Monday, February 7, 2011

Nobody's Winning Super Bowl Blame Game

An Open Letter to the Media:

Yesterday, the city of Arlington, Texas hosted Super Bowl 45 at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Unfortunately, as was the case during most of last week, conflict and disappointment marred what our local leaders had intended to be an unrivaled event at one of the world's landmark sports venues.

In particular, the last-minute revocation of tickets to hundreds of temporary seats left many fans fuming. Although some ticketholders could be accommodated elsewhere in the stadium, others were deprived of their opportunity to attend the celebrated game.

While indeed, this indelibly marred the Super Bowl experience for many fans, the situation has been aggravated by sloppy, inaccurate, and incomplete reporting by many media outlets. This, in turn, has only fed the rumor mills and generated undeserved hostility towards innocent parties.

After having read, seen, and heard accounts of yesterday's seating debacle on multiple media formats, we surely need a clearer picture of what actually took place at Cowboys Stadium to come into focus.

According to a compilation of various accounts, it appears the private contractor hired by the NFL to construct temporary seating structures around the stadium failed to complete the project in a timely manner. One news organization, the local ABC affiliate WFAA, reports that questions concerning the timeliness of the seating project were raised as early as two weeks ago. Other news outlets have blamed the debilitating winter weather last week for preventing workers to adequately staff the project.

As gametime rapidly approached yesterday morning, it has been reported that Arlington's city code inspectors and officials from the fire department were on-site, ready to certify the safeness and compliance of the temporary seating in accordance with existing safety codes. Those codes are not arbitrary, capricious, or nebulous. We've hosted the World Series, the NCAA Finals, and millions of tourists to our amusement parks over the years, so Arlington's safety experts know a thing or two about how to protect the public.

In addition, everybody in town has known the importance of the Super Bowl to our community since we won the hosting bid. Watching the ice, snow, rolling blackouts, and injuries on the stadium grounds compromise the stellar impression Arlington wanted to convey to our international guests, it's hard to imagine any city employee anxious to be the person responsible for creating yet another public relations disaster.

One fan reported on WBAP this morning that, while sitting yesterday during the game next to one of the temporary seating sections which had been cordoned off, he could plainly see that it was unfinished. In particular, he said that railings were not in place. As they chatted with city personnel near the area, they learned that the contractor had walked off of the job that morning. Was learning the truth that easy? If it was, during the afternoon yesterday, the media seemed more intent on scooping each other with aggrieved fans spouting their frustrations than tracking down officials for a precise explanation.

More than one media outlet has seen fit to at least insinuate that Arlington city officials might have been obstinate, rule-crazy, and imperious in their handling of this critical situation. Why didn't the city work harder to ensure the seating would be ready? Why did city officials wait until the last minute before denying hundreds of fans the privilege of witnessing the Super Bowl from their pre-paid seats? Not for the first time, reporters designated themselves judge and jury over the mayhem, disregarding their lack of facts.

Media personnel need to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that while the City of Arlington was hosting the Super Bowl, the event itself was owned and operated by the NFL. The NFL did not contract with anybody from the city to erect the temporary seating. How inappropriate would it have been for the city to grant safety waivers to the NFL for the Super Bowl that could have jeopardized the health and well-being of fans? How inappropriate would it have been for the city to grant waivers to a temporary operator when Arlington code officials are responsible for ensuring safety codes are complied with by local businesses on a daily basis?

Plus, the very fact that the city's fire chief was himself personally on-hand to sign-off on the completed seating project should testify to the city's eagerness to work with the NFL in providing the seating. Obviously, it was in everyone's best interest to have this seating work completed and certified as safe.

Instead of maligning city staff and suggesting officials were derelict in their duty, the media should be praising Arlington leaders for their willingness to hold the line against compromise, even in the face of such a daunting issue as denying ticketholders access to one of the world's most prominent sporting events. We should be thankful that Arlington has leaders who've proven they prioritize public safety.

Even the NFL, which had just as much to lose - if not more - in this debacle, apparently agreed with Arlington's fire chief and went along with his decision. During a televised interview with WFAA, the chief stated that he received no push-back from the NFL when he was forced to render his decision. And it really wasn't even a decision - if the work wasn't complete, the work wasn't complete.

This was not an issue of aesthetics, or of differing methods, or of opinion. The work was not finished. It was not done. Period. End of story. The NFL realized that there was no wiggle room here.

Some people might scoff and trivialize the fact that some railings had yet to be installed. But if you think about the amount of alcohol consumption that goes on during any sporting event, let alone a football game, how wise would it be to not provide railings to keep people from falling dozens of feet onto plain concrete?

Consider, too, that as a sporting event, fans will be jumping up and down, cheering, and mostly oblivious to their surroundings. They rely on the built environment to provide support, protection, and ease of movement. When elements we've come to expect aren't available, we risk losing our balance even when we're intentionally cautious. That's why we have safety codes.

As an ordinary citizen, I'd like to congratulate all of the people at City Hall - from the politicians to the street cleaners - who had a part in organizing Arlington's role in this year's Super Bowl.

I'm proud the city insisted that public safety trumps attendance records. I believe the fire department's performance yesterday proves that any event held in Arlington will be as safe as it can possibly be, and that alone should be a tremendous selling point for our venues. Safety really comes first here.

So while the press and angry fans continue to blast Arlington for all of the snow, ice, ERCOT blackouts, interminable security lines at the stadium, and everything else, I think the City of Arlington deserves to be recognized as the consummate host that it is.

To City Hall, I say: Congratulations, y'all!

And to the media, I say: do some real reporting and interview the contractor* who didn't finish the job.
_____

*The contractor, Seating Solutions of Commack, New York, was identified in the media after this blog post went live.

4 comments:

  1. I noticed in your interest in looking to the contractor who may be most at fault, you didn't mention where they were from :P

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  2. Lol... you mean the fact that Seating Solutions, the contractor, is based in New York? Well, so's the NFL, who's the biggest culprit in this whole mess anyway. Today, some Cowboys season ticket holders will file a class-action lawsuit against Jerry Jones, so this tale is far from over.

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  3. yeah, i kind of liked seeing that Jones was included, but i'm sure he had it somewhere hidden in his deal with Arlington to make sure the city has to pay if he loses, just like they had to pay for all of the rest of his new toy. If i recall the basics of the deal: Jerry gets all the profits, Arlington gets all the bills and debts :(

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  4. Yes, Jerry gets all the profits from event ticket sales, but I believe Arlington shares in the parking lot proceeds. Plus we get all the sales taxes. Plus reimbursements for additional security. We also got an expanded I-30 and a reconfigured interchange at Hwy. 360 & Division Street - two projects that probably wouldn't have happened for many years otherwise.

    From what I understood, Arlington's total outlay was capped at something like $355 million, plus however much it costs for interest on our debt (which is the only variable I'm aware of).

    After 30 years, Arlington will own Cowboys Stadium outright. Some people claimed that was a bad arrangement because who knows how technologically inferior a building it will be by then.

    I would think the Super Bowl Host Committee, headed by Bill Lively and Roger Staubach, would be a lawsuit target before the City of Arlington. Jerry Jones, meanwhile, doesn't seem to have anyplace to hide!

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