SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Media

As Super Bowl host, Big D gets an F from network executives

John Ourand
Add media executives to the chorus of people who don’t want the Super Bowl to return to Dallas for a long time.
It’s not about the production of the game or the sight lines at Cowboys Stadium, or anything like that. Those were fine.

It’s about hospitality. Network executives almost unanimously described Dallas as unprepared to host such a big event, particularly after the weather turned.

“The city just isn’t set up to entertain in a winter environment,” said one media executive, who asked not to be identified.

Networks use Super Bowl week to entertain clients that have financially supported league broadcasts. Fox, the host broadcaster, and ESPN each had hundreds of their best advertisers, vendors and cable/satellite operators in Dallas and Fort Worth. The NFL’s other network partners, CBS and NBC, entertained smaller contingents.

Their hospitality plans in Dallas and Fort Worth turned into a fiasco.

GETTY IMAGES     
Dallas is shoveling out from criticism that it was unprepared to handle the Super Bowl.
Each conversation I had in Dallas started and ended with complaints about how the city was handling the event. Several of the executives had been in Dallas nearly a year earlier when a snowstorm caused havoc during the NBA All-Star Game. They were incredulous that the city’s experience then didn’t help it during Super Bowl week.

There are two images that will stick with me for a long time because they illustrate the problems so well.

The first was when I landed on Thursday. Inside the airport terminal, I saw at least five executives toting golf clubs even though the city was suffering through subfreezing temperatures and ice-covered freeways.

The other image is from the next morning, when I woke up to five inches of snow on top of the ice that was already on the ground. I walked outside to see a hotel worker using a garden spade to clear the sidewalk. It would have been just as effective if he had used a broom.

These scenes show that while the NFL’s biggest clients were expecting a warm-weather event, the city was incapable of dealing with problems when the weather turned bad.

The complaints may seem petty, but when the league’s biggest clients aren’t happy, the NFL should take notice.
Fox had to cancel four days of golf outings and, instead, scrambled to send its hundreds of clients skeet shooting and bowling. They set some up at various spas.

That created a level of annoyance network executives didn’t have last year in Miami. It’s a level of annoyance they won’t have next year in Indianapolis, either. They’re not even thinking about golf in Indy or New York, which plays host to the Super Bowl in 2014. They’re expecting cold weather in those markets, and they’re confident those cities will handle cold and snow better than Dallas.

Hospitality fits the weather. In Detroit in 2006, for example, ESPN rented out stadiums to play basketball and showed premieres of Disney movies. Its activities were indoors.

This year, ESPN had rented out the golf course at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth for a corporate outing on Saturday. The snow and ice made playing impossible. Still, they made due. Golf course employees wound up putting heat lamps on the driving range, melting snow on the tee and letting ESPN’s clients hit balls into snow banks.

That’s hardly a corporate event worthy of the Super Bowl.

Media executives also complained about how spread out the Dallas-Fort Worth area is, distances made much longer by the poor road conditions.

ESPN was based in Fort Worth, and the NFL office for the game was in Dallas. Yet some ESPN executives never made it to Dallas for meetings because of the distance and conditions.

Fox hosted hospitality at two Dallas hotels that were just three miles apart, but trying to get from one to the other, given the snow and ice on top of a taxicab strike, took much longer than anyone expected.

Media and sponsor executives aren’t involved in picking the Super Bowl city. Given the amount of money they provide to the league, though, it’s clear they hold sway with the owners who do pick the sites.

My bet is that Dallas doesn’t see another Super Bowl for at least a decade.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Ourand_SBJ.

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