City Paper is not for tourists
Dan Snyder wants you on his waiting list. So much so that the Redskins recently began offering a chance to win prizes including “100 pairs” of “Premium Tickets” and a signed Albert Haynesworth jersey for anybody who gets in line for season tickets.
The subtext of the sweepstakes: The waiting list for Skins tickets is now officially a joke.
Given all the FedExField expansions and the losing and the bad-will buildup since Snyder took over the team, it’s sorta surprising that it took a decade for this day to come. There was a time when the chance to buy tickets alone was enough to get people on the Redskins waiting list.
“I don’t think it’s what it was,” says Robin Ficker, 66.
Ficker, mostly through his years of heckling Bullets opponents, is the most famous sports fan in D.C. history (and, full disclosure, a longtime hero of mine). He’s also an expert on the Redskins season tickets waiting list. And a lawyer.
About 20 years ago, back before he got notorious for his Capital Centre high jinks, Ficker sued the Redskins to keep the list honest.
He’d signed up for tickets with his brother in the early 1970s. The list meant something then. Season tickets were going for as little as $49 for the entire slate of seven home games. But, because of demand, the right to buy season passes far exceeded the face value of the tickets.
For the first several decades of the team’s existence, there was no need for a waiting list. (Not for tickets, anyway: In 1947, the manager of the Redskins marching band told the Washington Post that “more than 40” area musicians had signed up for a waiting list to join his band, the NFL’s first.)
The tickets got precious in the mid-1960s, after the team moved from Griffith Stadium to D.C. Stadium (later named RFK) and Sonny Jurgensen started throwing bombs to Charley Taylor. The Redskins first publicized having a waiting list in 1971, or five years after the games started selling out every week. The team announced that 5,000 folks wanted tickets but couldn’t buy them.
At the time, the line almost didn’t move: A team spokesman admitted to the Post that the nonrenewals after the ’71 season totaled “14 ticket accounts involving 23 tickets.”
But folks kept signing up. In April 1973, months after the Redskins’ first appearance in a Super Bowl, team president Edward Bennett Williams put the list at 7,500 names. In May 1974, with Congress debating the “blackout rule” mandating that sold-out games be televised, the Post reported that “more than 10,000” folks were waiting.
Ficker had heard over time about area power brokers getting seats. Rep. Kenneth Gray (D-Ill.) admitted in 1974 to purchasing 38 season tickets from the Redskins after introducing legislation to expand RFK Stadium by 1,100 seats, a project pushed by Williams.
In February 1975, when the waiting list was advertised as having 12,000 names, Ficker, as per team policy, sent a self-addressed stamped postcard to the Redskins’ downtown ticket offices to find out where he was on the list. Ficker was behind 1,980 folks.
By July 1987, the Skins were saying 15,000 people were in wait. A Post report that summer held that the lease at RFK Stadium would be up in three years, opening the door for construction of a new and larger venue. The team then claimed “almost 20,000” names on the list. A year later, after Joe Gibbs’ second Super Bowl win, the Redskins put the number at 38,094.
In 1989, with Ficker stuck at No. 144 on the list for year, he found out that a judge he knew got tickets with no waiting.
At the height of the Gibbs I era, reports abounded of families being ripped apart during estate struggles over who would inherit the right to buy Skins tickets. Ficker figured that unless something was done, he’d be dead before his number came up.
So he filed a lawsuit against the Redskins in Montgomery County Circuit Court. He alleged the team had violated a contract with him by not sticking to the list. “Being honest with the fans is just as important as winning the Super Bowl,” Ficker told a reporter from the Washington Times after the filing.
His suit was thrown out. A judge held that while the Redskins were keeping a waiting list, “I never proved that they said they’d stick to it,” Ficker recalls.
Ficker was not yet famous or despised for his verbal assaults on NBA superstars like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. But he became a spokesperson for Everyfan through the litigation and related publicity. And he and his brother each got a pair of tickets a year after losing the suit. He doesn’t think the team moved him up to shut him up about the list.
“I think it was my turn,” he says.
The Redskins were winning, and the list kept growing. In August 1991, the official tally was 41,903 names. In July 1992, after crushing Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI, the team told the Post that “about 45,506” folks were in line.
Then Jack Kent Cooke started lobbying area governments to let him build a new stadium, and he put the waiting list’s size at “about 50,000.” He even used the waiters as a bargaining chip in the negotiations with Prince George’s County that led to the construction of Jack Kent Cooke Stadium: Cooke agreed to give the first 2,000 county residents on the list the right to buy season tickets in exchange for the right to build in Raljon.
When the new stadium, biggest in the NFL from Day 1, opened in September 1997, the list was officially at 45,000 names—or 5,000 fewer than at RFK’s close.
And in May 1999, when Snyder was approved to buy the team, a Post report had the list down to 40,000. That same story had the Redskins admitting that 2,000 premium seats were unsold.
Yet as the team has kept losing under Snyder, and the legend of the NFL’s worst game-day experience has flourished, the owner and his underlings have consistently asserted that demand has grown.
In March 2000, as Snyder takes his first opportunity to raise ticket prices, the team tells the Post that the list is back up to “about 45,000.” By January 2001, the Skins go with “about 50,000.” Then in May 2002, at the beginning of the Steve Spurrier debacle, team officials tell the Washington Times the standard waiting list has hit 75,000 names. Amazingly, Snyder also announces that the team is starting a waiting list for the super-pricey club seats. By then, nobody with a television believes the Joe Gibbs Level is close to sold out, not with huge patches of yellow showing up in broadcasts week after week. (The Skins sales staff will be hawking club-level tix at this weekend’s FedExField draft party.)
In January 2004, as the Redskins rehire Joe Gibbs, executive vice president Mitch Gershman tells the Post that the waiting list is still 75,000-strong. The same day, the Times runs a story saying the team claims more than 100,000 waiting—the first six-figure boast.
By November 2006, the team is telling the Times that there are more than 150,000 names on the waiting list, and Snyder himself took the waiting list to a new level in April 2008. Single tickets to Redskins home games by then had been for sale on every game day at the stadium box office for years. For just as long, the team had also been sending e-mail blasts to all season ticket holders virtually every week trying to sell extra seats to the next home game. Yet Snyder tells the Times, “Our waiting list is over 200,000.”
Better make that over 199,998: Last week, Ficker gave up his Redskins season tickets. His brother turned in his also.
“Aw, it was the whole shebang,” Ficker says, when asked why he’s abandoning something that once meant so much to him. “The time, the expense, paying for parking, everything. It’s not worth it anymore.”
Ficker says he’s not putting his name back on the waiting list. Not even for a shot at a Haynesworth jersey.