Cowboys owner in the hot seat during Super Bowl ticket trial

Some sections of temporary seating were closed down by officials for safety reasons at Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Some sections of temporary seating were closed down by officials for safety reasons at Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Star-Telegram archives

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Tuesday said he regretted that some fans missed the 2011 Super Bowl or had obstructed seats, but staunchly denied he was on a personal mission to stuff the stands with fans to set an attendance record.

Jones’ testimony — which was both colorful and comical — came on the seventh day of the federal court trial in which seven Super Bowl XLV ticket holders are suing the NFL for breaking its contract with fans and failing to properly reimburse those who missed part or all of the game.

During his 2 1/2 hours on the stand, Jones repeatedly said he couldn’t recall specific conversations with NFL executives in 2010 and early 2011 about the need to surpass the record attendance of 103,985 at the 1980 Super Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

At one point, when asked if he had compared fans' appetite to a “shark hitting red meat ... however many we print people will buy,” Jones replied, “I don’t recall saying it but it’s a true statement.”

Jones also acknowledged wanting to break the record as a matter of professional, if not personal, pride.

“I was very sensitive as to how it (attendance) was announced because of pride in the stadium,” Jones testified. “We want the stadium to represent a great place for fans to come see a game. It is commonplace for the media to talk about stadiums in the vernacular of attendance. That creates credibility. You want credibility. The last thing you want is to be discredited.”

The plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, unveiled a trail of emails among NFL executives that seemed to show a hyper-awareness on the part of the league to add 13,000 temporary seats to Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium).

Attendance at the 2011 Super Bowl wound up being 103,219 — just short of the record — after about 1,250 temporary seats were declared unsafe by the Arlington fire marshal’s office hours before the Feb. 6, 2011, game.

The trial, which began last week, is expected to wrap up with closing arguments Wednesday, followed by jury deliberations.

Jones on the hot seat

The Cowboys and Jones were initially named in the lawsuit, but were later dropped.

Still, central to the case is the plaintiffs’ assertion that the company hired to install 13,000 temporary metal seats inside gaps in the stadium’s seating bowl had a cozy relationship with the Cowboys.

Although the NFL is responsible for organizing and managing Super Bowls, the Cowboys’ preferred seat installer, Seating Solutions, was used in the 2011 game. In the weeks and days leading up to the big game, NFL executives grew increasingly frustrated as Seating Solutions fell behind in the work and ultimately failed to complete it.

Jones’ testimony Tuesday was the highlight of the trial and featured an intense back-and-forth between Jones and Avenatti.

At one point, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn scolded both Jones and Avenatti and asked them to stop interrupting each other. She also politely stopped Jones’ rambling statements on several occasions, asking him to simply answer the plaintiff’s yes-or-no questions.

Jones smiled during most of the testimony, and gestured with his hands as he spoke, making constant eye contact with the seven women and one man on the jury.

At one point, Avenatti belted out, “Is it fair, Mr. Jones, that fans traveled from all over the country, and not get their seats?”

Jones replied, “What I’m going to say is, I regret that, if that happened.”

Among other comments during Jones’ time on the stand:

▪ Jones said that son Stephen Jones slept at the stadium the night before the Super Bowl to oversee the last-ditch efforts to install the temporary seats.

▪ Jones asks the judge, “Can you read back what I said?” Judge declines to do so.

▪ Judge told Jones and Avenatti that “when I started talking you both stop talking.”

▪ Jones to attorney, after being accused of contradicting himself: “You are funny. Of course I don’t want to change my testimony.”

Other Tuesday testimony

Also testifying Tuesday was NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman, who said that while the NFL is ultimately responsible for the seating fiasco, he didn’t personally try to step in and get the temporary seats put up in time.

“I was watching. I was asking questions,” Grubman said. “But I wasn’t inspecting the seats for safety. I can’t do that. I have to rely on them.”

But Grubman did say that based on what he was hearing from colleagues at the NFL about the problems with temporary seats in Arlington, Seating Solutions owner Scott Suprina “didn’t seem to care.”

To illustrate the NFL’s feverish attempt to get more fans in the stands for the 2011 Super Bowl, plaintiffs introduced into evidence a Nov. 4, 2010, email from former NFL executive Frank Supovitz to Grubman warning the Cowboys were falling short of the number of Super Bowl tickets they promised would be sold in North Texas’ bid for the game.

“I am not trying to be a pain in the neck, but to get to 100,000 people he (Jones) needs 12,000 more SROs (standing room-only seats) and 16,000 SROs to beat the record,” he wrote. “I will try to accommodate whatever I can in terms of SROs, but there is no way we can get that many more people into Cowboys Stadium. I may be able to get 1,000 in the stairwells.”

Jones also acknowledged at one point that he wanted to sell standing-room-only “Party Passes,” which are commonly sold for those willing to stand in the end zones to catch an affordable glimpse of Cowboys regular-season games. But Jones said NFL executives rejected the idea, instead favoring the installation of what wound up being 13,000 temporary seats.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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