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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Patriots' New Optum Field Lounge Is Optimal Insanity

optum_gillette1202.jpg
New England Patriots


Get out your toolboxes. The Krafts are building again, and this time the fans are getting screwed.

Just what Gillette Stadium needs; more “exclusive” seating to make the home of the Patriots and Revolution even more of the morgue that the place has become. That’s essentially the deal rendered by the Kraft family’s plan to erect a new members-only lounge at field level behind the south end zone, displacing some 1,500 seats from season-ticket holders.

Oh, don’t cry for them though. According to the Globe’s Dan Adams, the Krafts were kind enough to give them “first crack” at memberships in what will be named “Optum Field Lounge.” Neat. A one-year membership costs $1,500 — on top of the price of season tickets — and you must buy at least two memberships.

You can understand how these folks are at a loss for how to repay the Krafts for their generosity.

“This is intended to be an exclusive amenity for season ticket members,” Jennifer Ferron, the Patriots’ senior vice president of marketing and brand development, told the Globe. “We have an outdoor stadium, so we thought we would afford them a way to enjoy the game in all types of weather.”

So, what happened to the abhorrent Putnam Club, the hybrid atmosphere impetus for Gillette Stadium sounding like a distant drone in the first place? Isn't that already a way to "enjoy the game in all types of weather?"

As for the seats being demolished; “Most of those seats were season ticket-holder seats, so we’re not taking away low-priced inventory and replacing it with high-priced inventory,” Ferron said. “Anyone who was impacted by this move was offered the opportunity to upgrade their tickets or move to a different section of stadium at a lower price point.”

Read the comments and you get a different set of circumstances. Some fans claim they were offered a fraction of their original seating plans in a more expensive section of the stadium. When the Patriots originally laid out this plan earlier this year, the team stressed that those affected would have priority to choosing an upgrade, but those who chose to keep their seats during the 2014 season would not be guaranteed that same priority for the 2015 season.

Think about that. Gillette Stadium is banged out every Sunday during the fall and winter months, and single-day tickets, which go on sale in July, are at a premium. The team left these fans the option of choosing among a limited number of seats - either by shelling out a lot more (an impossibility for many, who will simply be forced to surrender their seats), or paying for an inferior section of the stadium - in 2014, and if they didn’t, their punishment would be to stand in line with everybody else come 2015. What a farce.

The team also offered the angry ticket-holders perks such as free parking for this season. The least the Krafts should have done was pick up this season tab for the tickets. At minimum.

Of course, the fans’ plight in all this is only part of the equation when it comes to the question if it makes sense to install more premium seating in a place that already has the atmosphere of a strip mall at noon on Wednesday. It’s deathly quiet for an NFL stadium on game day, something even quarterback Tom Brady has complained about from time to time. The place is also patrolled by a legion of tough guy security personnel, who seemingly insist on each fan in each section sitting, facing forward at all times, and cheering only at the appropriate moments. At what point are they simply going to go full airline and have an instructional video prior to kickoff?

“You often hear about the Patriots crowd not being into games,’’ Charlie Protopapas, a season-ticket holder in the end zone since 1992 told the Globe earlier this year. “So now they’re going to replace all of us — the people who are always standing and screaming — with more beautiful people who are just sitting around talking and aren’t into the game.’’

That’s the Putnam Club to a T. I sat there for the 47-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals back in 2008, in the snow, and trust me when I tell you that we had our open choice of seats in the red that day . Meanwhile, the Patriots’ precious target audience spent the bulk of the afternoon in the heat just past the sliding glass doors where they watched the game on TV. It’s all so incredibly stupid when you think about it.

Yes, other stadiums are pulling off similar ventures (hey, if you want to talk about hot tubs replacing the Putnam level, I’m listening) in Detroit and Miami, but what exactly is the blockade from the Patriots doing this project at the WIDE OPEN END OF THE STADIUM? What, do we really need a clear access to the Pro Shop that badly?

The Krafts will begin work on the project when the Patriots’ season ends, with completion slated for some time in July. As Adams noted, access to the lounge is limited to existing season ticket holders in good standing. A three-year membership will set you back $1,250 per year, per membership, also with a minimum of two memberships, or $7,500 altogether.

Wonderful. The already-dull atmosphere at Gillette is about to get a hell of a lot worse. But at least a few hundred fans will have an extra couple grand for a new TV on which they can watch the forced serenity that they were once a part of from afar.

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