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Volume 21 No. 2
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Owners get close look at passionate fan base

Fox News recently aired a special featuring a focus group interacting with politicians. Usually, such segments have only the focus group individuals, and this move from the norm particularly intrigued one viewer: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Why couldn’t the NFL do that with its fans and have them interact with owners?” Goodell asked himself, according to Frank Luntz.

Luntz, a political strategist who’s advised the NFL and who moderated the Fox group, soon after received a call from Goodell asking him to conduct the same service at the NFL’s annual owners meeting. Believed to be the first group of its kind, the 18-fan panel, Luntz said, resulted in what he described as one of the most amazing experiences of his career. He said the fans’ passion was something he’d not witnessed in any previous focus group. They were not just fans of their teams, he said, but of the game itself.

With business or political focus groups, Luntz said, “[that passion] is almost impossible to see because consumers have so little trust. In politics, it is so divisive.” Other sports also are challenged to meet that passion, he said, because they are “so filled with expectations not met.”

“In football,” Luntz said, “it is the one area where people seem to enjoy the sport almost as much as they love their team.”

“Football matters, and in times of economic distress, it matters more.”
Frank Luntz
moderator of NFL fan panel

Photo by: NEWSCOM
Fans in the focus group said they want more interaction with players and coaches.
Goodell told reporters that the fans on the panel emphasized the integrity of the game, and Luntz agreed. But there were other highlights as well. The fans, queried in front of the owners, wanted to know not just what the league and media thought about player-safety initiatives, but also what players thought, Luntz recounted.

If the NFL does the panel again (and Goodell said he expected to), Luntz said he would ask for a player to participate, along with the fans and head coaches. At this year’s panel, several coaches sat in front of the fans, also facing the owners.

One fan expressed concern about her children playing football because of injuries. Three owners stood up to offer the positives gained from playing the sport, Luntz said.

Also, the fans were unanimous that the in-stadium experience trumped watching the game at home, Luntz said. That sentiment runs counter to the NFL’s concern about deluxe TVs keeping fans stuck on their couches and away from stadiums. That said, these were motivated fans: paid only $50 and who drove from their Florida homes to the meeting in Palm Beach on a workday. Followers of 14 different teams, the fans were found through the NFL’s database.

The fans also want more interaction with players and coaches, Luntz said. The 18 fans were shown a series of football photos, and one overwhelmingly stood out as the favorite: a depiction of The Lambeau Leap. It’s a player immersed in fans, Luntz said, noting the significance.

“Football matters, and in times of economic distress, it matters more,” Luntz said. “In an economic panic, it matters a lot. For these people, football is the only distraction they sometimes have in the challenges of life. That is the reason why even with the lockout you had a great season.”

SUPER SLOW: The NFL will not choose the host site for the highly anticipated 50th Super Bowl until May 2013, said Frank Supovitz, NFL senior vice president of events. Under the traditional spacing the NFL employs in choosing Super Bowls, the selection would have been scheduled for this May, but last year’s lockout delayed the last Super Bowl selection, and that’s slowed the process, Supovitz said. The 2013 game is scheduled for New Orleans, with New York to follow in 2014 and Arizona in 2015.

COMMITMENT TO SHARING?: Al Davis would have shuddered at the thought, but his son is obviously a different man. Mark Davis said he would not rule out his Raiders playing in the new Santa Clara stadium that the San Francisco 49ers expect to move into by 2014. Davis the father, who died in October, stoked the cross-bay rivalry with the 49ers and had ruled out his club sharing a stadium with San Francisco. But when Davis the son was asked about sharing a venue with the 49ers, he cheerfully said he would consider all options. “Anything’s possible,” he said. The Raiders’ O.Co Coliseum in Oakland is considered outdated, and there has even been talk of the club relocating back to Los Angeles. The only NFL teams that share a stadium are the New York Jets and Giants.

QUIET IN CALI: Speaking of California stadiums, don’t expect much in the way of developments in Los Angeles or San Diego any time soon. On the NFL’s lengthy effort to get back to L.A. after having left the market in 1995, New York Giants co-owner and Los Angeles resident Steve Tisch said nothing is happening right now. “There is no ‘latest,’” Tisch said. “It wasn’t really discussed this week.” Meanwhile the Chargers are waiting for the outcome of the November mayoral race in San Diego before proceeding on trying to win approval for a downtown site, said Mark Fabiani, an outside consultant to the club.

SAINTS, COLTS LOOKING AHEAD: It has not been a great offseason for the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, but neither club is suffering greatly on the business side. Dennis Lauscha, the Saints’ chief financial officer, said the club has seen no negative effect from fans or sponsors related to the bounty scandal that has enveloped the franchise. The team is expected to sell out again in 2012. Meanwhile, the Colts, who suffered through a 2-14 season in 2011, added on the loss of Peyton Manning last month. The team’s season-ticket renewal rate has declined to 87 percent, a decade low, but Pete Ward, the Colts’ chief operating officer, said the team has a waiting list representing 9,000 tickets as well as the excitement of having the No. 1 pick in this month’s draft.

JETS SEEKING PRESIDENT: The New York Jets are using executive search firm Korn/Ferry to find a team president. The president will replace the departed Matt Higgins and Thad Sheely, who jointly handled the team’s business affairs. Both left the team after last season. Jed Hughes is the Korn/Ferry executive in charge of the search. There is no timetable for selecting a president.

NAMES AND NOTES: Goldman Sachs is in the wings for the Minnesota Vikings, ready to raise debt for the team if it gets a stadium deal approved by the state. … While his Washington Redskins might be the target of NFL salary cap sanctions, owner Dan Snyder seemed in jovial spirits, and he even did a partial Tebow-ing pose in front of several New York tabloid reporters who were at the meeting while Tim Tebow’s introductory news conference was being held at Jets headquarters.