'Skins boss heads west

ASHBURN, Va. — ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder strolled the sidelines at his team's training camp like the boss at a company picnic.

As floodlights bathed the field one recent night and the sticky summer air cooled, he chatted with coaches and team executives. But when the scrimmage heated up, so did Snyder.


He moved quickly in his Redskins polo shirt and khaki pants, angling for a clear view through a crowd of players. A long touchdown pass brought a roar from several thousand fans. Snyder nodded his head in approval and then clapped along with them.

Now, Snyder is hoping to score again. This time it's with his new passion, Hollywood, where he's come off the sidelines to enter what is often a risky game for outsiders. His business playbook includes making such TV shows as The Golden Globes through Dick Clark Productions, financing Tom Cruise's production company, control of Six Flags Inc. theme parks and ownership of Johnny Rockets restaurants. As he spoke about his investments, Snyder said Hollywood wasn't so different from professional football.


"People have the passion to watch sports, to watch entertainment, movies, to go to a concert," said Snyder, 42, whose boyish looks and easy laugh temper a relentless ambition. "Why do you buy tickets to a concert? ... Because it's a passion."

To help assemble his companies, Snyder formed a $748 million private equity fund, RedZone Capital, in 2004 to invest in entertainment properties after becoming familiar with the industry through his work on the National Football League's broadcast committee. Snyder has tapped less than half of the fund and said he planned to be "extremely acquisitive."

Some analysts have speculated he is trying to emulate Walt Disney Co., which has a variety of family entertainment properties. Although Snyder said Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger has "America's coolest job," he insisted he's just trying to be "opportunistic."

"I've never in my life had a 10-year business plan," Snyder said at RedZone's corporate offices in nearby McLean, Va. "I'm a college dropout."

From that unlikely beginning, Snyder built a marketing company he sold for $2.3 billion in 2000. He led an investment group that bought the Redskins for $800 million in 1999.

Known as a brilliant marketer and hands-on executive, Snyder has turned the team into one of the nation's most valuable sports franchises, worth an estimated $1.4 billion last year, according to Forbes magazine.

But although the Redskins are a cash machine, with aggressive product tie-ins and corporate sponsorships, the team's high-priced roster has underachieved. So the question arises: Can Snyder thrive in Hollywood, another arena where big money and big names don't always equal success?

Next media mogul?


"Everyone wants to be the next media mogul," media analyst Harold L. Vogel said. "It's not easy."

Redskins fans gripe that Snyder has splurged on big-name players who were past their prime. Some might put Cruise in that category after Mission: Impossible III disappointed and Cruise was lampooned for such antics as jumping on talk-show host Oprah Winfrey's couch.

Snyder had told Creative Artists Agency, which represents Cruise, that he was looking for investment opportunities in Hollywood. And one arose when Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner M. Redstone cut film-development ties with Cruise last summer, mentioning the star's erratic off-screen behavior and declining box-office allure.

Snyder swooped in. Through another partnership, First and Goal, formed with Six Flags chief executive Mark Shapiro and Virginia homebuilder Dwight C. Schar, he agreed to finance the overhead for the production company Cruise runs with Paula Wagner. The deal is for about $3 million annually for at least two years.

"In life you bet on people," Snyder said. "You say to yourself you're looking for winners, and Tom Cruise is a winner."

Snyder said he and Cruise, who both have young families, have become friends. Shortly after the deal was announced, Snyder invited Cruise to a Monday Night Football game in Washington, preceded by an after-hours trip for their families to a nearby Six Flags park. They have visited each other's homes, and Snyder and his wife, Tanya, attended Cruise's wedding to Katie Holmes last fall in an Italian castle.


Cruise also was Snyder's guest at the Super Bowl in Miami in February. The day before the game, Snyder borrowed a couple of helicopters from Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga and flew his entourage to Schar's Palm Beach, Fla., estate for a touch football game. Cruise played quarterback.

"Cruise was the MVP of the game," Snyder said as he showed a book of pictures Schar had sent him. "Cruise scored three touchdowns; the other team only scored one. Our side won."

Shapiro said the personal relationship that Snyder, Schar and he developed with Cruise helped seal the deal.

"From a business perspective, Tom Cruise is a strong brand," Shapiro said. "And Dan Snyder believes in investing in strong brands."

Snyder said he was looking for undervalued entertainment brands that he and his partners could improve.

Dick Clark Productions, which RedZone acquired for $175 million in June, has an extensive video library of live music performances from American Bandstand by groups such as the Rolling Stones. Snyder wants to digitize them for delivery to iPods and cell phones.


It's been more difficult at Six Flags. After he took control of the company, the stock soared about 50 percent to a high of $11.51 in early 2006. But poor earnings reports since then have sent shares falling to about $4.

Shapiro said the company was on track in its turnaround plan based on making the parks more family-friendly. Six Flags recently announced record-high approval ratings from park visitors for the second straight month.

A big movie fan, Snyder said he was considering film projects, but only if he owns them. He's keen on digital rights - among his targets are film and music libraries - and owning projects is one way he's trying to avoid becoming the latest "dumb money" to hit Hollywood.

"You have to be cautious," Snyder said. "You always hear these stories of people who go out to California and they finance movies and they walk away with nothing - because they financed movies, they didn't own them."

Snyder didn't grow up wealthy. He tried college but dropped out, wanting to run his own business.

First he arranged spring break trips for college students. Then he started a magazine for the college crowd, using persistence to get Mortimer B. Zuckerman, real estate magnate and publisher of U.S. News & World Report, to lend him some of the startup money.


The magazine failed, but Snyder was undaunted. He started a marketing company in 1985. This time, his business took off. Snyder Communications Inc. pioneered the distribution of product samples to new mothers at hospitals and other direct marketing. When the company went public in 1996, Snyder at 31 became the youngest person to head a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

"Dan's story is one of hustle, hard work and basically being as aggressive as anybody you've ever known," said Michael T. Moe, chief executive of investment bank ThinkEquity Partners, who has known Snyder for more than a decade. "He is a guy that people tend to either love or hate."

Snyder was one of the first NFL owners to pursue corporate sponsors aggressively. He showed his creativity and attention to detail by pioneering the use of video screens during televised team news conferences to easily display sponsor logos.

'Fans don't care'

"Their marketing prowess is exceptional," said David M. Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. "But fans don't care how much money he's making. What they want to do is be lining the street waiting for the championship parade."

Despite consistently boasting one of the NFL's top payrolls, the Redskins have a 59-69 regular-season record under Snyder.


"I think he thought he could come in and spend money and people would be happy. But he spent money foolishly," Andy Pollin, a longtime Washington sports radio host, said of Snyder. "And that's maybe where he's failed. He thinks too much like a fan and not like an owner."

As he roamed the sidelines at Redskins training camp, Snyder looked like both. Although he's based in Virginia, Snyder is watching his entertainment properties with nearly the same scrutiny that he gives his quarterbacks.

"We will win because the effort will be there," he said, "and the same thing goes in business."

Jim Puzzanghera writes for the Los Angeles Times.