Finally – An Expert

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by Tom Richard, AIA

A few years ago, in anticipation of an upcoming executive retreat, the facilitator distributed questionnaires to the would-be participants. One of the questions was, “What would you like to be known for in your industry?”   I remember my response was, “I’d like to be known as an expert in something – anything.”

One day during my tenure as the President & CEO of Merritt & Harris, Inc., I received a phone call from a person purporting to be an employee of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) radio. The person informed me that the talk show he represented was doing a segment on the law being proposed in Parliament that would prescribe minimum sizes for seating in sporting and entertainment venues. He had been referred to me as an expert in American stadium issues (Our M&H Sports Group had, at the time, served as consultants on more than 25 professional sports venues). The voice sounded suspiciously like one of my fellow principals affecting a phony British accent. Pulling a practical joke was certainly not beyond his idea of fun. Later I thought, “What if this was a legitimate call? I had better bone up on my seating history.” As the new Yankee Stadium was in construction at the time, I figured it was a good focus for discussion should the call turn out to be on the up and up.

At three o’clock that afternoon, I received a call informing me that the British program was on the air and that I was to stand by until addressed. (Wow, this really was a legitimate event.) When quizzed by the program’s hosts, I explained, “The original ‘House That Ruth Built’ had opened in 1923 with a capacity of 58,000 seats, some supposedly as narrow as 14 inches. The stadium capacity grew to 82,000 in 1928 when the grandstands were expanded and wooden bleachers were installed. The 1973 to 1976 renovation saw the old 18 inch wooden seats replaced by 22 inch wide plastic seats. The capacity was reduced to 54,028. In 2008 the new Yankee Stadium opened with 50,086 seat with widths ranging from 19 inches to 24 inches and leg room expanded by 3 ½ inches to 9 ½ inches, depending on the location. Judging from the expansion of the size of the seats, it can be deduced that American rear ends also grew, as did the length of their legs.” The response of the program hosts was that as long as Americans gorged themselves on chips (French fries) and hot dogs, our need for ever expanding seat widths would continue and the capacity of our existing venues would, therefore, continue to shrink.

So there you have it – I was finally an expert in something – and an international one at that. I never thought I would be deemed an expert in American rear end sizes, but now I apparently am. Be careful about what you wish for.

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