New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie watched his beloved Cowboys win a playoff game Sunday in Dallas, hugging and yukking it up with Jerry Jones in the Cowboys owner’s luxury suite.
The trip, however, is proving to be controversial. Christie flew to Dallas and accepted the ticket to the game at the expense of the Cowboys’ owner, who just so happens to have a business relationship with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The state’s Code of Conduct says that governors “may accept gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds.”
The sticky issue is that the governor of New Jersey, along with the governor of New York, controls the Port Authority, and Legends Hospitality, a company in which Jones has an interest, has been given a license to run an observation deck atop One World Trade Center, which is operated by the Port Authority. The New York Yankees and Checketts Partners Investment Fund own Legends, along with the Cowboys, and the company’s One World Trade Center deal is expected to produce $875 million in revenue over 15 years for the Port Authority. The Yankees’ Randy Levine, a board member of Legends Hospitality, said Jones was not involved in the negotiations with the Port Authority for the observation deck contract. Levine did, though, tell the Wall Street Journal that Jones’s family is a “significant” investor.
Christie says he is a longtime Cowboys fan and often is seen in Jones’s suite, whether in Dallas or New Jersey. Just how much is a trip like the one Christie took worth? NJ.com’s Claude Brodesser-Akner crunched the numbers:
The actual cost of flying Christie and his family by private jet to watch the Dallas Cowboys beat Detroit from inside Jones’ luxury 50 yard line owner’s suite is not known, but ticket brokers and several private jet operators say replicating the experience would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
While the seats in Jones box aren’t for sale, a representative for Suite Experience Group, a New Haven, Conn.-based reseller of luxury stadium skyboxes, said that a suite in the Hall of Fame section closest to the owner’s box could run as high as $125,000, with suites closer to the 20 yard line commanding as much as $80,000.
There are 20 seats in a suite, which would mean tickets for the higher-priced ones would exceed $6,000.
“For games such as Sunday’s, and extending further into the playoffs, the value of any suite ticket could easily be deemed priceless by many fans for whom that game day experience would likely be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said David M. Carter, executive Director USC Marshall Sports Business Institute.
The trip may comply with the letter of the law, but it’s still raising questions, especially given Christie’s George Washington Bridge scandal.
Jameson Doig, an emeritus Princeton University professor who wrote a book about the Port Authority, said Christie’s relationship and receiving of gifts from Jones “sends the wrong signal if Christie or any of his top aides appear to have a conflict of interest in their relationship to the Port Authority.”
“The governor ought to do all he can to avoid that conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict,” Doig, a member of a panel on overhauling the agency’s ethics rules and structure, told the Wall Street Journal.
The trip may have violated no laws, but it may prove to be a bigger blow to his image than just that orange sweater that became a social-media meme.