Everything’s Bigger in Texas – Even PR Headaches

If you haven’t heard by now, the NFL had a giant game in Dallas a few weeks ago. It brought in buco-bucks, drew the largest viewership in television history and made a lot of fans from a small town in Wisconsin very happy. So one would think that the league left the Lone Star State feeling awesome and without problems.

Well, if you haven’t been living under a rock and you pay attention to sports, or news for that matter, you know that the league is facing a major PR issue that may tarnish their image. This doesn’t concern the looming lockout of the players (a PR conundrum for another day), but rather folks who fill their coffers – the fans. You see, there were over 90,000 fans who purchased tickets to come to the game, problem was the seats weren’t available for over 1,000 of these ticket holders to be sat in during the big game. This was because the seats were not completed and did not pass muster of the fire marshal.

The league knew a week before the game that the seats wouldn’t be ready. Instead of alerting the ticket holders, they decided to roll the dice and wait for the fans to find out at the game. While the league did attempt to make amends, the effort was not enough.

The root of this issue is greed. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys wanted to set Super Bowl attendance records in the first Super Bowl held in the new Cowboy Stadium. You can’t blame the guy for trying, but when the seats weren’t completed, they needed to reach across the proverbial aisle to make amends. Their initial response was (via FanHouse):

“Those fans that are affected by this will be directed to the Party Plaza area while the matter is resolved. Fans who are not accommodated with seats inside the stadium will each receive a refund of triple the cost of the face value of their ticket. We regret the situation.”

Fans who couldn’t be accommodated with these moved seats were ushered to lounges within Cowboy Stadium and the neighboring stadium of the Texas Rangers- a higher priced version of the ticket holders’ living rooms

To make this PR headache a wee-bit worse, the fans that didn’t get to watch the game in the seats that they paid $900 (face value) for have now retained a lawyer for a class action suit. They are currently seeking $5 million in damages – roughly $4,000 a fan.

From an outsider’s point of view, there is little chance for the league to come out with at least somewhat of a shiner. One way I could see the NFL winning is to offer these folks Super Bowl tickets for life and use them as some kind of new legacy comparable to the never-miss-a-Super Bowl club. This group could also be facilitated with the means to discuss their experiences in the host city on a platform like NFL.com or SuperBowl.com to maximize their exposure and benefit the city.

To gauge more opinions on how the league could come up like roses, I reached out to fellow PRBC authors Mike Schaffer and Keith Trivitt.

Mike’s take:

Normally, I am a pure fan advocate.  Teams and leagues can always treat their fans better.  But allow me to defend the NFL for a second.  While they NEVER should have sold tickets for seats they weren’t 100% confident in being able to fulfill, I think they did a decent job in this situation.

The fans were moved from virtual bleacher seats to box suites, given TRIPLE the value of their overpriced tickets and invited to next year’s Super Bowl, where I’m sure they will be given world-class treatment.  Plus, they now have one of the greatest stories in sports.

To recap: They are suing for $4,000 when they get $2,700 and the ability to see TWO Super Bowls in person.  Sounds like the league has given the mea culpa and adequate compensation.  Don’t get me wrong, the league dropped the ball, but, in my opinion, they’ve responded appropriately…in this situation.

Keith’s take:

I’m not sure the NFL has many options in terms of coming out rosy in this situation. The timing, at least from the NFL’s standpoint, couldn’t have been worse, as it faces a multitude of PR challenges in the months ahead.

Let’s look at it from a macro level. The League is already staring down a potential March 4 lockout, which many in the public, fans and media have pinned on its owners’ greed and egos. Add to that the fact that the Super Bowl is essentially the world’s largest single-day economic booster. With all that in mind, the NFL simply could not afford for something of this nature and at this level to happen, especially on its most vaunted stage. This problem will likely only add fuel to the NFL Players Association’s PR playbook against the league in the coming weeks as a lockout looms.

At the end of the day we’re flacks who happen to be NFL fans and will be interested to see how this plays out. How do you think the league could get out of this incident without further PR incident? We’d love to hear below.

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