- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s creation of a broadcast company to manage team coverage is a “brilliant” move, according to sports marketing consultants, as long as he doesn’t shut out already flustered local media outlets.

Red Zebra Broadcasting, owned by Mr. Snyder, will buy and run radio, television and Internet properties. Bennett Zier, vice president for Clear Channel Radio’s Washington-Baltimore region, will lead the firm starting Monday.

Sports consultants applauded Mr. Snyder’s latest example of “vertical integration,” extending and controlling everything about the Redskins brand by eliminating traditional middlemen like radio stations.

“We’ve seen over the last several decades the realization that if you can vertically integrate, you cannot only control your message, but control and multiply your revenue streams,” said David M. Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group in Los Angeles. “You control the team and the airwaves and the content.”

Redskins games have been carried on CBS Radio’s WJFK-FM 106.7 since 1995, but industry sources said Red Zebra next week will announce its first acquisition: three local Spanish-language stations owned by Mega Communications LLC of Orlando, Fla.

“If [Mr. Snyder] wants to acquire radio stations and control the distribution of his product on radio, that’s an option that could very well be beneficial to him,” said Mark C. Wyche, managing director of Bortz Media & Sports Group Inc. in Denver. “He can control the product, sale and presentation of his team via that distribution mode.”

NASCAR has been controlling its media, marketing and branding strategies for years as has AEG, the Los Angeles sports and entertainment company that owns the Staples Center and pieces of numerous other venues and franchises, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Mr. Carter said.

So there’s nothing new about Mr. Snyder’s strategy, but “what hasn’t been done is the extent to which the Dan Snyder project” appears to be going, said Peter Bavasi, a sports management consultant with Bavasi Sports Partners LLP in San Diego.

“I believe what Mr. Snyder’s doing is just a brilliant business and strategic move,” said Mr. Bavasi, who has worked both as a sports executive and in the media. He was president of two Major League Baseball teams, the ESPN SportsTicker, and was a paid consultant to the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission when it was trying to bring a baseball team to the city.

Some corporations-turned-franchise-owners, including the Walt Disney Co. and News Corp.’s Fox Entertainment Group, have not fared as well as Mr. Snyder’s burgeoning empire. Red Zebra is the latest red-themed business in Mr. Snyder’s stable, joining the Redskins and Red Zone LLC, an Ashburn, Va., investment firm that is the majority shareholder of amusement park operator Six Flags Inc. He recently was named chairman.

Individual owners with aggressive management styles, like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys to whom Mr. Snyder is often compared, have done better. Both men have had strained relationships with the media.

The National Football League’s media relations policy requires teams to make players and coaches available for 45 minutes during practice days and after games. The policy bars franchises from shutting out accredited press members during those times.

Washington press outlets have been frustrated by somewhat sporadic access to Redskins personnel and the team’s filtering news through the Redskins.com Web site instead of them. Redskins.comTV airs unique programming, and the franchise releases news on the site that traditionally would have been reported by the media.

Mr. Snyder was quoted in a New York Times article last week that examined the team’s battles with The Washington Post. But when contacted yesterday, Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said Mr. Snyder was not doing any interviews until the season ended and that the Times interview had already been scheduled.

Mr. Jones also has battled the local media. In 1994, he fired a local radio broadcaster from the host job of a weekly Cowboys TV show after the announcer said that what Mr. Jones and then coach Barry Switzer said about the team wasn’t always the truth.

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple would not to comment on Mr. Snyder’s media acquisitions and strategy.

“Snyder is a tremendously enterprising person in everything he does, but this itch he has for the media is a stunning phenomenon. He wants his side of the story told and his side of the story told alone,” said Erik Wemple, editor of the Washington City Paper who has tracked the Redskins’ relationship with the local media for more than three years.

The Redskins and Mr. Snyder will continue to get tremendous scrutiny in Washington because Red Zebra’s future news outlets will not tell the full truth as the established media see it, Mr. Wemple said. That probably will increase tension between Mr. Snyder and the press.

To best tailor their messages, many sports franchises have started regional television networks in recent years, but team owners’ relationships with traditional media outlets always will be somewhat contentious, Mr. Carter said.

“Next to the fans, the media have the ultimate power in shaping sporting events,” he said. “Anytime that [media] relationship is lacking, you run the risk of damaging your ability to generate revenue and build franchise value.”

But the media must acknowledge the distinction between Redskins’ executives telling their side of the story via Web site articles and actually preventing the local media from having access, Mr. Bavasi said.

Before blogs, team executives would hold press conferences or buy ads in the paper to respond to perceived media slights. As long as owners are driven by three things — winning, money and ego — there will always be “an outlet to have a soapbox,” he said.

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