The NFL owners had best be careful.
The league has reached a point of popularity and profitability that can be blinding. It happens to star players and it can happen to leagues as well.
Instead of celebrating a great Super Bowl game and a breakthrough performance by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers or Mike McCarthy’s first Super Bowl ring, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday was left to explain how the big, bad NFL had run out of seats at its crown-jewel event.
A number of sections of temporary seating at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, were not completed in time for Sunday’s game. As a result, more than 1,000 exasperated fans couldn’t sit in the seats they had originally paid for and hundreds were left to stand and watch on television screens inside a club at the stadium.
Goodell took pains to point out that the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was not responsible for the fiasco.
“We put on this event,” Goodell said. “This is a responsibility of the NFL.”
For the Super Bowl, the league takes control of the stadium rent free and the 32 teams — including the host — share equally from ticket sales, concessions and merchandise.
On Monday, Eric Grubman, an NFL executive vice president, called Sunday’s glitch “an installation issue and a failure, a shared failure, and it is as simple as that.”
It provided a perfect ending to a strange week of unexpected blizzards and miscalculations by the usually precise NFL.
The more troubling aspect is that fans should have been — and could have been — notified earlier. The league was racing against time and lost. You can disrespect fans only so much before they turn on you. A few more episodes like what happened in Arlington, coupled with a nasty lockout and the newly fashionable personal seat licenses, and the NFL empire could begin a decline in popularity.
Goodell said fans who were left without a place to sit on Sunday would be given tickets to next year’s Super Bowl; they were already offered refunds of triple the face value of their ticket.
However, the issue is not one of making amends, is one of having respect for the fans and their bank accounts, and for the players who the fans religiously come to see play.
The truest part of the NFL enterprise is what took place on the field on Sunday night, and by extension what takes place every Sunday during the season.
Players give fans their money’s worth by playing their hearts out. They make honest mistakes — they drop balls, miss blocks and miss tackles. However, the effort is honest. That’s what fans pay for.
Trying to shoehorn 105,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium and scrambling at the last minute to finish is unlike the NFL and contains a large dose of greed.
Must you inhale every nickel? Must you charge US$200 for fans to stand outside the stadium and watch on large screens?
Grubman said the league knew in the middle of the week that there was a possibility of a problem.
He said the fans who could not be given seats were not contacted sooner “because of the uncertainty of the situation.”
Had fans been told in advance that their seats were no good, there may have been protests or lawsuits filed. Better to let them make their pilgrimage to Arlington and then sort it out on the fly.
“We would have made the call to begin moving those fans and notifying them had we known earlier in the week that we were definitely not going to have them,” Grubman said. “But our objective was to accommodate all our fans safely and in comfort and to have them not have to think about anything other than watching that game.”