NFL executive V.P. of business ventures and Chief Financial Officer Eric Grubman joined ProFootballTalk Live on Thursday, February 10, 2011 to discuss the ticketing challenges that arose at Super Bowl XLV.
A full transcript of the interview appears below.
MF: Let me just start at the top, the reports are that there are 1,250 who showed up and I know they fall into different camps, but explain to us what happened when those folks showed up to the game arrived at Cowboy Stadium on Sunday.
EG: They arrived and the tickets were identified through a scanning process. The four hundred people in the end zone section were told that there was a problem with their seats and they would not be able to come into the building yet. Approximately 864 people and four other small sections on different sides of the stadium were brought into the stadium and were told that there were problems with their seats and that we were looking for tickets to relocate them.
MF: And the 864 people ultimately ended up in other accommodations?
EG: We learned that a large section in the end zone with 2,400 seats was not ready for final inspection. The four individual sections on the side, each of which had 216 seats, we had to pull the resources of people off the contractor did, I’m not in charge of that stuff, and move them to the 2,400 section. We knew that those four sections were not going to be ready for the game. The 2,400 we thought there was a good chance we would get all 2,400, it turns out we got 2,000 of the 2,400 ready for the game.
MF: What do you say in response to some of the accounts that are now showing up that of the 864 who got into the game and were supposedly given comparable or better seats? There are some accounts that those folks claim they didn’t get comparable seats or better seats, in fact they got worse seats.
EG: Well, the first thing I would have said to them and if I was able to get to them at the stadium, I would have said to them, “I am sorry, I apologize this is not the standard the National Football League lives up to.” In terms of what to do now, I’m just getting the reports, we have to gather the information, frankly, I’m not really in a position this morning to tell you whether people got moved higher or lower, or closer to the 60-yard line, but if people didn’t get a good seat, we’re going to have to deal with that.
MF: So there will be some type of offer made to the 864, similar to the offer made to the 400 that didn’t get in at all?
EG: I really can’t say because I have no frame of reference, Mike. I just don’t know what the situation is. I’ve gotten a couple reports and have been incredibly focused on the 400, the people who didn’t get to see the game at all. Those stories are just heartbreaking, and we have had a full scale effort to get out to them, and I am just getting some reports of where the 860 were seated.
MF: Where do things stand right now as to who was responsible for what happened on Sunday?
EG: Well, there’s two levels of responsibility here, Mike. The way we look at it is we’re the National Football League, we’re presenting the game, these are our fans, and a lot of them are heartbroken and they’re mad. We accept the responsibility for that, and we have to figure out how to get them to give us a second chance. When it comes down to figuring out how to make sure this never happens again, we will be looking at our internal processes, and how we work with contractors, and how we work with host clubs and so on and so on. As it relates to the money, I wouldn’t even want to begin to hazard a guess. This is a tough situation, a lot of people probably could have done things better or differently, we just have to figure that out as time goes on.
MF: But are you in a position now to say this happened because of something the NFL did or something the Cowboys did or something Jerry Jones did, something the contractor did, or is it still too early to tell?
EG: It’s too early to tell. You know these things they go by in a blur sometimes, when there is a great outcome everybody takes credit and when there’s a bad outcome we’ve got to stand up and say, you know, it’s us, and it’s all of us. But the game is a presentation of the National Football Game, so from the standpoint of facing the fans, it’s the National Football League and we’re telling them we’re sorry and we’re trying to make it right.
MF: Did anything like this ever happen before at a Super Bowl, where people showed up with tickets and they were either denied admission or they were sent to seats that they deemed not comparable to the tickets they purchased?
EG: I don’t know the answer to that question. Certainly, in the seven years that I have been here, I am not aware of anything like this.
MF: Now we have heard, time and again, that when a team hosts the Super Bowl at its stadium, that the local franchise essentially gives the keys to the NFL and the NFL takes over, but I have heard anecdotally that in this case at least Jerry Jones and the Cowboys were more involved. Is that accurate or is that not accurate?
EG: Well, it’s accurate to say in this instance, I won’t deal with what happened in the other 44 Super Bowls because I am sure there is a lot of particulars in any one Super Bowl, but the fact that the Cowboys were involved in hiring the contractor to install the seats and that is just the specifics of how we and the Cowboys decided to do it this time around.
MF: A public offer was made earlier this week to the 400 folks who were denied admission. There were a couple of options, one option that wasn’t offered was a refund of the ticket price and a full refund of all travel expenses and lodging, etc. Why wasn’t that offered to the 400 people who showed up and weren’t permitted to actually get into the stadium?
EG: Well this is something that we have been trying to do the best we can, and in talking to the first group of fans that we were ale to reach out to, you know, let’s just recall what happened in the immediate aftermath. Roger Goodell, Commissioner, said we said that say we’re going to give you three times your purchase price, three times the face value, and then the next morning Commissioner Goodell said “Look, we’ll give up tickets to the Indianapolis Super Bowl,” and then we started to have time to literally talk to these fans and listen to them and what I heard was, “You don’t understand NFL this was not that game, this was a dream, and you took my dream away.” And so when we tried to figure out how do we give them a chance to get their dream back that’s when we can back with the second option. We have had about 40 people here at the NFL trying to identify and reach out to these 400, we’re getting feedback as we’re talking to them, and we’re hearing different things and you know we are trying to take that into account. We are trying to do right by the fans and I can’t turn back history, but we can do the best we can going forward.
MF: Is it true, Eric, that if fans take one of the two options currently on the table that they are going to have to sign paperwork waiving any and all legal rights that they would otherwise have?
EG: I haven’t seen the paperwork. I am leaving that up to our staff, but certainly I would think that that makes sense for us, yes.
MF: And now that a class action has ben filed on behalf of the 400 and another group we will talk about in a minute, has the effort to to contact these folks individually been suspended?
EG: No, nothing has been suspended, we’re going to call them, we’re going to take calls, we’re going to answer emails. Frankly, I’m not surprised at the litigation. But it’s not going to change the fact that we think we need to talk to our fans, tell them we’re sorry, and we need to try to make this better, and not let it happen again. I do wish people who were filing the lawsuits and the lawyers who are getting so focused on this, I wish they would work on something like world peace because I think we need to keep this in perspective. Over one hundred and sixty million people watched that game. It was a great game. Two fabulous football teams fought it out and one of them won, and it was just a thrill and it was exciting, and over a 100,000 people came to that stadium, so if you look at the defect rate its pretty small, and the NFL strives for 100% and that’s why we are doing this because we didn’t provide a great experience to 100% of the fans, but keeping a little perspective is probably what I wish the lawyers would do.
MF: I understand what you are saying, but there are still 400 people who bought a ticket to the game and did not get in. Under the consumer laws in Texas, they may have rights to compensation for every penny they spent to go to Dallas, for a trip that didn’t result in the Super Bowl, you understand what these folks went through, I assume?
EG: Well, I don’t think that you or I could truly understand what they went through, I can appreciate it, I feel like I let down my brother. You would probably feel the same, if you were in my shoes. It’s just an awful feeling, but it’s probably not as bad as the feeling that they have. Do I understand that people have rights, and that they can pursue those rights, of course. I’m not naive. I don’t know that the pursuit of those rights will get them any more or less, and I certainly don’t know whether it will get them a shot at their dream. We are going the best that we can, without thinking about the legal issues. I’ll just have to let the lawyers know the legal issues and worry about what might happen in court.
MF: Now there is another category of folks who have complained at least through one named plaintiff in this class action, and that’s the Cowboys PSL holders who allegedly spent $100,000 for their personal seat licenses at Cowboy Stadium. The claim is that these folks bought tickets, and when they showed up, they either had obstructed views or metal folders chairs or both. Has the NFL learned anything, whether or not that claim is valid that there were Cowboy season ticket holders, PSL holders who got obstructed-view seats or substandard seating?
EG: I am aware just by reading the newspaper and other accounts, just as you are, but I have no particular inside knowledge between the Cowboys and their PSL holders.
MF: The big question that a lot of people have about the situation, and we appreciate the fact that the NFL is being candid and willing to talk about it, I think there is some confusion and frustration about why the NFL knew about it this before Sunday, why it wasn’t disclosed, so that folks could for example, not come to Dallas if folks weren’t going to be able to get in or otherwise be prepared for the possibility that they may not get in if they showed up on game day.
EG: Well, the first and most important reason is we believed that we were going to get 100% of the seats that were manifested available for game time. And we believed that up right through a certain time Sunday morning, I can’t remember exactly what time that was. We thought we were going to get them all. We had some challenges, the Cowboys bought another contractor in, and we just thought that we were going to get it done. We didn’t spend a lot of time, talking about whether we were going to let people know earlier in the week because of that, but as I think about it now, I’m not sure that would have done any good. Imagine the chaos, if we would have announced that we’re not sure what seats we have, but we might have all of them. I’m not sure anybody would have done anything differently and it probably would have caused a lot of angst, but I guess I’ll just have to leave that to somebody else.
MF: But when did it first come to your attention that there may be an issue with a certain number of seats that were being installed for the game. At what point last week [or] previous to last week that you knew it might be an issue?
EG: I can’t exactly recall when I knew; I think it was sometime around Thursday that I went over to the stadium for a meeting and to look at the stands to see what the contractor was talking about. Saturday morning we had an all hands on deck meeting at the stadium, so I could understand what was the game plan for putting all of those seats in commission.
MF: How do you respond to the concern by some that the NFL didn’t just want another piece of bad news to come out last week, between the weather, the ice falling off the roof of the stadium? Did the NFL just decide we are going to try to get this done, we’re going to take a PR hit if we fail, let’s not take another PR hit in the week leading up to the game?
EG: Well, what I would say to those folks is that they don’t understand how the NFL works. The way the NFL works is that we just try to do the absolute best job that we can, we try to give the fans what they want. We’re working 24/7 to do that, and I frankly think that our vast majority of people just leave the fears of litigation and P.R. issues to others. They are just doing their job, and if you or anybody who were imagining that could see the faces and see the heartache and the hard work that the NFL people up in the stadium and outside in the cold, I think you’d have a different opinion. It’s an NFL that just works unbelievably hard and this time we failed. And we’re gonna just stand up and take responsibility for it.
MF: What about the contention that the NFL didn’t say anything in the hopes of getting as many people as possible into the building, so that the attendance record of 130,985 could be broken?
EG: I’d tell them again they have no concept of what the NFL stands for. I was never focused on the record, we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the record and I think my time beginning Saturday morning quite early through till Sunday, well after the game, is just for me a blur of trying to accommodate the fans and get to people and situations to try to make it better. I never counted, I still haven’t counted, and I doubt that any of us have been very focused on that.
MF: Was it a priority for Jerry Jones and the Cowboys to break that record?
EG: You’ll have to ask the Cowboys.
MF: But if you had been working with the Cowboys and Jerry Jones leading up to the game and I assume you did, did you pick up on anything from those communications that it was an issue, a desire for them to break the record of 103,985?
EG: Yes, I think they were very interested in breaking the record. What we did, and we asked the Cowboys to do was design a plan that fit the design specifications of the building. That building is designed to hold a certain number of people. There are different configurations you can do that. I suppose someone could look at this and say you should have picked scenario one instead of scenario two or three instead of four. We picked one that was to fit how the building was designed, would we pick a different one next time? Yeah, probably we would. I think that we’ll look at that pretty hard at some point when we get back to that stadium to do an NFL event.
MF: Well, Eric Grubman, Executive V.P of Business Ventures and Chief Financial Officer of the National Football League, I very much appreciate your candor, you willingness to tackle these issues. I know it was a disappointing day for the NFL and for the folks who didn’t get in. I wish you all the best as you continue to investigate what happened and prevent it from happening at a future Super Bowl.
EG: Thanks Mike, for giving us the time to talk to our fans.