It wasn’t the National Football League’s priority to break a Super Bowl attendance record in Arlington in 2011, Commissioner Roger Goodell says in a taped deposition, but the 13,000 extra seats installed by the Dallas Cowboys were projected to bring about $26 million more in revenue than the previous year’s big game.
As part of a lawsuit against the NFL, jurors at the Dallas federal courthouse heard the second half of Goodell’s taped deposition Thursday about the botched installation of those temporary seats, which left some fans with obstructed views of the field and about 400 of them with no place to sit at all during the Feb. 6, 2011, game.
Seven fans affected by the seating fiasco filed the federal suit against the NFL, saying that the league breached its contract with ticket holders and that previous settlement offers failed to fully compensate them for thousands of dollars worth of Super Bowl-related expenses they never would have incurred had they known they wouldn’t have a seat at the stadium. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is expected to testify on Tuesday.
Although Goodell said he was aware of Jones’ desire to smash previous Super Bowl attendance records, he didn’t believe that was a factor in the temporary seating not being completed on time by the contractor, Seating Solutions. Goodell also said Jones wanted to announce one large attendance number, including fans on the plazas outside the 80,000-seat stadium, but Goodell said the league announced the 92,000 tickets sold and 12,000 credentials issued.
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“I know he had an interest in that. We always made it clear that we were going to announce the actual numbers,” Goodell said in the deposition, taped in 2013.
“At no time was there any intention or any desire to add seats to break a record,” he added.
Goodell said that it was the NFL’s responsibility for producing a safe, satisfactory event for fans but that no one with the league was fired or disciplined for not guaranteeing that thousands of seats that had been sold were actually ready.
While Goodell said he believes that a “vast majority of people in the stadium thought it was a great event,” the league failed roughly 2,800 fans because of the incomplete seating sections. A majority of fans were assigned new seats, but some were relocated to areas with restricted views of the field, and about 400 fans had to watch the game on TV screens while standing in clubs located below field level.
“For the people who didn’t see the game and had a ticket, that was a failure,” said Goodell, who added that he was not aware on game day that some fans were moved to seats with obstructed views. “We did not deliver. We have identified that, taken that responsibility and worked hard to try to address it.”
Two of the disgruntled ticket holders, Robert Fortune and Ken Laffin, took the stand Thursday.
Laffin said he spent more than $9,000 on Super Bowl-related expenses, including travel from Wisconsin to Arlington, that he wouldn’t have if he knew he wasn’t going to get a seat in the stadium. Laffin, who owns an auto repair facility, is seeking reimbursement for those expenses, which include $2,500 in lost pay.
“I never would have left home,” said Laffin, a Packers fan whose seat was among those not completed.
Fortune, a Steelers fan who came to the game with his wife, said he is seeking about $7,100 in reimbursement for Super Bowl-related expenses, including lost time for work. Fortune said the two seats they purchased for $1,800 were not available and they were relocated to an area with a very limited view of the field. The couple could see one end zone and about 20 yards of the field because of an overhang, a concrete beam and a railing.
“It was really a waste of our time to be there,” Fortune said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked Goodell why he didn’t tell the news media about the temporary-seating problems so fans could be warned. An email sent to Goodell the night before the game said up to 3,000 seats were ready. About 2,500 seats remained “a risk” for not being complete, Goodell learned the next morning shortly before he did a TV interview.
“We don’t know how many fans were going to be impacted, if any fans were going to be impacted,” Goodell said on why he didn’t reveal the problems to media.
The game at Cowboys Stadium, now AT&T Stadium, was projected to be a bigger money-maker for the league than previous years, court documents showed.
Ticket sales for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa generated $62.6 million in revenue for the NFL, while Super Bowl XLIV in Miami brought $67.9 million in revenue, according to a commissioners’ briefing document from January 2011. Ticket sales for the North Texas Super Bowl were projected to bring in more than $94 million.
The league’s net profit was $2.3 million for the Tampa Super Bowl, $7.5 million for the Miami Super Bowl and a projected $28 million for the North Texas Super Bowl. Actual ticket revenue and net profits for Super Bowl XLV were not disclosed Thursday.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639