee franchise with so many built-in market advantages. Nevertheless, Snyder has done his best to squander and gouge until the team has suffered a precipitous plunge in attendance, ratings and game-day income. Legislators take note: This is what happens to people who partner with him. Nobody emerges with their name or business better off.
Even his fellow owner-billionaires in the NFL are embarrassed and unhappy about the yawning decks of unfilled seats, and the black mood of the few influentials who still go to Redskins games, a league executive told me. If there is one thing that NFL owners don’t like, it’s “apathy in a major market,” the longtime exec said. They are especially bothered by apathy in the nation’s capital, where they rely on strong interest and relationships to protect their business practices. “Washington, D.C. is Washington, D.C.,” the executive said, “and there is a trickle-down effect.” NFL owners put the blame for the bleeding of goodwill squarely on the so-called management of Snyder and his pally team President Bruce Allen, who they regard as “literally, a joke.”
All Snyder has done as an NFL owner is freeload off massive revenue streams he didn’t help create, while breeding fan ill will. He bought the Redskins for $800 million with a brand-new stadium that was the largest in the league, and sat back and collected his built-in cut of the league’s massive TV contracts — which paid every team $255 million last year no matter how they performed. He pressed long-suffering fans to pay $7 for short beers and $40 to park and gave them among the worst food for the highest prices in all of the NFL. In 2016, the Redskins offered the most expensive game day for a family of four in the entire league, though they’ve won eight games or fewer in 15 of 19 years.
All around Snyder is scorched earth. He has made FedEx Field, for which he sold the stadium naming rights for an extravagant $205 million back in 1999, perpetually synonymous with low quality. How’s that for branding?
Then there are the city fathers of Richmond. Here’s how they fared in becoming partners with Snyder. In 2012, they made an eight-year deal to host Redskins training camps through 2020, agreed to build the team an $11 million facility for free, and give the team an additional $500,000 a year in cash and services. In return, Snyder and Allen promised to lure thousands of tourists to the city, to flood hotels and restaurants, and to generate sponsorship fees that would pay for it.
None of it materialized. Richmond had to rob a school fund of more than $5 million to help pay for it and is facing $750,000 per year in ongoing debt payments. It’s a total albatross. When the Richmond city council expressed distress and unwillingness to extend the deal last summer, Allen told the Washington Times, “I’m not going to worry about that right now. I’m just hoping for some sunshine to dry out our fields.”
Now do the multiplication and think about the 10-figure damage Snyder could do to any city that takes on a billion-dollar stadium project for him. Even the best arenas rarely deliver on the extravagant promises of their builders; economists say a shopping center is a better investment for your community. To give a single tax dollar to Snyder given his track record would be absolute madness, and anyone who even contemplates it should be turned out of office for malpractice. If Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and various members of the D.C. Council continue to play footsie with Snyder, they will get burned, become just another in a long line of people who came to the Redskins with good reputations and left as damaged goods.
Snyder should be left alone to feel the effects of his own mismanagement, without relief. He seeded distrust with poor business practices and made fans hostages to his personal whims, until he has fatally weakened interest in the team. He should have to live with FedEx Field until it is totally empty. Maybe then he will finally get bored, and do everyone a mercy, and sell.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.