It’s not often that the Redskins Chief Operating Officer, David Donovan, finds himself battling the host of a local sportstalk radio show. So when it happens, I figure it’s worth going into stenographer mode for at least a chunk of it. The discussion was wide-ranging and, especially during the second half, lively bordering on heated.
It was also long, and one thing that got alluded to but not resolved were the questions about what is and isn’t allowed into FedExField, which has spiraled on blogs and message boards into questions of stadium censorship and drawn exciting comparisons to fascist dictatorships.
I figured I should start by talking to Donovan about those things, just to get them squared away moving forward, so here they are as clearly as I could determine them.
Banners and signs are not allowed FedExField. Yes, as Dan Steinberg spotted, this policy has undergone a change; I’m told it’s because banners were blocking people’s view, jabbing at people, and just generally getting in the way.
(Donovan says as much during the interview, in fact, in a portion that isn’t transcribed below. So here it is: “The banners, we do have a prohibition against signs and banners in the stadium, and we don’t care what they say. We take them down. They get in the way of other people viewing the game, and people get poked in the head — that stuff happens. We have an absolute prohibition; we don’t care what they say.”)
Whatever the reason, this is pretty cut and dried at this point. No banners.
However, your T-shirts are allowed as long as they don’t feature profanity, and much of what reportedly went down Monday night with the confiscating of shirts should not have happened. Here’s Donovan’s direct quote to me:
“Our policy regarding messages on T-shirts and other clothing is simple: if it doesn’t display profanity, it’s fine,” he said. “It’s not our policy to regulate clothing based on the message it displays. We’ve heard the anecdotal reports that some stadium personnel were being over-zealous in their handling of this matter Monday night. We apologize to any fans who were inconvenienced as well as fans who were distressed by the reports, and we’ll be working with all stadium employees to be certain that the policy is correctly enforced at future games at FedExField.”
There. Now that THAT’S sorted out, on to the transcript. What’s here is the second half of the interview; the first half primarily concerned how many Redskins fans were in attendance Monday night, compared to what the Washington Post — for which Wise is a sports columnist — predicted. I’ve omitted that, because I’ve already written my thoughts on the subject.
But the second half is where things get prickly, where Donovan and Wise start debating the Post’s coverage of the team — including the stories about sales to ticket brokers and suing fans — so that’s what’s after the jump.
Many thanks to Intern Jake for help with this mammoth transcription; listen to the whole audio interview here. Questions in bold; Donovan in quotes, and the ones that are preceded by [BR] are Wise’s co-host Bill Rohland.
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you: Mitch Gershman and his role in the sales of tickets to brokers. Did Mitch Gershman personally approve the bulk sales to brokers?
“Wow. I’m glad you wanna get back into that story, because that’s another prime example of the Post’s sort of yellow journalism coverage of our business practices.”
David, can you answer the question?
“I’ll answer it this way: the Post found about a handful — literally a handful — of broker sales and ran that on the front page of the paper and since, as if it is the business practice of this organization to sell to brokers. When in fact the undisputable truth is it is the business practice of this organization NOT to sell to brokers. And when we found out about those handful of contracts seven months ago, we terminated them all.”
So Mitch Gershman didn’t personally approve the bulk sales to brokers?
“That is correct.”
If not then how did the ticket office keep those bulk sales secret?
“They didn’t keep them secret for long. I found out about them and cancelled them last February.”
So why is Jason Friedman, who negotiated the sales to brokers, still working for the Redskins if he kept this secret from Gershman?
“I didn’t discuss our internal personnel issues when you guys wrote the story in August and I’m not going to do it now. “
That’s fair enough.
“Too many of your readers have read those stories and the inflammatory way they were written, and concluded based on the way you wrote those stories that we sold thousands and thousands and thousands of tickets to brokers which resulted in tens of thousands of Steelers fans being in our stadium last year.
‘Your guys knew that wasn’t the case and if you read those stories very, very, very carefully, you find out that in fact wasn’t the case, there were a couple of hundred tickets sold to brokers.
‘And there were a bunch of other contracts that were entered into at the end of 2008 which we terminated in 2009 before a single ticket changed hands. So I don’t want to say that this is a mountain out of a molehill, but it’s pretty darn close because the real story is, ‘Redskins organization found out about ticket sales to brokers and terminated the contracts.’ Instead, you guys write a series of stories that says it is the Redskins business practice to sell to brokers which is resulting in thousands of foreign fans in the building, notably, none of which were in the building last night. ‘
All right, well, right before we let you go, you also told James Grimaldi, the person most responsible for the story in the Washington Post regarding the ticket sales — and, I should mention. an investigative reporter who has won a Pulitzer Prize. You told James Grimaldi the Skins were going to sue more fans this fall but so far, really only one company. Last year you sued about eighty fans obviously including Pat Hill, the 73 year-old grandmother which got you a lot of negative publicity. Are you being more discriminating or have you changed your process for filing these lawsuits?
“Well, I’m glad you brought that story up too, because that’s another one that was blown completely out of proportion and completely distorted our business practices. You guys ran a headline on that story that again asserted that it was the business practice of this organization to sue the fans and in fact that was the headline you ran on it: ‘Sue the Fans, Sell to Brokers.’
“Well, it is not our business practice to sell to brokers and it is not our business practice and has never has been to sue the fans. What was involved in those cases was a handful of contracts with the 24,000 people that hold premium club seats and suites. These
are not general admission ticket holders, which your organization reported that they were.
“These are not people that have anything to do with our waiting list, which your organization reported that they were.
“These are people that hold long-term premium club and suite contracts. And Grimaldi went through five years of worth of law suits — there were not 80 last year; there were 125 in FIVE years, and Grimaldi knows that and if you read Gramaldi’s article, he says that — he went through five years of lawsuits and found one that we made a mistake on. One. And it involved Ms. Hill. Ms. Hall or Ms. Hill.”
Pat Hill. She’s a 72-year old grandmother.
“And as soon as we found out the facts, we terminated the lawsuit and we dropped the judgment. Nonetheless, your organization runs an editorial the next day that said that something we had done had caused her to be threatened with losing her home, which was a complete fabrication, utterly false. Nothing we ever did threatened her to lose her home. And in fact — as Gramaldi reported in the article, buried at the very end — she was $100,000 behind in her mortgage. Her mortgage company might eventually have taken her home, but nothing the Washington Redskins did or ever would have done, ever threatened to cause that woman anything.”
Look, you’re preaching to the choir on this ‘some season ticket holders deserve personal responsibility for that, I understand that part of it–
“It’s not a question of personal responsibility; it’s painting this organization as suing the fans. We don’t.”
David Donovan, you’re a smart guy, you went to law school. I couldn’t get into law school, let’s be honest, these guys aren’t AIG. They’re not ABIS who forgot to pay their corporate luxury suites, there was a paranoid schizophrenic that you made legal action against.
“We dropped that one too.”
But you’re saying patently out here on the show that you didn’t sue your season ticket holders, are you saying James Gramaldi is wrong? That he didn’t do his due diligence on this? Because I put my reputation with him, more than I would anybody in this town when it comes to digging up facts.
“Well, I think that trust might be a little bit misplaced. The Post reported that why would we sue these people if we had 160,000 people on the wait list.
“Okay, you guys knew that was completely false. There is no waitlist for club seats. None of these people involved in these lawsuits were general admission season ticket holders. They are all multi-year club seat and suite holders. And with respect to … I couldn’t tell you how many dozen people this year alone, that I and others in this organization have worked out payment plans, we’ve forgiven amounts due so far. The only ones who have ever gotten sued, my friends, are those who simply would not return our calls, never answered our letters or told us to go pound sand. Even then it was a tiny fraction. You’re talking about 20 lawsuits a year out of 24,000 premium ticket holders.
I just think if you can resell them, find a way to make ’em pay their transfer fees and give ’em to someone else if they lose their business or they obviously have a medical condition that prevents them from paying.
“Sure, that’s what we do. That’s what we’ve always done. But your original question was, are we more discriminating this year. No. We are doing the same thing this year that we’ve done every year–“
You’re suing them again?
“–which is to work out arrangement with everybody if they can’t afford to pay, we drop them.”
Okay, are the Redskins safe from TV blackouts?
And does Jim Zorn’s contract state that he must do what Dan Snyder tells him to?
“I doubt there’s any contract that says that and I’m not going to get into any terms of Jim’s contract.”
You sure? We’re giving you a forum; no one’s gonna hear this.
“I’m not going to get into the terms of Jim’s contract.”
Look, we beg to disagree on The Post. I promise you we don’t sit around and look you’d be surprised at the steps we’ve taken to be more tasteful in things like — for instance they won’t let Dan Steinberg put the word sucks on his blog anymore. Now sucks is what I would call a pretty universal term in society but not in family newspapers and we’ve decided that even though the internet portion of our product is a little edgy, we’ve decided that that’s not going to be there. So I’m not saying that you’ve got to send us a Christmas card or a Hanukkah card or a thank you letter or roses for that but you’d be surprised how balanced and fair a lot of the people over there are.
“Well, when you guys dumped on Chief Zee last week, you pretty much lost my trust and confidence.”
Courtland Milloy and I have been on the kill the nickname thing for a while and we are probably going to be there. We don’t represent everybody in that building’s feeling on that. And I think Chief Zee has done a tremendous job with charity but I just feel like nobody in their right mind, if the team were named the Blackskins, if an American Indian walked around as a Mandingo Warrior with a bone in his nose, I think a lot of people would be offended. That’s just me.
“Well, I think you guys had like fifteen pages of comments about that article and those were pretty uniformly hostile towards your treatment of Chiefs Zee. I thought it was just mean-spirited.”
Well, that’s people here that have grown up with the team all their life and believe the word Redskins means cup or bed. They don’t see that there’s people on reservations that don’t like the name.
“We could debate the merits of that lawsuit for another half an hour some time; I’m pretty confident that ultimately we are going to win that one as well.”
[BR] Hey, David, I’ll say one thing, first off you’ve been fantastic to join us tonight, I really appreciate you coming on and you’ve been very honest. And I’ll say this, you guys always wonder about what the fans are thinking, check your own website over there at ExtremeSkins and take a look at all of those stories, anecdotal or not, those are your fans going to your message board that you run that–
“Hey, look guys. We appreciate how emotional and driven and attached these fans are to this team.”
[BR] No, no. I’m talking about the incidents that went on in the stadium last night. Check your, if you don’t have time to do it because I know that you’re a busy guy, get somebody else to do it and you find out from them, what happened at your stadium last night with the t-shirts, the banners and everything else that people wanted. Look, I get it, if they’re out there trying to protect Snyder from any bad press or anything that he’s getting from the fans. That’s fine, but just be honest about it. It’s going on. David it’s going on, check your own website.
“Come on, guys, the notion that somehow we are trying to protect Dan Snyder from bad press is silly. We’ve got you guys — the Washington Post has all the ink in the east coast to print all the stories they want. With respect to what goes on in the stadium, I h
ave personal knowledge of much of what’s going on in that stadium, certainly we took down banners, I know of four, maybe there were a few more, but I know of four. With respect to t-shirts, unless there was something obscene on t-shirts, then somebody with our security got a little over-zealous and I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“Look, I haven’t read the postings this morning, maybe there’s a lot of them. What these things commonly are, is that what you guys both know is that one story gets told and then somebody else tells the same story and then pretty soon you’ve got four people recounting the same event as if it’s four separate events. “
Thank you again for joining us and look, I’m one of these, you know I love Behind The Music, I think we should bring the band back together, why doesn’t the Washington Post and the Skins front office sit down and shoot we could even bring JFK to be the moderator, 106.7 The Fan to be the moderator. Why don’t we just do lunch and you guys can say your side, I mean we’ve agreed to disagree on several issues today, I don’t feel more hostile or unlikeable to anybody over there for it and I don’t feel like you do either.
“Well, it’s actually more than a simple matter of personalities, guys, when you guys run some of the stories that you’ve run, specifically about brokers and the story about lawsuits, that causes people, that causes our fans to think less of us and it puts us in a false light because those stories put us in a false light. It didn’t accurately affect what we do or what we’ve done and people read the headline and they say, ‘oh, sue the fans, sell to brokers, those are terrible things.’ You’re right, and we don’t do those things.”
A lot of this is kill the messenger, isn’t it?
“No, I’m talking about kill the story. Those stories were false and inaccurate. I’ve read the Washington Post since I moved here in 1981, my wife worked there, some of my friends are there, I used to be in journalism myself. I’m a big fan of newspapers and I always will be but I have lost so much respect for the Washington Post in the last three months, I got to the point now where I almost don’t believe anything you print.”
We appreciate that you even still get it.
“It’s because of my wife, I get The Journal but she insists on The Post.”
She might not be in denial. You might be in denial about things.
“She likes the Style section.”
So she loved that John Kent Cooke article, because that’s where it ran.
“She thought that was stupid too.”
Thank you David, I look forward to catching up with you soon.
“You’ve got my number.”
And then Rohland closes the segment with the very simplest, least-debatable truth of all: “You wanna know what turns off fans? It’s 2-5.”
Tags: dave donovan, DaveDonovan, fedexfield, mike wise, MikeWise
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