Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will testify Tuesday morning in a lawsuit against the National Football League involving the botched installation of 13,000 temporary seats before Super Bowl XLV in Arlington.
The Cowboys are no longer named in the lawsuit, which was brought by s fans who bought tickets to the Feb. 6, 2011, game in Arlington but allege they didn’t get the game experience they were promised. Some fans were left with obstructed views of the field and about 400 of them with no place to sit at all.
But the Cowboys’ role in the planning before the game and the team’s relationship with Seating Solutions — the company hired to install the temporary metal seats — are playing a prominent role in the trial, underway in a Dallas federal court.
On Monday the jury of seven woman and one man was shown an email from the NFL’s top architect, Todd Barnes of San Francisco, to a colleague in the NFL front office expressing frustration with the Cowboys’ cozy relationship with Seating Solutions less than a month before the game.
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“Note to file, and please do not share this with anyone else — NEVER let the team have control of the seat plan — EVER,” Barnes wrote in a Jan. 9, 2011, email to Fred Otto, NFL director of event management. “All of us have been afraid of offending the Cowboys, but they should have full responsibility for all elements associated with the seats.”
Barnes, who does contract work with the NFL, is with the Populous architectural firm.
Jones will likely testify Tuesday morning, although the exact time is unknown.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn hopes to get to closing arguments Wednesday and begin jury deliberations Thursday, creating the possibility that the matter will be concluded before Friday, when one of the jurors has asked to be excused for a funeral.
‘Obstructed view’ an issue
Barnes spent much of Monday on the stand. Under direct examination, he outlined a seven-month trail of emails among himself and several NFL officials expressing growing concern about the sight levels of hundreds of temporary seats, which were being installed in gaps of the permanent seating bowl at Cowboys Stadium, now called AT&T Stadium.
Barnes, who has overseen design of more than 20 Super Bowls and many other high-profile sports events, said that normally when he works with the NFL, he is directly involved in the temporary seating installation. But for Super Bowl XLV, he took on a less direct oversight role while Seating Solutions did the installation, he testified.
In the weeks before the game, Barnes said, he visited some of the temporary seats that had been installed and took photographs showing that anyone sitting in those seats would have difficulty seeing the game action.
Under cross-examination, Barnes emphasized that he thought the NFL was taking measures to fix problem seating areas. He acknowledged recommending that seats be labeled “obstructed view” so buyers would know about the view they would get, or that some tickets be “killed” — not sold at all.
Hours before kickoff, Arlington fire officials and building inspectors declared 1,250 temporary seats unsafe, citing code violations such as missing guardrails.
The city and the NFL had been warned for weeks that the contractor was behind schedule.
Fans with other seats complained that they couldn’t see the game.
In all, about 3,200 fans were affected. Most were accommodated, but more than 400 didn’t get seats.
‘His guys were tired’
But the Cowboys considered Seating Solutions a reliable contractor, Jack Hill, former Cowboys Stadium general manager, testified in a videotape deposition played for the jury.
“I used them on four other occasions,” Hill said. “It was not unusual for them to finish their work at the last minute.”
Hill testified that even in the final days leading up to the Super Bowl, he held out hope that Seating Solutions could get the work done on time. But the company eventually walked off the job, and because the unfinished seats were fashioned using a proprietary method, no other contractor could be called in for emergency help.
“He [Seating Solutions’ owner] had a feeling he wasn’t going to finish and he elected to leave rather than continue,” Hill said. “His guys were tired. They’d literally been working night and day. He had hired other crews to supplement them.”
Hill also testified that some components of the temporary seats were improperly cut and that bicycle racks were cut up in an attempt to fix the problem areas.
Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testified that the seating mistakes were the fault of the league, not the Cowboys.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796