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Peter Angelos isn’t the only local sports owner to make money fighting tobacco.
It’s one of the advertising industry’s hottest commercials: Three teenage girls are getting ready to go to a party. In the midst of primping and preening before a mirror, they each apply acne cream called Ridazit. As the first two girls get ready to leave, the third sees smoke rising near her face. “You guys,” she begins to scream, “this really stings!”
Then, in a flash, she’s nothing but ash. The ad’s punch line, of course, has nothing to do with acne. Only one product kills one-third of its users, the message explains, and that’s tobacco.
Another piece of the nonprofit assault against big tobacco? Well, yes. According to the terms of last year’s national tobacco settlement, $900 million in payments from tobacco firms will go to fund anti-smoking advertising between now and 2003.
The commercials may be nonprofit. But the production of them is not. And at least some of that work—and the money that comes with it—will go to a guy most locals associate more with cheerleading from the owner’s box than with slapping warnings on a Marlboro box: Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Two firms owned by Snyder are among the coalition of advertising and Internet companies that won a contract to produce the anti-smoking messages.
Snyder thus becomes the second local sports owner to make money off opposition to tobacco. The Baltimore Orioles’ owner, lawyer Peter Angelos, is currently asking Maryland for $1 billion for his work as the state’s lawyer on its portion of the $206 billion national tobacco settlement.
The Redskins’ owner, of course, doesn’t have the same high profile in the tobacco wars as his Baltimore counterpart. Snyder’s company, Snyder Communications, owns and operates Circle.com, a Web hosting and development company. Circle.com was hired to set up www.thetruth.com in February. The site is funded by the American Legacy Foundation, the nonprofit group created to promote anti-smoking messages in the wake of the tobacco settlement.
The Web site’s nonprofit patron has a funding stream that puts even the fattest dot-com venture capitalist to shame. Established by the National Association of Attorneys General as part of its agreement with tobacco companies like Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, the American Legacy Foundation was initially given Treasury bonds to fund anti-smoking research and marketing—like thetruth.com’s commercials, which star fresh-faced teens who answer smoking-related questions posed by other teens.
Meanwhile, the 30-second ads that steer viewers to the Web site are produced by the same consortium, which also includes Arnold Communications, another Snyder subsidiary.
“The Web is an integral part of our campaign,” foundation spokesperson Bill Furmanski says. “It really helps increase the reach of our message.”
Smoking is prohibited in the stands at Snyder’s FedEx Field, but is permitted in main concourses, according to Redskins spokesperson Doug Green. Tobacco ads are forbidden in the stadium. Team officials won’t comment on Snyder’s personal views about tobacco.
Furmanski also won’t say exactly how much Circle.com and Arnold Communications stand to earn from the contract, adding that the group’s chief financial officer doesn’t even know. But Furmanski estimates the figure to be “in the millions.” Circle.com spokesperson Judy Steinman, meanwhile, also won’t disclose the amount. Though Snyder Communications is being sold to French ad giant Havas, Snyder stands to earn some of that money until the deal is finalized.
The firm could use the help. Although Circle.com, which went public in 1999 and is traded on the Nasdaq, reaped client fees to the tune of $16.7 million for the first quarter of 2000, it ended up posting a net loss of $4.7 million for that period. In fact, hard times have fallen on company shareholders as well, who have seen their stock price tumble from a high of more than $21 per share last November to last week’s close of just over $3.
Circle.com execs, then, are left looking to people more acquainted with Britney Spears than Bear Stearns for a financial boost. Thetruth.com says that the anti-smoking site is “a campaign developed by teens from all over the country….With help from ad agencies, we are coming up with marketing ideas, reviewing ads, organizing events, serving as campaign spokespeople, and helping design the truth Web site.”
Teens are encouraged to submit their own short videos through the Web site, and prior to the site’s launch March 3, Circle.com execs did sit down with several teens from around the country, including 19-year-old Sara Beth Ramsey of Buffalo, Wyo. “It gives them the straight-out facts about tobacco without being preachy,” Ramsey was quoted as saying in a statement when the site was launched. “Plus, it’s a really cool way to meet other teens across the country and get involved in an important issue.”
If you’re a sports owner like Dan Snyder, it’s also not a bad way help yourself afford, say, a pass defense to land your team in next winter’s Super Bowl. CP