Super Bowl XLV Seat Lawsuit: Lessons For The NFL

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IFebruary 9, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Seat Lawsuit: Lessons For The NFL

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    ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  Some of the 400 temporary seats that will no longer be used since they were not complete are taped off before the Pittsburgh Steelers play against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    A group of more than 1,200 football fans is suing the NFL, Jerry Jones and anybody else in sight after being displaced from their bought-and-paid-for seats at Sunday’s Super Bowl.

    Some temporary seating sections weren’t finished in time for kickoff, sending the league scrambling.

    All but 400 fans were seated elsewhere in the stadium, but the lawsuit’s plaintiffs still want the NFL to pay up for failing to give them the seats they expected. They are seeking damages in excess of $5 million.

    Unfinished-seat-gate provided a fitting end to the worst year for football stadiums in recent memory.

    With an exceptionally stormy winter slamming most of the country, stadium cleaning and repair crews were working overtime all year.

    Read on for some lessons the NFL needs to take to heart so that 2011 won’t see so many fans left out in the cold.

The Stadiums Are Probably Built That Way For A Reason

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    CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 20: Teams from the Northwestern Wildcats (top) and the Illinois Fighting Illini share a sideline during a game played at Wrigley Field on November 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The lawsuit wouldn’t even have happened if the NFL hadn’t been trying to add even more seats to the already mammoth Cowboys Stadium.

    As the Big Ten learned to its dismay in this year’s Northwestern-Illinois game, playing fast and loose with stadium design can come back to bite you.

    Wrigley Field hadn't hosted a college football game since 1938, and with its too-close-for-comfort brick walls, probably won't host another for even longer.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

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    ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06: Steelers fans celebrate in the crowd during Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The seats that weren’t finished were in a section that’s normally left for standing room; if the people who built the (two year-old) stadium didn’t think that seats made sense in that part of the field, maybe they were onto something.

    It’s probably too much to ask of the league that it not try to cram as many $800 seats into the buiding as it can.

    But, if they’d been willing to “settle” for something closer to the stadium’s regular season seating capacity of 80,000, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

Be Ready For Winter

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    ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Workers clear ice and snow from atop Cowboys Stadium on February 5, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  According to reports, at least six people were injured yesterday when large sheets of ice fell some 200 feet from the dome of the
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    One factor contributing to the Super Bowl’s seating problems was uncharacteristic winter weather in Arlington, which had crews cleaning ice right up through game day.

    After a winter as rough as this one, it’s hard to imagine that the league didn’t have an eye on the forecasts as Super Sunday approached.

    So why didn’t they bring in enough extra workers?

(Enough Of) The Right Men For The Job

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    ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  Players get ready to take the field prior to Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The task of preparing a stadium for the Super Bowl is monumental under the best of circumstances. The league should have hired additional crews the second snow even became a remote possibility last week.

    Indeed, they may have done so, but the fact that the seating wasn’t completed in time suggests that they underestimated the manpower they would need.

    That’s not a mistake the country’s most popular and lucrative sports league should be making.

Have A Backup Plan

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 13: A torn section of the roof sags inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on December 13, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Metrodome's roof collapsed under the weight of snow after a powerful blizzard hit the area on Decemb
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Obviously, there’s no moving the Super Bowl, which is part of the bias toward warm-weather sites.

    For other games, though, the league needs to have plans in place, in advance, if weather decides to blow up the schedule.

    It was bad enough for the Vikings, a team that had already fallen from playoff contention by that point, to play a “home” game 700 miles away in Detroit. Imagine if they’d been the Ravens, in a dead heat for a division championship where every game was vital.

    The league needs to make sure they don’t have a repeat of the Vikings saga in 2011.

...That Actually Works

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 20:  Workers clear snow from the field before Minnesota Vikings play the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium on December 20, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    To be fair, the league’s real backup plan for a Metrodome disaster was also on display in 2010: TCF Bank Stadium, where the University of Minnesota plays home games.

    The fact that the roof collapsed the morning of a game didn’t give the league enough time to get that field ready for the first of the displaced games.

    But, initial reports put the time required to prepare TCF Bank Stadium for a game at five days, an awfully long lead-time to expect in the winter in Minnesota.

    Ideally, you’d want an alternate plan to be implemented the Monday after a postponed game, but at worst, the NFL should have options in place that can be used for Tuesday night games like the one played this season in Philadelphia.

At Least Pretend To Care About The Fans

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    DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 07:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media during a press conference at Super Bowl XLV Media Center on February 7, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    This one is a lesson the league appears to have heeded in the case of the lawsuit.

    The displaced fans were offered triple the face-value of their tickets (a total of $2,400) as compensation, and Roger Goodell has already said that the 400 fans who didn’t get seats would be the league’s guests at next year’s big game.

    After a rough season for ticketholders though, the NFL already had some image-buffing to do. 

What's a Home Game?

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    TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 07: The Buffalo Bills and the Chicago Bears warm up prior to play at the  Rogers Centre on November 7, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The Vikings and Eagles both lost home dates this year to the weather: the Vikings played their Detroit “home” game on a Monday, and the Eagles had a winter storm push one of their games to Tuesday.

    The latter game sparked widespread complaints from Eagles fans who thought it should’ve stayed on Sunday night, even if the NFL’s primary concern in moving it was supposed to be fan safety.

    Add in the Bills’ “home” game in Toronto and the 49ers’ “home” game in London, and home fans lost more chances to go to a game than in any season in memory.

Final Thoughts

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    DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 04:  (L-R) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, President of the National Dairy Council Jean Ragalie and Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams look on during the launch of the Gen YOUth Fou
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    A giant corporation like the NFL is an easy target, not only for a lawsuit but also for knee-jerk bashing.

    The league did the best it could with some difficult situations this year, but sometimes it came up short.

    The real test will be whether it learns from its problems this season, so that the next time a daunting winter like 2010 comes along, nobody will have occasion to write another article like this one.