A top Washington Redskins official said the team had been unable to sell season tickets for the thousands of seats it removed from FedEx Field this summer, a rare admission by the franchise that demand for its in-stadium product has declined.
Lon Rosenberg, the vice president of operations at FedEx Field, said in a radio interview Wednesday that the approximately 10,000 removed upper deck seats had been offered to fans on the team’s season ticket waiting list, and that “these are seats that they were not wanting to buy.”
In a telephone interview Thursday, Rosenberg described the removed seats as “the least desirable seats in the stadium,” but added that the decision to remove the seats “has nothing to do with ticket sales.”
“It’s about making a more fan-friendly experience on game days,” he said. “There will be less traffic, shorter lines and and again, enable us to better serve our fans.”
Rosenberg estimated that the capacity of FedEx Field for the 2011 season will be around 82,000 — down from 91,704, which had made it the second-largest capacity in the NFL.
When the team began removing seats in the 400 levels of both end zones this spring, the Redskins published a story on their official Web site saying they would be replaced by standing-room only party decks that would offer fans a different in-game experience. The story called the decks “another major upgrade” that were expected to be completed “for the start of the 2012 season.”
But Rosenberg said the team hasn’t decided what, if anything, will replace the end zone seats, explaining that the impetus behind the project was to ease traffic congestion and lines at concession stands and bathrooms at the stadium in Landover.
“I’m saying what we removed from the stadium is to give people a little more room,” he told ESPN 980, a station owned by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said in a telephone interview Thursday that the team still wanted to install the decks but had not made a final decision and needed to apply for permits for that phase of the renovation project.
Samuel Wynkoop, the director of the Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources, said Thursday no changes have been made to the construction permit issued by the county last September. That permit was for construction of a “club-level concrete platform structure” and removal of seats from the upper deck.
“To us, everything is going ahead,” Wynkoop said.
Wynkoop said the Redskins would have to notify the county if they do not plan to move forward with their plans. “They would have to abandon the current application,” he said. “And that has not happened.”
Rosenberg said Thursday that intalling party decks was the team’s preference, but added: “We still need an architect to come in and make sure that it’s even structurally possible to construct party decks that high up in the air. As it is now, you’ll see most of the concrete in those areas has been removed.”
“Going forward, what we do with that space, we haven’t determined,” he said.
The Redskins have said for years that their waiting list for season tickets numbers in the hundreds of thousands, even as the team’s home stadium capacity grew from around 54,000 at RFK Stadium to 80,116 when FedEx Field opened in 1997. The capacity at FedEx was increased several times under Snyder’s ownership — to 85,407 in 2000, 86,484 in 2001 and 91,665 in 2004. Seating capacity was listed at 91,704 last season.
Dave Donovan, the team’s chief operating officer who announced last week he would be leaving the organization, said in the fall of 2009 that there were more than 160,000 names on the team’s waiting list. Snyder told the Washington Times in 2006 that there were more than 200,000 names on the list. The Redskins say they have been sold out since 1966.
There have been large numbers of empty seats at FedEx Field during many home games in recent seasons. The Redskins finished last or tied for last in the NFC East four of the past five years and have not hosted a playoff game since 1999.
The secondary ticket market has made it easier for fans to get a la carte entrance to games, while high-definition television and satellite subscriptions have made watching games at home a more appealing option for fans in all sports, including the NFL.
The NFL labor strife, which has players locked out and the start of the 2011 season in some doubt, has also made some fans in many NFL cities hesitant to pay for ticket packages this year. The Redskins previously said the team would not attempt to sell tickets to fans on the waiting list because of the lockout.
“The people on the waiting list are being offered to buy seats,” Rosenberg said on Wednesday. “We have the seats available for them. . . . They were asking to be kept on the waiting list till better seats opened up.”
Staff writer Ovetta Wiggins and researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.