Lunch and Circuses: How the NFL Squeezes Extra Summer Cash out of Fans

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJune 28, 2016

Cast members from Cirque du Soleil perform on stage during the LA Premiere of Cirque du Soleil's
Rich Fury/Associated Press

Remember your old summer jobs? Mowing Widow Kittyhoarder's lawn for $10 and a bottle of cream soda left over from the Eisenhower administration? Babysitting the Spencer-Parker brats while their doctor mom and lawyer dad went to marriage counseling? Scooping Italian ice for the construction workers and hungover mobsters on Passyunk Avenue? Lifeguarding the wave pool at Tsunami Mountain before that incident the locals still call the actual tsunami

Most of us grow out of summer jobs once we reach a certain level of maturity, success and financial security. But NFL owners aren't the kinds of multimillionaires who are willing to let a few football-free summer weeks go by without turning a smidgen of extra profit.

The players may be at the beach. The facilities may be dark. Even the coaches are taking a week or two off from their 22-hour workdays. But the NFL's money machine keeps on grinding thanks to innovations like these:

New York Football Circus, Non-Jets Edition

Just when you thought the NFL could not become any more like a circus, the NFL joins forces with one. Cirque du Soleil and the NFL are partnering to create a 40,000-square-foot Times Square exhibit that is destined to make Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark look like a modest and tasteful adaptation of Our Town.

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What will these synergy-minded lunatics dream of next? It will either be FIFA & The Blue Man Group Present Flop!, a collaboration between the Hamilton crew and NASCAR entitled Earnhardt or the long-awaited Bolshoi Ballet/NHRA Drag Racing crossover.

Where can I buy a Cirque Du Soleil football helmet?
Where can I buy a Cirque Du Soleil football helmet?Andy Kropa/Associated Press

The outside will be your typical humongous Times Square video advertising wall. But those who venture inside will experience the real magic.

"Once you are in the immersive theater, it is the full-on multimedia experience," said Scott Zeiger, managing director of Cirque du Soleil, per Connor Orr of NFL.com. "There will be screens in front of you, screens on the side walls and ceilings, and it will be as if you are in the game—from the locker room to the tunnel to the sidelines and into the huddle and the winning of the game."

I've been inside locker rooms, and none of them feature half-naked, body-painted acrobats hanging upside-down from ribbons. Not even Chip Kelly locker rooms.

The NFL's goal is to baffle tourists from other nations into becoming American football fanatics by bombarding them with a four-story-high highlight wall and writhing jugglers when they stop to ask for directions to the M&M's store.

You'll have to wait to make this part of your summer vacation plans. The exhibit isn't scheduled to open until autumn of 2017, right after the Jets sign Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Kevin Demoff Dream Date

Say you find yourself in Los Angeles with more than $2,000 burning a hole in your pocket. Try as you might, you just cannot find a fun way to spend the money in one of the most dynamic, diverse, entertainment-laden cities on earth.

Luckily, the Rams had a solution to your dilemma earlier this month: a $550-per-head "All-Access Gala" at the old Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Having forked over roughly one-and-a-half car payments, fans could bid at a silent auction for signed memorabilia as well as the chance to have lunch with Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.

Local dentist Andre Jeanbart bid $1,550 to bend Demoff's ear over coffee. "Hopefully, we get them to change these jerseys," Jeanbart told Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News of his planned topic of conversation. Um, Dr. Jeanbart, you need to bid for lunch with a Nike COO to make that happen.

So, what will you be having, Mr. Demoff? A turkey wrap? I am in the mood for a turkey wrap.
So, what will you be having, Mr. Demoff? A turkey wrap? I am in the mood for a turkey wrap.Uncredited/Associated Press

When not bidding on awkward meals with busy executives, Los Angeles Rams fans at the gala could meet legends of the past and present, from Vince Ferragamo and Fred Dryer to Jared Goff and Aaron Donald. It was the greatest assemblage of Rams football talent possible without acknowledging that the most exciting and relevant era in the franchise's modern history took place 1,800 miles away.

Who can blame lifelong Rams fans for spending their discretionary income on welcoming home their favorite team, meeting childhood heroes and noshing with an NFL bigwig instead of spending similar money on, say, a 15-day cruise to Hawaii? The 63,000 Rams fans who have spent between $360 and $2,025 for season tickets will enjoy a feeling of familiarity (if not actual comfort, in the 21st-century sense) when they watch games in the 93-year-old Coliseum until the $2.6 billion Inglewood stadium is built.

"It's the same stadium it was 20, 30, 50 years ago," Ferragamo said during the gala, per Wang.

USC is trying to raise funds for a massive Coliseum renovation project. Perhaps they should consider a silent auction.

Your Big, Fat, Politically Incorrect Wedding

Are you a Redskins fan planning a wedding in Central Virginia who can't figure out a way to mix your love of football with your love of love? Well, you're in luck: The second floor of the Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond is being converted into a banquet hall.

"We envision the event mix to include galas, corporate meetings, team building, small trade shows and weddings," Lesa Williams of SMG, the company that manages the facility, told Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

There's that word again: gala. What precise set of circumstances turns an ordinary "event" into a "gala"? A tuxedoed Dan Snyder as DJ/sommelier? Probably not.

The repurposed facility will reportedly only be big enough for a 250-person wedding (your spoiled cousin will have to choose between her sorority sisters and you) or a 500-person cocktail event. So those "galas" will be pretty selective and those small trade shows extremely small. Think World's Tiniest Comic-Con, headlined by two supporting characters from Farscape.

Now, THIS is my idea of a gala event at the Redskins Training Center.
Now, THIS is my idea of a gala event at the Redskins Training Center.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Here's the catch: The facility opens in November, when the Redskins are long gone. And everyone clears out of the training center during camp itself. So Jay Gruden won't wander up and coach your grandparents through the Electric Slide while Kirk Cousins warms up, and any dad who wants to don his granny dress and hog nose for "Daddy's Little Girl" will have to do so above a completely empty field.

What will the cavernous and luxurious event space be used for during training camp itself? Perhaps the working media will enjoy a spacious, comfortable, well-lit environment with clear views of the field…HAHAHAHAHAHA! It will probably be a warehouse for unsold Robert Griffin III jerseys being shipped off to parts unknown.

Tune in next spring when a local high school plans a senior prom at the Redskins training center, the student newspaper protests the decision, the school censors the newspaper, Facebook goes nuclear and the whole event gets pre-empted by an antique Hummel figurine trade show and gala anyway.

Summer Reading Requirement

After securing $678 million from Minnesota taxpayers and charging as much as $9,500 for personal seating licenses before ever selling an actual ticket, you would assume the Vikings would look at the revenue streams pouring into the new U.S. Bank Stadium from ordinary citizens and think, "This will do."

But you would be wrong. The Vikings want their monument to municipal extravagance immortalized on coffee tables from Angle Inlet to Mankato. A 224-page book about the history and construction of U.S. Bank Stadium will go on sale in November. For a mere $29.95, proud Vikings fans will get a book that, according to Vikings PR, includes "profiles of and interviews with the central figures in U.S. Bank Stadium’s development, from architects and engineers to construction workers and groundskeepers, as well as players, fans and community leaders."

That's right: profiles of groundskeepers.

U.S. Bank Stadium, looking ready to blast off and battle aliens in Independence Day: Resurgence.
U.S. Bank Stadium, looking ready to blast off and battle aliens in Independence Day: Resurgence.Jim Mone/Associated Press

"The stadium is an important part of our Twin Cities' shared history, not only for the many sports and music fans who will celebrate it, but for all those interested in how major public projects like this come together and get built," Pamela McClanahan, director of Minnesota Historical Society Press, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

All those interested in how major public projects like U.S. Bank Stadium come together and get built should probably brush up on their reading before agreeing to millions of dollars in entertainment and restaurant taxes. But a $30 vanity publication co-published by the team that collected all the money is probably the next best thing.

There's no word on how large the first printing will be, but Adrian Peterson's 2017 offseason superhuman workout will include running up a steep hill dragging sacks full of the remainders.

Fiscal Responsibility

You might think from all of the galas, acrobats, speed-dating general managers and profiled groundskeepers that the NFL is strapped for cash.

But we all know that's silly, and the Packers proved it by releasing their financial reports last week. (Because they are publicly owned, they are the only team obligated to do so and therefore the only team that ever will). The Packers reported $75 million in operational profits last year, up from $39.4 million in 2014.

As Mike Spofford reported for Packers.com, much of the growth was the direct result of local marketing. Local revenue, from the stadium souvenir shops to the team-owner restaurant, grew 11 percent last year. The team's football revenue only increased 6 percent, and that's the part that must be shared with the players.

In other words, every ancillary penny counts, whether it comes from a fan willing to spend $500 for a picture with Wendell Tyler, a father-of-the-bride looking for an excuse to wear his John Riggins jersey to the reception or a confused foreign tourist wondering why the cast of The Lion King is wearing Seahawks helmets. Just as you used your summer job to earn cash that your parents couldn't keep tabs on, NFL teams work hard in the summer earning money that they are not obligated to share.

Of course, no one is twisting your arm to buy a Vikings Stadium book, watch a weird circus or dine with a general manager.

Now there's a potential moneymaker: get your arm twisted by an NFL legend or team executive for only $100. Throw in a coffee table book about the development of the event and I'm sold!

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeTanier.

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