Supply is kicking demand’s ass at FedExField.
The latest indicator: Seats are being ripped out of the stadium. A whole lot of seats.
Word about the ongoing construction project got out in late April after attendees at the Redskins’ draft party noticed at least nine sections in one of the stadium’s upper deck end zones had been partially demolished.
Photos and video of the work in-progress and shots of lots of bare pavement where seats once sat circulated around the Internet, and fans wondered what to make of it all.
In the days after the draft party, a moderator on the team-owned message board ExtremeSkins.com told inquisitors that the seat removal was part of a plan to make room for “an upper deck party deck.”
Team spokesman Tony Wyllie said that the Redskins will make an announcement “very soon” about what will become of the ripped-out sections, but was otherwise mum.
“All of the details will be released at that time,” Wyllie said.
But that was a month ago, and the Redskins still aren’t ready to let on what will fill the space originally designed to seat season ticket holders. “The information on the ‘party decks’ will be announced forthcoming,” Wyllie said this week.
Even without specifics, the apparent contraction of FedExField is a big deal. This is, after all, the second offseason in a row that the team has spent removing lots of seats from a stadium that once ranked as the biggest in the NFL.
Last year, the team took several sections out of the Joe Gibbs Club Level, where the priciest seats in the stadium—and the ones the team has expended the most energy trying to sell—are located.
Those sections were turned into a standing-room-only area briefly called the RFK Standing Stomping Zone. The SRO section’s name was changed after Robert F. Kennedy’s estate let the team know it didn’t like the statesman’s initials attached without permission to a product whose main selling points included access to an in-house Hooters. The stadium diagram on the team’s website now refers to the old Standing Stomping Zone regions as simply “East Party Deck” and “West Party Deck.”
The introduction of those SRO sections—tickets to which were made available on a game-by-game basis and not just as part of season subscriptions like all other seats in the house—was taken as a sign that the stadium is too big or the tickets are too expensive or the team is too lousy.
But removing club seats for a party deck was one thing. This year’s alleged party deck installation would be a far more ominous sign, since it involves removing upper deck end zone seats, which are general admission seats and the cheapest non-obstructed view seats in the stadium. General admission seats also count when factoring in the NFL’s Blackout Rule, a loosely enforced edict that says games that aren’t sold out will not be televised in the home team’s market. Standing-room-only tickets, including those for party decks, do not apply.
Jack Kent Cooke Stadium had an advertised capacity of 78,600 when it opened in 1997. Under Dan Snyder, who took over the team in 1999, the seating area expanded to more than 91,700, including a reported 20,000 premium tickets.
This contraction of general admission season ticket supply, if that’s what is indeed happening, provides more evidence that the Redskins sellout streak and waiting list are mythical.
Since Snyder bought the team, the Redskins have pushed the sellout streak despite the waves of empty seats visible to anybody in the stadium on game day or watching on television.
The official post-game notes from the Redskins PR department for the season-ender with the New York Giants on Jan. 2, for example, led off with: “The Redskins sold out a home game for [the] 358th consecutive time, including playoff games. It also marked the 138th consecutive sellout at FedExField, which accounts for all regular season, postseason and preseason contests.”
Those streak claims can be shot down in so many ways. For instance, there was not a sellout for the Redskins’ one and only scab game at RFK during the 1987 player’s strike.
The bogosity of the waiting list has also abounded for several years now. Its existence was first disclosed by the team in 1971, when management claimed that 5,000 folks who applied for season tickets couldn’t get them. The team said the list had 45,000 names when FedExField opened in September 1997. By January 2004, Redskins official Mitch Gershman told The Washington Post there were 75,000 fans in wait. In early 2008, Snyder told The Washington Times that “our waiting list is over 200,000.”
Yet by April 2009, the team was sending out direct mail offering people a chance to get general admission seats. One recipient of the mailer told me at the time that he’d never signed up for any waiting list, but he got a missive urging him not to pass up the “once in a lifetime opportunity” to buy “up to eight (8)” season tickets and parking passes for the 2009 season.
“Quantities are limited!” the mailer read. Sure they were—so limited that management sweetened the pot by giving away $25 gift cards to the team’s retail store to anybody reeled in by the mailed offer. Also in the ad copy: “Resell your tickets for a profit for any game you are unable to attend!” Oh, sure. (Stadium contraction, though a dark sign for the Redskins, could be a boon for those who toil on the secondary ticket market, where scalpers were stuck with plenty of inventory in recent years.) And, again, this mailer was meant to move general admission tickets, not club seats.
Bottom line: If either the 358-game streak or the six-figure waiting list were close to valid, would Snyder have gone ahead with the party-deckization of FedExField that is apparently now underway?
The current crimp in demand for Redskins tickets isn’t only the fault of the team, which has put fans through back-to-back seasons that rank as among the most depressing and tumultuous and fan-unfriendly in the franchise’s history.
Now, to make it a perfect crapstorm for the team’s ticket office, comes the labor strife.
Officials of the NFL Players Association, the decertified union, say the owners miscalculated how big a problem hawking tickets for the 2011 season would be when they signed on to a lockout.
“It’s an odd scenario where the owners are putting padlocks on the stadiums, and still trying to sell a product that may not exist,” says NFLPA spokesman George Attalah.
Hence the obvious urgencies in the Skins’ latest ticket-selling efforts. Season ticket buyers who bought their 2011 seats on time were told they’d also get free tickets to one of three marquee non-Redskins events at FedExField: this weekend’s Kenny Chesney show; the July 30 friendly between Manchester United and Barcelona; or a Nov. 12 college football game, Notre Dame vs. Maryland.
It wasn’t so long ago (2005, actually) that the team was so cocky about general admission ticket demand that it forced customers to use a Redskins Extra Points MasterCard to buy season tickets. Tony Kornheiser, years before he went to work for Snyder, called that move, “One part shrewd business, three parts crapola.”
Now, the owner will let you pay with whatever plastic you want and still give you a pair of Man U/Barça tickets. And that might be the only professional football Skins season ticket holders get to see at FedEx this year.
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