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Skins, Caps and the media

Ted Leonsis's recent blog post about media relations was inspired by the White House and Fox News. It wasn't about the Redskins. But it led to a discussion about how sports teams should deal with the media, which is how I got interested in it.

And then my interest multiplied when Redskins general counsel David Donovan went on 106.7 The Fan's Mike Wise Show on Tuesday and laid waste to The Washington Post.

I think I've made it clear that I disagree with some stuff The Post has done in its sports coverage, both regarding the Skins and other local teams. I've explained that many writers--including some at The Post--were unwisely conflating the waiting list for general admission tickets at FedEx Field with the premium seat contracts that sparked the "suing grandma" story. I've poked at Jason LaCanfora for some of his front-office vitriol. I've disagreed with Sally Jenkins writing off the 2008 season after Week 1. I don't think we're perfect, by any means, in any way, and I think we're certainly a fair target for criticism.

Still and all, I thought it might be worthwhile to contrast Leonsis' advice last week with Donovan's words this week.

Leonsis: "Can you ever take on the media and blame them for your troubles? I don't think so."

Donovan: "I think the vast majority of your coverage is extremely hostile, and it's different than the coverage other cities give their hometown teams. The Post treats professional sports like politics."

Leonsis: "There have been times in my past that I wanted to blame the media for over hyping some issues or for using fake quotes or making up stuff. I always cringe when I read "According to a source close to the team" or "According to a source who didn't want to be identified because he may do business with the team." What does any of that mean?....But I soon realized the media members have a job to do. They are good people. They are just doing what they need to do to complete their tasks at work."

Donovan: "When visiting teams come to town, game after game after game, the first comment they make to us is, 'What is the deal with your local newspaper? We don't see anything like this.' And these are teams, the Buccaneers and the Rams and the Chiefs, they don't get coverage like this. The Post has been on a bandwagon, and they do this to sell newspapers."

Leonsis: "Be consistent and open and honest with all members of the media in good times and in bad times. Don't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. Talk to everyone. Always be transparent and when you feel you can't be...tell them you won't talk about it and you hope they understand why and that you know you are now taking on risk by NOT getting your comments on record and that non action always invites the unnamed sources quotes. It is better to go on record and talk than it is to avoid or offer up no comments. And never lie. Be silent on a tough issue if you have to be but never lie. Be yourself. Don't be too polished or too handled. Media can smell a phony a mile away."

Donovan: "The performance on the field, you know, obviously you guys aren't impacting the performance on the field, ok? But the notion that you guys don't sit around every week and try and figure out what stories about the Redskins to run on the Business, Metro front page and the Sports section....And the sort of relentlessly nasty and vicious vilification of Dan and Vinny is just beyond the pale. Other cities, it doesn't happen in other cities."

Leonsis: "Never blame the media for your troubles. Never call one out for saying something provocative - one member of the media said something this weekend about one of our players - rather than respond. We shall disregard and minimize the individual."

Donovan: "If there was some news value to John Cooke having sour grapes about not getting the team because his dad made sure he couldn't get the team, then maybe there was some news value to that 10 years ago. There isn't any news value to it today."

Leonsis: "Treat them with dignity."

Donovan: "[The ticket stories were] another prime example of The Post's sort of yellow journalism coverage of our business practices....Those stories were false and inaccurate. I've read the Washington Post since I moved here in 1981, my wife worked there, some of my friends are there, I used to be in journalism myself. I'm a big fan of newspapers and I always will be but I have lost so much respect for the Washington Post in the last three months, I got to the point now where I almost don't believe anything you print."

Leonsis: "Communicate often and directly. Be unfiltered."

Vinny Cerrato: "There's a lot of media people like you and everybody else out there that says Dan Snyder needs to come out and talk, Dan needs to say this, do that. Dan has never spoken to the media during the season for over a decade now. And Dan's thing is, he feels that during the season, the stage belongs to the head of football operations, the coaching staff, the players. That's why he doesn't talk, all right?"

[That was from his radio show last week.]

Leonsis: "Honesty is the best policy. Transparency is better than no comment. Be yourself. Be authentic. Don't be too handled."

Donovan: "You guys ran a column about three, four weeks ago from your ombudsman about how the most-read stories that you guys publish are stories involving the Washington Redskins. And so we end up on the front page with stories that in any other town probably wouldn't even get printed because they're so thin."

Leonsis: "Don't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows."

Donovan: "When you guys run some of the stories that you've run, specifically about brokers and the story about lawsuits, that causes people, that causes our fans to think less of us and it puts us in a false light because those stories put us in a false light. It didn't accurately affect what we do or what we've done. And people read the headline and they say, 'Oh, sue the fans, sell to brokers, those are terrible things.' You're right, and we don't do those things."

Leonsis: "And just win. The rest will take care of itself."

Donovan: "You had to be encouraged when you saw the number of fans that showed up for that game [Monday] night and the enthusiasm of the crowd. I mean, we had an enormous crowd, with hardly an Eagles fan to be found in there.... To have the fans show up in those kind of numbers, plus these kind of TV ratings, I think it pretty much disproves the thesis of The Post article, that somehow our fans are starting to abandon the team. In fact, I'd be a little surprised why The Post doesn't run another article that says 'Notwithstanding 2-5 start, Redskins fans sticking with the team.' "

(Thanks to the Redskins Blog for some of this transcript; read more here.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 28, 2009; 9:21 AM ET
Categories:  Caps , Media , Redskins  
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The Washington ThinSkins.

What hubris!

Posted by: joemktg1 | October 28, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Nicely done.

Posted by: Section117 | October 28, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Obviously they didn't take the TV ratings after the first half or see the stadium in the 4th quarter with NO ONE THERE except "hardly any" of those Eagles fans! This guy is so clueless!!!!

Posted by: dupa3 | October 28, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Much easier said when you're winning Ted.

Don't get me wrong, I was a Leonis fan, even during the bad years, but I don't quite buy that he'd say these words if the team were losing...Or if any of us would even listen to them.

Posted by: Longgoneposter | October 28, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Hardly any Eagles fans there. Ha ha. What color is the sky in this guy's world?

The problem is not going to get any better while the Redskins executives continue to lie and deny.

Keep up the full court press of truth Steinz.

Posted by: calhokie | October 28, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I recommend reading the whole Mike Wise/David Donovan transcript at Matt Terl's Redskins Blog. It provides even further proof of the croneyism that goes on in that organization. Donovan is obviously a very smart guy, but he makes himself sound childish because he has to stand up for Dan Snyder no matter what.

Kudos to Mike Wise for not backing down at all, and defending the coverage of the Redskins. BR had the closing words of the inteview and said it best, "You know what turns fans off? 2-5."

Posted by: goose33 | October 28, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Donovan is flat out making things up about the Chiefs getting better treatment by the Kansas City Star. As a former KC resident, I still keep up with news there. Jason Whitlock was, for the better part of 10 years, incredibly critical of Carl Peterson in his columns. Both Whitlock and Posnanski were very critical of Herm Edwards and management during last season's debacle. Posnanski has been highly critical of David Glass and the way the Royals have been run (I know - MLB, but it's the theme). KC loves its teams, but the Star has been very critical of both teams, ownership (they even criticized "saint" Lamar Hunt when he famously tried to make a lowball offer to buy the Royals on the cheap, which would have shorted KC of charity proceeds from the sale). Drives me crazy that he can get away with saying things like this which are flat out untrue.

Posted by: banjax451 | October 28, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

...."hardly any Eagles fans"? Wait, what? I flipped briefly to the Skins / Eagles game during Center Ice intermissions to see how bad the beating had gotten, and at one point they showed a shot of the crowd that was more Eagles fans than Skins fans. It made me think, "wait, I thought this was a home game?"

The two cities had a rematch in a different sport last night, this time a clash of orange and red downtown. Yeah, I saw some Eagles gear there, and there were lots of Flyers fans there, but the red outnumbered the orange by a good margin.

And yes, the Caps won.

Posted by: kittypawz | October 28, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"""I mean, we had an enormous crowd, with hardly an Eagles fan to be found in there.... """

Could he not hear the roar in that place when D. Jackson scored on the reverse?!?!? WTF?!?! I guess he was too busy in the parking lot, banning the media. I guess The Post caused Andre Carter to lose contain on that play.....I guess the Post blinded ARE that caused the punt TO HIT HIS FRIGGIN FACEMASK....


Posted by: cej75024 | October 28, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Donovan: "If there was some news value to John Cooke having sour grapes about not getting the team because his dad made sure he couldn't get the team, then maybe there was some news value to that 10 years ago. There isn't any news value to it today."

Oh my god.

When the largest hometown newspaper does a story on a beloved former owner...I'm pretty sure "acting like a total jackass" is not the best way to respond. There is literally nothing this team and it's management can do in a classy way.

Posted by: jbanks979 | October 28, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

'Oh, sue the fans, sell to brokers, those are terrible things.' You're right, and we don't do those things.

Oh really? The Redskins don't sue season ticket holders? Really so all those court cases turned out to be phony documents that the Washington Post Company used in its vicious vendetta to "get" Dan Snyder?

That's pretty demented.

Posted by: Pepper5 | October 28, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

It's really rich that the 'Skins are whining about the Post. I've lived in the DC area going on 13 years. The last 5 months or so are really the only time they've taken off the rose colored glasses on that team.

Do the Skins realize that their actions are what starts the ball rolling in terms of bad stories?

Donovan is quickly becoming more absurd than Baghdad Bob.

Posted by: kolbkl | October 28, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I thought Dan Snyder had a degree in marketing?

Posted by: Section506 | October 28, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

David Donovan - the Sergeant Schultz of the NFL. "I hear nutingz, I sawz nutingz, I know NUTINGZ!" Yes, perhaps it's easier to speak when you are in a particularly reasonable position of win-loss record like Leonsis is at, but to sound like a WW2 propaganda broadcast from the Axis powers, completely running against the obvious truth - my Lord, can you look any sillier. Maybe we should call him 'Tokyo Rose'? Or maybe even 'Raljon Rose'?

Posted by: Anonynonandon | October 28, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

While I can understand Mr. Donovan and the Redskins feeling picked on, he is forgetting something very important. The Redskins ask members of the community to invest hundreds of dollars a week for tickets, parking and food at Fed Ex Field, thousands a season if they are season ticket holders. They ask fans to watch the games on tv to drive up the ratings that lead to huge television contracts that make the team millions of dollars. While the team is a private business, it is also a "public figure" and it is the job of The Post and all other news organizations to hold the team accountable for the way it operates. I don't work for The Post but I am a journalist and and life long Redskins fan. The Post is not suposed to be a public relations arm of the Redskins. The reporting has been fair. It is part and parcel of owning one of the most valuble sports teams in America. If Mr. Snyder can't handle being questioned on the way he runs a business that is seen as a public trust, he should put the team on the market. I think he could find a buyer that would give him a fair price.

Posted by: bobmatthews1 | October 28, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

bob, what he misses out on is that negative coverage is inevitable and everyone should count on it happening at sometime and develop a plan for dealing with it. What has never been a successful plan is complaining about the tone of coverage. Not only do you come off as a whiner, but you spend your whole time responding to the negative story, not creating your own positive one.

Oh, and don't hand the media negative stories pre-gift wrapped on silver platters, like throwing away signs.

Posted by: Section506 | October 28, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

What a bunch of liars. 'We always banned signs, signed poked people's heads, never was any interviewing in tailgate area, we didn't sue fans.'

Wow. This is watching a business implode because it is run by a bunch of incompetent liars.

Posted by: tarded2much | October 28, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Has this moron Donovan ever been to the Meadowlands or Franklin Field? Has he ever listened to The Fan? This Donovan cat is a liar. Steinz, you gotta take this to the streets. How about a protest in front of the gilded gates of Donovan's office? Maybe he will realize there are more than 4 fans who are pissed off about their treatment and the destruction of our beloved franchise.

Posted by: mjwies11 | October 28, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Other cities don't get this kind of treatment? He should pick up a Detroit newspaper from any time in the past six years. Does he think that the Detroit media was heaping praise on Millen and the Fords? Please - the coverage in Detroit makes the Post look like pansies in comparison.

Posted by: WingsFan19 | October 28, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Nice work/post Mr. Steinberg. - interesting comparisons.

It's Dani's choice to run the skins, GM-style. - so stand up Dani, be a man, and take the criticism when you fail horribly.

Caps & Wizards are now the only teams I'll spend my time & money on.

Posted by: Max231 | October 28, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

who designed the Redskins PR strategy? George Orwell? They do realize '1984' is a fictional novel satirizing totalitarian government, and not a handy guidebook for masking poorly run businesses, right?

Though I'm sure if you asked them, they would say "the book 1984 is and always has been a handy guidebook for PR strategy. Ever since it was written. I've never seen a newspaper be so arbitrarily vindictive. If the Post would open its eyes, it would see that all the fans understand this too."

I mean really. It's only a matter of time before fans are just locked out of games, they're blacked out on TV, and the PR staff comes on the radio to announce that the Redskins won 100-3 on Sunday and are 16-0.

Posted by: ThisGuy | October 28, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

"I thought Dan Snyder had a degree in marketing?"- Section506

Nah..Lil' Danny is a dropout from U of Md.

And you can tell that Lil' Danny and Co. are not yet on the 12 step program...Step 1 being recognizing you have a problem. They are in denial mode, big time.

You'd think they'd take a clue from Teddy Leonsis on how to run a successful franchise.

Ovi rulez. :0)

Posted by: hawk1009 | October 28, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Just as long as the bad luck of the Redskins does not rub off on the Capitals, we should be good. =)

Posted by: LeftCoastCapsFan | October 28, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

You all forget lawyers lie. Thats what Snyder is paying this ambulance chaser for.

Danny Snyder hasn't made a decent business decision since he lost the guidance and counsel of his Daddy's friends! How is 6 Flags and Johnny Rockets doing? Zuckerman does he answer the phone when Dan calls?

And come on even he did graduate Umd would it have made a difference?

Posted by: vaherder | October 28, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Have to agree with Longgoneposter.

This is a meaningless comparison considering the current state of franchises.

Posted by: Yoder-lay-hee-who | October 28, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I dunno . . . "What is the deal with your local newspaper?" sounds exactly how real people talk in the real world. Especially about something so well-known as the Washington Post.

Why, just the other day I walked into a bar and asked the bartender for a "low calorie alcoholic beverage." Then I turned to my fellow patrons and inquired, of nobody in particular, what they thought of our local professional football franchise. "What is the deal with the gentleman calling the plays on offense?", I asked.

Posted by: simpleton1 | October 28, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse


I said the exact same thing in the previous bog entry. It's getting creepy...

Posted by: VTDuffman | October 28, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Other teams don't get coverage like this; the BUCS, CHIEFS, and RAMS. I lived in Tampa for the last 3 years and they don't get this coverage b/c nobody there cares about the team. We LOVE OUR TEAM so expect some accounting for your crap product, Snyder.
The fact that the Front Office cites to good attendance on MNF as the fans supporting the operation just makes you realize that those of us who attend all the games are being punished for sticking with our team.

Posted by: jtheisman | October 28, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Yoder-lay-hee-who sez: "This is a meaningless comparison considering the current state of franchises."

I'd just point out that when the Caps were, in fact, basement dwellers during the post-lock out period, I do not remember seeing similiar issues. I never recall Leonsis being anything but straight up regarding rebuilding the team. He took lessons learned to heart (i.e. the Jagr debacle). I never recall Ted engaging in a concerted effort to silence criticism by fans or media (i.e. Hanlon's final stand/stint as coach and the "Fire Hanlon" chants at games.), although I will admit that the Caps never got the extent of media coverage the 'Skins do in this town.

Compare that with Lil' Danny and his spawn who attempt to bend reality, control the message and, as was pointed out, engage in 1984'ish thug tactics to silence/minimize it WaPo or the fans. Lil' Danny never forgets a mistake...that's how he is able to keep repeating them over and over.

The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result...that about sums up Danny and his spawn.

Posted by: hawk1009 | October 28, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

"although I will admit that the Caps never got the extent of media coverage the 'Skins do in this town."

'nuff said.

Posted by: Yoder-lay-hee-who | October 28, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Great post.

Posted by: sitruc | October 28, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

So please explain how "extent of media coverage" explains your statement: "This is a meaningless comparison considering the current state of franchises."?

Fact is the Caps were in a state as bad as, if not much worse then, the current situation with the 'Skins, but didn't see the need to indulge in the tactics currently being practiced.

Posted by: hawk1009 | October 28, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Double D is drinking the cool-aid. I was at the game, too. And HALF of the fans in Rows 22-24 of Sec 138 were Eagles fans. My guess prob 25% of the fans at the game were. Yeah, I'm now done with this Sh!tshow. We won't get any truth from these people EVER.

Posted by: DCV1 | October 28, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

State of the franchises includes fan interest/fanbase and the resulting media coverage.

Skins will always be #1 in this town and will always receive the most media attention. Trying to compare how the other franchises deal with the media is meaningless.

None are covered like the Skins. Good times or bad.

Posted by: Yoder-lay-hee-who | October 28, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Yes, but to say there is no merit to what Ted Leonsis said, just because he's the Caps owner and they (the Caps) don't get as much media attention, is disingenuous. Ignore the message because of the messenger? It *is* practical advice. I believe that is the point Mr. Steinberg is making.

And for the COO to lay the franchises problems entirely at the feet of negative press in the Washington Post is silly, at best. All you have to do is read or Hoghaven to see that this isn't just the local's much, much deeper then that.

Posted by: hawk1009 | October 28, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

what do you expect from a paid liar?

he gets paid well by Dannyboy to lie.

this is what our money for tickets and jerseys gets us, a nasty attack dog lawyer bought by Dannyboy to demonize the press coverage, will he insult the fans next? oh wait, he already did.

Posted by: greatteamdan | October 28, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Donovan should be embarassed. Seriously, can the Redskins please just hire a professional to handle public relations?!?! Seriously, get one of the big business spin masters from Lehman, FedEx, etc.

The management at Redskins Park have no one to blame but themselves for the media storm they themselves have created. In a perfect world, the Redskins would be dropped entirely from Post's coverage. I'm sure Snyderatto would love that.

Posted by: WhoSays | October 28, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

@Dan Snyder: SELL THE TEAM!

@Ted Leonsis: BUY THE TEAM!

Posted by: 4-12 | October 28, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

I was home enjoying the game Monday night when I heard something at a Skins home game that I had never heard before.
Late in the game the Skins scored a touchdown.. and the silence was defeaning.
They panned the crowd and all you could see were Eagles fans and empty seats.
It seems most Skins fans left before that TD and why should Eagles fans cheer the "away" team scoring?
I feel for you fans being stuck with in idiot for an owner.
As a life long Orioles fan.. I know the feeling well.

Posted by: OustedSoul | October 29, 2009 6:31 AM | Report abuse

Donovan sounds like H.R. Haldeman during Richard Nixon's last days. It's got to be galling to the Skins that the Caps are now the model franchise in D.C. I went to the Redskins game on Monday and then the Caps-Flyers game on Tuesday. You couldn't find a more different fan atmosphere before, during and, of course, after the game. Winning will always be the key to an organization's success, but so is treating your fans with respect and dignity. Danny Boy should take in a Caps game some time. He might learn something.

Posted by: billieb | October 29, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

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