In a taped deposition played for jurors Wednesday, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated that the league, not the Dallas Cowboys, was responsible for temporary seating problems that left hundreds of ticket holders without seats or with restricted views of the field during Super Bowl XLV in Arlington four years ago.
“I’m not blaming others. I’m blaming ourselves. I’m accepting responsibility,” Goodell said when asked by the plaintiffs’ attorney whether the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones’ family should bear some responsibility for the seats not being installed in time for the Feb. 6, 2011, game. “It is our event. It is our responsibility to produce it in a positive way and make sure we deliver on our promise.”
The jury in the federal lawsuit against the NFL saw only a portion of Goodell’s hourlong deposition, recorded in 2013, about how the league handled the botched installation of 13,000 temporary seats at AT&T Stadium, then called Cowboys Stadium. U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn adjourned the hearing at the Dallas federal courthouse early because of the winter weather warning for North Texas.
Seven ticket holders brought the suit against the NFL because they either did not have seats or they had seats with restricted views. The suit says that the NFL breached its contract with ticket holders and that the settlement offers made by the league after the game failed to fully compensate them.
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Goodell’s deposition will continue at Thursday’s hearing, set to begin at 1 p.m. The trial is expected to last through next week.
Jurors also heard from Wisconsin schoolteacher David Wanta, one of the seven plaintiffs. Wanta said that he’s dreamed of seeing the Green Bay Packers in a Super Bowl since he was a kid but that he never would have spent about $6,000 to travel to Arlington for the game if he knew he wouldn’t have a seat. Wanta, who said he paid $1,800 for a ticket with an $800 face value, had to watch the game on the stadium’s video board while standing in a packed club located below field level after discovering the seat he purchased didn’t exist.
“I did not get what I was promised,” said Wanta, who is seeking reimbursement from the NFL.
The Cowboys and Jones were dropped from the federal suit in 2012.
Temporary seating problems
To expand the stadium’s normal 80,000 seating capacity for Super Bowl XLV, the Cowboys contracted with Seating Solutions to install 13,000 temporary bleacher-style seats. But hours before kickoff, Arlington fire officials and building inspectors declared 1,250 of those temporary seats unsafe because of numerous code violations, including missing handrails and guardrails.
The city had told the Cowboys for weeks that the seat construction contractor was behind schedule and had not provided adequate documentation in areas such as structural engineering.
About 3,200 fans were affected. Most were accommodated, but more than 400 didn’t get seats at all.
The plaintiffs argue that the league knew that the temporary-seating contractor was behind schedule for weeks leading up to the game.
In the third day of the trial, the jury was shown several emails between NFL executives, Seating Solutions, and Cowboys and stadium officials from as early as September 2010 that outlined concerns about some seats having obstructed views and the pace of the design and construction for the temporary seating.
One included an exchange between former NFL executive Frank Supovitz and Seating Solutions executive Scott Suprina, who asked for Super Bowl tickets in late January although his company was behind schedule on installation. Supovitz turned him down, replying that he was concerned about a significant number of seats not being ready.
In another email, an NFL executive told his colleagues that he was going to turn a picture of Suprina into a dart board because of his frustration with Seating Solutions’ lack of progress.
The plaintiffs’ attorney asked Supovitz on the stand Wednesday why the league didn’t tell the news media about the seating problem during a press conference at the stadium 10 days before the Super Bowl.
“Our expectation was, and by contract, that all those seats would be installed by game day. That was our expectation,” Supovitz said.
Goodell was also asked why he didn’t warn fans about seating concerns during a news conference just two days before the game. Goodell said he didn’t remember anyone from the news media asking him about it.
“I am there to respond to the media’s questions. I provided answers to the best of my ability,” Goodell said.
The NFL has said that it satisfied its obligations to the displaced fans by offering them the prices they paid for their tickets plus all documented travel, lodging and meal expenses. About 2,800 people who were delayed getting to their seats or were relocated could receive the face value of their tickets or a ticket to a future Super Bowl.
About 434 people who did not have a seat had more options: $2,400 plus a ticket to the 2012 Super Bowl; a trip to a future Super Bowl with airfare and a four-night hotel stay; a check for $5,000; or a check for more than $5,000 with documented expenses.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639