Combative Jones acknowledges regret over Super Bowl seating
DALLAS (AP) Called into a courtroom to testify, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sparred Tuesday with an attorney for fans suing the NFL over a seating mess at the 2011 Super Bowl in his billion-dollar showplace stadium while acknowledging regret that some ticket-holders didn’t have a place to sit.
Jones spent about 2 1/2 hours on the stand Tuesday, the highlight of a federal trial made a little more dramatic by several terse exchanges between the talkative owner and plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Avenatti.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn had to intervene at one point, telling both men to quit talking over each other and later admonishing Jones by telling him to simply answer the attorney’s questions and ”don’t figure out what he’s implying.”
About 1,250 temporary seats were deemed unsafe hours before the game in which Green Bay beat Pittsburgh, forcing about 850 ticket holders to move to new seats and 400 others to standing-room locations. Seven fans sued, saying they didn’t have seats or their seats had obstructed views. The lawsuit alleges the NFL breached its ticket contract and that settlement offers failed to fully compensate them.
The NFL has said it fully compensated displaced fans. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who provided videotaped testimony last week, said the league was responsible for the issues.
Jones, who is also team’s general manager, smiled and looked directly at the eight-person jury early in his testimony just hours before the opening of NFL free agency. But when Avenatti started pressing him about whether he had a strong desire to set a Super Bowl attendance record, Jones grew agitated, frequently pointing at the attorney and talking even after being told to stop by the attorney and the judge.
Avenatti showed several emails with references to Jones’ interest in the Super Bowl attendance record of 103,985, set in 1980 at the Rose Bowl. The crowd for the 2011 game was 103,219.
”Just answer my question,” Avenatti said at one point as he asked Jones whether he had shared his desire to break the record.
”You will not accept my answer,” Jones replied after earlier referring to the fact that the stadium was designed to hold 111,000 people, though not all of them would be seated. ”The record was automatically broken when we built the stadium.”
Avenatti shot back: ”But people still had to have seats.”
Later, during a quiet moment, Jones turned to the judge and asked: ”Is this fair?”
Avenatti asked whether it was fair that people ended up without seats, and Jones said, ”No. No. I regret that. I regret that.”
Jones said the NFL decided against his recommendation to sell standing-room tickets the same way the Cowboys do for home games. Temporary seats were constructed in the plazas of both ends zones and in some parts of the concourses in the 80,000-seat stadium.
Installation of the seats didn’t run on schedule, and officials were scrambling on game day to try to finish before the fire marshal declared several sections unusable.
Jones said he believed the league was responsible for the seating problems, but said he had a stake in the issue ”because no matter what happens there at the stadium, I would be accountable in the public eye.”
The Dallas owner was initially named in the lawsuit along with the franchise, but Lynn excluded both in one of her pretrial rulings. Jones tried to avoid testifying in a hearing attended by his attorneys last week, but the judge ruled otherwise.
Jones repeatedly said he didn’t recall conversations with NFL executives about seating issues in the days before the Super Bowl, and said he believed the league and the team did everything possible to finish the seats in time.
Closing arguments were expected Wednesday in a trial that started last week.