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Redskins part ways with business-side execs

December 27, 2018

ASHBURN With one game left in a season of setbacks on and off the field, Redskins owner Dan Snyder isn’t waiting until after Sunday’s finale against the Philadelphia Eagles to start another overhaul of his perennially troubled NFL franchise.

Word broke Wednesday that the Redskins have ousted four business executives brought in earlier this year to address the team’s declining attendance woes, falling television ratings and damaged relationship with an angry fan base.

President of business operations and chief operating officer Brian Lafemina, chief marketing officer Steve Ziff, senior vice president of sales and marketing Jake Bye and chief commercial officer Todd Kline are no longer with the Redskins just months after they were hired.

Wednesday’s shakeup came two days after coach Jay Gruden’s Christmas Eve release of starting safety and vocal team leader D.J. Swearinger. The Pro Bowl alternate has regularly questioned the intensity of Redskins’ practices under Gruden, and on Saturday, criticized play calls made by coaches on the sideline during the team’s fifth loss in the last six games.

“Every week was a circus for the last six weeks,” cornerback Josh Norman said.

Earlier this season, the Redskins were 6-3 and looked to be on their way to their first playoff appearance since 2015.

But things fell apart when starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a season-ending broken leg on Nov. 19.

Since then, the Redskins have struggled with one public-relations disaster after another, from the Swearinger comments to the team’s decision to claim troubled linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers just days after a domestic violence arrest. There’s also been an embarrassing social media incident involving linebacker Mason Foster insulting fans, veteran linebacker Zach Brown going public with discontent over his role and the arrest of promising young safety Montae Nicholson after a fight outside a bar near the team’s Ashburn headquarters.

Gruden acknowledged Wednesday the nonstop controversy surrounding the team is not helpful.

“Yeah, obviously you don’t want to talk about that stuff, off-the-field stuff,” Gruden said. “I’d rather talk about the upcoming opponent, which is a very good opponent.”

The team’s decision to move on from Mr. Lafemina and his team of executives was stunning, even for a franchise that, under Mr. Snyder’s ownership, has developed a reputation for impatience with coaches and executives.

The team in May hired Mr. Lafemina, a highly touted executive who was in charge of the NFL’s club business development for eight years, and gave him a newly created title that involved reporting directly to Mr. Snyder.

In a statement announcing the hire, Mr. Snyder said Mr. Lafemina was coming to the Redskins with “fresh thinking and big ideas to implement.”

Upon his arrival, Mr. Lafemina declared he wanted to “grab back” home-field advantage, going as far to acknowledge the team’s self-proclaimed waiting list for season tickets was no longer in effect.

“We want to have the best home-field advantage in the National Football League,” he said in June. “And what that means is having Redskins fans, rabid Redskins fans sitting at FedEx Field every single week.”

But over the course of the season, huge swaths of FedEx Field were either empty or, in some cases, filled by fans of opposing teams.

With one game to go, the Redskins have yet to post a sellout this season. Their home opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 16, coming after an impressive Week 1 road win against the Arizona Cardinals, drew just 57,013 snapping the team’s self-proclaimed 50-year streak.

The attendance woes prompted comments from players including Norman and Swearinger, who criticized fans and specifically cited the team’s lack of atmosphere at home games.

This season, the Redskins have averaged 60,179 fans at FedEx Field.

Lack of interest has hurt television ratings as well. Washington’s last home game a 40-16 blowout on Dec. 9 at the hands of the New York Giants drew just a 14 household rating locally. The Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game later that afternoon, the second half of a Fox Sports doubleheader that day, drew a 19.8 in the same households.

Mr. Lafemina and his deputies, however, knew the challenges they were facing. He spoke of transparency and doing the “right thing” moving forward at Redskins Park.

In a meeting with reporters in September, Mr. Ziff acknowledged fans viewed the Redskins as a money-first organization and insisted they were trying to combat that image.

The Redskins overhauled elements of the game-day experience at FedEx Field, installing new pyrotechnics, introducing new food and beverage options and cutting down on 30-second in-game commercial spots.

The team hoped the new features, along with an aggressive marketing campaign geared toward selling single-game tickets, would help lure fans back to FedEx Field and change the perception of the franchise.

“I can’t put a timeline on it,” Mr. Ziff said of winning back the fans. “We’re going to do things right for as long as it takes. ... Hopefully, over time, win or lose, fans will buy into that.”

Whether that happens or not, Mr. Ziff and the other executives sent packing in recent days won’t be around to see it.

⦁ Thom Loverro contributed to this report.

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