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NFL’s Customer Contempt Sets Record: Scott Soshnick

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference at the Super Bowl XLV media center. Photographer: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and his executive-suite teammates ought to be ashamed of their performance at the Super Bowl, where even Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a better night.

So much for a commissioner who only days before had labeled himself a caretaker of the customer.

It was Goodell who stood before a phalanx of cameras and promised to serve as an advocate for the fans, and not just the owners who pay his salary. The paying customers, he said, aren’t to be overlooked or underappreciated.

It all rings so empty after the ticket flap that occurred at the Super Bowl, which was staged inside a glistening revenue orb built by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who, along with the NFL, wanted the biggest in-person audience and got an even bigger headache.

Jones smiled wide all week. He accepted and doled out pats on the back for luring the biggest game to north Texas. Biggest and best, we kept hearing about the Super Bowl, which Green Bay won in front of more than 103,000 people, shy of the record audience that witnessed the 1980 Super Bowl played in the Rose Bowl.

The NFL -- and Jones in particular -- do big, all right. Only this time their money and attention-grab was too big. Somehow, even with years to ensure proper planning, someone goofed. Sections of temporary seats weren’t safe, leaving those with tickets without a place to sit.

Do Tell

The NFL, which knew about the potential problem days earlier but didn’t tell fans, is looking into what went wrong, it says.

“Manpower and timing issues caused inconveniences to some fans,” Jones said in a statement that was more clueless than conciliatory.

Hundreds of fans who purchased tickets, who came to Texas from all over the map, who didn’t let icy highways and airlines delays diminish their desire to see their team play for the championship, were out of luck.

There was a problem with some of the seats that were installed so that even more people could be crammed inside Jones’s cash register. Turns out the fire marshal wasn’t so pleased with the plan’s execution.

Television Monitors

Some 400 ticket holders had to watch on television monitors inside a field-level club behind the Pittsburgh bench.

When the subject is television blackouts, NFL executives will argue that nothing equals the experience of being inside the stadium, of seeing, feeling and touching the game in person. They’re right, which is why their game-night solution wasn’t a solution at all.

The NFL said it would issue a refund for three times the face value of the tickets. The league originally invited affected fans to next season’s game in Indianapolis and yesterday added the option of one free ticket, round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations to any future Super Bowl.

The offer of any game may still make it a long wait for those wanting to see their favorite team. Just ask New York Jets fans.

The situation called for being proactive. The NFL offered nothing but reactive.

Ruined Experience

Not surprisingly, the league made the fiasco a dollars issue. Only this wasn’t about money. It was about memories. It was about a kid holding his father’s hand, eyes wide, mouth agape, at the sight of his favorite players on the field. It was about Packers fan Jan Lamers, who said her Super Bowl experience was ruined.

The refund was a nice, though obvious, place to start. A gesture. It wasn’t anywhere near enough.

The affected fans don’t need tickets to next year’s Super Bowl. They needed seats for this game, the one that featured their team.

They needed instant VIP status, by order of the commissioner.

The NFL should have found a place for these fans to watch the game. And not on TV, no matter how wide the screen or how crisp the picture.

The NFL needed to make room in the luxury suites where it has influence. Move over Alex Rodriguez and Cameron Diaz. Make room for Joe Fan from Pittsburgh, his kid and their Terrible Towels.


These fans arrived with wedges of cheese on their heads, yes, but love and devotion in their hearts. Since the Packers are the league’s only publicly owned franchise, where fans actually have a stake in the team and a say in how things are run, it would have made sense for them to sit with Jones. You know, in the owner’s suite.

Surely some of the fans could have been relocated to a spot on the sideline. Talk about caring for the customer.

You can bet that plenty of NFL executives, their spouses and children had seats. Good ones, too. They, by executive order, should have been forced to surrender their seats for paying customers.

Half of the questions lobbed at the commissioner during last week’s state-of-the-league press conference were about negotiations aimed at reaching a new labor contract with the players.

A lockout is looming. The billionaires and millionaires are fighting about how to share more than $8 billion in revenue.

Even so, the league and Jones hatched a plan to squeeze even more fans into the game in some silly attempt at setting a Super Bowl attendance record.

Goodell spent much of his pre-game time on the field, shaking hands and posing for pictures. All while hundreds of his most loyal customers were told, in essence, that they didn’t really matter.

The NFL, and Goodell, had an opportunity. They blew it. He blew it. Like a quarterback under pressure the NFL was forced to scramble.

The fans got sacked.

(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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