The Revolution - David Donovan Speaks to Hogs Haven About Ticketgate and State of the Redskins

Today kind of feels like the scene in Anchorman directly after the rival news teams had a gang fight in the alley.

Ron Burgundy: Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
Champ Kind: It jumped up a notch.
Ron Burgundy: It did, didn't it?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart.
Ron Burgundy: I saw that. Brick killed a guy. Did you throw a trident?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, I've been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you're probably wanted for murder.

We are all emotional when it comes to the Redskins and being fans of our favorite football team. When most of us use the word "love" as we describe how we feel about the team, we mean it. For all of us, the labor of this particular love has been difficult to bear. For some, it has proved to be simply too much to deal with.

Yesterday I responded to the interview David Donovan gave to Mike Wise on his radio show. I used my personal experiences to illustrate why I believed the team had taken advantage of the "Waiting List" and how I had come to believe that suing fans was, in fact, a practice readily employed by the Redskins. This topic has prompted an unprecedented amount of responses to me personally. I have received phone calls, texts, and emails from all over. I heard from friends I have not seen or talked to in years. I heard from people who read regularly but have never been really compelled to drop an email on me or comment on the site. But when my phone rang at lunchtime yesterday afternoon, I was a little unprepared to be hearing from David Donovan himself.

For full disclosure purposes, I'll state upfront that I am a reader of the Washington Post and a fan of Mike Wise and his budding mid-day show. I bought into those stories of the people affected by the practices of the Redskins (as reported by the Post), and I respect Mike Wise and his opinion of his colleague and sports in general. But given I had never spoken to David Donovan, I believed he deserved a clean slate with me on this one.

I have to admit at first I kind of had that star-struck feeling. You know, like, "Sweet...One of the highest ranking members of the Redskins' organization is calling me!" Then I remembered that only hours earlier I had called him a liar and said that he was full of crap. Something told me this was not a courtesy call to ask me how my season was going and how could he help improve my overall fan experience.

We spent the better part of the next 30 minutes talking specifically about my experience and his concerns about some of the words I had chosen. I did not have to face a combative David Donovan...the one we have all been reading about and listening to on the radio. Rather, I spoke to a man who was interested in putting out the latest fire, and seemed to be genuinely interested in the experiences I wrote about yesterday.

 

David: Ken, I was hoping to talk with you regarding your article today.

KM: David, before we really get into this, I would like to say upfront that I don't blame the Redskins for me signing a contract I probably should not have signed. I was young and maybe a little naive, but that's my name on the contract and I put it there.

David: Well, I can appreciate that but I wanted to talk to you about the experiences that you mention as well two main issues you touched on.

KM: Absolutely.

David: You make reference to the club level being sold to "Waiting List" people. There is no waiting list for the club level.

KM: I understand that, but you know, you go right on down the "Waiting List" to sell club seats to folks. All of my family and friends who have spent time on the "Waiting List" have been called to try and sell them club level seats.

David: Well, sure, that is because we have some unsold club seats each year and folks on the Waiting List for General Admission tickets are a likely group to want to buy those seats. We offer them to a variety of groups to try and sell them. But there is no Waiting List of people who are waiting for an opportunity to buy Club Seats.

KM: Well, I was promised to be moved down to cheaper seats after two seasons if I signed a ten-year deal in 2000. It's the reason I bought the club seats and when I called back in year 3, I was told no dice.

David: That should have never happened.

KM: I agree.

David: You mentioned that you had financial problems and could not afford to pay for your tickets...that we suggested you take a credit-card type of loan to pay us for the tickets?

KM: Yes.

David: I just want to tell you that I personally talk to club seat holders every year that have problems paying for their tickets. If someone is having to decide between putting food on the table--as you said--versus paying for season tickets I unequivocally tell people to forget about the tickets and pay your bills. I'll ask people, "What, if anything, can you afford now?" If it's nothing, I tell them we'll talk next year. We work out payment plans, defer contracts by a year, reduce the number of seats, move them to a different zone, all sorts of things for people who genuinely have financial difficulties. I literally just signed an amended club seat contract to take care of such a situation just now. I think what gets lost in all of these reports are all the people we have helped, but due to privacy reasons, I can't very well give you their names so you can go and interview them.

KM: David, I was someone who needed that kind of deal. I was up against it. Your guy had zero interest in hearing me. And he definitely told me I faced getting sued by the team if I didn't pay.  

David: I would NEVER recommend someone taking a loan against a credit card to pay for their season tickets if they can't afford to pay it as the bill comes due, and that is not our policy. And with regard to the "practice" of suing fans, it is absolutely not our business practice to do so.  Out of the 24,000 seats we have out there, we have filed lawsuits against about two dozen club and suite holders a year. Our ticket reps have no authority to threaten lawsuits to anyone. Your experience was in 2006, and I would hope that none of our ticket reps would have been doing that then or now. A decision to sue a premium seat holder would have to come from an attorney for the team and it only gets to that point in very rare instances.

KM: But it did happen...David...do you believe me? Do you believe this happened to me?

David: Of course I do. We have thousands and thousands of Club Seat and premium seat contracts. It is inevitable that someone on our staff will speak to a club seat holder whose account is overdue and not deal with the situation appropriately every time. Sounds like that is what happened to you. But your experience was the exception and not the rule. What I said in the paper and what I said on the radio was the truth, and I frankly thought it was unfair when you suggested I was lying. I wasn't.

KM: Because one of the main reasons I figured my way out of the jam was to prevent being sued by my favorite team. It would have killed me.

David: I get that. And you have to understand it is not our intention to go after fans like you. It's not our practice and it's not our policy. Our practice and our policy is to find a way to work out the situation, and it is our policy to try really hard to do that.

I started to hear real frustration in his voice. But not frustration directed at me. As a husband of 7 years, I have developed a keen ear for the sound of someone who is frustrated with me. This was different. Our conversation turned from there. We went from talking about the issues that have been dragged across the headlines these last few weeks and months to actually talking about the relationship between the team and its fans.

I told David Donovan about The Revolution. I told him that even though we have people who wish like hell Snyder would sell the team, this whole thing is based on the premise that if this team is going to get it turned around, it is going to be on Snyder's watch. I told him that we weren't the bags-on-our-heads variety and that I was very much against booing my team from my seat--where I have sat for 10 years. He listened as I explained to him that we demand a new direction. He listened as I explained to him that we want desperately to latch onto something positive out of that organization but that there is currently NOTHING for us to grab onto.

Then I told him what was really bothering me.

KM: David, I don't even talk about this much...this thing that happened to me with the Redskins. You know why? It's not because I am angry or that it makes me angry. It's because I am embarrassed, for me and for you. I am embarrassed for me because I got into a tough spot, and I always knew it was on me. Your guy lied to me straight up, but nowhere in my contract did it say you guys were required to move me to a new section. But I am MORE embarrassed about the fact that my favorite team would treat a fan like me in that way. I didn't want anyone to know that. I didn't want to have to admit that my team was like that. I was embarrassed then and I am embarrassed now...for you. Your decision to call me today goes a long way in my mind toward repairing a relationship that is important to me. You say you believe me that these things happened to me and other people. That actually means something to me. It seems that the Redskins organization is blind to so many things. The relationship between the fans and this team is badly damaged. And it can't start getting worked on until everyone gets real honest about what is happening...what has happened. I appreciate you at least acknowledging that these things happened.

David Donovan spoke to the lack of a real public presence beyond Vinny Cerrato, and it was something he clearly disagrees with. After we got off of the phone, I forwarded David a few additional questions that I thought would be beneficial for our readers to hear him address.

HH: You mentioned your desire for the organization to have more of a public face/presence than just Vinny Cerrato. Do you see the organization deciding on a path consisting of greater transparency given the lack of trust and faith the fan base seems to have in the team?

DD: This is hard to answer, because we all have tried to be as open as we can.  I leave the football matters to Vinny and the coaches, obviously - I don't know any more about those issues than anyone else, and it would not make sense for me to speak to them.  Certainly on the "business" side, I am open any time anywhere to talk to any fan.  I do it via email, in the parking lots, in the stands, over the phone.  I have probably fielded 150 emails and phone calls following the coverage in August of the broker sales and lawsuits issues, which I think generated a lot of suspicions and criticism that simply were unwarranted by the actual facts.  After my radio interview this week, I got calls and emails from more than a dozen fans that I spoke to or emailed in August thanking me for going on the radio and clearing up some of the misinformation that had appeared in the press. 

As I have been assuming more of a business role over the last year, I have been troubled to hear from some fans that they feel that they can't talk to anyone at Redskin Park or that their questions or complaints go unanswered - that's not right, and I want to correct that.  I'm not convinced that it makes sense for us to go to the Post or the radio stations more often, since they are focused on generating controversy and not having an honest conversation - witness this week, when the Post on Monday reported that the fans were abandoning the team, as supposedly proven by dropping TV ratings, which was followed on Monday night by a full stadium (full of REDSKINS fans) and our highest TV rating of the year (higher, in fact, than our national season opener against the Giants in 2008), none of which the Post reported at all.  I went on Wise's show to discuss that, and they wanted to talk about everything but, and now the radio is 24/7 abuzz about signs in the stadium.  Certainly we will go on radio or talk to the papers from time to time if there is some significant issue, but I have found that talking one on one to people who have genuine concerns is more productive.

HH: Besides the ticket issue, what is another example of something that fans have been misled on by external sources?

DD: The two stories on sales to brokers and lawsuits are the major ones that I can speak to on the business side.  Monday's story about fans abandoning the team was also full of misinformation (eg, the headline about fans abandoning the team, accompanied by the photo of the fan who told us the next day that he is a diehard fan who will never abandon the team!).  Again, I can't comment on football issues because I just don't know enough to intelligently do so.   I do get angry about the personal attacks in the paper and on the radio about some of the people here, which I think are just unwarranted and unfair.  Some reporters and commentators talk about people and events about which they know literally nothing, as if they were in the room.  Readers and listeners need to take all this with more than a little grain of salt.

HH: What actions do you think the team could take to try and reach out to fans to regain their trust and repair the relationship this franchise has historically had with the fans?

DD: Honestly, I speak to dozens of fans one on one, and I am at the Stadium every game and see the fans at all of our away games, and I think the vast majority of the fans still love this team.  There are a lot of angry and frustrated fans out there who just want us to play better and win, and I'm sure that the coaches and players will get us back on track.  I personally don't know what to do other than to be available to address any questions anyone has, address any complaints as best we can, and continue to work hard at our jobs so that fans have the best possible experience at our games, Draft Day, Fan Appreciation Day, etc.  People can call or email me, or email our blogger, Matt Terl (terlm@redskins.com), or if they have a stadium-related issue, call our Guest Services line at 301-276-6100.   I know that some people will read that and say it sounds like PR-speak, but that is my honest view. That's why I walk around the parking lots for a couple hours before every game.   I love my job and I love the team and that is why I do this.  If I didn't feel this way, I could make a lot more money working at the job I had before I came here.

HH: We [The Revolution] have suggested a section inside FedEx Field comprised of hardcore/diehard fans, similar to the Dawg Pound in Cleveland or the Black Hole in Oakland as a way of adding character to the stadium and as a gesture to the fans who continue to support the team. Is this something you could ever envision getting implemented?

DD: Great idea.  Biggest hurdle would be freeing up space from existing season ticketholders, who obviously we wouldn't want to move.  But it is something for me to look into.

Donovan's job is not easy, and I don't envy him. He did not sound beaten, but he did sound bruised. He compared his job some days to plugging a dam with his finger. It is clear that he is standing in the middle of a circus. Based on our conversation, it at least seemed to me that he was more a part of the solution than a part of the problem. What stinks for him is that fromthe other side of those walls, it has become hard to discern the difference. I don't believe David Donovan is a liar today. In fact, if only he could have the kind of conversation we had with the hundreds of thousands of other Redskins fans who feel marginalized and ignored...I guess one is a start. I do want to thank David Donovan for his time and for his consideration of our readers.

When we started The Revolution a little over a month ago, we said we would push hard for this team to come to grips with the reality it finds itself in, and to try and work to involve ourselves in a positive solution. We aren't even close to being there yet. But yesterday we got a call from the COO of the Redskins. I am chalking that up as a huge first step. The lines of communication have been opened. If we believe that at some point a dialogue between the team and the fans has to take place if this battered relationship is to be repaired, then we'll stand very much ready to continue to be a part of that. 

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