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There’s an old urban myth about those Playboy polls of wild college campuses. It’s a tale of how Fill-in-the-Blank University would have finished atop a ranking of party schools, but the magazine declined to include this particular student body: It wouldn’t be fair to mix professionals with amateurs.
Again, this never happened. But for years now, that myth has come to mind at Unsportsman of the Year time.
It just seems unfair to have Dan Snyder in the mix. For anybody who’s followed his Redskins tenure, when it comes to any unsportsmanship contest, Snyder is Secretariat in the Belmont or Lance Armstrong in the Pyrenees.
His like won’t be seen again. So while we’ve got him, let’s honor him: Dan Snyder, Unsportsman of the Year for 2006.
Sure, other dependable local louts had fine years—Dick Cheney shot a donor in the face and kept the cops at bay; Tony Kornheiser couldn’t save himself from himself; George Allen taught all Americans a French racial slur and made a ham sandwich seem hateful; et al.
But then there’s Snyder’s year.
Firstly, there was the run-of-the-mill gouging that we’ve come to expect since his 1999 takeover of the Skins. He raised the already silly parking rate that season ticket holders must pay by 40 percent, to $350 per car per season. He raised ticket prices across the board, but tried to hide the increases by taking costs once worked into the face value, such as county taxes that run hundreds of dollars per season ticket, off of the face value.
Though his franchise had for years taken a very public stance against the reselling of season tickets, Snyder inked a deal with StubHub, the king of all scalping outfits, that will bring him millions from the black-market sale of tickets.
For the beginning of the 2006 season, FedExField patrons were sold peanuts left over from the 2005 season, in bags labeled with logos of Independence Airlines, which went out of business the first week of January 2006. And via the team’s Web site, he tried selling fans a “Pentagon Flag Hat” to “commemorate Sept. 11” for $23.95 plus shipping. Any profits from the hat sales went to the team. As the season went into the dumper and no-showing became epidemic, fans began complaining on that site about the volume of the artificial crowd noise being pumped through the FedExField public-address system on game days.
Snyder created a radio company, Red Zebra, that bought three weak radio stations and broadcast Redskins games over them. The only way this plan could have worked properly is if Snyder had used the same government connections that let him run roughshod over riverside greenery to get new FCC licenses that granted more wattage for his frequencies or better locations for his towers. Those things didn’t happen, however, creating a fiasco in which fans who live in downtown D.C. had to go the whole year without hearing any play-by-play after sundown. (Now he’s threatening to kill off the city’s only classical-music station, WGMS-FM, to host his team’s broadcasts.)
Over at Redskins Park, Al Saunders’ 700-page playbook didn’t make the team look as foolish as Snyder’s 700-page checkbook did.
“The Redskins are seriously mismanaged,” says Kevin A. Hassett, director of economic policy studies at American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
This right-wing outfit usually is more concerned with advancing the New World Order than dissecting sports-team management, but Hassett says he was so intrigued by the continued sorry state of the Skins under Snyder that he took some time off to study their woes. He released the results last month in an AEI publication.
Hassett’s conclusion: The Redskins under Snyder are a perfect example of how not to run a sports team. Hassett also branded as a myth the fact that Snyder spends more money on players than other owners. He just spends it with more noise.
“I used the Redskins because they’re the most frightening example of a team that hadn’t thought through the simple economics of pro football,” says Hassett. “The problems of running a pro football team are right out of the textbooks: With the salary cap, everybody’s got the same amount of money to spend, so let’s see what you’re going to do with your money. The big signing is counter to the economics of pro football. Over time, he’s spending the same amount of money as everybody else, but he’s spending it irrationally. I think they’re years away from correcting the mistakes they’ve made.”
(Scary true sentence: Adam Archuleta is the highest-paid safety in NFL history.)
But as evidenced by his cavorting with Tom and Katie during the opening-night, tone-setting loss to the Vikings, Snyder has branched out beyond just the football team of late. And this year, it was his nonsporting behaviors that sealed the Unsportsman hardware.
One of his new gigs is as chairman of the board of Six Flags Inc., the theme-park giant. He got the job late last year after a long struggle with the previous regime. Shortly after Snyder took over, the company went public with the fact that it wanted to permanently close its New Orleans site, despite the fact that Six Flags had a 75-year lease with the city to keep the park open and—oh, right—the town was in the earliest stages of its attempt to recover, physically and emotionally, from Hurricane Katrina.
Politicos and the citizenry of Louisiana took that abandonment hard.
“If any company is trying to figure out an exit strategy, they are,” Mayor Ray Nagin told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in June.
Feelings are still hurt. Asked to comment on the Six Flags situation recently, Sen. Mary Landrieu issued the following statement: “It is unfortunate that as a result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, Six Flags New Orleans chose to shut its doors. We would hope they will work with local business and economic development leaders to make the best and most successful use of this land in a way that helps rebuilding efforts, boosts the state’s economy and enhances surrounding communities.”
Well, actually, it appears Snyder’s company already has come up with a way to turn lemons into lemonade—though only company stockholders, not New Orleanians, will get to drink. Rather than spend any time repairing flood damage to the park, Six Flags has quietly become a government subcontractor and contractor in the Katrina Hurricane recovery project.
Earlier this year, Six Flags glommed onto the billions of dollars of contracts that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded Fluor Corp., an international conglomerate that has cleaned up in New Orleans the way Halliburton has in Iraq.
Officially, the park site is being called a “staging area” for the relief effort. Though nobody from the government or the involved companies will say exactly what’s going on with the property, it is known that trailers are being stored on the park’s parking lots. (Snyder has a way with generating parking-lot revenue!)
According to documents from the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA’s parent agency, at least $1.4 billion worth of contracts for Katrina have been granted to Fluor via the company’s Arlington offices.
Fluor officials will not disclose how much of that they’re paying Six Flags.
“The contracts are over a billion dollars, and we’re installing over 60,000 trailers, so I’m not going to spend time tracking down how much we’re paying to Six Flags,” says Keith Stephens, a Fluor spokesperson.
Six Flags won’t say how much it’s raking in from the misery, either.
“We are leasing the parking lots,” confirmed Six Flags spokesperson Wendy Goldberg. “I can’t comment on the dollar amount.”
FEMA spokesman Wali Armstead says Six Flags was awarded its own contract from his agency in October, though that deal, which has nothing to do with the Fluor subcontracting, was for a one-year lease for another spot in the park at a rate of $42,200 a year.
A group of advocates for New Orleans’ downtrodden populace tried storming the Six Flags site over the summer to secure one of the FEMA trailers that was stored there. They met more resistance than expected.
“We heard they had trailers there, and we had people with no place to live that still needed trailers,” says Tracie Washington, director of the NAACP’s Gulf Coast Advocacy Center, who attended that protest. “But you cannot believe how much security there is at this place. We had Homeland Security police, FBI, we had New Orleans police with some 20 police cars, and we had private security, all these renegades with bigass guns.…You’d think it was a nuclear test site. I think human cloning’s going on there.”
The civil disobedience ended with one arrest and no trailer acquisitions.
Just as the Redskins’ on-field performance has tanked with Snyder at the helm, so have Six Flags’ business fortunes. Stock in the company has sunk more than 50 percent this year, from a high of $11.93 to $5.27 a share as of Tuesday’s close of business. Last week, Six Flags announced attendance at its parks was down 12 percent over last year.
But, in recent federal filings and public pronouncements, the company has touted how its “per capita spending” is way up. It’s obvious after all these years that that is the key to Snyder’s alleged marketing genius: Increase per capita spending, no matter what impact that has on the goodwill of your customers.
Most unsportsmanlike of all, Snyder has spent another year pulling all these strings from the shadows. The only interview of note he granted in 2006 was to Washingtonian for a profile that painted Snyder as the business equivalent of Gandhi. “Nobody has questioned Snyder’s corporate dealings,” wrote profiler Harry Jaffe, disregarding such public-record info as the multimillion dollar settlement between Snyder Communications, the Skins owner’s former telemarketing company, and the feds to close a long FCC investigation into the firm’s “overzealous” sales tactics and “slamming,” illegally switching a customer’s telephone service without authorization.
Snyder even canceled an announced interview with Extremeskins.com, the fan Web site that he owns, for reasons that were never disclosed. It’s a shame that interview never took place, given some of the questions proposed to the owner by Extremeskins members. Take, for example, the suggested query of one CowboyzBSuckaz: “Mr. Snyder, with the state of the Redskins cheerleaders being extremely Sexy, do you ever just want to take one, lay them on your Bentley, and rail them?”
The fans have a right to know.