This posting is a tribute to my friend Stuart Guskind, who passed away after an unexpected death this week. The video below gives us a window to remember Stewie by. Well, here the rest, but Stewie’s in Heaven now.
The Dallas / Arlington Ft.Worth – but let’s just say “Dallas Super Bowl” – was marred by weather, bad planning, and a ticket fiasco so talked about it wound up in David Letterman’s monologue last night on Late Night With David Letterman.
Now, a patron comes forward to talk, on video , about the Super Bowl XVL Ticket Fiasco and how Dallas performed as a Super Bowl game host: my long time friend Stuart Guskind, who was one of the 500 or so people to get tickets to seats that a fire marshall has not signed off on, for some reason. (We talked using Skype live video, Monday. Guskind was in a Dallas restaurant and had his webcam and wifi-ready laptop with him, so we made a video interview on the spot, that I recorded from Georgia.)
“Stewie,” as we call him, is part of a group of friends I’ve been to eight Super Bowls with, going back to the 2000 Super Bowl in Atlanta, where we met. That’s where I met our mutual friend, and one of my best friends now, Beth, who worked for the NFL, and also for sports agent Leigh Steinberg; Stewie has been a family friend to Beth and her brothers. So, as a whole, we’ve seen a lot of Super Bowls.
But Super Bowl XVL was different. Generally, because I got to within eight NFL votes of bringing the Super Bowl to Oakland, the NFL has annually allowed me to buy two tickets at face value to the game. That’s gold I’ve never took for granted. On two occasions, I’ve given one of my two tickets to Stewie or one of Beth’s Brothers. (Yep, given it, not taken extra money for it.)
The only one time I’ve sold my Super Bowl tickets was for the Jacksonville game in 2005 and because just before it, my Mom called to say she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer – I called the NFL to let them know what I was going to do. (She survived, was later declared cancer-free, and I watched Super Bowl XVL with her at home in Georgia.)
As for Super Bowl XVL, I knew it was going to be a spread out affair, and elected not to go last fall. Beth and her brothers didn’t go either. That left Stewie, who took his son to his first Super Bowl experience; as you will learn, it didn’t go all that well. Stewie and I talked about it for a good 30 minutes on video (I took the most usable Skype files as the recording signal kept going up and down for a time.)
So how was it for Stewie?
“We’ve been to about eight or nine Super Bowls (together) Zen,” he said, “this was the worst.” It was the worst set up I’ve ever seen at a Super Bowl. They were short on staff, there was no sign-up leading to gates, there were gates that were not open, people were stuck two hours waiting to get it, older people who were handicapped had a difficult time trying to get it, and if they weren’t in a wheelchair, forget it. If they had a cane to walk with, they stood in line like every other slob did. It was awful. It was terribly set up.”
The Fire Marshall Ticket Fiasco And Ticket Brokers
Stewie’s experience was marred, first, by a Dallas cab driver strike. The shortage of cabs from the hotel he stayed at The Sheraton North Dallas (where, Stewie says, the staff was “unbelievably awesome”), to the stadium, caused him to pay $300 to get their on game day.
At first, he didn’t have Super Bowl tickets, and ticket brokers, who he says “took over the Super Bowl” and ruined it for patrons, were charging upwards of $3,800 for a single ticket! Guskind was fortunate enough to happen upon a woman who won her tickets via a lottery and sold two of them to him for $1,500 each – still higher than the $800 face value, but better than what others were paying brokers for their tickets.
So he had his tickets for $3,000 and spent $300 to get to Cowboys Stadium because of gouging cab drivers, but his troubles were just beginning.
He tried to buy a ticket to The NFL Tailgate Party: an event annually held before the game on stadium grounds for the “NFL Family.” I’ve been to three parties of this kind: in Atlanta, San Diego in 2003, and Miami in 2007, and only once did I pay a scalper the price of $50 to get a ticket. Yeah, $50 in San Diego and from a person who was waiting for people to show up, they didn’t come, and I refused to pay $100 for a tailgate ticket, so I talked him into the $50 price.
Stewie wasn’t so lucky. This is another example of where ticket brokers have taken over the Super Bowl.
“Brokers were charging $1,500 to $2,000 a ticket to get into the tailgate party,” he said. Stewie managed to spend $200 for two tickets, so that was $400. But the way the NFL Tailgate Party – a giant pre-game event with top name performers, all the gourmet food you can eat, and celebrities everywhere – works, you have to have your Super Bowl Game ticket and the NFL Tailgate Party Ticket to get into the it. That’s where things got weirder still for Stewie.
“We wait in line for an hour,” he says “we get in, we get the pat down, go in, and it (the Super Bowl tickets) comes up declined. So the supervisor comes over and says ‘We’ve got a problem with your tickets.’ From what we hear, the fire marshall hasn’t signed off on your seats. So she says ‘We can’t allow you into the stadium.’ I say ‘Hold on, I’ve got tickets for the Tailgate Party, she says ‘We don’t care. We can’t let you in. Your tickets have not been signed off on.’ I was like, ‘Hold on. You’re telling me that the tickets, that we got, that someone got from the NFL; I paid for these – they’re not fraudulent.”
She agreed but said she could not let he and his son in. Stewie said “I’m not waiting in line again. She said ‘Sir, you need to leave.’ (He says) Listen, I’m not leavin’. I just waited in line for an hour-and-a-half, I’m not waiting another hour-and-a-half to get back in.” Then the stadium supervisor says to Stewie that he has to go to something called “The NFL Ticket Teissuance Lot” to get reissued tickets.
Stewie said – and rightly because there’s no such thing as an “NFL Ticket Reissuance Lot,” she made that up – “I’m not leaving.” The Supervisor said that if he didn’t leave “We’re going to bring the police over here, and they’re going to arrest you.”
The stadium screws up and threatens to arrest him, rather than help him.
So – as I predicted while Stewie was explaining what happened – they sent him to “Lot 11″ and no one was there. And another security guard said the stadium people were sending patrons to Lot 11, but they needed to go to Lot 4, clear on the other side of the massive Cowboys Stadium. It took he and his Son another 20 minutes or so to walk over to Lot 4.
But once they got to Lot 4, it was fenced off. So another security guard sent them over to a trailer: the NFL Ticketmaster Trailer. That’s where he got some help because Stewie says the Ticketmaster people were dealing with other patrons who were sent to them, even though it wasn’t their problem. But, unlike the Cowboys Stadium people at the NFL Tailgate Party, the Ticketmaster people were kind enough to make some calls and try and help Stewie and his son.
By the time the Ticketmaster people figured out where to send him, there “was a group of about 400 to 500 irate people who just stood in line for an hour-and-a-half to two hours and just experienced the same thing we did. So there’s ready to be a riot going on.” he said.
So the NFL had put a tent up to help them, but that was another quarter-mile away, in an outer lot away from the stadium, and accessible via a foot bridge. (Man, the miles are starting to pile up, here.)
So once they get to this tent, “There are three NFL guys standing their. Said ‘Ok we are here to get our tickets reissued.’ (They said) Oh, no. We don’t have any tickets for you.” So Stewie asked “What are you going to do?” And the answer he said he got back from the NFL people at the tent was “We don’t know.”
Stewie was confused by the whole deal. After waiting for another 20 minutes, an NFL person made a call and told the crowd that developed, “Everybody in Section 426 to 430 (he said 126 to 130 in the video, but corrected himself as he talked) you’re OK to go in,” and then, Stewie says, “He runs away. He literally ran away.”
Stewie’s tickets were in Section 429 A, upper deck level. The Sections that were the problem were Sections 426 to 430, a special set of bleacher seats installed because the Dallas North Texas Super Bowl people wanted to break the Super Bowl game attendance record.
And those seats, Stewie said, were “very dangerous..and extremely steep and a little rickety. The hall ways between the bleachers were too narrow.” He contends that the narrow passage way, combined with a lack of signage along the Cowboys Stadium stairwells, would have made it chaotic to get out of the place in an emergency.
Because of that, and the weather and staffing issues, and the cab strike, the Dallas Super Bowl 2011 was a “terrible experience” for Stewie. He doesn’t want the Super Bowl to return to Dallas, even though he thinks Cowboys Stadium itself is amazing. I think Dallas deserves another chance, but then, unlike Atlanta in 2000, I wasn’t there.
What Can The NFL Do?
The big question is what can the NFL do to avoid this problem in the future? Well, let’s take a look at what happened according to what Stewie said. The first problem was with the lack of crisis management training to the staff at the NFL Tailgate Party. Had the Supervisor took it upon herself to really help patrons in trouble, the “Lot 11 diversion” would not have happened. She also treated Stewie (and perhaps others) as if they did something wrong, when they did not.
It reads and sounds like the Supervisor at the Tailgate Party was just passing the buck, which made the ticket problem morph into a service problem. Ticketmaster is to be commended for having people who cared enough to help, but she could have done that too.
The other problem was with the cabs and the weather and how Dallas handled it. The Texas habit of treating cold weather as this weird thing that happens, rather than something they are prepared to deal with, has, after decades of inaction, finally caught up to them – and at a time when great planning matters most.
Snow is a part of life in Dallas. There should be snow-removal machines in abundance, and not just for Super Bowls.
And The Super Bowl Ticket Brokers?
Now on the matter of ticket brokers and Super Bowls, that’s a hard nut to crack, but the best thing the NFL can do is have an online Super Bowl-only secondary ticket market system that has a price limit for tickets posted there.
The system would, at least in theory, deter brokers from reselling them there because the profit margin would be eliminated, and it would give those patrons who really can’t use their tickets and don’t want to gouge people a place to go and sell them.
As for the seat problem at Cowboys Stadium, it reads like a last minute decision made more by the Stadium, and not the NFL. In fact, it feels like the NFL staff may have balked at the decision to add the seats. Knowing NFL Special Events as I do, it’s hard to see them just rubber-stamping the decision to add the new seats.
I think that’s why the fire marshall was brought in so late; it seems the NFL was harmed by a last minute decision by the Dallas and Cowboys Stadium hosts all to break an attendance record that, with all of that drama, it reportedly didn’t break after all.
Stewie told me that some of the people who were part of his “fire marshall” group were sent downstairs to a basement in Cowboys stadium, where they watched the game on tape-delayed big screens and had access to a special bar. All the better to get drunk and stew about what happened to them.
Oh, and getting transportation out of the stadium wasn’t much better. Stewie spent another $200 for a van ride back to the Sheraton. So if you’re adding this all up, that’s about $4,000 – not including the hotel room – that he spent for this Super Bowl. I’ve never spent anywhere close to that for any Super Bowl game week.