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SBD/Issue 88/Sports Industrialists
THE DAILY Goes One-On-One With Eagles Owner Jeffrey Lurie
Published January 27, 2005
Eagles Owner Jeffrey Lurie Raises
George Halas Trophy
In ‘94, Boston-born and -bred JEFFREY LURIE bought the Eagles from NORMAN BRAMAN for $185M. At the time, Lurie pledged to build a new stadium and state-of-the-art training facility. Since then, the Eagles have been to the NFL playoffs seven times, including their current streak of four NFC Championship game appearances. In ‘03, Lurie presided over the opening of Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex. In its annual study, Forbes magazine said the value of the Eagles rose more than 30% (to $833M) after one season in Lincoln Financial Field. On the eve of the NFC championship game, Lurie spoke with SportsBusiness Journal New York bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh about life and business in the NFL.
Q: You said, “Football is such a fan sport, and it’s a great sport for TV, but what really makes it such a great sport are the fans. When you forget about the fans, you lose a big part of the sport.” As far as attracting the fans, JERRY COLANGELO said, “The days of just opening the doors and selling tickets are over.” What’s the Eagles’ best new fan initiative?
Lurie: To me, the whole design of Lincoln Financial Field is to create an intimate, close-to-the-action sort of impact view, the best sight lines in the league. Make sure the fans are as close and right on top of the action as possible and, at the same time, give them the best video replay boards in sports. With Lincoln Financial Field, we didn’t create an 80,000-90,000-seat stadium. We’re the fourth-largest market, and we could have done that. But we decided to keep it architecturally intimate - which we felt was 70,000 or under — and at the same time to bring down the huge new state-of-the-art digital video boards, to what actually is a very expensive point of real estate but it’s the best viewing angle for the fans, which is low in the end zones.
Q: Is it true Fenway Park was part of the design model to create a sense of intimacy in Lincoln Financial Field?
Lurie: The philosophy of Fenway Park, where I grew up, was clearly an important part of the design process. It wasn’t to copy Fenway; it was to take the intimacy and the intensity. What you learn from that fan experience is that if you give the fans great sight lines and closeness to the field, you’re going to have one heck of a stadium. Also, unpredictable lines, not linear, like our old stadium, the Vet, and some other new stadiums.
Q: You went from the movies (Chestnut Hill Productions, his film company) to the NFL. What are some ways to bring mainstream entertainment to sports?
Lurie: A realization that sports is a very visual experience. It’s an emotional experience combined with video and audio. In the stadium you’re combining all those elements. If you can maximize emotion, visual and audio experience and camaraderie, then you’re doing what the entertainment industry does with its blockbuster films or its great TV series.
Q: Looking ahead, what do you think a fan’s NFL experience will be like, say, five years from now?
Lurie: That’s always difficult to do, but I think with digital technology the opportunity to have fans interact with each other electronically before, during and after a game certainly will be revved up. You’re going to see people in the stadium but also watching games on cell phones, on portable integrated machines that are accessed to the Internet. You’re going to see a lot of distribution channels than have never been presented to the consumer before. [For example,] a person in Malaysia can walk down the streets of Kuala Lumpur and probably see exactly what the person sitting in Time Warner Center in New York is seeing. There is a chance to expose NFL football to people all over the world.
Q: When you bought the Eagles in ‘94, you said your goal was to make the team a first-class franchise. You said, “Part of that is connecting the fans ... part of it is building a first-class stadium and practice facility.” Would you say mission accomplished on your goals?
Lurie Feels Lincoln Financial Field Integral
Part Of Making Eagles First Class Organization
Lurie: Our No. 1 mission is to win Super Bowls. In terms of the infrastructure or what we can do as a sports franchise: yes. Having a state-of-the-art stadium and practice facility, no question we’ve achieved those goals and they’re a big part of our success. But I never want to lose sight of the goal we share with all of our fans, which is to win championships.
Q: Regarding the construction and financing of Lincoln Financial Field, you said, “Nothing could have been harder than the political process. We had to convince a lot of people that this kind of improvement would attract capital to the city.” How successful has the stadium been in attracting capital to Philadelphia?
Lurie: It’s always a difficult thing to measure, but the excitement level and the demand for people to utilize Lincoln Financial Field, whether as Eagles fans or for other events, is really off the charts. One can only assume that the more people who enjoy and are proud of this new venue can also enjoy all that Philadelphia, as a thriving city, has created, ... which are lots of restaurants and hotels and clubs and shops.
Q: SAL GALATIOTO of Lehman Bros. called NFL franchises the Rolls-Royces of pro sports franchises. What can other pro sports franchises learn from the NFL?
Lurie: There are two things the NFL has managed to accomplish that are really outstanding. One, the game itself is presented in a fashion that is very attractive to not just being in the stadium, but also to television viewers. That creates a nationally popular sport involving franchises that all have a pretty equal opportunity to win. That’s No. 1. Going hand-in-hand with that popularity, though, is a partnership with the players that grants them free agency after a certain amount of time and the opportunity for players and franchises to grow the sport together. There’s a true partnership. The more we grow the sport, the more the popularity is grown, then you’re not haggling over a system; you’re just haggling over what shares of that pot should be established. The NFL has a system of a partnership with its players that works for all sides and it goes hand-in-hand with the popularity of the sport.
Q: You have a Ph.D. from Brandeis in social policy and established Eagles Youth Partnership in ‘96. Tell me about that.
Lurie: It’s really a charitable foundation of the Philadelphia Eagles that we’re very, very proud of. It’s a high priority for our organization. What we do is we have formed an eye mobile and a bookmobile. That’s one of the programs we have. It travels throughout the poorest areas of greater Philadelphia and examines children to see if they need glasses. We provide the glasses or we refer them for surgery or whatever is necessary. Because we found that with children, if you can’t read, you’re going to really be behind in school. If you don’t have access to books, even if you have good eyes, you’re going to fall behind.
Q: JEAN GIRAUDOUX wrote, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” What’s the secret to your success?
Lurie: I would say that it’s surrounding myself with good people and being myself at all times - no faking of sincerity whatsoever. I think that it’s important to be able to attract excellent people.
Q: What is your basic business philosophy?
Lurie: Try to be the best in every aspect of your business. Hire great people, guide them, but let them do their jobs.
Q: What is the best decision you’ve made?
Lurie: Buying the Eagles. [At the time,] I paid the most, I think, in the history of American sports, $185[M], and the rest is history.
Q: What was your biggest challenge?
Lurie: The biggest challenge is not a business challenge; it’s a personal challenge. When you are so emotionally tied up in your work — which I so enjoy, running the franchise, owning the team — [the challenge] is to combine your family desires with your business desires. I have little kids and want to maximize my time with them as well. So, it’s a constant opportunity and challenge to maximize both.
Q: Who was the most influential person in your professional career?
Lurie: RED AUERBACH. A lot of the philosophy of running the Eagles was influenced by growing up in Boston and watching Red’s decision-making and understanding of the functional value when he was building a team.
Q: Do you light up a big cigar after an Eagles’ victory?
Lurie: (laughing) I’m not a cigar smoker, so I didn’t learn that from Red.
Q: What is your favorite piece of music?
Lurie: “For What It’s Worth,” by Buffalo Springfield. My favorite group is The Doors.
Q: What are your favorite movies?
Lurie: “The Great Escape,” “Z” and “Sunshine.” My kids asked me my favorite recent movie, and I told them “School of Rock.”
Q: Who are your favorite actors?
Lurie: ROBERT DE NIRO and AL PACINO.
Q: Who are your favorite actresses?
Lurie: Too many to name.
Q: What are the last books you read?
Lurie: “Eleven Minutes” by PAULO COELHO and “Hegemony or Survival” by NOAM CHOMSKY.
Q: What are your favorite books?
Lurie: “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” by WILHELM REICH and “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by THOMAS KUHN.
Q: What are your favorite vacation spots?
Lurie: Anguilla and St. Barths.
Q: What athlete do you most enjoy watching?
Lurie: BOBBY ORR. I think he almost played a perfect game every time out.
Q: What is your favorite sporting event?
Lurie: The Super Bowl.
Q: What is a typical day off like?
Lurie: Playing with my kids, tennis, movies, golf and my iPod.
Q: What is your favorite TV show?