BETHESDA-In a world of big-game hunters, Daniel M. Snyder helped bag the biggest prize of all by playing the sniper.
Of all the big guns trying to buy the Washington Redskins, he was the least known. He hadn’t, like Sam Grossman, tried to buy the Cleveland Browns. He hadn’t, like his eventual partner Howard Milstein or Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, owned a pro sports team. He hadn’t, like John Cooke, learned at the knee of a legend, former owner and Cooke’s late father Jack Kent Cooke.
Instead, Snyder spent his time finding marketing niches for Fortune 500 companies from his home base in Bethesda. Before that, he sold advertising on charts that hang on doctors’ office walls.
With his small, wire-framed glasses and expensive but conservative business suits, Snyder blends into the yuppy landscape of Bethesda. Young and successful, sure, but a participant in the richest team purchase in U.S. history? Not likely.
Yet Snyder, 34, will probably be one of the next owners of the Redskins. He and former New York Islanders owners Howard and Edward Milstein submitted the winning bid to Cooke’s estate for a record $800 million in January. And, pending approval of the deal by fellow NFL owners, the trio will take command of the team and its Landover stadium in March.
One member of Snyder’s communications conglomerate, Arnold Communications head Ed Eskandarian, said he never knew of Snyder’s passion for football. But the suddenness and boldness of the Redskins’ purchase did not surprise him.
Last March, Snyder purchased Arnold, a successful Boston ad agency that created Volkswagen’s “Drivers wanted” campaign, with the same kind of aggressive preemptive bid he used to pick off the Redskins.
“Dan, and I mean this in a good way, has the attention span of a gnat,” Eskandarian said. “He’s a very quick read. It’s `What is it we’re after? How can we do it? Let’s make a preemptive bid.’ That’s how he operates.”
Of the three new owners, Snyder, who did not grant an interview for this story, has maintained the lowest profile to date. Though he had the personal wealth to buy into the richest team sale in U.S. history, few people in the Washington business or political communities knew him or his Bethesda-based marketing company, Snyder Communications, before the Redskins bid.
Snyder is a workaholic, who travels constantly and rarely takes a weekend off, employees and colleagues say. He is married with two children but has said little to reporters about his personal life. In 1996, he became the youngest chief executive on the New York Stock Exchange.
At a meeting with reporters just after the sales announcement, Snyder said the deal was a dream come true and talked of how he loved the Redskins as a teenager. But he had not even owned season tickets before the deal.
Publishing and real estate baron Morton Zuckerman, a longtime mentor to Snyder, was one of the few people who knew his friend was crazy about the Redskins. He also knew the Milsteins were eager to buy an NFL franchise. So he introduced them to Snyder.
“I knew they were both players, and I figured they would have a better chance together,” Zuckerman said.
The day the winning bid was announced, Snyder and the Milsteins talked of how they had hit it off immediately. But Howard Milstein said through a spokesman he will not comment further on his relationship with Snyder until the deal is formally approved.
Snyder’s quick-strike bid on the Redskins seems less surprising after a glance at his rapid rise through the business world. It turns out he has always been able to get what he wants in a hurry.
He dropped out of the marketing department at the University of Maryland without a degree. But Snyder did not drop out to bum around. He had an idea that would link him to Zuckerman and ultimately lead him to success.
Snyder first gained Zuckerman’s attention in 1987 when he was only 23. He needed start-up money for a national magazine called CampusUSA, which would provide a forum for advertisers targeting college-age consumers. Because Zuckerman’s magazine, “U.S. News and World Report,” was known for its annual college rankings issue, Snyder figured the prominent publisher might have an interest in his venture.
Somehow, his letter convinced Zuckerman and his partner, Fred Drasner, to invest $3 million.
“I just thought he had more energy, drive and talent than most people I had known,” Zuckerman said. “I was just glad that he wasn’t going to be a competitor.”
Snyder also convinced his older sister, Michele, to leave her successful real estate career to help him run the business. Two years later, the magazine went out of business. Zuckerman’s $3 million was gone.
But Snyder regrouped and started distributing samples of products like Advil and Kellogg cereals. He also started selling advertising on the information charts that appear in doctors’ offices. Zuckerman and Drasner remained on board and soon their original loss became a solid profit.
When Snyder Communications went public in late 1996, Snyder, who owns about 17 percent of the company, made his fortune. Over the next year and a half, he went on a buying binge, purchasing 17 companies including Arnold Communications. With the new purchases, Snyder Communications became a marketing force in Western Europe and gained a strong foothold in U.S. pharmaceutical marketing, Snyder writes in his most recent message to investors.
Snyder’s aggressiveness, Eskandarian said, has helped Arnold expand farther than it ever could have as a private company. “He lets us run our own business but he has given us the encouragement and financial support to build rapidly,” Eskandarian said.
Snyder Communications stock soared from an opening price of $17 a share to a 1998 peak of $54.18 a share and now rests at $40 a share.
The company now provides full-service marketing for Fortune 500 companies – identifying attractive niches, designing ad campaigns to reach those niches and helping clients close sales. The company particularly wants to attract international clients, having opened offices across Europe and hired hundreds of multilingual representatives in the past two years.
If all of this sounds far removed from football, it is. Which must leave fans wondering what Snyder can bring to the Redskins other than cash. Snyder and the Milsteins have said they did not buy the team for its investment value but because they were eager to run a popular and storied franchise. Sounds a lot like Jack Kent Cooke. But only time will tell how much. -30-