Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Assessing the Lure of the Luxury Box

Ever been to a sporting event and looked, perhaps longingly, at the glass-enclosed luxury boxes? Commentator Frank Deford has quite a bit to say about those accommodations.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Spectators at the Tour de France have only a passing glance at the action as the cyclists speed by them, nothing like the plush accommodations some fans enjoy at sporting events here in America. And that brings this question from commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD reporting:

Do you get the feeling that there are really no more stadiums and arenas being built in the United States? All these palaces where sports are played are flying up all over. But what they really seem to be are just a bunch of luxury boxes that happen to be attached to a few hard grandstand seats. The profit is sports come from selling luxury boxes to expense accounts in swells.

(Singing) So, take me up to the luxury box, take me off from the crowd. Give me some champagne and caviar. I don't care if they even keep score. Let me call, call, call for the waitress. If she won't come it's a pox. For it's one, two, three kinds of wine at the old luxury box.

And boy, have you peasants ever been in one? Boy, are luxury boxes wonderful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEFORD: The booze, the fine food, the service, the private powder rooms. Best of all, especially at a freezing-cold football game, is deigning to glance down upon the poor hoi polloi just outside your luxury box, their lips blue, their bodies shivering as they look back at you with wistful, longing eyes like poor urchins at the window of the pastry shop. It's glorious.

Being in a luxury box is better even that not having to pay any estate tax. Isn't it paradoxical, too? Sports are supposed to be for the masses, yet you will not find luxury boxes at the opera or the ballet. Even when you get a house seat on Broadway, that's all you get, a seat; just the place to rest your backside. Only in sports do we generally find plush, sumptuous, lavish, condominium accommodations.

So can you believe it? There is actually a place in America today where humble citizens are fighting the construction of luxury boxes. Yes, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of what is called The Big House - the largest stadium in America - many alumni and professors of the University of Michigan are vigorously trying to convince the Board of Regents not to approve the plans of the university president and the athletic director to spend something like a quarter of a billion dollars to build 78 suites that would rent up to $85,000 apiece for a mere seven college football games.

The Big House is a huge oval and the luxury boxes, totaling 425,000 square feet, would do great aesthetic violence to the classical bowl. Since the game day (unintelligible) would cost so much to build, it's even dubious that they can actually make the university any money. That, after all, is the whole purpose of luxury boxes.

So finally, somewhere in the republic, the lowly common folk have risen up against the sports aristocracy. So let us with them give new voice to that big Michigan fight song, Hail to the Victors.

(Soundbite of music)

DEFORD: (Singing) Hail to the fat cats dining. Hail to the privileged gentry. Hail, hail to luxury box, the poshest(ph) and the best. Hail to the nouveau drinking. Hail to the high-hat blue bloods. Hail, hail to luxury box, the measure of success. The regents' vote is set for Friday.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from the people's station, WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford