The Virginia Lottery recently scrapped Redskins Mania, a scratch-ticket program and the centerpiece of the first cooperative gaming venture between the team and the state.
The endeavor was plagued by overpricing and unfulfilled promises. Only about a third of the tickets even got sold; many bigger prizes, including two of three much-advertised $1 million giveaways, were never awarded. Similar NFL lottery games have thrived, but the Redskins version never lived up to the hype. It’ll be relaunched soon, with a whole new game plan and a marketing pitch.
The Redskins lottery venture, in other words, has worked a lot like every other Redskins venture of the Dan Snyder era.
Redskins Mania began in early 2009, after NFL owners voted to permit certain ties to state lotteries. The unanimous vote was oddly timed: As scratcher permissions were granted, NFL lawyers were busily crushing a new Delaware law that permitted Vegas-style sports betting. “It’s hard to suss out the NFL’s stance here, to understand those different positions,” says Keith Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling. But the league won on both counts: The U.S. Supreme Court last month let stand a lower-court ruling forbidding Delaware from opening its voter-approved sports books. And shortly after the owners’ vote, scads of states began marketing NFL scratch-ticket games. The New York Jets and Giants, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, and Tennessee Titans, among others, all sidled up to the table.
But none of them came onto the scene with more razzle-dazzle than the Redskins. The team introduced its lottery-ticket campaign, billed as “$50,000,000 Redskins Mania,” at a Redskins Park press conference during which Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley hammed it up with cheerleaders in front of the franchise’s three Vince Lombardi trophies. Redskins Chief Operating Officer Mitch Gershman said the game offered lottery players a chance to win “once-in-a-lifetime Redskins experiences.”
“Next to [Albert] Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall, this may be the most important investment that the team makes this off-season,” Gershman told the Washington Post. A year later, he’s been proved right: Redskins Mania and the Haynesworth acquisition worked out similarly. Gershman has since been booted out of his COO position.
According to the Virginia Lottery, 3.8 million Redskins Mania scratch tickets were printed up, with a $20 price tag each. That’s expensive in the scratcher market: No other scratch ticket in the state, in fact, cost more. The ’Skins ticket was also the most expensive of all the NFL scratch tickets in the first year of football lotteries. The next most expensive among the class of 2009 was that of the Packers, sold through the Wisconsin Lottery. It cost $10. All the other NFL teams’ offerings, even the scratcher from the Dallas Cowboys’ occasionally Snyderesque marketing squad, cost just $5.
Perhaps not coincidentally, most of the Redskins tickets went unsold. “We sold about 37 percent of our tickets,” says Virginia Lottery spokesperson Jennifer Mullen. “This was a new game, and we discovered a lot of things. We discovered the $20 price point was a bit of a barrier.”
Most of those sales came early. The team’s disastrous on-field performance did little to increase demand once the season started.But the plug couldn’t just be pulled on Redskins Mania because the game had built-in “second-chance” giveaways allowing losing players through March to send in their tickets to be eligible for other prizes. By then, Mullen says, they’d seen a “big dip” in sales and decided to end the mania.
On May 28, Redskins Mania officially died. Most of the promised big giveaways still hadn’t been awarded: As of this week, along with two of the three $1 million prizes, three of the six $25,000 prizes and over 60 percent of the $5,000 and $1,000 purses had not yet been handed out.
The number of actual giveaways lived up to original billing in only one Redskins Mania prize category, and it was a noncash giveaway: Eight Redskins Mania players ended up winning season tickets for 20 years, just as advertised. One guy claiming to be a winner of season tickets went onto a lottery players’ message board to tell folks who didn’t win Redskins Mania’s top noncash prize to “count yourself lucky.” “[T]he extra taxes for winning 20 years of tickets is going to kill me in the 2010 tax season,” he wrote. He also said he bought more than 300 of the $20 tickets while trying to win.
Why the reduced giveaways? People running the lottery don’t risk their own money. Because the expected number of buyers didn’t show up, the much-hyped number of winners didn’t show up, either. “It’s not that there’s unclaimed money,” Mullen says. “Prizes are based on an estimation of sales, and having sold 37 percent of the tickets, and one of the three [$1 million] prizes was claimed, so proportionally, that was correct.”
Whatever caused the Redskins scratch ticket to flop, it wasn’t the medium’s fault. Other NFL scratch tickets did just fine, thank you. Take the game being offered by the team just up the road, the Baltimore Ravens Cash Fantasy, marketed through the Maryland Lottery. The state agency says it sold essentially every Ravens Cash Fantasy ticket that was printed. All three of the $1 million top prizes were given away.
The Ravens scratch tickets cost only $5. One Maryland Lottery official, requesting anonymity, tells me the agency and team were both surprised when the Redskins announced such an expensive ticket but briefly considered following Washington’s lead. Ultimately, the official says, they concluded that “people wouldn’t buy them for $20.”
The Ravens and the Maryland Lottery announced last week that the 2009 Cash Fantasy game “holds the distinction of being the best-selling $5 scratch-off ever sold by the Maryland Lottery.” So the lottery game offered by the Ravens, one of the most stable franchises in the NFL over the past decade, will come back basically unchanged for the 2010 season, with the same $5 price and three $1 million prizes.
The Redskins, of course, have had the least stable operation in the NFL, on and off the field, since Snyder came here in 1999. So it makes metaphorical sense that the team’s initial lottery offering is getting blown up after its one disastrous season. Though nothing’s been announced by the Redskins or the Virginia Lottery, the name and huge price point of the 2009 venture are gone; current plans hold that the team will market a scratcher called Redskins Legacy beginning in August.
Given Snyder’s reliance on all things pre-Snyder, don’t be surprised if images from Joe Gibbs I and “The Future Is Now” era of Redskins history are used to sell the game. Tickets will cost $10.
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