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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Patriots' New Plan for Gillette Stadium is a Greedy Slap in the Face

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If the Krafts have their way, season ticket-holders in the south end zone at Gillette Stadium may be displaced in 2015 for a new lounge. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

I don’t know which is worse; that the Kraft family is swiping some 1,500 seats away from season ticket-holders at Gillette Stadium in order to construct a lounge, or that said lounge will be built where the first 15-20 rows are currently located in the south end zone.

For real? Are we in line for a new CVS on the 50-yard-line too?

Welcome to Gillette Stadium, well on its way to becoming the worst venue in the National Football League. But hey, no personal seat licenses, right?

According to the Globe, the Krafts’ plan calls for gutting the end zone seating section for a super fun hangout that was compared to the Legends Club at TD Garden. Wonderful. That plan would nearly wipe out the entire end zone, leaving both ends of Gillette Stadium nearly bereft of any fan seating presence, which should do wonders for its already oft-criticized library atmosphere.

“You often hear about the Patriots crowd not being into games,’’ Patriots fan Steve Conchiglia, who shares a handful of seats in the third row of the end zone, told the Globe’s Bob Hohler. “So now they’re going to replace all of us — the people who are always standing and screaming — with more beautiful people who are just sitting around talking and aren’t into the game.’’

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As far as NFL end zones go, it should be quite the scene for Patriots scoring drive climaxes. Green Bay has the Lambeau Leap. Foxborough will soon have the Gillette Indifference. Now, with even more lethargy.

Who do we have to thank for this brilliant idea? Focus groups of course. Coincidentally, the Krafts skipped over the suggestion that season ticket-holders would also like to see lower prices at the concession stands. Because when you poll a fan base like what the Patriots have on what amenities would improve the weekly nightmare scenario that is attending a game on Route 1, "lounge" is definitely going to be the No. 1 priority for the majority, don't ya think?

According to Hohler, "The research indicated that many customers favor more amenities, such as a lounge experience that would be less costly than the stadium’s elite clubs. Season ticket-holders may pay an additional fee to join the new club, which will feature indoor and outdoor drinking and dining experiences. The fee has yet to be determined, as has the cost of building the facility."

If they relent soon, the soon- to-be displaced ticket-holders will receive added perks such as free parking for this upcoming season and...no that's about it. Act fast.

The minimum these people should be getting for their trouble is free tickets for the 2014 season. Free parking? Fire up the yippee anthem. I'm sure those folks who have made tailgating with friends at one of the many other lots littering Route 1 would be just as pleased to give up that experience (not to mention their own time-honored escape routes) so that the Kraft Empire can toss them an aloof sympathy card with free parking at the stadium parking lot. Hey, it’s closer to the Pro Shop. I guess?

Those affected by L’Affaire Du Lounge will be given priority in choosing an upgrade, but get this: those season ticket-holders will not be guaranteed the same priority for the 2015 season, when the Patriots hope to have the new area up and running. It also means those tens of thousands that have been on the Patriots season ticket waiting list for as much as a decade or more, now essentially have 1,500 more fans thrust ahead of them in the pecking order. Imagine being the one who was on the cusp of finally getting the call next offseason after years of waiting. If, as some reports suggest, the list is currently at about 60,000, you’re now 2.5 percent more in the back of the pack, which boasts a 99 percent renewal rate. Neat, huh?

When Bob Kraft built Gillette Stadium he was adamant about not having fans pay a personal seat license, which can reach up to $20,000 at some venues. As if Kraft weren’t treated as a saint already in the Commonwealth for rescuing the Patriots from the evil St. Louis grasp of James Orthwein, the notion that he was forgoing the PSL in the interest of the fans was seen as another gift in the long litany of maximizing the fan experience. In hindsight, the lack of a PSL is of enormous benefit for the Krafts, basically giving them eminent domain.

Kraft is no doubt one of the best owners in all of professional sports, but to opine that he’s beyond criticism – like a number of blind loyalists in both the media and fan base seem to preach – is ridiculous.

Nonstop applause to Mr. Kraft for building Gillette Stadium with his own mountainous pile of cash, but the place has to be the most minimalist stadium built in the NFL over the last two decades. The sprawling retail landscape that surrounds it has more character than the stadium itself, a concrete cavern that eschews any discernible identity. New England winters make it a frigid environment, but the design and lack of countenance make it a truly cold place year-round.

The Patriots Media Mafia will remind you that you’re no longer sitting in metal bleacher seats, all thanks to Robert Kraft, who’s far overdue for a parade, wouldn’t you say? True. I wonder how many of the season ticket-holders he’s kicking out of their seats enjoyed those same metallic rows long before Bob ever purchased the team.

The average ticket price last season was $277.96, the third-highest in the NFL. The commute down Route 1 is among the more painstaking annoyances any sports fan can put up with. Parking can run more than $50 per car. There are no elevators or escalators in the stadium for the common folk to access their seats. A beer will run you $10, and you’ll sit through an ever-increasing number of TV timeouts as the networks maximize the billions of dollars they’re investing to bring the product into your home in crisp high definition.

As the home NFL experience becomes more and more desirable, the Krafts’ desire to create an environment where their “common” season ticket-holders, not the ones holed up in the shi-shi Fidelity club already ruining the atmosphere, is duly noted. Why they would do it at the expense of thousands from their fan base, not to mention the backlash they’re receiving from other ticket holders who are not affected is deplorable. Besides, what’s wrong with the gaping hole at the other end of the stadium? The Krafts can’t look into building something there, an establishment that might actually improve the pathetic acoustics at the same time?

Why can’t this happen instead? Anyone?

According to a December, 2013 Mike Reiss piece on ESPN Boston, “NFL owners and some top executives gathered last week as part of a regularly scheduled league meeting, and one development with a Patriots tie-in is that upgrades for Gillette Stadium were approved. This is pretty common, as I understand it. The way it works is that every team has to share a certain percentage of ticket revenue with all teams, but in this case, part of the percentage the Patriots would normally share can instead be earmarked for stadium improvements. The league also approved the same thing for the Jaguars this year. So naturally the next question is: What improvements might be coming to Gillette, which opened in 2002? We’ll stay tuned.”

Well, here we are. Get out your toolboxes. The Krafts are building again, and this time the fans are getting screwed.


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