ARLINGTON, Texas (
) -- It only took a preseason punt's few seconds of hang time to bring
and its surrounding "fan experience" to an inevitable collision.
When a ball booted by Tennessee Titans backup punter A.J. Trapasso clocked the $40 million, 11,520 square foot high-definition scoreboard hanging over the field of the Dallas Cowboys' new $1.15 billion stadium in Arlington, Texas, two weeks ago, it prompted both an NFL rule change and a look at how activity on the playing field is trumped by the amenities around it. While a similar scenario will reset the clock and force a replay of the down for the rest of the 2009 season, the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones weren't forced to move the screen and seemed incredulous that a punter would kick above the 85-foot limit set by the NFL.
Final score: Cowboys Stadium 1, football 0.
A rendering of the new Cowboys Stadium.
For "America's Team," the biggest story of the offseason hasn't been if this is the year that Tony Romo wins a big game. The main narrative focuses on the pleasure palace Jones built for himself, with the help of $933 million in bond issues the city of Arlington will still be paying when Romo's collecting his pension. In the current economic climate, the new stadium -- much like Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field before it -- is a decadently quaint throwback.
"Building cycles and investment cycles don't perfectly match other cycles - whether it's the unemployment rate, cost of living or the stock market," says Charles Euchner, author of
Playing the Field: Why Sports Teams Move and Why Cities Fight To Keep Them
(The Johns Hopkins University Press 1994). "This is another one of those mismatches, but I bet you that in 1930 in the early stages of the Great Depression, there were palaces opening then too -- with people passing men with tin cups on the way in."
Much has been made of the stadium's $60 pizzas, created by executive chef Eduardo Alvarez of the same catering service used by the new Yankee Stadium, and the $100,000 to $500,000 suites that are still waiting on owners to choose their
. For a $150,000 "seat option" and $3,400 in season tickets, however, the members of the stadium's Founders Club are treated like the new oligarchy.
Their seats are situated right on the 50 yard line, their cachet gets them first crack at 2011 Super Bowl tickets and every other event the stadium hosts. Their all-access pass includes VIP parking inside the stadium, entry to a field-level club and all-inclusive dining. What's on the menu? Carving stations of New Zealand baby lamb chops and Kobe beef; a truffled macaroni and cheese bar with fontina, jalapeno havarti and white cheddar; a full quesadilla station with beef tenderloin and free beer and wine.
It's not that America's Team is shunning Tom 30-Pack. For $29, the Cowboys offer a "Party Pass" that herds customers into six standing-room-only "party deck" holding pens. Amenities include the "new price point for fans" and a view of the aforementioned video board that is "better than watching a 60-inch HDTV in your living room." Avoiding condescending PR speak alone is worth the upgrade to actual seating.
That's really the only reason to enter the reserved sections, where $59-per-game season tickets have been sold out since the stadium was a glint in Jones's eye and $75 individual game tickets top last season's $72 NFL average. While the stadium offers a retractable roof and the world's largest end-zone doors, it lists its video board among its reserved seat "amenities." One wonders why "football game" and "oxygen" weren't included in the $2,000 to $5,000 seat option and $790 to $1,250 annual season ticket price.
In fact, to access luxury amenities like private lounges and first dibs on concerts, buyers have to leapfrog the parking-privileged loge seats ($12,000 down payment with $1,240 a year) in the upper deck and splurge on the lower-level sideline Club Seats ($16,000 to $50,000 up front and $3,400 annually).
Those off-field perks will come in handy if the Cowboys fall short on the field this year, as the Sporting News predicts, or hit the kind of late-season swoon that has given the team an 18-28 record this decade in games played after Dec. 1. Given the team's late-season results during the past two years -- a humiliating defeat to the New York Giants in the 2007-2008 NFC divisional playoffs and a 44-6 season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles to knock them out of the playoffs last year -- a bottomless hot dog bar could double as comfort food.
The biggest win and best sideline view of the season may belong to the city of Dallas , which decided in 2004 to pocket $425 million it had originally offered to help build the stadium within its limits.
"It sounds to me like Dallas got exactly what Dallas would dream of getting," Euchner says. "It gets all of the prestige of a major football franchise with none of the traffic and none of the costs."
It may also be the best punt Cowboys fans see all year.
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.