Dan Snyder Uses Smoke and Mirrors, Hold the Mirrors, to Sell Club Seats?
For the cha-chingy print platform of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about the "cigar bar" that Dan Snyder uses to sell club seats. Pick up a copy, read the story, respond to every paid personal ad, do the right thing.
You might have heard the Redskins are having trouble moving those pricey tickets. Even Dan Snyder's interns have been told of these troubles. So Snyder needs all the help he can get to fill his stadium, even if that means promoting a business that seemingly ignores societal trends and state laws. A business like the Montecristo Club.
That's the cigar bar on the Joe Gibbs Level at FedEx.
The Skins stadium had a cigar bar before Snyder bought the team, called Club Macanudo. But cigar bars, if you haven't heard, have been on the way out for a while now. And as of the 2008 season, anti-smoking laws in the state of Maryland and Prince George's County had taken hold, and regulators told the Redskins that they could no longer legally sell any food or drink in the cigar bar. So Club Macanudo disappeared. The team kept the smoking bar open, but stopped all non-tobacco retailing to comply with the law, which was meant to keep workers from sucking in second-hand smoke. Then last season, the Montecristo Club opened up in the same spot.
Snyder then told smokers of all stripes, cigarette and cigar, that they could still puff away and get boozey there — so long as they paid for a premium seat.
To get past the new anti-smoking laws, the Redskins told the state and county regulators that their business was officially a tobacco shop, and therefore the Clean Indoor Air Act didn't apply. There is, in fact, an exemption in the state law for a tobacconist to stay in business. But to qualify, according to the letter of the law:
(i) The primary activity is the retail sale of tobacco products and accessories; and
(ii) The sale of other products is incidental.
The county allowed Snyder to operate his cigar bar, booze and all, last season. This despite the fact that there is nothing about Snyder's promotion of the Montecristo Club that makes the "bar" portion of "cigar bar" seem incidental. The Redskins promotional video for the Montecristo Club (scroll to the last video on the right) opens not with any smoking or tobacco, but with a shot of a bartender behind a full bar pouring a cold Bud Light into a glass for a patron.
And that same bartender pouring the same beer, in the fabulous photo shown at the top of this post, is the first thing you'll see if you go to the Montecristo Club's page on Snyder's web site.
That beer looks DELICIOUS, but not incidental.
Snyder has sold booze where he shouldn't've before: Who among us can forget last year's thrilling BeerInTheBathroomsGate™ scandal? How long will he be able to pull off this "tobacconist" ruse?
Not much longer, predicts one state tobacco watchdog. Kathleen Dachille, director of the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy, a state-funded group, says she doesn't think county health officials will let the smoking and drinking go on for another season.
"The Fedex people have been trying to manipulate the business structure in order to permit the smoking there," Dachille told me this week. "The [Prince George's County regulators now] agree that the potential arrangements that have been thrown about would not be satisfactory, would not comply with the law. It sounds like the Prince George's County health department is on the right page now."