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The Redskins are experts in “hostage marketing.” And it’s killing their brand.

Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday again, time for Redskins fans like me to wallow a bit more about our sad state of affairs.

Lately I joined what seems to be a growing number (at least among my network of friends and associates) of disenchanted Redskins fans who have given up our financial, time and emotional investment in season tickets. The obvious issue is that the team hasn’t figured out how to win and advance to the playoffs; the larger issue is the apparent lack of a plan for rebuilding, although that may be changing under the Shanahan administration (even though they will not admit that they’re rebuilding); and the cherry on top is the constant drama regarding on- and off-field (mis)management decisions and behavior.

But frustrating as those three factors are, they weren’t even the main challenges of being a Redskins season-ticket holder, in my view. The primary annoyance and the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back,” is the Redskins’ tendency towards “Hostage Marketing.”

Hostage marketing is using your customers’ loyalty or their need for your your service against them by coercing or even forcing them to pay additional fees, buy additional services or jump through a bunch of unnecessary hoops that are designed only to help the company meet its financial goals–without regard for its customers’ (fans’) preferences.

The end result is that as fans, we feel we’re being constantly being marketed to or nickel and dimed to death–that the organization’s focus is more on making money than giving us a good (not to mention great) customer experience.

Hostage marketing is usually practiced by organizations that:

  • Are monopolies or very dominant in their industry (Microsoft); or
  • Have a core business that is struggling due to lack of innovation or outside forces (Bank of America); or
  • Are in a “hail Mary” situation because they need to increase revenue very quickly–maybe because they want to be bought or because they don’t want to miss their estimates; or
  • Have such an inflated view of their value proposition that they can’t imagine customers going elsewhere (Redskins).

Our experience with the Redskins has to do with things we’ve experienced first hand and also read about (some of the items below were mentioned in the infamous November 2010 City Paper article), including:

  • Selling official sponsorships to everything and anything that moves during radio broadcasts, including kickoffs, extra points, replays, pre-game shows, post-game shows and in-game updates.
  • Selling official sponsorships to everything and anything that moves at the stadium, including ticket stubs, score updates, pre-game activities, half-time activities, post-game activities, tailgating activities and the Redskin Cheerleaders.
  • Selling official sponsorships to everything else, including The Kid’s Club and the team podcast.
  • Charging fans to attend team workouts.
  • Charging ridiculous amounts for parking and eliminating other parking and transportation options at FedEx field.
  • Making fans use a Redskins branded credit card to buy season tickets (later rescinded after backlash).
  • Charging $25 to park at a free Fan Appreciation Day.
  • Banning fans from bringing signs but then allowing sponsors to hand out signs.
  • Suing season ticket holders for non-payment.
  • Punishing local tv stations for not becoming official Redskins “media partners.”
  • Explosion of “official Redskins” merchandise, including mattresses, lottery tickets and, my favorite, Redskins 75th anniversary coffee which I saw in Giant Food for 50% off.

The obvious problem is that at some point, the continuous combination of poor on-field performance, drama, mismanagement and “Hostage Marketing” outweigh the emotional benefits of being a fan. Of course for many people, that will take decades, which is a testament to how strongly they feel about the team. But the Redskins do appear to be paying a penalty for their poor decision-making as more season ticket holders defect and the gripes go up.

To let you in on a personal experience, I recently attended Inc. Magazine’s BUILD training seminar at the new Jets training facility, where I had an opportunity to speak with a high level executive and asked him what people inside the NFL think about Dan Snyder. The answer was that NFL owners respect two things: winning and money, and that Snyder was very good at one of those things.

I know I’m not the first person to complain about the Redskins’ over-emphasis on marketing (and revenue) while delivering an under-performing product on the field–but hopefully if enough people weigh in on these “Hostage Marketing” strategies, the team will get the message.

By the way, you know you’re doing something wrong when people start doing spoof videos like this one on the Redskins’ Club seats marketing campaign.

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