Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Washington Redskins this week are putting the finishing touches on a $25million offseason improvement project at FedEx Field, the latest in a series of enhancements at the 7-year-old stadium.

The work includes an addition of more than 5,100 seats to what already was the NFL’s largest stadium. The new capacity is listed at 91,655. Most of those are in the stadium’s lower bowl, located behind the visitor’s bench and sections 114-129. Seats also were added to the end zone loge sections and field level “dream seat” section, and the team built 11 new suites in the ultra-luxury owner’s club.

Construction and clean-up crews will be at the stadium around the clock this week preparing for Saturday’s preseason home opener against Carolina.

Plans to increase stadium capacity date to early last year when the Redskins submitted an ultimately unsuccessful bid to play host to Super Bowl XLII in 2008. The expansion plans were shelved after that game was awarded to Arizona but quickly rekindled this year after Joe Gibbs was hired as coach.

“We wouldn’t have done this without Joe coming on board,” executive vice president Karl Swanson said. “This helps address some of the additional ticket demand that obviously spurred up because of Joe. And this also helps wash out a lot of the ‘move me’ requests. Most of the people coming into this new section are coming down from the upper level.”

The work also pushes the total investment of owner Dan Snyder and his partners in stadium improvements beyond $120million. When the then-Jack Kent Cooke Stadium opened in 1997, the stadium clearly showed the haste from the record-low 17 months spent to build it. Snyder assumed control of the club two years later and embarked on a steady effort to increase seating capacity, heighten stadium amenities and bulk up the infrastructure. The result is an annual perch as the NFL’s top revenue-generating team.

“A lot of the money [spent] you can’t see,” Swanson said. “It’s in things like plumbing, drainage. It’s a lot of invisibles.”

About $2 million of this year’s $25million was spent on new facilities at Redskin Park in Ashburn.

While some critics undoubtedly will continue to criticize FedEx Field as a soulless shrine to consumerism and corporate sponsorship, the Redskins still enjoy the largest attendance in the NFL at some of the highest ticket prices in the league. The season ticket waiting list stands at nearly 105,000 names.

The new general admission seats, costing $69 a game, are not without their extreme characteristics. Placed on top of a metal floor, the new sections vibrate, rattle and bounce, not unlike parts of beloved RFK Stadium — the Redskins’ home for 36 seasons. Several hundred of the seats contain either partially or severely obstructed views because of load-bearing support pillars and the low overhang from the club level above.

The Redskins dropped the price for the general admission seats by $10 from the rest of the lower level and installed dozens of televisions to help compensate for the lack of visibility.

“We clearly recognize some of these seats are not the same [as others in the lower bowl] and do not offer a full view of the field,” Swanson said.

Other additions to the stadium include the creation of a new bar area in the high-end loge section, the installation of a Hooters restaurant on the club level and a new windscreen at the top of the upper seating bowl.

The Redskins are also testing a loyalty card program to help speed up concession lines. Working similar to Mobil’s Speedpass and other similar programs, the Redskins’ loyalty card would be preloaded with cash or connected to a credit card.

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