City Paper is not for tourists
The Lord giveth; Dan Snyder selleth. Skins fans, open your wallets for KangarooTV.
That’s the new in-house narrowcast system now available at FedExField. For the season opener against Miami, kiosks inside the stadium rented out hand-held video monitors about the size of an iPhone.
For $24.95 per day or $149.95 for every Sunday home game this season, ticketholders can get scores and highlights of other NFL games while watching the Skins.
Of course, that sort of stuff comes with the price of admission almost everywhere else.
In big-time sports, for better or worse, the game-day experience is about more than the game at hand. It’s been that way for some time. No matter who the Skins were playing, nothing would incite more delirium at RFK than bad news about the Dallas Cowboys. A recent viral clip of a stadium full of Michigan State rooters going bonkers as word arrives that the hated Michigan Wolverines were losing to Appalachian State shows this isn’t a local phenomenon.
It’s not just about rivalries, either: Gamblers have always wanted to keep up with the world outside the stadium, and now the fantasy-football boom means more eyeballs than ever are wandering up from the field toward the scoreboards and big screens in search of scores and highlights.
In most stadiums, this sort of info is plentiful and free. But the introduction of KangarooTV shows that for Snyder’s customers, nothing is priceless.
KangarooTV isn’t local or new. The company is based in Mirabel, Quebec, and until a round of test-marketing at NFL stadiums last year, it had concentrated its narrowcasting products on auto racing, particularly Formula 1 and endurance racing events. The personal monitors make more sense in that realm, since racing fans (excepting those at some NASCAR short tracks) aren’t used to getting all the action from one vantage point.
Football fans are. But the Redskins have been softening up the fan base for a product like KangarooTV’s pay-per-view offerings, which will be provided by DirecTV, for some time.
At some point a few years ago, with no announcement or explanation, the FedExField scoreboard operators simply stopped rotating scores of other NFL games. Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson says the old system was done away with to make space for captions of the house PA announcer for the hearing-impaired; scores are now periodically posted on the stadium’s end zone Jumbotrons, he says, “when the action allows.”
Well, perhaps, but try to find somebody who’s seen ’em lately.And while the scores have become hard to find, there’s no shortage of scoreboard space for, say, fast food restaurants or financial institutions.
As for highlights, well, nobody goes to FedExField anymore for the highlights—and that has nothing to do with the quality of the Skins’ play since moving to the lamentable Landover outpost in 1997.
No, the scoreboard at FedExField is plain awful, with just two small sections of the five-section scoreboards located above each end zone devoted to fuzzy video fare. The other three panels are taken up by billboard advertisements.
Even without FedExField’s crappy video offerings, D.C. would still rank as perhaps the worst scoreboard town in the land. Look around: At Nationals games, it’s about impossible to see RFK’s old-school single screen from the outfield seats.
And though the Caps’ and Wizards’ home, now called the Verizon Center, isn’t even a decade old, it seems like it’s been years since landlord Abe Pollin admitted that its video system—which he himself installed—was bush league. (Another irony here: Pollin is hailed as a pioneer in the arena-video realm, because his Capital Centre, which opened in 1973, was the first coliseum equipped with a big screen TV, called the TelScreen.)
His whining convinced the D.C. Council to make taxpayers pay $50 million for a package of improvements to the arena, highlighted by bigger big screens.
And, in fairness to Snyder, he inherited the petite and analog Jumbotrons.
But he’s done nothing to improve the product since taking over, this despite years of complaints from fans and the fact that many other NFL stadiums have installed huge and hi-def screens. (Look up the road in Baltimore for some perspective.)
Even if Snyder didn’t have a gouging history, trying to get fans to rent little video screens to fans would seem cheesy—like a budget airline that charges for headphones. But, given his past, and throwing in the removal of scores and his sticking with a crappy scoreboard, it doesn’t take a great leap in logic to think KangarooTV is part of yet another devious plan to dig deeper into fans’ wallets.
In any case, KangarooTV represents the latest chapter in Snyder’s bid to control every bit of information the fans get. Since buying the team in 1999, after all, he has taken over Redskins fan newsletters, a Redskins fan message board, Redskins preseason television broadcasts, Redskins regular season radio broadcasts, and almost every Redskins-related television show in the market.
By now, only Snyder obsessives—full disclosure: I’m one—can hope to differentiate between Redskins news and Redskins propaganda. The Washington Post ran a story in its TV section a couple weeks ago about all the Redskins-related programming now running on local television. The story, bizarrely, did not mention that Snyder produces and procures air time for all but one of the six noncable shows airing this season—the only non-Snyder offering is Redskins Report on WRC-TV, which is hosted by Snyder employees George Michael and Sonny Jurgensen. The article concluded, however, that all these infomercials proved how “frenzied” the town is for football.
If commercial airtime is the standard, D.C. is even more frenzied for the George Foreman Grill, John Basedow, and Bath Fitters.