'Skins boss heads west

Dan Snyder's business playbook adds entertainment investments

August 25, 2007|By Jim Puzzanghera | Jim Puzzanghera,Los Angeles Times

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder strolled the sidelines at his team's training camp like the boss at a company picnic.

As floodlights bathed the field one recent night and the sticky summer air cooled, he chatted with coaches and team executives. But when the scrimmage heated up, so did Snyder.

He moved quickly in his Redskins polo shirt and khaki pants, angling for a clear view through a crowd of players. A long touchdown pass brought a roar from several thousand fans. Snyder nodded his head in approval and then clapped along with them.

Now, Snyder is hoping to score again. This time it's with his new passion, Hollywood, where he's come off the sidelines to enter what is often a risky game for outsiders. His business playbook includes making such TV shows as The Golden Globes through Dick Clark Productions, financing Tom Cruise's production company, control of Six Flags Inc. theme parks and ownership of Johnny Rockets restaurants. As he spoke about his investments, Snyder said Hollywood wasn't so different from professional football.

"People have the passion to watch sports, to watch entertainment, movies, to go to a concert," said Snyder, 42, whose boyish looks and easy laugh temper a relentless ambition. "Why do you buy tickets to a concert? ... Because it's a passion."

To help assemble his companies, Snyder formed a $748 million private equity fund, RedZone Capital, in 2004 to invest in entertainment properties after becoming familiar with the industry through his work on the National Football League's broadcast committee. Snyder has tapped less than half of the fund and said he planned to be "extremely acquisitive."

Some analysts have speculated he is trying to emulate Walt Disney Co., which has a variety of family entertainment properties. Although Snyder said Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger has "America's coolest job," he insisted he's just trying to be "opportunistic."

"I've never in my life had a 10-year business plan," Snyder said at RedZone's corporate offices in nearby McLean, Va. "I'm a college dropout."

From that unlikely beginning, Snyder built a marketing company he sold for $2.3 billion in 2000. He led an investment group that bought the Redskins for $800 million in 1999.

Known as a brilliant marketer and hands-on executive, Snyder has turned the team into one of the nation's most valuable sports franchises, worth an estimated $1.4 billion last year, according to Forbes magazine.

But although the Redskins are a cash machine, with aggressive product tie-ins and corporate sponsorships, the team's high-priced roster has underachieved. So the question arises: Can Snyder thrive in Hollywood, another arena where big money and big names don't always equal success?

Next media mogul?

"Everyone wants to be the next media mogul," media analyst Harold L. Vogel said. "It's not easy."

Redskins fans gripe that Snyder has splurged on big-name players who were past their prime. Some might put Cruise in that category after Mission: Impossible III disappointed and Cruise was lampooned for such antics as jumping on talk-show host Oprah Winfrey's couch.

Snyder had told Creative Artists Agency, which represents Cruise, that he was looking for investment opportunities in Hollywood. And one arose when Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner M. Redstone cut film-development ties with Cruise last summer, mentioning the star's erratic off-screen behavior and declining box-office allure.

Snyder swooped in. Through another partnership, First and Goal, formed with Six Flags chief executive Mark Shapiro and Virginia homebuilder Dwight C. Schar, he agreed to finance the overhead for the production company Cruise runs with Paula Wagner. The deal is for about $3 million annually for at least two years.

"In life you bet on people," Snyder said. "You say to yourself you're looking for winners, and Tom Cruise is a winner."

Snyder said he and Cruise, who both have young families, have become friends. Shortly after the deal was announced, Snyder invited Cruise to a Monday Night Football game in Washington, preceded by an after-hours trip for their families to a nearby Six Flags park. They have visited each other's homes, and Snyder and his wife, Tanya, attended Cruise's wedding to Katie Holmes last fall in an Italian castle.

Cruise also was Snyder's guest at the Super Bowl in Miami in February. The day before the game, Snyder borrowed a couple of helicopters from Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga and flew his entourage to Schar's Palm Beach, Fla., estate for a touch football game. Cruise played quarterback.

"Cruise was the MVP of the game," Snyder said as he showed a book of pictures Schar had sent him. "Cruise scored three touchdowns; the other team only scored one. Our side won."

Shapiro said the personal relationship that Snyder, Schar and he developed with Cruise helped seal the deal.

"From a business perspective, Tom Cruise is a strong brand," Shapiro said. "And Dan Snyder believes in investing in strong brands."

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