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It’s a wonder that Parking Today magazine has never featured Dan Snyder on its cover. For all of his feats in branding the Redskins as one of sport’s most profitable franchises, this mogul does his best work when it comes to charging people for temporary automobile storage.
Area rock and soccer fans these days are feeling Snyder’s parking genius, right in their pocketbooks. Paul McCartney and Real Madrid v. D.C. United played at Snyder’s FexExField this month, and U2 is coming next month. For every ticket sold to these events, Snyder has tacked on a parking charge, from $5 to $10, in addition to all the other fees (Ticketmaster and the like). This is in addition to the advertised admission charge.
So, if you drove with five people to the McCartney show, you will have paid $60 for a parking spot in a Godforsaken portion of Prince George’s County. And if you took those same five people on the Metro with you, you will have paid $60 to not park in a Godforsaken portion of Prince George’s County.
As far as I can tell, no other venue in the area automatically tacks on a parking fee.
There could be a legal reason for that. Federal law takes a dim view of what’s known as “tying arrangements,” in which a vendor will sell a customer a product he wants only if that customer will also purchase a product he may not want.
The granddaddy of tying litigation is Eastman Kodak v. Image Technical Services. That spat arose from Kodak’s policy of selling parts for its photocopy equipment only to people who used Kodak’s repair services. The Supreme Court ruled that Kodak’s tie-in of parts and service violated federal antitrust law, since, basically, it shut out all independent repairers from getting any service work on the Kodak line.
In Snyder’s case, the product the customer wants is the event ticket; parking is the “tied” product, since charges for it are forced on customers. Snyder’s bundling effort also shuts out a class of possible vendors: independent parking lot operators.
Folks who own property near the stadium might want to open their lots on Redskins game days to make a few bucks. But under Snyder’s system, it’s unlikely they’d be able to sell parking spots to people who have already paid for parking once.
Via email, Redskins and Snyder spokesman Karl Swanson defends the parking surcharge as both an accepted practice and a boon to event attenders. “Including parking with the price of the ticket is common at venues (see Patriot Center),” writes Swanson. “We do it because having cars stop at lot entrances to pay the fee, get change, etc., dramatically impacts the smooth flow of traffic into the lots.”
Patriot Center management, however, tells me that parking costs are included in the advertised ticket price of its events; Snyder adds a parking surcharge.
Snyder’s scheme could be seen as vindictive, also. These everybody-pays parking fees come just as he’s feuding with the Jericho City of Praise Church over—you guessed it—parking.
For years, the massive church, located adjacent to FedExField, has been leasing its parking lots to Snyder on Redskins game days. He allowed Redskins season ticket holders who had purchased 10-game parking passes to use the leased property.
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But negotiations between the team and the church to continue the leasing arrangement broke down during the offseason.
The staff at the business office at Jericho City of Praise tells me that the church will take control of the lots on game days, and charge $35, cash only. That amounts to competition, and history is pretty clear on what Snyder does to parking competition.
In 2001, Snyder got Prince George’s County to ban pedestrians from walking to FedEx on game days. His lawyers argued that the walk-in ban was necessary for the safety of ticket holders.
The beginning of the end of Snyder’s pedestrian ban came when D.C. lawyer and lifelong Redskins fan J.P. Szymkowicz went to a game and, having lost his parking pass, parked his car at Landover Mall, which sits across from a main entrance to the team-owned parking lots. Police officers at the main intersection wouldn’t let Szymkowicz cross the street to go in.
Thus was born a class-action lawsuit that Szymkowicz filed on behalf of Redskins season ticket holders. In it, he alleged that the team and county officials conspired to violate state antitrust laws.
The “smoking gun,” Szymkowicz told me during the litigation, came when he found a report by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission responding to the Redskins’ request to add 5,000 new parking spots to existing FedEx lots.
The report said that Redskins officials conducted their own traffic survey during a Monday Night Football game against Dallas in October 2000, and determined that “approximately 1,560 patrons” parked at Landover Mall.
None of those folks paid Snyder for parking.
“Since that [survey],” the MNCPPC report stated, “the Redskins organization has worked to discourage and eliminate parking at Landover Mall, and the addition of the subject lot is intended to support that effort.”
So much for safety.
In 2004, the courts ruled in favor of Szymkowicz and threw out Snyder’s pedestrian ban.
Szymkowicz’s influence lives on. In 2007, Snyder tried to have a similar pedestrian ban instituted for his Six Flags park in Agawam, Mass. Lawyers for the theme park chain told town councilmembers that such a ban was needed to keep parkgoers safe. That argument worked initially, as the council approved a plan that forced Six Flags patrons to use the park’s lots. That rule put several private parking lots in Agawam out of business.
Snyder, who took over Six Flags in 2005, tripled the cost of parking in the Six Flags lots.
But the Agawam ban fell apart when Michael Palazzi, one of the private lot operators who had to shut down, brought to the attention of Agawam’s authorities City Paper’s story about the pedestrian ban Snyder put in place at FedEx and Szymkowicz’s lawsuit to have it repealed.
The council quickly decided that money was the real motivation for Snyder’s move, and that the safety argument was as bogus in Agawam as the one the Redskins owner had made in Prince George’s County a few years earlier. The council repealed the pedestrian ban by a unanimous vote. Palazzi, who had no political experience whatsoever, then drafted a local teacher who was also a political novice to run against the incumbent mayor of Agawam.
Using the mayor’s support of Snyder’s parking scheme as the major campaign issue, Palazzi’s candidate pulled off the huge upset.
I called Szymkowicz, since he is the Tom Joad of these matters, to see if he was aware of Snyder’s current parking scheme, and if he planned to do anything about it. He declined to comment on the latter query.
But he did say he bought tickets to the U2 show, forced parking surcharge and all.
Look out, Dan Snyder.
Read Cheap Seats Daily every weekday morning at washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk.