SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Events and Attractions

Dallas’ future big game hopes get cool response

With a taxi strike and an ice storm, followed by snow and more snow, and very little local equipment to remove the ice and snow, there was no shortage of talk about the weather and hosting a Super Bowl in and around Dallas. While there were constant assurances from North Texas natives that the weather was a once-in-a-lifetime event for the region, one only needs to recall last year’s NBA All-Star Game, also played at Cowboys Stadium after a single-day-record snowfall, to be convinced that the bad weather wasn’t unprecedented. Consequently, whether and when Dallas will get another Super Bowl was easily the most-discussed issue of the weekend.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he believes Cowboys Stadium is still in line to host another NFL championship as soon as five years hence. Industry consensus was that whether the Super Bowl returns will be the ultimate test of how much influence Jones has in league circles.

“That stadium they haven’t built yet in L.A. will have a Super Bowl before Dallas hosts another one,” predicted Eric Bechtel, founder of Rule 1.02 Marketing. “The reason everyone in the business loves the Super Bowl is that it’s a convention, everyone’s in one place, so you can usually get a lot done. That’s not true when it’s spread out over Dallas, Fort Worth and everywhere in between.”

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There were reports that some fans waited in line for three hours to enter the Super Bowl.
Said Optimum Sports Managing Director Tom McGovern: “Even in good weather there are so many logistical problems there, I don’t see it going back any time soon.’’ McGovern blamed many of the problems on the increased capacity at the stadium for the game. “Ultimately, it is a question of how much is too much,” McGovern said. “I know people who waited in line three hours just to get into the game.”

Naturally, those with local ties were more forgiving. “The ice made getting around impossible for a lot, but I’d tell you that we still had a very successful week,” said Mark Warsop, CEO of NFL trading card licensee Panini America, located in Arlington, the same town where Cowboys Stadium is located. “We’d love to have it back, and the uniqueness of the stadium speaks for itself.”

Added Kern Egan, principal at Dallas-based Richards Sports & Entertainment, “You just hope the region isn’t punished for things way beyond its control. … I’m just happy we didn’t have clients with tickets to those seats they declared unsafe.”

“The transportation issues were substantial enough that you’d think it would be a long time until the Super Bowl comes back,” Tim McGhee, senior vice president for IMG Consulting, said in the lobby of the downtown Sheraton Dallas. “But there’s also this school of thought that they will have to get another chance because so much of this was out of their control.”

Frank Vuono of 16W Marketing said the Super Bowl’s return will take more than the five years Jones is hoping for. “If anything, the problems here were understated,” said Vuono, a veteran of 26 Super Bowls.

“The Cowboys run a great business every game day, so I’m holding the NFL accountable for this,” said Tony Schiller, who heads corporate consulting at Paragon Marketing and was in the area with clients from Thursday to Saturday. “There’s no question it will return to Dallas within five to seven years. You are still talking about one of the most powerful owners in sports and one of the top venues.”

TAILGATE TALE: Early on during Super Bowl week, there was considerable hubbub about the NFL Tailgate party, held annually in the hours before game time just outside the Super Bowl stadium. An invitation was a tough ticket this year even for the well-connected. So severe were the cutbacks on Tailgate tickets allocated to league sponsors that some were buying them on the secondary market, where they were going for $1,000 and up.

Coors got a slap on its way out as a league sponsor after nine years when its allotment of tailgate invitations was cut by 50 at the last minute.

On game day, though, even some of those who did have invitations regretted having them, as an event that normally takes minutes to access took some 90 minutes or more to enter. That didn’t sit well with the crowd of top league sponsors, agencies, media partners and team executives in attendance.

“This is how they are treating their best customers this weekend. Can you imagine if we treated our best customers this way?” said one frustrated NFL sponsor.

Matt Mirchin, senior vice president of sports marketing at Under Armour, said he knew some people who waited in line for two hours, adding that names as big as Academy Award winner Hilary Swank were in the same queue. Another attendee said he felt better after seeing Super Bowl host committee head Bill Lively behind him in line.
 
“It defeats the whole purpose that this wasn’t set up better,” said an exasperated agency executive in attendance. “I come to see as many people here as I can, and now I’ve lost 90 minutes. … That’s beyond frustrating.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the long lines for entrance to the tailgate party were due in part to the later-than-normal opening of the gates. “We delayed the opening of the gates [four of which were closed because of safety concerns related to the ice/snow on the roof] in an attempt to finish the temporary seats,” he said. “We did not live up to the expectations our fans and business partners are accustomed.”

TALKING HEADS: The heads of three major television companies testified on behalf of the NFL last month in the NFL Players Association’s action against the league’s use of media fees, said Gregg Levy, outside counsel to the NFL.

NBC Universal’s Dick Ebersol, CBS Sports’ Sean McManus and Chase Carey of DirecTV each provided testimony during the trial, Levy said, presumably backing up the NFL’s contention that requirements in TV deals to pay the fees even in a work stoppage are standard features of sports media contracts.

The special master who was hearing the case ruled earlier this month in favor of the NFL. The union appealed, and oral arguments are set in Minnesota U.S. District Court for next Thursday. The union is seeking to disallow the league’s use of the funds during a work stoppage.

Each side had five witnesses. The other two for the NFL were TV consultants Neal Pilson and Doug Perlman.
The NFLPA utilized five economic witnesses: Stanford University professor Roger Noll; University of Chicago professor Kevin Murphy; Wharton School professor Thomas Donaldson; former inDemand and USA Network executive Steve Brenner; and Chilmark Partners founder David Schulte.

CBS declined to comment on behalf of McManus. Carey, Murphy, Donaldson and Schulte could not be reached for comment. The remainder confirmed their roles.

The case as of late last week was under seal in the district court because of the confidential nature of the broadcast contracts. It’s unclear if the trial next week will occur in an empty courtroom. The NFLPA’s brief in the matter was due Friday, and the NFL’s is due early next week. The NFLPA has requested a decision by March 3, the last day of the collective-bargaining agreement.

It’s uncertain just how critical the matter is to the NFL, as the $4 billion in media fees at issue are budgeted for use only in year two of a lockout, with a $900 million lockout fund already in place and other capital apparently sufficient for year one (SportsBusiness Journal, Feb. 7-13).

Speaking of the collective-bargaining agreement …

SEMI-SECRET TALKS: When sports labor negotiations get down to the wire, the media gets interested and negotiators hold meetings in some strange places.

The collective-bargaining session held during Super Bowl weekend may take the award for the most unusual and creative locale, as the NFL (led by Commissioner Roger Goodell) and the NFLPA (led by Executive Director DeMaurice Smith) held a formal bargaining session in a ritzy health club on the far end of a 45-acre luxury resort. Goodell and the NFL negotiating team (which included New England owner Robert Kraft and Carolina owner Jerry Richardson) as well as the NFLPA team (with star quarterbacks Drew Brees and Peyton Manning) confounded reporters by using secret entrances and exits to avoid being seen.

The meeting took place on the second floor of the Verandah Club at the Hilton Anatole, a sprawling, more than 1 million-square-foot hotel where NFL executives were staying. The NFLPA contingent, which also included Kansas City guard Brian Waters and former NFL wide receiver Sean Morey — who, along with Brees, are union executive committee members — sneaked into the 80,000-square-foot spa through a hidden, back entrance, one source said.

The owners, meanwhile, who, unlike the reporters had access to the hotels hallways, were able to avoid the dozen or so members of the press through a hotel walkway accessible to hotel guests only. Among the owners and league negotiators seen emerging from the hotel exit about one-tenth of a mile from the health club were New York Giants owner John Mara and NFL labor lawyers Bob Batterman and Levy.

Jeff Pash, NFL executive vice president and chief labor negotiator, was one of the few if not the only member of either labor team to walk through the front door of the health club. Spying SportsBusiness Journal reporters, who were first to find the meeting place and had been kept downstairs by security officers, Pash said, “I guess I am in the right place.”

TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
NFL sponsor Verizon and Cowboys sponsor AT&T vied for attention on the video board.
PHONE HOME: Living through its first Super Bowl as an NFL sponsor, Verizon can’t have been pleased to see that the massive Cowboys Stadium high-def screen hanging over the playing surface was festooned with the logos of rival AT&T, a leading Cowboys team sponsor. Things really got odd when scoreboard enhancements, like replays, were sponsored by the league’s current wireless telecom partner, meaning both logos were on the 11,520-square-foot device simultaneously. Another sponsor conflict to watch at this time next year: Castrol, the league’s newest sponsor, with the game being played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Staff writers Daniel Kaplan, Terry Lefton and Liz Mullen contributed to this report.

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