Saturday, June 10, 2006

DC to Daniel Snyder: We Want You Back!

Say what you will about the DC government, but they have no shortage of gall. An article in the back pages of the Washington Business Journal suggests that District leaders will approach Daniel Snyder about moving Redskins games back inside city limits, replacing still new FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The article offers only one plausible reason why Snyder should consider such a move: land value under FedEx Field. Rich Danker, the author, posits that Snyder could sell the stadium and use the proceeds to build a domed stadium on the grounds of RFK Stadium on the off chance of hosting a future Super Bowl. Biggest pipe dream you will read this year!

The best ideas are the simple ones, but this sounds too simplistic. There are a host of issues to be overcome before this thought becomes reality.

  1. Show me the money! The Redskins are the world's most valuable sports franchise and a large part of that value is driven by FedEx. While it's not the fan-friendly setting of old RFK, corporate suites and the plaza level are money machines. The NFL gave tours of FedEx to team owners and GMs as an example of state-of-the-art, revenue generating stadiums. Finances drive teams to build new stadiums. There's no apparent financial reason for this move.
  2. Let Danny do it! The article suggests that developers would pay big money to remake FedEx as a retail entertainment complex, a la Tysons Corner. Think Snyder doesn't know that? Why wouldn't he develop the environs of FedEx and the stadium itself into a year round megaplex? That prospect would be less aggravating and less costly than to wade through a DC morass.
  3. I owe you a debt! Snyder may own the wealthiest franchise, but he's also carrying the biggest debt. It's not certain that he could clear enough from the sale of the land to build even an adequate replacement for FedEx - without financial commitment from the District.
  4. No Super Bowl! Building a domed stadium in DC will not guarantee that Snyder hosts a Super Bowl. First, the NFL's biggest event has become a corporate wining & dining platform. It requires warm, sunny weather for golf, outdoor cocktail parties, deep sea fishing, outdoor pre- and post- game tailgating. You see, the Super Bowl is more than the game. It's as much about the NFL's fourteen day, corporate revenue orgy of outdoor activities leading up to the game. The NFL wants parties in shirt sleeves; not a home in a dome. Geography inhibits a DC Super Bowl Bid. Every two decades or so, the NFL tolerates a Super Bowl in a dome as a sop to cold weather owners whom they like. Snyder is not one of those owners. While I like Daniel Snyder now, I don't think he could win the votes for a DC Super Bowl.
  5. No place like dome! Football is meant to be played outdoors. Domed teams lose playoffs. Seattle got nowhere when they played in the Kingdome. The Colts haven't won a championship since they moved to the RCA Dome (but, that could be the curse of Bob Irsay). No one ever picks Detroit for the Super Bowl. The Vikings haven't been to the Super Bowl since the 1970s. A covered stadium here might be nice in December, but who'd want to see a Redskins game indoors in September or October when the weather is glorious? Retractable roofs are all the rage now, as in Houston and future stadiums in Arizona, Indianapolis and Minnesota. So, add the cost of a retractable roof to the list of hurdles. (Interesting that warm weather teams are going for retractable roofs!)
  6. No so fast there! Think Prince Georges County will sit on their thumbs and just watch the District lure the Redskins back? Here's PG County's strongest case: land value. The very thing the article suggests as a reason to move is the biggest reason to stay. Where's the logic of selling valuable land in Maryland only to acquire even more expensive land in the District? And the Redskins need lots of land to replace the NFL's largest stadium and adjacent parking. More than is available at RFK. Think Snyder doesn't know that?
  7. The gall of it all! That gets us back to the gall thing. The Redskins late owner Jack Kent Cooke tried four times to work with the District on a new stadium -- that he was going to pay for! Four times he was rebuffed. And that was when he was working with a mayor the citizens sorta liked. The idea that "the Redskins belong in DC" didn't carry the day then, when it should have. After the soap opera saga of the Nationals' stadium, does the City think it has credibility? After tortuously committing $500 million stadium money to the baseball monopoly, does the city really think they can entice Snyder to build on his own? Are they on crack? Wealthy people don't get wealthy investing their money. They get wealthy investing other people's money. District money.

I don't know who will win the mayors race. I do know that every candidate running is touting their opposition to the baseball deal. That's the leadership that's going to sit down with perhaps the region's wealthiest resident and negotiate an incentive package? And sell it to District voters? Puh-leeze! Tony Williams may not have been a popular mayor, but he was astute enough to know that the District's dependence on federal financing is a path of dimishing returns. DC must invest in and encourage business development on a large scale, the way real States do, to create jobs and fund its programs. Williams had the courage, if not the skill, to push for that. I don't see that the current crop (no pun intended) of DC leaders get it.

This topic makes sense if the timeline runs to the year 2036 when a lot of these hurdles can be managed, if the Redskins stay popular enough to need a 125,000 seat stadium; if football remains a larger TV market than futbol; if District leaders and citizens see value in mega-business developments; if the city council focuses more on problem-solving than on posturing. Too many "ifs" for my lifetime. And yours.

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