When Mark Patrick, host of Fox SportsRadio's early morning show heard that National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue might ask the National Automobile Dealers Association to swap the dates of its convention with the Super Bowl date, he joked:

“Can you imagine Paul Tagliabue sitting down with car dealers and negoitiating this? Car dealers would be the last people I would want to have to negotiate something like this with. Although, maybe they could come up with some sort of monthly payment or work out a trade.”

As it turned out, Mr. Patrick's scenario wasn't all that outlandish. The scheduling conflict arose when the NFL postponed its games during the second week of the season because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As a result, the Super Bowl in New Orleans would be pushed back a week — right into the NADA's Feb. 2-5 convention in the same city.

Because of the scheduling conflict, the NFL was going to be forced to either cancel one week of the season, cancel the first round of its playoffs or relocate the Super Bowl. None of the options were attractive. So Mr. Tagliabue contacted the NADA to explore the possibility of switching the dates for the two events.

At first, NADA's response was less than favorable to the idea, and for good reason. The convention's location is booked 10 years in advance and planning had begun 18 months ago for the 2002 convention. Considering the convention uses 300,000 square feet of exhibit space and about 20,000 hotel rooms, and with an expected attendance of 30,000, a date switch would be a logistical nightmare.

NADA's initial refusal to switch sparked a public relations nightmare for the association, says its chairman Robert Maguire.

“When the request was presented, we thought, ‘No way.’ Paul Tagliabue wrote a letter thanking us for considering it and said he understood why we could not accommodate them,” says Mr. Maguire.

NADA's refusal, however, rankled both NFL fans and politicians alike.

David Hyatt, NADA's public relations director, was lambasted on Fox's Kylie and Booms sports radio show for not accommodating the NFL. Chuck Booms, one of the co-hosts even went as far as to demand a boycott of the nation's car dealers.

Mr. Hyatt fielded 350 phone calls concerning the issue — 312 of which he characterized as “unpleasant.” Mr. Maguire says some of the calls were obscene.

Politicians weighed in, many of them “wrapped in the American flag,” says Mr. Maguire. Senator John Breaux of Louisinana, summoned NADA President Phil Bradyand Mr. Tagliabue to his office. Senator Breaux told them “A lot of people have given, and you two gentlemen are going to give also.”

And so the negotiations began. Two task forces were formed representing both the NFL and NADA. They negotiated for 10 days. During the negotiations, Mr. Maguire said that Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints football team and 33 dealerships, called him several times and at one point remarked, “You know, Bob, if you get this done, there is nothing you can't have.”

Mr. Maguire says, “My 18-year-old son said, ‘I sure hope you got some Super Bowl tickets.’ But we weren't interested in tickets. We were interested in recouping losses.”

A deal was finally struck. The NFL agreed to give the NADA $7.5 million to cover losses and contribute $500,000 to NADA's fund for the survivors of the September 11 attack. The new dates for the NADA Convention are January 26 -29 and the Super Bowl is now on February 3.

Mr. Maguire says NADA reckons its losses at $11 million. But he says, “We figured $7.5 million was the max the NFL would go.”

He adds, “What constitutes a good deal? It's when nobody likes the deal they got. Why'd we do it? Because it was the right thing to do for America.”

Besides he says, “I wouldn't want to be walking around New Orleans when the Super Bowl is being played in Pasadena.”

Keep updated with NADA news at www.wardsdealer.com

Mitigating the date switch

NADA is working to offset any inconveniences or problems attendees may encounter because of the date switch. Some things NADA has announced:

  • Pre-paid registration fees for the convention are waived for dealer and manager members.

  • Non-member dealers, managers and one guest/spouse, will be refunded 50% of the registration fee already paid or pre-paid up to Dec. 10.

  • For those planning to register on site the over-the-counter registration fee will be discounted by 50%.

  • Several airlines will waive administrative costs and fare differences.

  • Hotels have indicated a willingness to switch reservations.