No, it has nothing to do with my team’s name. It’s the increasingly unpleasant stadium experience—a profanity-laced keg party in the upper deck—that drove me back to the couch
By Joel Fowler
It’s a question that haunts me to this day: “So, Mr. Fowler, how can the Washington Redskins retain you as a season-ticket holder?”
I had missed the renewal deadline following the end of the 2010 NFL season, but I didn’t think anything of it. I made my decision based on my game-day experiences over the previous four seasons. How do I summarize to this ticket agent that the NFL I assumed I was going to experience compared miserably to the product I actually received?
I have loved professional football for as long as I can remember. Growing up in central Kentucky in the 1980s, I developed a bond with the Cincinnati Bengals. My father’s company had season tickets, and if a prospective client had a kid who wanted to go, I got to tag along. Whether the Bengals won or lost, I always had a great time at those games because I was there with my dad. I just remember the smile on his face. If I ever had a son, I knew I would want to share this same experience with him.
Flash forward to 2000. My wife and I have moved to Alexandria, Va., for my job. A co-worker asks me if I’d like to attend Washington Redskins’ training camp. Sure—why not? I still love the NFL. At the camp they have a table promoting their season-ticket waitlist, so I sign up.
Years pass. In October 2006 our son, Brandish, is born. Ten months later I get the phone call I’d hoped to receive one day: “Mr. Fowler, your wait is over! We have general admission seating for you.”
Since signing up, I had started to dread the sight of the Redskins' ticket-office number on my caller ID, fearing that they would only be offering the über-expensive club-level seating that we simply could not afford. But that was not the case. In fact, the agent wasn’t even offering nose-bleed end zone seats. This pair of tickets was located in Section 424, on the 20-yard-line. I can only sum up my feelings at that moment in one word. Perfect.
My son is born in the middle of a NFL season—during the Redskins' bye week no less—and the very next season I get the tickets I’d always wanted to have for him? It was kismet.
* * *
Unfortunately, our actual game-day experiences were far from perfect. In that first year things were fun and exciting, but we faced two sunk costs that no NFL fan can escape: time and money.
With attendance creeping over 80,000, our drive to Landover, Md., normally a half-hour, could take between two and three hours before we got to a parking spot. The Metro train would be quicker, but hauling an infant and all of his necessities the one mile from the closest station to the upper-deck seats was impractical. (Side note: When informed of the league’s new “clear bags only” policy for this season, my wife’s reaction was, “Well, that stops new moms from going to games. How are you gonna fit all the stuff you need for your baby in that small bag?”)
The tickets were not cheap, with a pair of upper-level seats running me more than $1,500 for the season. While that can be a manageable cost for a family with two incomes, the Redskins don’t make it easy, offering payment plans only for their premium tickets. If you don’t have the extra cash lying around, your credit card company will get that interest.
Game-day expenses can add up too: $30 for parking, $10 for a small pizza, $5 for a soda. But for parents like me, the real expense comes with late games, when you need to hire a babysitter at $15 an hour. Not only do these Sunday, Monday, and now Thursday nighters rob my son of the chance to attend the game, but they take an extra $100 from my wallet. Numerous times, my wife and I decided that we would be more fiscally responsible by skipping the fourth quarter than by waiting until end of the game, then sitting in three hours of traffic as the babysitting meter ticked.
Still, I expected sacrifices of time and money when signing up for season tickets, and was willing to live with them. What I did not plan for was the lack of civility in my upper-deck section.
For me, the problem began to get serious in Week 3 of the 2008 season. The Arizona Cardinals came to town, and with them a small group of Cardinals fans for whom I’m guessing over-intoxication was a competition. They were loud and obnoxious the entire time. Thankfully my wife and son could not attend this game. I just remember the grimace that crossed the face of the father whose season tickets were next to mine with every vulgarity that his eight-year-old son had to hear. Would that be the look on my face when my son was that old?
The ensuing games were often just as bad. Home and visiting fans alike made my seats more like prime viewing at a keg party than the NFL experience of my youth. There was absolutely no filter to the profanity they were using. Believe me, I’m no prude, but around my children and other people’s kids, I strive to be. It’s my belief that children should learn cursing the old-fashioned way—on the playground from their friends.
Fans of divisional opponents were often the worst offenders, to the point where I didn’t even want to attend games against the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants. With the advent of StubHub, Craigslist and other resale sites, season ticketholders could easily double their money from visiting NFC East fans, and many in the cost-conscious upper sections took advantage of the opportunity.
The tipping point for my decision not to renew came in the opener of the 2010 season, a Sunday night game against the Cowboys. In the middle of the second quarter, nature called and I needed to visit the restroom. As I was walking down from my 15th row seat, a young lady pointing to her pink Tony Romo jersey was blocking the row as her team was driving down the field. I asked her nicely if I could get by, but that just made her clutch the jersey harder and push it toward my face. As I raised my voice in an effort to make her understand my situation, an extra from the cast of Swamp People in a Jason Witten jersey popped up.
“Hey, you gotta problem, buddy?” asked Mr. Bleary Eyes.
“Um… yeah… I want to get out.”
Home and visiting fans alike made my seats more like prime viewing at a keg party than the NFL experience of my youth.
Apparently to him, them’s fightin’ words. As he approached me in my burgundy LaRon Landry jersey, Ms. Pink Romo finally got out of the row to try to settle her man down, and I passed by.
“Stop! It’s not worth it!” I heard her say as I walked away.
But Swamp Witten kept following me. As I reached the mezzanine, his girlfriends’ clutching arms and desperate words finally registered in his addled brain, and they returned to their seats.
Now, I was not afraid. I stand over six feet and weigh 280 pounds. The guy was drunk, and a strong wind could have knocked him over. But I’m a 35-year-old adult, and this was ridiculous. I’ve never had to deal with a drunken fan harassing me in my own living room.
The images from that night flashed in my mind as the Redskins ticket agent asked what it would take for me to keep my season tickets.
“Do you have a family-only or alcohol-free section?” I asked.
“Then I guess you don’t have what it takes.”
* * *
I wondered how many other NFL-loving fathers have to deal with this problem, so I recently called or web-chatted with the ticket offices of all 32 teams to find out. As with many issues in the NFL, this one revolves squarely around money. A vast majority (71%) of NFL teams that have above-average attendance (like the Redskins) do not have family seating sections. A vast majority (73%) of NFL teams with below-average attendance have such sections—presumably to help boost ticket sales.
There are some friends who question my reason for not renewing my tickets. They point out that the Redskins weren’t very good at the time, finishing fourth in the NFC East in each of the final three seasons I had my tickets.
My reply is direct and persuasive: I have also been a loyal season-ticket holder of the Washington Wizards for the past three years. In that time the Wiz went 72-158, a winning percentage of .313, and my son and I couldn’t be happier. Our half-hour Metro ride stops right at the Verizon Center. I pay for our general admission tickets over 10 interest-free months. This coming season the team will host more than 20 games on Friday and Saturday nights, allowing a first-grader to stay up a little past his bedtime while not disrupting school the next day. Most importantly, we’re in a good section with other polite but passionate fans, many of whom consume alcohol but not to excess.
My family still loves the Redskins, and we’re following them through their ups and downs this season. But as far as sporting events go, we give our game-day experiences to the Washington Wizards, and our NFL experience to Panasonic.
Joel Fowler and his wife, Casandra, have three children—Brandish, age 6, Veronica, age 3, and Dax, who was introduced to Redskins Nation on Sept. 16. Unfortunately it was not a Washington bye week.