The intangible known as reputation

Reputation is an interesting intangible.
Take for example, the case of the Washington Redskins (or as some wits would say, yes, just take them, please). In a recent interview in the Washington Post, John Kent Cooke, son of the former owner Jack Kent Cooke said this about the current owner: “Dan Snyder destroyed the reputation of this franchise.” Now Cooke was the loser in a bidding war with Snyder for the team after his father died, so there may be some “sour grapes” reaction at work here. And Snyder has doubled the value of the franchise from the $800 million he paid for it to an estimated value today by Forbes of $1.6 billion. Snyder has built the franchise into a marketing powerhouse. As Forbes notes:

The Redskins remain the most profitable team in the league, posting operating income of $90 million. FedEx Field has 91,704 seats, the most in the NFL, and even though the team has struggled on the gridiron it is hard to find an empty seat come game time. Premium seating is also a hot commodity in D.C., as the Redskins generated more than $45 million in luxury suite revenue for the Redskins last year, the most in the NFL.

However, Snyder has not produced a winning team, let alone come even close to the glory days many remember under the elder Cooke.

The timing of the Cooke interview is not coincidently, I suspect. The Redskins are off to a dismal season — to such an extent that I recently heard a Washingtonian tell people that he came from a city with no professional football team. In an unrelated WP article, Steven Pearlstein
summed up this situation like this:

What do you call a business that consistently overcharges its customers for an inferior product, hires the wrong people and pays them above-market wages, and yet still manages to be one of the most profitable and valuable franchises in its industry?
Here in the nation’s capital, we call it the Washington Redskins.

(Pearlstein’s piece was on the pending Supreme Court case on the NFL’s anti-trust exemption)

The team may be a moneymaker right now. But I would note that the Forbes article was written about the past — and as the caveat goes, past performance is no prediction of future results. Reputation is built on performance. If a sports team fails to deliver, past reputation will only carry you so far. Yes, there will always be the diehards. But diehards don’t fill stadiums (ask me about the new Nationals baseball park). A story in today’s Post -“As Redskins fumble, some fans are saying, ‘See ya'” describes how some fans are staying home:

In most cities, a few thousand fans skipping NFL games during a bad season wouldn’t be remarkable. But in Washington, the empty seats reported recently at FedEx Field have raised a question long unthinkable in Redskins Nation: Are significant cracks appearing in one of professional football’s most rock-solid fan bases?

So, even if you aren’t a football fan, watch the progress of the Redskins. It may be an interesting case study in the nature of the intangible we call reputation.

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