Redskins Club Seats Have Been a Flop From the Start: A Primer
THIS JUST IN: Dan Snyder's having trouble selling club seats!
OK, that's not just in. He's had that same trouble since buying the team.
But Snyder's got more now than ever. He removed whole sections from the so-called Joe Gibbs Level of FedExField this offseason, allegedly to make room for a new video system. He's relocated the Redskins Marching Band from the general admission seats to this pricey level. Yet even with this drastically reduced supply, he's found demand is so low now that he's forced to take sad measures — I saw an ad for Redskins club seats from Snyder's new "R You In" marketing campaign on the side of a dirty Metro bus this morning — in hopes of filling the big yellow patches we've been seeing for years during Skins TV broadcasts.
Snyder didn't invent the club seat concept — Jack Kent Cooke built 'em into the design of the dump now called FedExField before he died, when nobody knew who Dan Snyder was. And, even before Snyder came in and tried to choke more dimes out of Skins patrons, the club seats were hard to move. The club seats haven't sold out in the stadium's 13-year history.
As it turns out, club seats have been a flop for the Redskins forever. You can look it up.
The first attempt to gouge Skins fans with club seats was made all the way back in 1980, and it was a doozy of a disaster. That's when the D.C. Armory Board, which owned and operated the Redskins home, RFK Stadium, sent out printed invitations offering fans the opportunity to have "the best seats in the house" if they joined up with a new "Dining Club" they were setting up in what used to be the baseball press box. That space had been open since 1971, when the Washington Senators ran off to Texas.
The dining club was billed as kind of like a country club, minus the golf course and the pool. The only real draw, in fact, was membership gave what one observer termed "corporations and lobbyists" the ability to attend Redskins games while bypassing the hoi polloi who'd been on the waiting list for season tickets for years. At the time, the list was advertised as being a very believable 10,000 names long, though in some years the turnover was as meager as a dozen new season ticketholders — hence all the tales of Skins seasons tickets showing up in divorce settlements and wills. (As of earlier this year, Snyder was still trying to convince people that — CUE LAUGH TRACK — there are 200,000 folks waiting to buy Skins season tickets.)
The cost to join the club: $5,000, plus dues, which according to an estimation in a June 1980 Washington Post story, would start at $300 a year.
Now and particularly then, that was a lot of money for an 8-game package, considering that in 1980 tickets at Redskins games had face values around $10. Then-Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams was pissed about the innovation, for one big reason: This was the Stadium and Armory Board's baby, and that agency wasn't going to share in the dining club windfall with the Redskins, who as tenants had next to no say in what the landlord did.
"I got it in the mail, an invitation to pay $5,000 to join the Stadium Club," Williams told the Washington Post, "which I promptly threw in the garbage." The owner also predicted the whole project would be a failure because of the price — "I don't think it will have a lot of appeal," he said.
Williams, a legendarily smart man, was right. By August, the Armory folks gave up on the dining club and scrapped the program. At that time, only 50 people had signed up to join and put down the required 10 percent deposit.
A Washington Post editorial after the scrappage said the dining club failed because it was unfair to Redskins season ticket holders of average means and to those on the waiting list. From a Oct. 11, 1980 piece:
"Based on the last actuarial tables we saw, an average healthy adult applying for season tickets today will be eligible for a seat sometime in the 21st century, or at the age of 100, whichever comes later. That's why the gold-plated dining-club plan bombed — it would have bumped 161 fans out of their existing seats, while allowing 200 to 300 flusher fans to leapfrog the list and buy their way in."
But, as Williams had forecast as the program was being announced, and as Dan Snyder has found out after years of being unable to fill his club level, overpriced tickets will always be a hard sell.
Asked by the Washington Post in 1980 if the $5,000 buy-in for the Redskins club seats was too high, Stadium Manager Ken Hopkins said, "That depends on if you're talking to Mr. Rockefeller, or if you're talking to Ken Hopkins."
Memo to Dan Snyder: Limit the mailing list for your "R You In?" fliers to folks named Rockefeller.