Saturday, December 19, 2015

Gathering At ‘The Fifty’

[ed. If you haven't read Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, I highly recommend it.]

The offer to watch the Dallas Cowboys play from the owner Jerry Jones’s suite is extended during the summer, but the formal invitation is not sent until a week before the game.

The package arrives by overnight mail for out-of-town guests — it is hand-delivered by team security personnel to those in the area — and contains a box holding an acrylic tray with the Cowboys star logo etched in the middle. Nestled inside the tray is a card requesting that the recipients join the Jones family “on the fifty” (as in yard line), along with tickets, a parking map and a parking pass.

All visitors receive valet privileges, but only some are afforded the luxury of driving beneath AT&T Stadium, to the base of an elevator that lifts them directly into the suite.

“It’s the most valuable thing we have,” said Jones’s daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, an executive vice president of the team. “Even better than the seat.”

There are 48 of those seats, terraced in three rows, and one of Anderson’s unofficial duties is teaming with her mother, Gene Jones, to determine how each is filled — who, exactly, is granted entry into one of the most exclusive spaces in the sporting realm.

Los Angeles does not have a football team, so on Cowboys game days, Hollywood comes to AT&T Stadium.

As the irrepressible owner (and general manager) of the N.F.L.’s richest team, Jones wields considerable power on league matters, though he offers only occasional input on the composition of his own suite. His wife and daughter strive for a convivial atmosphere and a diverse crowd filled with business associates, arts patrons, political figures, celebrities, friends and family members.

“It’s always quite a puzzle to see that everyone does think that they’re the most important person in the room,” Anderson said. “You want to make sure that everyone has a great experience and not feel like they were slighted.”

That desire is reflected in subtle ways, like the menu — loaded with comfort foods like hot dogs and fried chicken and chicken fried steak — and the availability of household items, like safety pins and Tylenol. Spill on your shirt? Here’s some stain remover and a hair dryer. Feeling cold? We’ll fetch you a blanket.

A photographer roams the suite to shoot pictures of guests with members of the Jones family, and again at halftime, when two cheerleaders come up to pose with anyone interested. When visitors open gift bags that are passed out to them in the fourth quarter, they will find that one of those photos has been framed. Everyone receives a hat — the style changes every season — and a book detailing the art and architecture at the stadium.

“I knew it was going to be a neat, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the “Today” show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, who attended the Nov. 1 game against Seattle, said in a telephone interview. “What you don’t know is just how exquisite an experience it is.”

by Ben Shipgel, NY Times | Read more:
Image: Allison V. Smith