The Washington Redskins had a clever season-ticket selling scheme in recent years.
They would sell premium — or “Tailgate Club’’ — seats at premium prices, telling fans that those tickets enabled them to jump the team’s long season-ticket waiting list.
They conveniently ignored the fact there was no waiting list. It had evaporated.
As Deadspin pointed out last June, there hasn’t been a waiting list for years, much less the 200,000 names the Redskins claimed were on it.
The Redskins finally fessed up this year, admitting there is no longer a waiting list.
And they finally admitted last Sunday that their sellout streak ended when they drew only 57,013 for the home opener against Indianapolis in a 21-9 loss.
It was the smallest announced crowd for a home opener in the 21-year history of FedEx Field.
Deadspin insists the Redskins never sold out a single game since they moved to FedEx Field. The streak started in 1996 at RFK Stadium.
Reporter Dave McKenna, who said owner Dan Snyder once sued him for what he said was “writing mean things about him,’’ said he could always buy a ticket at the ticket window even for a primetime game against a rival like the New York Giants for the games at FedEx.
Admitting there is no season-ticket waiting list or a sellout streak is a long downfall for what once was a model franchise.
To understand how passionate the Washington Redskins fans once were, you only have to note that they got the NFL to end TV blackouts for sold-out games in 1973.
That was the year after two Redskins home playoff games weren’t shown in Washington and many of the movers and shakers in town couldn’t see them.
The Redskins played in RFK Stadium, which seated only about 55,000, and season tickets were coveted and fought over in divorce settlements. Being a season-ticket holder was a status symbol, and if they couldn’t be in the stadium, the fans wanted to see them on TV.
The lawmakers in Washington had the clout to pass a law ending the blackouts.
And the Redskins’ mania would continue during the Joe Gibbs–Bobby Beathard–Jack Kent Cooke era in the 1980s.
Sellouts were automatic, and there actually was a season-ticket waiting list.
The demand was so great that Cooke built a stadium with 92,000 seats in suburban Maryland in 1996.
That was too many seats even for the Redskins. Tickets became easy to buy. And the franchise changed forever after Cookie died in 1997 at age 84. Beathard and then Gibbs had already left, and the team was declining under Norv Turner.
Cooke declined to leave the leave the team to his son, John Kent Cooke, and put it up for bid.
Snyder bought the team, and it has never been the same. Under his ownership, they’ve had revolving door of coaches and general managers, and he became a classic meddler. Nothing he tried, even bringing back Gibbs, has worked, and the team has made the playoffs just twice in the last decade.
Attendance continued to decline, but the Redskins kept insisting they were selling out every game even though there were thousands up empty seats at most games.
And this year, they finally stopped the charade.
The Redskins have cut the seating capacity by about 10,000 and can’t come close to selling out.
They will draw more Sunday for the Green Bay game because thousands of Packers fans will show up and they will sell more for their division rivals – the Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles – because their fans will buy the tickets.
Last year’s home opener against the Eagles drew 78,658, but many were Eagles fans.
Their fan base for a lackluster opponent is now under 60,000.
Things are so bad that last December, a Washington Post blogger put up a sign outside the stadium that he would trade a candy bar for tickets.
He had no trouble getting several, including $135 seats for candy bars.
The collapse of the Redskins fan base is a cautionary tale for the NFL.
No matter how popular a team is, it has to win or be competitive to attract fans.
But teams can make money losing in the NFL, so Snyder has no incentive to sell.
And he’s only 53. If he lives as long as Cooke did, he could own the team for another three decades, and he has yet to show he knows how to build a winning team.
Snyder has talked about building a new stadium in nine years when the lease is up in 2027, but that will only be a temporary fix unless the team starts winning.
And the fans who do show up tend to boo the way the fans did for the Colts’ game.
But there will be cheering Sunday. From all the Packers fans.
This has what has become of what was a model franchise back in the day.
Of course, things could change for the Redskins the way they did for the Kansas City Chiefs when they couldn’t fill Arrowhead Stadium in the 1980s.
Owner Lamar Hunt hired general manager Carl Peterson, who hired coach Marty Schottenheimer, who went 104-65-1 from 1989 to 1998. And the Chiefs started to fill Arrowhead, which seats 76,416.
Don’t expect Snyder to pull that off. The Redskins seem destined to remain a shadow of what they once were as long as he owns the team.