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Volume 20 No. 42

Events and Attractions

The Pro Football Hall of Fame revels in its annual spotlight this weekend, with its enshrinement ceremony and the first preseason game of the NFL season. But the hall has other reasons to celebrate as well: It is in the midst of one of the most financially successful years ever for a sports museum, with revenue hitting up to $20 million this year, according to hall President David Baker.

In addition, ESPN this week is expected to announce that it has signed a new seven-year deal to televise the hall’s annual induction ceremony through 2020, the league’s 100th anniversary season.

ESPN this week is expected to announce a new deal to televise induction ceremonies.

“Besides training camps, this is a really prestigious ceremony that acts as kickoff for the season,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president, programming acquisitions, who added that the network is paying the hall a rights fee for the coverage. As of 2012, the hall had no TV income.

ESPN shares the ceremony coverage with NFL Network, which renewed its deal for the enshrinement program last year.

NFL Network on Friday also will begin a seven-year run of televising the hall’s Gold Jacket Dinner, which is attended by 4,500 guests and honors both the new and past hall of famers. That too carries a rights fee, said Baker, who assumed his position earlier this year.

The hall’s revenue comes from its museum (which has about 200,000 paid visitors annually); the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night, which is the NFL’s first preseason contest of the year; merchandise and licensing; and traveling road shows and fan fests.

Baker, the former Arena Football League commissioner, has grand visions. His ideas include a retail and corporate village around the hall in Canton, Ohio; an officiating and coaching academy; a youth football tournament that is akin to the Little League World Series; and a corporate retreat business.

“Disney has an institute of excellence, and all they have is a cartoon mouse,” he said.

Ten years ago, the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a relatively small enterprise, registering $4.1 million in revenue in 2004. By contrast, the National Baseball Hall of Fame rung up $9.2 million in revenue that year. Baseball’s revenue has fluctuated since then, as it had $8.3 million in 2012, the most recent year for which information was publicly available. More pointedly, baseball’s hall has lost money in eight of its previous 10 years.

The football hall has not lost money in the same reporting years and certainly appears to be riding the popularity of the NFL.

“There was a time when baseball was America’s pastime,” Baker said, clearly suggesting that is no more.
The NFL also has invested its own capital in the hall, which recently completed a $28 million overhaul. Baker is overseeing a $20 million renovation, funded through public and private sources, of Fawcett Stadium in Canton, where Sunday’s Hall of Fame game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills is scheduled to be played. The renovation, which will target safety improvements and fan amenities, is set to begin after next year’s Hall of Fame Game.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has no plans to highlight in its displays the issue of concussions, one of the dominant themes in football the past five years.

Hall President David Baker, whose son, Sam, plays for the Atlanta Falcons, rules out the feature, and he strongly suggested in an interview last week that the reason so many claims have been filed against the NFL on the subject is the league’s deep pockets.

The hall’s David Baker says the NFL’s financial success attracts lawsuits.
Photo by: AP IMAGES

“Let me ask you, the Arena Football League, which I was commissioner of for 12 years: We have got, heck, boards out there that you run into that could cause some concussions,” he said. “How many lawsuits you think we had?”

Asked how many, Baker made a zero sign with his thumb and index finger. He then rhetorically asked the same question of women’s soccer, a sport with a high rate of concussions. When Baker was asked why there were no lawsuits in the AFL, he answered with his own question, asking “[why] there weren’t any in women’s soccer, if you know the statistics.”

When it was suggested the resources of the various leagues were the reason for the difference, he replied, “Yeah.”

There were no AFL lawsuits during Baker’s tenure with the league, though after he left in 2008, a handful of players did file lawsuits against the league. By comparison, more than 4,500 former NFL players have filed lawsuits against the NFL, cases that are consolidated in a single case against the league. A federal judge has preliminarily approved a settlement.

Baker does not disagree that concussions are a problem, and he says he has a unique feel for the subject because his son plays in the NFL and he was commissioner of a league when a player died after a tackle on the field.

“I talked to his parents and his wife,” Baker recalled of the 2005 death of Al Lucas.

“This is an issue I understand, but it is an issue that will be reflected [in the displays] in how the game evolves,” he said. The hall’s displays will show changes to equipment and playing rules, he said.

Baker views his role as promoting and glorifying football, calling himself and his fellow hall officials, “the Knights Templar of the holy game of football.”

“It’s not just about old jerseys and helmets under glass,” Baker said. “It’s about taking the message [of excellence] and sharing it with the world.”