NADA members do double talk, and that's OK

Car dealers Tom Benson and Red McCombs should be forgiven if they have been seen talking to themselves. They have a good excuse.

They are among a few individuals who are on both sides in the debate over whether dates for the upcoming Super Bowl and the 2002 National Automobile Dealers Association convention in New Orleans should be switched.

The debate arose because a week of regular-season games was postponed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

McCombs owns the Minnesota Vikings, and he also owns Red McCombs Enterprises, a dealership group in the San Antonio area.

Benson owns the New Orleans Saints, and he also owns Chevrolet and Mercedes-Benz stores in New Orleans and San Antonio, and Isuzu, Honda and Mazda stores in San Antonio.

Benson even has a third role. He is a member of the New Orleans host committee for Super Bowl XXXVI - an event estimated to be worth more than $300 million in local economic activity.

John Berg-strom, Wisconsin's largest deal-er with 20 stores, is on the board of the Green Bay Packers. Wayne Huizenga, chairman of AutoNation Inc., owns the Miami Dolphins. And the Ford family owns the Detroit Lions.

On the same team?

The splitting and sharing of interests don't end with the owners. Automakers and dealer groups schedule a variety of promotional events tied to the Super Bowl. And the industry is one of the biggest advertisers on pro football broadcasts.

While such entanglements create potential conflicts, they also may help produce an agreement between the National Football League and NADA - at least if McCombs and Benson are true indicators.

"Automobile dealers and football people are made of a lot of the same thing," Benson said. "And they are going to get this done."

He suggested that throwing in a few free Super Bowl tickets for dealers might help.

Still, keeping track of when Benson is speaking as a dealer and when he's speaking as an NFL owner is tricky.

He said, for example: "I believe they (the dealers) want to be cooperative and do what's necessary. The National Football League did not start this mess. We as dealers need to try to help them (pro football)."

Now, about the money

Likewise, McCombs said he has been talking to colleagues in both camps to help them work out the complicated logistical and financial details of the scheduling bind.

The options considered - ranked from less desirable to more desirable, at least in the minds of the NFL - are these:

  • Reduce the number of teams making the playoffs and shorten the playoff schedule.

  • Delay the Super Bowl a week from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3 and move it to another city or get NADA to reschedule its Feb. 2-5 convention in New Orleans.

    The football league and NADA were negotiating the matter last week.

    Another dealer trying to help work things out last week was Marshall Hebert, owner of Hebert Town & Country Chrysler-Jeep in Shreveport, La., and an NADA director.

    He said dealers from all over his state - plus Gov. Mike Foster - had urged him to do what he can to keep the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

    Hebert said he's concerned that NADA is being portrayed as a bad guy in some media reports and on some talk shows, largely over its request for reimbursement for losses caused by a switch.

    "We don't want to make any money," Hebert said. "We just don't want to lose any."

    So, should the NFL agree to pay all the costs of an NADA rescheduling?

    Said a suddenly less talkative

    McCombs: "I'm not going to go there."

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