Who needs to win, when you can make more money than anyone else?

I was skimming through Newsweek this afternoon while avoiding watching my 49ers play one of the most pathetic first half’s in football history against the Detroit Lions, and came upon an article about the Washington Redskins.  The Redskins purchased by Dan Snyder (in the photo with Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones) in 1999 for $800 million, have been locked in mediocrity for a good number of the years they have been under Snyder’s watch.  The team has already clenched last place in their division, and may be on the way to a 12 loss season.  Since 1999, the Redskins resume for the previous decade:

1999: 10-6, lost in 2nd round of playoffs

2000: 8-8

20001: 8-8

2002: 7-9

2003: 5-11 (last place)

2004: 6-10 (last place)

2005: 10-6, lost in 2nd round of playoffs

2006: 5-11 (last place)

2007: 9-7, lost in 1st round of playoffs

2008: 8-8

2009: 4-10 so far, (last place)

While not the worst of records, they Redskins have been last place in their division more times than they have made the playoffs, and really have never had much of a chance at winning a Super Bowl under Snyder.  While the Redskins have been bad on the field, their off the field finances paint an entirely different picture.  This year Forbes values the Redskins at $1.5 billion, and the team brought in an estimated revenue of around $345 million this year, the highest revenue of any professional sports team in North America.  The Redskins which before Snyder’s era had one of the highest priced tickets of any sport in North America, raised ticket prices again.  However, the tickets to Redskins games aren’t the most expensive in football this year, and are only a few dollars over the league average (while Dallas Cowboy tickets on average are about $80 over the league average).  Yet fans are angry, so angry that Snyder fired his good friend Vinny Cerato, who was the executive in charge of the front office, and replaced him with the son of a former popular Redskins coach.  Within the article, it is noted that the Redskins rank in the bottom third in the NFL in win percentage since 2000 (as do the Cowboys).  An editor from the Sports Business Journal is quoted saying that Snyder has turned the Redskins into a soulless corporate cash machine.

The article goes on and discussed how the NFL is really a business, and that owners are more concerned with the bottom line than with making the playoffs.  Considering this from an economic standpoint, we again come upon the idea that some owners are profit-maximizers while some are win-maximizers.  Looking at the two most valued teams in the NFL, it seems rather clear than Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder are businessmen who are trying to maximize their profits.  Looking at the Forbes list of most valued teams in the NFL, it is quite an interesting mix.  Patriots are #3 in value, and have the highest win percentage since 2000 of any team in the NFL.  The Colts who rank 2nd in terms of win percent since 2000, however, are down the list at #15, behind teams like the Kansas City Chiefs which seem to have trouble even showing up on most Sunday’s.

So, while I can understand the lambasting and characterization of Snyder has a heartless evil scrooge who is more concerned with profit than winning,  I ask, why should he be forced to win, if he can keep being the top revenue earner in North American professional sports?  Clearly, Snyder has made changes in the front office to make fans happy, but will this really change things?  I seriously doubt these changes will change Snyder’s strategy, and is probably most likely a play at placating fans for another season or two into having hope, and buying tickets and all that fancy memorabilia.  While fans yell that Snyder doesn’t know what he is doing, I think most sports economists would argue that Snyder knows exactly what he is doing, and is unlikely to change.

One final note, the Cowboys and Redskins have a combined one playoff win since 2000.  This hasn’t stopped them from bringing in loads of revenue, charging high prices for tickets and other goods.  Will fans ever take action?  Can these teams be so bad that people will stop coming to games?  Buying merchandise?  I doubt it.

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