Your convention date is set for the first week in February. You’ve booked 17,000 hotel rooms for the annual event. You’ve leased 300,000 square feet of convention center space. You’ve signed 650 contracts for the big event in New Orleans.
And then someone asks you to change the dates to make way for their event.
OK, that someone is not just anyone. It’s the National Football League. And their event is not just any event. It’s the super bowl – which is usually played in late January but got pushed to early February when the September 11th terrorist attacks delayed the start of the football season.
Still, the National Automobile Dealers Association figured their annual convention is pretty important, too. So, when the NFL asked NADA to change the dates, NADA at first said no.
Then all hell broke loose. NADA took heat from politicians (including the Louisiana governor and a U.S. Senator from the state) and football fans alike.
“We got hundreds of calls, many of them unpleasant,” says NADA Chairman Robert Maguire. “One guy said, ‘You’re a bunch of a---holes.' We had a terrible PR problem.”
Among the callers was Tom Benson, owner of 33 dealerships – and also owner of the New Orleans Saints football team.
“I didn’t know him then. I sure know him now,” says Mr. Maguire. “He said it’s important to get the job done.”
Two task forces were formed representing both the NFL and NADA. They negotiated for 10 days.
A deal was eventually worked out in which the NFL will pay NADA $7.5 million to make the switch. Mr. Maguire says that’s about $3.5 million short of what it’s expected to cost.
“But we figured $7.5 million was the most the NFL would go,” says the NADA chairman. “And what constitutes a good deal is when nobody likes the deal they got.”
Why‘d the NADA do it?
Because, says Mr. Maguire, with all the things this country has gone through lately, “it was the right thing to do for America.”