Hard-Hit Redskin Fans Get No Break From Their Team

Being a loyal fan of the Washington Redskins comes with consequences. Over the past five years, the team has sued 125 season-ticket holders who asked to be freed from multi-year contracts — many of whom fell victim to the U.S. recession. Host Scott Simon talks sports with Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, Lorrie Moore talks about her new novel. But first, time for sports.

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SIMON: The Washington Redskins like to think of themselves as a fierce, tough football team - toward their fans? The Washington Post reports this week that over the past five years, the Deadskins, which is what I like to call them, have sued 125 season ticketholders who asked to be freed from multiyear contracts, including a widow who can no longer afford the seats that her late husband purchased.

Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, joins us. Morning, Howard.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (ESPN): Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Boy, they take no prisoners, do they?

Mr. BRYANT: No, Daniel Schneider certainly does not. No, he doesn't. I thought that was an extremely important story and proud of my former employer for trying to hold the Redskins accountable. It's a very interesting, interesting story.

And I thought one of the things that really struck me about the approach that a lot of these teams have taken and if you - one thing I find interesting in the story was that the Redskins aren't the only team that ends up suing their fan base for nonpayment - is the entire concept of these personal seat licenses, where instead of buying a season ticket package, you are compelled to buy either three, six or 10 years' worth, which is an incredible amount of money, in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

SIMON: Now, we should explain, Redskins general counsel - well, let me call them the Deadskins. I love that nickname. General counsel David Donovan told the Post that the lawsuits are a last resort, that they would like to accommodate people with financial hardships. And the paper apparently reports this morning that they've dropped at least one lawsuit.

But I mean, what are they thinking? Are they indifferent to public opinion?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think it's even more than that. I think that when I was in Washington, one thing that we had been told constantly was that the Redskins had this long and involved waiting list and many football…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: …teams say that. Like, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a 30-year waiting list. Well, if you have a waiting list that long for people who want your tickets, why would you sue someone for nonpayment when there are other people who are waiting to take over those season ticket packages?

SIMON: Or are the teams plumping up those - are the teams making a representation that - the way newspapers used to plump up their circulation?

Mr. BRYANT: Absolutely. And it struck me that there has to be another way. But you know, the other thing that hit me about this, too, is that it really did remind me of the sports equivalent of the housing crisis, where part of me, in reading these stories, is thinking, well, what are you doing taking on $71,000 worth of season ticket packages for a football game?

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: If you cannot afford to go to a football game, then you certainly can't afford to go to 10 years' worth - or commit yourself to 10 years' worth of football games.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: And I think what it is, is that there is an exclusivity to being part of the football league, of the game where the waiting list is so intense and people talk about the exclusivity of getting a ticket, that you feel like you have to do whatever it takes to get in. And there is something about being in that in-crowd, knowing darn well you can't afford it.

And I have to admit that I thought it was extremely ruthless on the part of the Redskins for doing what they've done, and I thought that it was - I don't want to say exactly nonsense - but I didn't buy their excuse that, well, it's only 5 percent or 1percent or one-tenth of 1 percent of our fan base. The fact remains that there are 125 people that you're taking to court, and they're supposed to be supporting your team.

But I also felt that there's a fair amount of responsibility on the part of the fan to not leverage themselves to the point where they could get sued for something as silly as a football game.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Thanks so much, Howard. Talk to you later.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

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