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Thursday, February 11, 2010

t Cowboys Stadium, big board is the star attraction

ARLINGTON -- Cowboys Stadium's signature feature is not its grandeur, LA nightclub-style bars or plush suites, but rather its TV set. Unless you are directly underneath JerryTron, your eyes seemingly are unable to look at anything else, including the action on the field.

"The awe factor sets in when you walk in the building and you see it," said Texas men's basketball coach Rick Barnes, who coached the first basketball game in the building in December.

JerryTron, which once again will be the center of attention in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, is another technological creation that creates both intimacy and separation. It's akin to attending a party and texting the friend standing 5 feet from you.

Depending on your point of view, seat in the stands or how much money you spent, JerryTron is the single greatest creation for a live sporting event, or another reason to stay at home and watch the event on your TV.

It is the rare case of something almost being too much of a good thing.

"You can't see it that way. That perception was there before [the stadium opened]," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "But that battleship carrier coming over that screen at you is a lot different than it is in a movie or a TV screen. Or the same picture of the Grand Canyon. Your body understands space -- that's why it's more dramatic to see it in a movie house. It's about space. You see people doing things in a movie. They are bigger than life. You feel that space.

"The screen is telling you a story. It's a part of telling you a story. That same Grand Canyon on TV is one thing. That same Grand Canyon on that screen out there on the board is a totally different deal than at home in your living room."

JerryTron is so big and so awesome that Jones and the Cowboys recruit events with the idea that people will attend primarily to watch the event on the stadium's big TV.

"We're in a new territory," said Paul Swangard, the managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "The only fair comparison has been... people going to an arena to watch their home team play on the road.

"Nothing I can point to can compare to this environment that Jerry has put together. He's put together a viewing experience that is so different and so unique and so compelling it's all worth the price of admission. You are selling a set of benefits at a price.

"What Jerry has done is added incremental benefits to less-than-the-best seats in the house that has raised the value again. That is a lesson learned for all the teams."

Because Jones wants his new toy to be a major revenue producer, don't be surprised if Cowboys Stadium is open for movies sometime in the near future.

JerryTron was the centerpiece of the Cowboys' pitch to land the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight. How could Arlington take away from Las Vegas what was going to be one of the biggest prize fights in history? How do 100,000 people, all likely paying at least $40, realistically watch two men bouncing around a 16-by-25 foot ring and have any prayer of actually seeing it?


"What I hope happens is you don't know what you watched the most of," said Jones, who was inspired to build this massive video board after watching Celine Dion perform in Las Vegas, during which the performer was surrounded by screens.

"[After the show] I couldn't remember if what I saw was her, behind her, the periphery or otherwise. It all blended together."

Pacquiao-Mayweather fell through. Instead, Cowboys Stadium will host Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey on March 13 with the capacity set for 40,000.

From the performer's perspective, JerryTron isn't a problem.

"It's actually an advantage because you feel like you are closed in, on top of you like a ceiling," Barnes said. "Of all the major arenas we've participated in, that's the best one in terms of how big and massive it is, yet it feels closed in.... I think it's going to be an incredible experience for the NBA to come in there and have the All-Star Game."

From the customer's perspective, JerryTron is all about perspective.

Paying $100 for an event ticket and watching the video board more than the actual performance is not an entirely new phenomenon.

As video boards across the country grew larger, and clearer, it's not totally uncommon for fans to remind themselves to look at the action and not the TV set.

What is decidedly different is promoting the experience of watching a video screen in conjunction with the live event.

"There is something uniquely communal about sporting events, and people are drawn to saying I was there at that event rather than 40 acres away from seeing those guys up close and up front," Swangard said. "I don't see it disappearing any time soon. That is a beauty of sport. It's a live experience and a lot of times it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Even if you can't remember if you saw it in front of you, or on JerryTron.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760


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