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Dogs piss on things and claim them. Dan Snyder claims everything and pisses everybody off.
Snyder announced last week that the city’s big sports talker—WTEM-AM, better known as Sportstalk 980—was among three radio stations he’s buying. He’s purchased at least eight frequencies, six in this market and two in outer Virginia, in the last two years.
Big-dollar shopping sprees are nothing new to Snyder: This is what he did before Redskins fans ever heard of him.
He founded Snyder Communications in 1988, but the company’s profile didn’t take off until he took it public almost a decade later and used that cash to take over every direct-marketing and pharmaceutical company that would sell out.
His Securities and Exchange Commission filings show that Snyder went on an amazing two-year buying binge beginning in 1997. He brought firms from all over the globe, with names like MMD, American List, PharmFlex, Blau Marketing, Brann Holdings, Publimed Promotions, Promotech Research Associates, Sampling Corp. of America, Halliday Jones Sales, and Bounty (a company that produced baby-raising guides, not paper towels), under the Snyder Communications umbrella.
At the time, mergers and acquisitions were all the rage in the corporate realm. In 2000, just before the Wall Street boom busted, Snyder sold the whole portfolio in a stock deal for a reported $2.3 billion.
By then, he’d already acquired the Redskins.
The NFL team didn’t satisfy his takeover jones, however. While owning and operating the Skins, he’s acquired fan magazines and message boards. He’s bought burger joints and production companies and theme-park chains. He’s put journalists and movie stars on his payroll and even bought up the rights to other football teams.
And, as last week’s transaction proves, he’s not done hunting and gathering just yet. The pattern seems to be: He takes something over, that thing goes downhill, and before it improves or even gets off the ground, he’s moved on and taken over something else.
You can look it up.
His media acquisitions are many and uniformly fruitless. Shortly after taking over the Redskins, he took over Redskins Journal, a long-running Manassas-based fanzine, and it quickly dissolved.
In 2005, he acquired Extremeskins.com, at the time an independent fan message board, and made it a part of his team’s Web site. Snyder’s moderators protect him like a Jonas Brothers street team, but the fan base’s dislike for the owner is plain for all to read on the board.
Triple X Radio, his bizarrely named radio network, has to this point been essentially unlistenable for D.C. residents, and not just because of content issues: The stations’ signals are so weak, the programming can’t be heard downtown after sunset. Snyder requested that the three stations be combined for ratings purposes, and in the latest book their total audience ranks 23rd in the Washington market.
Snyder also has produced several television shows, which put area TV, newspaper, and radio sportscasters on the payroll of the team they cover. As of 2005, WJLA-TV was the only major-network affiliate in this market not corrupted by Redskins money. Among the big names who’ve taken Redskins money: George Michael, Michael Wilbon, Lindsay Czarniak, and Andy Pollin.
Pollin was hired by Snyder in 2003 to host a Sunday-morning TV show for the Redskins Broadcast Network called Redskins Game Day and was viewed as a Snyder suck-up back when he was taking checks from the owner. He’ll be viewed as a suck-up again for as long as he’s back on Snyder’s payroll. (Mark Gray, host of WOL-AM’s Sports Groove, is now the only unconflicted daily sports-talk host in the entire D.C. market.)
Despite the media strategy, people can’t stand Snyder around here. Look at what a Redskins affiliation has done for Larry Michael, the team’s broadcaster/minister of disinformation: In a recent unscientific popularity poll of local sports media types conducted by Dan Steinberg for his Washington Post “D.C. Sports Bog” blog, Michael finished last in a landslide, with an 18 percent approval rating.
Snyder’s media acquisitions aren’t the only ones that haven’t worked out. Nothing he’s taken over since becoming a big player around here has worked out, really.
Snyder’s failings atop Six Flags have been chronicled comprehensively in these pages, so, for this week, let’s just point out that according to MSN Money’s financial charts, only 10 percent of all stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange have performed worse than Snyder’s amusement chain’s in the past year.
He’s had lots of low-profile flops, also.
Snyder, remember, tried becoming a local sports mogul right away: In 2000, just as he was putting his people in place at Redskins Park, he bought up the local franchise rights from the Arena Football League. He also filed for federal trademark protections in March of that year for a name for the team: Washington Warriors.
The feds warned Snyder that his failure to use the trademark could cost him the rights to “Washington Warriors.” So his lawyers, led by Melissa G. Bernstein, who served Snyder as both his assistant general counsel and a Redskins cheerleader (really!), kept asking the government for more time to get going.
“WASHINGTON WARRIORS is the name of a professional football team which has not yet begun playing,” wrote Bernstein in a letter to the trademark office on April 26, 2004, accompanied by a required $450 check for processing one of several filings by Snyder in an ongoing attempt to keep his trademark rights alive.
No such luck: In January 2005, the feds sent Snyder a “Notice of Abandonment” and put the trademarks back up for grabs.
He’s wanted to go Hollywood, also, but that campaign hasn’t gotten off the ground, either.
Snyder founded a film development company called First and Goal in August 2006 and paid a reported $10 million for a deal with Tom Cruise.
The release of Valkyrie, the first movie Snyder’s producing as part of his deal with Cruise, has been delayed twice already and is shaping up to be one of the biggest flops in recent cinematic history. Sure, Snyder signed Cruise at about the same point in his career that he got Bruce Smith, but nobody could have predicted First and Goal would face fourth-and-long so quickly: Rumblings from Hollywood hold that Snyder’s $100 million Hitler movie might never hit theaters.
Snyder’s acquisition of Dick Clark Productions looks shaky, too. He paid $175 million for the rights to broadcasts controlled by Clark, the biggest of which is the yearly Golden Globe Awards show. Snyder’s first shot at the Golden Globes was a debacle. The writer’s strike turned the show into a souped-up press conference and earned the lowest TV ratings in the history of the event.
Things also got off poorly for Snyder’s takeover of Johnny Rockets, a faux-retro burger chain that was started on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in 1986.
Just a couple weeks after he announced he’d taken over, the chain’s Georgetown store, its most visible local outlet, was shut down by the city for health code violations including “failure to reduce the presence of rodents” and “operating with gross unsanitary conditions that may endanger public health.”
A report on WTOP radio said the inspectors were tipped off by “gnawed hamburger rolls.”
Johnny Rodents, anybody?