Where some businessmen see service lapses, Dan Snyder sees dollar signs.
Take, for example, the long lines in front of FedExField on game days. Complaints about ridiculous waits and missed kickoffs at the biggest stadium in the NFL have been mounting for years.
Another owner would just add entrances and hire folks to staff them so customers could get in by game time.
Over the weekend, he started selling something called “Fast Lanes” at the Official Redskins Store at Tysons Corner.
Those who pay the $100-per-season fee (on top of regular season ticket costs) get a special ID card that allows them to walk past the hoi polloi huddled at the regular turnstiles to be patted down by stadium security. Beginning with the 2008 home opener against New Orleans, Fast Lane cardholders will enter through doors now reserved for premium ticketholders.
“It’s a red-carpet service,” says Luke Thomas, executive vice president of FLO Corp., a Chantilly, Va.-based security firm that partnered with Snyder on the Fast Lanes venture. “Not a security service.”
To this end, FLO’s main product has been offering similar no-wait opportunities to air travelers. And, at the Fast Lanes rollout event at Tysons, FLO’s sales staff told potential buyers that Redskins card holders will also be able to bypass regular security measures at 14 U.S. airports, including Dulles.
Karl Swanson, spokesperson for the Redskins, says: “The same thing applies to airports and everything else: Some people want to pay a fee to move to a shorter line. Many people would decide no, I’m happy to wait in line.”
Thomas says Snyder is “quite visionary” for realizing that a service designed for airports has potential at a football venue. The Redskins were the first non-airport to sign on and will be the only NFL team selling the Fast Lanes option this season. (The Ravens and Raiders are lined up for next year, says Thomas.)
“There is universal appeal” to being able to cut to the head of any line, Thomas says.
The Redskins owner realized this appeal—and began exploiting it for financial gain—some time ago. The Fast Lane pass is only the latest in a long line of line-jumping offerings from Snyder.
Take the Redskins’ waiting list, for example.
The team put out a press release this offseason in which Chief Operating Officer Mitch Gershman claimed that the Redskins have “more than 200,000 names” on a waiting list for season tickets.
Gershman’s number surely has little to do with reality, but however long this line really is, folks willing to pay big money have always been able to jump to the head of it under Snyder. The stadium’s premium seats, which cost several hundred dollars per game and go by names such as Dream Seats, Club Seats, and suite seats, haven’t been sold out for years. Anybody who signs a check can have those.
And even the so-called “general admission” tickets can be bought by any dolt who signs up for the $1,806.50-per-plate barbecue plan called the Tailgate Club.
The long lines at FedExField aren’t entirely Snyder’s fault: After the Sept. 11 attacks, the NFL mandated additional security, and the Redskins, like all teams, made a bigger production of going through everybody’s bags. That takes time.
But Snyder has done a lot to make waiting a big part of the game-day experience. Since taking over the team in 1999, Snyder has added more than 10,000 seats. He’s also taken away gates that were once available to general admission fans and made them exclusive to the big-money clientele.
Some FedExField entrances, for example, are now reserved only for Tailgate Club members and those corporate bigwigs who throw parties at the tents that the team calls “Hospitality Villages.”
More proof of Snyder’s bent for making a buck off service lapses came earlier this month when Metrobus said it would no longer provide buses and drivers to run the shuttles from the Landover train stop to FedExField on game days. Metro says that federal regulations prevent public transportation outfits from providing services in areas where private companies can do the job.
Hit with the loss of the shuttles, another team owner might go out and get a private bus company to take over the job. (The Washington Nationals, after all, have used private services all season to transport fans from parking at RFK Stadium to Nationals Park.)
He responded to the mass-transit crisis by raising the parking rates at cash lots by $5, to $40 per car.
And let’s not forget how Snyder responded to the fans’ complaints about the lack of scores and highlights on FedExField’s Jumbotron, hailed nationally as the worst stadium video setup in the NFL.
Another owner might have installed a screen from this century by now, or at the very least simply started putting the scores up and showing replays at a rate similar to what other stadiums do.
He did nothing to improve the old-school house TV—mocked as a “Lite Brite” by angry FedExField patrons. (The team claims that the sort of high-definition screen now enjoyed by fans in essentially every other NFL city can’t be installed because the stadium isn’t wired for digital transmissions. I’m no electrician, but I find this claim very dubious, since my home was wired in 1925, and I can plug in a hi-def flat screen in any room I choose.)
Instead, Snyder made a deal with some company called KangarooTV to rent fans hand-held TVs to get highlights and scores.
For 2008, the service will cost $39.99 per game, or $169 for the whole season. The Redskins and Dolphins are the only NFL teams selling this pay-per-view product to fans.
And we should remember that Snyder has taken this Lexus Lanes concept to his non-football ventures, also. After taking over Six Flags, he began selling something called a Golden FlashPass, which for $71 more than the general admission price allows visitors to jump to the front of lines at thrill rides.
As anybody on Wall Street can tell you, the line-jumping offerings haven’t made Six Flags any more attractive to consumers or investors.
Then again, the way the Redskins played in Carolina on the very weekend of the Fast Lanes’ rollout won’t increase the product’s potential. If the team’s performance continues at that level, Snyder might realize there’s a market for a service to avoid lines caused by fans’ leaving the stadium early.
Don’t even put it past him.