By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's an epic showdown between elite 10-1 powers. The fabled rivalry that brought us the 1967 Ice Bowl and the 1995 NFC Championship Game, on Thursday night is providing the inside track to Super Bowl XLII. It's what once was Tom Landry vs. Vince Lombardi and Bob Lilly vs. Bart Starr, reincarnated as Tony Romo vs. Brett Favre. It's the Cowboys' most important, most-hyped regular-season home game in 25 years.
But best of all, it's not 2009.
If it was, you'd have to drive to Arlington. And you'd have to pay $154,350. That's right, One hundred fifty-four thousand three hundred fifty dollars.
"Cowboy Up" indeed.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend the Cowboys mailed—fittingly, in shiny silver envelopes—the initial pricing to the most exclusive seats in their new $1 billion stadium, scheduled to open in September 2009. Two words describe the reaction of season-ticket holders: Sticker. Shock.
The simple math reveals the same seat that costs $129 in Texas Stadium will go for $340 in Jonestown. The Devil's details, however, require a calculator and, perhaps, a barf bag. Hope you're sitting down.
Scott Weidenfeller is the chief marketing officer for Richardson-based Taqua, an advanced IP services company. Admittedly an irrationally loyal Cowboys fan, he's had four season tickets on the 35 at Texas Stadium since 1999. To keep comparable seats in the new joint he'll be forced into a preposterous, six-figure, 30-year financial outlay. Each of his four seats would cost the $340 per game, multiplied by 10 games (eight regular-season and two pre-season) for a total of $13,600. Throw in the $75 per game parking fee—soon to be known as the planet's most outrageous cover charge—for another $750, making Weidenfeller's annual sub-total $14,350.
But this is where it gets really fun. Because before season-ticket holders can pay to park and to sit, they must cough up a fortune for a 30-year personal seat license. And near the field on the 35, that means $35,000. Per seat. Otherwise known as $140,000.
Good news: Jerry Jones isn't, in fact, demanding the rights to your family's DNA as a down payment.
Bad news: Similar "bonds" went for just $250 per seat to build Texas Stadium in 1971.
The financial commitment of $154,350 is more than three times the combined annual income of the average American household. And, to think, we've factored in nary a beer nor hot dog nor foam finger.
"Wow," Weidenfeller said Monday after digesting the inflation. "I'm not sure what I'll do. But I do know that I can't keep all four seats. That's pretty steep."
The club seats, with individual seat options running from $16,000 to $150,000, are the stadium's most expensive. Cheaper seats in the upper levels and end zones will be announced in February, and current non-season ticket holders will be given the chance to buy in June. The 30-year option, which gives owners the right to keep, transfer or sell the seats, is payable in three methods: in full, in three payments or financed via an 8-percent loan through the Cowboys, who are now apparently also America's Bank.
"There are a lot of seating options in the new stadium, these are just the first," Cowboys Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Greg McElroy said last week. "We're confident we'll be able to accommodate most fans."
Weidenfeller is at least willing to listen. He made an appointment to hear the pitch at the team's new preview center in Arlington where new sales boss Chad Estis and 36 reps will offer a 45-minute presentation—sans tour of the new building—aimed at softening the blow of the price tags. Weidenfeller was reminded to "please bring your preferred method of payment." After receiving the details, customers have only 10 days—talk about sales pressure—to purchase their seats or lose them forever.
During Thanksgiving Day's 34-3 blowout of the New York Jets, Weidenfeller said talk amongst fans eventually wandered to the new pricing.
"Most of the people around me said there's no way, they just can't afford it," he said. "A lot of fans think these prices are absolutely nuts."
So do some former Cowboys employees.
Several longtime sales reps have resigned in the past few months, fearful of peddling a product with astronomical, unprecedented prices.
Said one former staffer, "The numbers are ridiculous. All but impossible to sell."
Even with a seemingly optimistic renewal rate of 50 percent, the uncorking of the vast Fort Worth market and the coolest stadium in the history of mankind, the Cowboys are still flirting with pricing out the common fan. The new digs will host Super Bowls and Final Fours and Texas-OUs and Texas A&M-Arkansases and Cotton Bowls and BCS National Championship Games and Romo's maturation and, likely someday, Hannah Montana's "Comeback" tour. But will it entice the tailgating blue-collar fan with the Roy Williams jersey and the painted face? Or merely the corporate exec arriving via limo and sipping Château La Mondotte in his Domenico Vacca suit?
I mean, 21-inch-wide cushioned seats, upscale amenities and the world's biggest video board are appealing. But think about the home theater you could build for $154,350.
Moral of the story: Get your ass to Texas Stadium while you can. There are only 10 regular-season Cowboys games remaining at the lovable old dump, and Thursday will likely be the best of them all.
Packers-Cowboys has all the feel of the Washington Redskins' visit in 1983. In a showdown of 12-2 rivals, the Redskins arrived wearing Army fatigues and left with a victory when Cowboys quarterback Danny White audibled Landry into his infamous "No, Danny! No!"
The Cowboys and Packers enter as, by far, the class of the NFC. Favre and Romo (who, painfully, idolized Brett while growing up in Wisconsin) are the NFC's two top-rated passers. Terrell Owens is the NFL's most dangerous offensive weapon; the Packers' physical cornerbacks have allowed only one 100-yard receiver. The winner moves to 11-1 and will likely play the NFC Championship in its own stadium.
The significance? Of the last 14 teams to host the NFC title game, 10 advanced to the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys will win Thursday.
Because they don't want to travel to Lambeau Field on January 20, when the average temperature is 24 degrees. And because they don't want to wait to host the NFC Championship Game until 2009, when the new stadium's Chablis and caviar ambience will mute their home-field advantage.
"It's going to be more like Wimbledon than an NFL crowd," said another former Cowboys employee. "They might sell it out, but it will be a group of elitists who don't live and die with the outcome of each game. That's the shame of it all."
Goodbye, America's Team.
Hello, Corporate Cowboys.