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Let’s Remember Dan Snyder’s Six Flags Disaster

Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles’ sad Sunday Night Football surrender gifted the Washington Football Team a rare playoff berth, and gave WFT owner Dan Snyder another week to not be the franchise’s top story. 

When the season ends the focus will doubtless go back to Snyder, possibly the world's worst owner and definitely the world’s most consistent man. The WFT’s on-field successes this year muted the impact of Snyder’s latest and potentially ugliest scandal yet. The Washington Post, which has been lobbing newsy bombshells at Snyder with wondrous and brutal regularity lately, broke the news in late December that an ongoing NFL investigation of the owner found he had paid a former female employee of the team $1.6 million in 2009. The payment came after she’d leveled what was termed in court papers as “a serious accusation of sexual misconduct” against him. The incident occurred on a flight in Snyder’s private jet from Las Vegas after the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards. 

That event seems out of the WFT owner’s bailiwick at first blush. But Snyder really was an awards show mogul at that time. And, on a related and equally oddball note, he was also a thrill-ride mogul: The ACM Awards were just one of several big shows produced by dick clark productions (lower case theirs), a Hollywood firm that Snyder got control of in 2007 through a complicated and dubious transaction in which he commingled cash from Red Zone Capital Management, a private equity fund he controlled, with assets from Six Flags, the theme park chain for which he became chairman of the board from 2005 to 2010. He'd secured the lofty position by leading a revolt of Six Flags stockholders.

As things turned out, Snyder's coup of Six Flags leadership was the only thing about his Six Flags tenure that was successful. He ran the already troubled company completely into the ground and was booted out as chairman in 2010 during bankruptcy proceedings. Everything he did at Six Flags went to hell and deserved to. I’d never given a rip about Wall Street or money matters before Snyder took over Six Flags, but followed his reign of error there with awe from start to finish. And I’ve always felt he never got the public comeuppance he deserved for the disasters inflicted on the company and its stockholders on his watch. Snyder has not admitted to any wrongdoing on the flight that led to his reported seven-figure settlement with the accuser. But to have a misdeed crawl out from his theme park wreckage after all these years and cause Snyder such distress seems karmic as all get out.

Snyder’s Six Flags stewardship is probably worthy of a book, but let's dust off a few lowlights from his time there: In October 2005 Snyder got his hostile takeover started by sending Six Flags stockholders a memo urging them to throw out the board of directors then in place. In the missive he ranted that Six Flags investors would have done better financially "by hiding their money under a mattress" than by buying stock in the company under the current leadership. Snyder's pitch, mattress visual and all, worked as well as he'd hoped. The existing Six Flags board was removed just as he'd urged, and he took over as chairman. As Six Flags boss, he would make a bedmaking company called Anatomic Global the “official mattress” provider of Six Flags. Yes, an official mattress for a theme park. The mattresses were actually available for purchase at Six Flags, with an Anatomic Global queen size going for $1,299.

Snyder put Harvey Weinstein on the Six Flags board

He fired the Six Flags mascot, Mr. Six, and tried out a racist campaign in which a generically Asian character screamed, “More flags, more fun!” in a generically Asian accent. Actors who auditioned for the role said they were told to “emulate Charlie Chan,” leading the Chicago chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League to complain. The “More flags, more fun!” commercials went away and, like Joe Gibbs had done for Snyder’s football team, Mr. Six came back for a second stint with Six Flags. 

He oversaw the launch of Rollercoaster Cuts, what was supposed to be a national chain of Six Flags-themed haircutteries with boutique-priced haircuts for kids. As originally billed, the chain would offer “multi-sensory haircutting experience for kids of all ages" in which customers would get cuts with names including The Glammy, Zoink, Big Kapow and Blama Jama, and cost up to $50, while watching videos of Six Flags rides. Believe it or not, America wasn't ready for such a chain: The rollout of Rollercoaster Cuts ended after outlets were briefly open in Hartford, Conn., and King of Prussia, Pa.

The price of Six Flags stock tumbled further with every dumbass move made with Snyder in charge. Anger among stockholders ensued. Officials with Resilient Capital Management, a fund that had about $30 million invested in Six Flags when the company went bankrupt, sued to have Snyder removed from the board of directors in part because of the mingling of Red Zone holdings and Six Flags stockholders capital in buying dick clark productions for $175 million in 2007. Resilient Capital also pointed to the virtual self-deal Snyder made in establishing a licensing pact between Six Flags and Johnny Rockets, a hamburger chain Snyder owned through Red Zone Capital, that put Johnny Rockets outlets at Six Flags parks. A Reuters report on the bankruptcy case said lawyers for Resilient called the deal to buy dick clark productions evidence that Snyder had “treated Six Flags as a marketing catapult for Red Zone investments.”

Bill Gates had a reported 10,210,600 shares of common stock in Six Flags, which was worth about $122 million when Snyder took the reins of the company. By the time Snyder was defrocked, that investment was worthless. “Bill Gates gives away more money than anybody, and his main cause is malaria,” Lance Laifer, a Six Flags investor through Resilient Capital who’d also founded a group to fight the mosquito-borne disease called Hedge Funds Vs. Malaria, told me as Six Flags stock sunk to valuelessness. “That was money that could have gone to save kids from malaria.”

Six Flags filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections in June 2009, just two months after Snyder's now-scrutinized trip to the 2009 ACM Awards where the alleged sexual harassment occurred.

In 2010, the bankruptcy court approved a reorganization plan that called for the formation of a new board, and specified that all members of the former board were eligible to be reappointed as a director, “provided, however, that such remaining director shall not be Daniel M. Snyder.” Ouch.

After getting that brutal boot, Snyder issued a statement through his football team claiming that he was not interested in sticking with the theme park chain any longer anyway., citing "other business commitments."

Snyder’s extensive bio on the Washington Football Team website makes no mention of Six Flags.

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