Chris’s Corner: Sporting Event Tickets, Anyone?

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By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Council Chairman

I was fortunate to have a good 30-year career in the newspaper business, a career that took me across the country and gave me lots of opportunities to do things I probably wouldn’t have done if I had chosen another field for my career.

Beyond many business accomplishments I’m proud of, which helped fund good journalism, I also had a lot of fun. I got to see Dallas Cowboys games from a luxury suite at the old Texas Stadium in Irving. I attended the inaugural race of the Coca Cola 300 at the then brand new Texas Motor Speedway and watched the race in a quiet climate controlled suite with catered food. I watched many Indianapolis Colts games from a luxury suite. I got to dine privately with the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who also happen to own newspapers, in their luxury box. And shortly after moving to Niagara Falls, I got to see the Buffalo Sabres play, ironically from the comforts of the Buffalo News’ luxury suite. (Ironically because they were a competitor at the time.) I’ve attended many other such events, which is also ironic in that I’m not really a sports fan.

These very expensive luxury boxes were considered investments by the companies that paid handsomely for them, ways to develop relationships with large advertisers, relationships that were crucial to our business. 

I mention all of this because this topic seems to have become a focal point for local media outlets, locked onto the idea that having these types of luxury suites at sporting venues may somehow be unethical.

Out of all the sporting events I’ve attended in these luxury boxes, they were all packed with employees of the media companies. It only makes sense. Why would a newspaper company invest in these high priced suites to build better relationships with customers, only to send customers to the suites without people with which to build relationships? That would make no sense whatsoever. So at any given game you’d have a mix of auto dealers, grocers, retailers…and a bunch of newspaper people.

So now I read, seemingly often, that a publicly owned gambling institution has invested in suites at sporting venues, just as newspaper companies do. And of course, they are used to develop relationships (substitute players for advertisers), which means, by the definition of the word “relationship”, that they would send employees along with the players/customers. And somehow, this is wrong?

What am I missing?

But wait a minute, Chris, it’s different if it’s done with public funds! Is it? 

If media companies invest in these luxury suites for business development purposes, and if it’s in the public interest to further develop business in the enterprises owned by the public, then shouldn’t we want those charged with developing these businesses to use methods that are used in the private sector?

There’s a legitimate question of whether this institution, or any institution, including newspaper companies, should invest in these suites as opposed to other business development options. There’s also a legitimate question as to whether the names of attendees should be made public, although I’m not sure whether that would impact a potential guest’s inclination to attend. Especially if they thought they would be publicly shamed for attending. But the idea that the people who run this organization should not attend is borne of ignorance.

Maybe if media companies invited editors and reporters to attend some of these sporting events, and maybe if they did a better job of integrating them into their business operations (something journalists usually resist, sometimes vehemently), perhaps some of the reporting you read in the media would be balanced by an at least surface understanding of the reasoning behind some of the decisions businesses make.

But despite these imperfections in the process, journalism is incredibly important. So while I may shake my head as I read media reports fraught with insinuations that are off base, I’m glad my journalist friends are out there, asking questions and digging for stories. We need them. Now more than ever.

I just wish they were slightly more informed. Perhaps their employers can take them along to the next big game.


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