On March 11th, in a highly entertaining hour, infamous Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, brought to campus by the HBS Business of Sports club, candidly and freely spoke to students in Aldrich 107 about his management philosophy, his relationship with ex-coach Marty Schottenheimer, the business of professional sports, and the upcoming season’s outlook for the Redskins.
Since taking ownership of the Washington Redskins in July 1999 for a price of $800 million, the self-described “aggressive” and certainly outspoken owner Daniel Snyder has regularly been at the center of controversy. In 1999 he fired Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer, whom he described during the Q & A as ‘sucking the air out of the room’, despite winning eight of his last eleven games, and replaced him with Steve Spurrier, a coach that Snyder had long favored and who had performed at a high level while at the University of Florida, but did not have any professional coaching experience.
The aggressive Snyder has also not been shy about spending to propel his team toward victory. Snyder’s tenure has been marked by off-season spending sprees that have made the Redskins the first team to spend over $100 Million in player salaries and have netted accomplished and star players including Deion Sanders, Jeff George, Brad Johnson, Bruce Smith, and Mark Carrier. However, the Snyder ‘Skins have fired two coaches in four seasons, have never exceeded an 8-8 win-loss record, and have never reached the playoffs. Yet, based on recent free agent signings and another year under the belt of Head Coach Steve Spurrier, Snyder remains optimistic and hungry for a Super Bowl victory.
During the Q & A session, Mr. Snyder mentioned that the impetus for his purchase of the Redskins was not only that he had been a lifelong Redskins fan (as a native of Silver Spring, MD, a D.C. suburb), but also that he looked upon the Redskins as an under-marketed brand that could produce more value if more focus was placed on the customer. Since taking over the Redskins, Snyder has accelerated the installation of technology that has provided an automated ticket system as well as a self-maintained website to better communicate with fans. “Before as a fan, if you wanted to call to find out about tickets, the service was really poor. The joke around the office was that the customer service reps answered the phones with, “Redskins, No.” and then hung up. We’ve worked hard to improve the experience of our fans”.
Snyder treated the crowd of 40 or so students to witty answers to questions related to the XFL, Arena Football, how to get a job in sports, and what it takes to be an NFL owner, all the while maintaining the semblance of just another guy you’d like to ‘have a beer with’. He described his methods and passions in a way that made every person in the room – even the die-hard Dallas Cowboy fans – a Redskins’ fan for a fleeting moment. His competitiveness and drive to win at all costs, while reeking of clich‚, came off as genuine. Comparisons to Mark Cuban, the brash and eccentric owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, are not too off-base, and one cannot help but feel that Snyder competes with the likes of Cuban and Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones for attention, as well as victories. When asked whether he enjoyed being a CEO of a public company (Snyder grew his company into a major telecommunications player in 17 years) or an NFL owner more, he opined, “I hated Wall Street. It’s a bunch of 14-year-old analysts telling me my margins are off 0.3% and asking why.” That remark hit home with many in the audience who chuckled with guilt. It also provided a glimpse into the psyche of a man who has built his career around making shrewd decisions that take him to wherever he wants to go. His off-season cuts of star running back Stephen Davis and last year’s starting quarterback Danny Wuerffel show just how dedicated Snyder is to winning and to restoring pride back into the Redskins’ community.