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Cardinal Sin
Rick Reilly
August 01, 2005
Some people collect medieval torture devices. Others devote themselves to the study of plagues. Me, I just follow the Arizona Cardinals.
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August 01, 2005

Cardinal Sin

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Michael objects. "If people perceive me to be combative, I don't mean to be," he says. "Maybe my style is a little tough. But remember my background: I used to be a federal prosecutor [specializing in homicides]."

He and his father should do time just for screwing up a sure thing. In 1988, after 28 seasons in St. Louis, they moved the franchise to Phoenix--fifth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and dying for pro football--and got a list of 122,000 people who wanted season tickets. They immediately gouged customers by charging the highest average ticket price in the NFL. They leased Arizona State's 73,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe and wound up suing the school over signage revenue.

Seventeen years later Arizona has been the worst draw in the NFL for five years running--averaging 37,533 in 2004. It seems as if half the crowd is wearing the other team's jersey.

At least Phoenicians don't have to watch the Cards much. Because NFL games are blacked out locally if they're not sold out, Arizona fans haven't seen a home game on TV in five years. The Cardinals can be watched only on the road, where they're 1--20 since Oct. 6, 2002. That's one TV success in three years, breaking a record set by Geraldo Rivera.

Oh, wait. One game played locally was telecast in 2003--the Miami-- San Diego game, which was moved to Tempe during the Southern California wildfires. Hey, at least fans got to see pro football that day.

"The Cardinals need new owners real bad," says Bob Parsons, president of Scottsdale's, the world's biggest domain-name broker. "Advertising at their games is like advertising in a ghost town. Nobody goes there."

Would the Bidwills sell the NFL's lowest-valued franchise ($552 million)? "No way," says Michael. "This has been in our family forever."

And why should they sell, when next season they move into a new stadium in suburban Glendale (a gift from taxpayers, who are footing two thirds of the $370 million cost)? See, kids? Pinch nickels, lose like the French army and cash in!

Some people think the Cards are coming around, what with the new stadium and signing quarterback Kurt Warner. This only proves that glue-sniffing is alive and well in this country. Bank on it: The Bidwills will keep making more by doing less than anybody else in the NFL. "You should see the restroom ratios in this stadium," Michael says. "It's 190-to-1, person-to-toilet."

Hey, when you're a Cardinals fan, you need all the toilets you can get.

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