Dan Snyder just wants to win.
We’ve heard that since Snyder came here a decade ago, telling tales of a childhood spent wearing his Redskins belt buckle and eating chili in front of the family TV on football Sundays.
I never thought he cared about winning.
I’m a believer now. Snyder’s drive took him back where he belongs: The winner, yet again, of Cheap Seats’ Unsportsman of the Year Award.
Snyder’s always in the lead pack in this annual competition for the lowest dishonor available to local sportspeople. Let’s face it, he usually wins. But last year, the Lerners stole his blunder thunder and took the 2K8 Unsportsman with a series of dumbass sorties that included not signing the Nats’ top pick and not even paying rent on the billion-dollar baseball stadium the city gifted their baseball team. But Snyder clearly set his sights on the bottom rung. While the Lerners took their eyes off the booby prize—this year, they made positively sportsmanlike strides while hiring a competent general manager, lowering ticket prices, and actually signing their first-round draft choice (not to mention paying rent)—Snyder went off. He had the worst year of his decadelong, nothing-but-horrible run as owner.
In 2009, we learned that Snyder is who we thought he was. Which explains why at year’s end, Tiger Woods still has a higher approval rating in his own household than Snyder does in D.C.
Our news hole isn’t big enough to relive all the bad moves—such transcendent Snyder deeds as the public emasculation of Jim Zorn and the broke-grandmother lawsuit are left out—but here are a few of the horrors Snyder unleashed on our community in these last 12 months.
In January, Snyder put out a press release from Redskins Park about the demand for his product, boasting that there were “more than 200,000 people on our waiting list for season tickets.” By April, Washington City Paper obtained a copy of a direct mail solicitation that the team was sending out to people who had never signed up for any waiting list offering them general admission season tickets. The letter promised that anybody who buys tickets “by May 15, 2009” also gets “a $25 Redskins Retail Store Gift Card.” That would be a pretty desperate sales pitch for a team that had even one name on its season-ticket waiting list. Bottom line: There is no waiting list.
The direct mail ended with a plea: “Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity!” Sure.
In June, Snyder announced that a bedmaker named Anatomic Global had partnered with his theme park chain, Six Flags, to become the “Official Mattress” of Six Flags.
Snyder is the king of the partnership. Six Flags has an official mayonnaise, for example, and the Redskins have an official carpet installer. But this Anatomic Global alliance was particularly galling to a gang of folks who Snyder had taken for a joyless ride: Six Flags stockholders. Snyder took over the theme-park operator in late 2005 by scaring stockholders with a letter to all investors saying that they’d be “better off hiding their money under a mattress” than investing in Six Flags without him at the helm. Snyder was then elected chairman of the Six Flags board of directors and steadily ran the company into the ground. By this summer, stock that had been worth $11.93 a share early in Snyder’s reign was worth mere pennies. Snyder’s chain filed for bankruptcy in June, just weeks before signing the mattress deal with Anatomic Global. Snyder then started actually selling the beds at his theme parks ($1,299 for a queen size).
Snyder re-revealed a penchant for not paying little people what he owes them. In 2006, he was sued for stiffing his babies’ nanny on salary, and a Maryland court forced him to give her what she was promised. He’s spent this year trying to avoid paying overtime to a group of former employees at the Redskins ticket office. The team argued that his ticket office wasn’t covered by standard overtime laws, citing a 1932 exemption for “amusement and recreation employees” that was in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. That exemption had historically covered workers such as lifeguards and greenskeepers, not office employees. On July 22, an arbitrator threw out the Redskins exemption argument. That case is now in discovery, and barring a settlement will go to a full arbitration hearing in April. But not a trial: Through the ticket office case, we learned that Snyder requires team employees to waive the right to a jury trial as a condition of employment. The case also got people asking: If Snyder’s really got a waiting list of 200,000, why would his whole staff of ticket-sellers be working so much overtime?
Controlling the message has long been a Snyder fetish, and he’s had a banner year there. In August, he banned everybody but Redskins employees from posting Twitter messages at Redskins Park. In September, Snyder forced the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg to remove photos from his blog that showed fans wearing or carrying anti-Snyder messages. The Redskins told Steinberg’s editors that his FedExField press pass did not give him permission to take such photos, and that the content of the photos was not an issue. But Steinberg has been posting shots of fans at FedEx for years—one of Alex Ovechkin at a Skins game comes quickly to mind—without ever getting a complaint from the team. The editors removed the photos without a fight.
Snyder’s always been a freak about gouging and parking, too, and he ran wild in both realms in 2009. In August, City Paper discovered Snyder was sneaking a parking surcharge into the cost of every ticket sold for non-football events at FedExField. Anybody buying a ticket online to Paul McCartney’s show, for example, had another $10-per-ticket fee tacked on for parking. Other area venues factor parking charges into the main ticket price, but Snyder provides no way to escape the fee: Even if you took Metro to the show or walked, you still paid for parking. About 60,000 folks showed up for McCartney, so an extra $600,000 went into Snyder’s pockets. At U2, the surcharge was $8. That show drew about a full house, so Snyder pocketed an extra $700,000 or so.
Snyder’s freaky about cheerleaders, too. In October, he threw away the Redskins cheerleaders’ veneer of self-respect by holding a sleazy promotion for WTEM-AM, his sports-talk radio station, that promised winners a personal car wash from scantily clad cheerleaders. As commercials for the promotion were in heavy rotation on WTEM, the director of the Redskins cheerleaders told me nobody had yet told her anything about cheerleaders having to wash cars. The sleaze didn’t stop there, however: Snyder partnered with an outfit called Spongetech for the car-wash promotion. Spongetech, as entries for the contest were still being collected, was bounced from trading on Wall Street by the Securities and Exchange Commission after investigators questioned information it had provided to investors. Nice contest all around.
Speaking of filthy: In October, a Redskins fan posted video evidence that the men’s rooms at FedExField had long been used to sell $8 beers to an audience of pee-ers and the like. Snyder’s flush with cash from the practice, however.
The nadir of the Dan Snyder Era, and that’s saying something, came with the loophole-friendly bag-and-sign ban that the owner quietly put in place at his stadium. After the Tampa Bay game, season ticketholder Dave Alperin told me that FedEx security had searched him and confiscated anti-Snyder signs he had made the night before. The signs were permitted, according to the stadium rules Alperin had read on Snyder’s own Web site before going to the game. But guards told Alperin the rules had just been changed, and that Snyder had instructed his security staff to search fans for anything carrying insulting messages and toss them in the trash.
The ban turned into a violent fiasco by the Monday Night Football game between the Skins and Eagles. On washingtonpost.com, a fan named Liz Angevine posted details of her encounter with a guard at the stadium gates: “When I told her that I wanted to keep my sign and run it back to my car,” Angevine wrote, “she stepped on my sign and ripped it apart!!! I could NOT believe it. I’m still in shock.” Other fans told of guys being accosted and ultimately escorted out of the stadium by a gang of “armed guards” for the crime of wearing shirts that said fire snyder and fire vinny. In the days following the debacle, Redskins Chief Operating Officer David Donovan went on the radio to tell fans that the sign ban had nothing to with content but was about fan safety.
Donovan was fibbing, of course. Steinberg later reported that at the Philly game the same guards who were bullying fans and throwing homemade posters in the trash were handing out GEICO signs at some entrances as part of yet another Snyder promotion.
Snyder quietly dropped the ban a few hours before the kickoff of the Nov. 15 Skins–Denver tilt. Even before ending the sign prohibition at his stadium, Snyder was promoting a fan sign contest as part of a Redskins pep rally at a Rockville bar sponsored by Snyder’s radio station.
What a year. What an Unsportsman.
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