Irritation growing for 'Skins followers

Fervent base shows signs of discontent

December 15, 2006|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Washington attorney Judd Gould had Redskins season tickets for 35 years. He enjoyed attending games at RFK Stadium, the club's cozy former home. He did legal work for Jack Kent Cooke, the team's longtime owner who died in 1997.

But after the Redskins moved to FedEx Field nine seasons ago, Gould began to feel alienated by traffic jams, parking hassles and high-decibel stadium advertisements and music. Before this season began, he did what once would have seemed unthinkable: He gave up his four seats.

Gould, 65, is among a group of longtime Redskins supporters who have soured on going to the games for reasons including losing records, increases in ticket and parking prices, Beltway traffic jams and a sense that the game-day experience has been swallowed up by the team's moneymaking initiatives. The disgruntled fans have become more noticeable lately, complaining on the Web or leaving stadium seats empty.

"You get the feeling virtually every printed word or piece of noise [in the stadium] is selling something," said Gould, of Chester in Queen Anne's County. He credited Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for turning the team into the NFL's most affluent in the annual ranking by Forbes magazine. "But," Gould added, "they're always on the leading edge of exploitation."

Bethesda schoolteacher Steve Ragsdale, who gave up a pair of Redskins season tickets this season, said he understands that some of his concerns - about ticket-price increases and "being bombarded with sound" - might exist in other NFL cities. But Ragsdale said Snyder, who charged $10 admission to preseason drills six years ago before rescinding the fee, has seemed to cross a line.

"I got fed up with so many things involved with how [Snyder] markets the team and the way he pulls money out of your pocket," Ragsdale, 48, said. The season tickets had been in his family for 40 years, he said.

In some cases it's the little things getting Redskins fans riled up. An example is the $50-per-envelope fee assessed by FedEx Field "will call" windows to fans leaving tickets for others. "I actually haven't heard of anybody else charging a will-call fee, period, much less fifty dollars. Not very fan-friendly," said Robert Hutcherson, a founder of the advocacy group Fans Voice, which surveys NFL teams on services to spectators.

The will-call fee applies to non-season-ticket holders, the club said. "Our stadium is a season-ticket-only facility, with its operation supported in large part by season-ticket holders," the team said in an e-mailed statement. "Non-season-ticket holders must pay a fee for leaving tickets for others."

The Redskins say their fan base, one of the deepest and wealthiest in professional sports, is not deteriorating and that the team is as committed as ever to fans' comfort.

Turnover remains low

Some things, team officials say, are out of their hands. That includes the Washington Beltway, which can back up for miles on game days. Metro opened a new stop two years ago that is slightly less than a mile from the stadium, but most fans still drive. "The Beltway is the Beltway," said Karl Swanson, a Redskins senior vice president. "The current ownership recognizes that the current stadium is not built in the ideal place. But we didn't build the stadium."

Swanson said Snyder, who generally doesn't grant in-season media interviews, was unavailable to comment.

Although franchise officials say the season-ticket turnover rate is "somewhat" higher than during the RFK days, they say the number of fans abandoning their seats has remained minimal, even after the stadium move.

"It's been between 1 and 2 percent - it's been steady," Swanson said. "So it's 1,000 to 2,000 tickets."

Swanson said that figure doesn't include an unknown number of fans who turn their seats over to others. "My guess is that most people, if they do say, `That's it, I'm not renewing,' that their family or their friends quickly say, `Don't cancel them, I'll buy them from you.' So they move into other hands from the same account."

The Redskins began selling out RFK Stadium in the 1960s, when Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen was in his prime. Tickets were status symbols and turnover exceedingly rare, partly because the stadium held only about 56,000 for football compared with 91,000 at FedEx today.

Signs of discontent

Tickets are still prized. The club says thousands of fans joined the season-ticket waiting list in the week that Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs returned to the team in 2004, and that the list now tops 160,000.

But there is evidence, from a variety of sources of disgruntlement, of more fans deciding to stay home. The upper deck for some games, such as the Oct. 15 loss to the Tennessee Titans, had an unusually high number of conspicuously unfilled burgundy seats. A Redskins ticket seems to lack the cachet it once had.

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