Patriots upset fans who must move their seats
Team set to displace ticket-holders for private club near field
A Patriots season ticket-holder for 20 years, Pete Pulsifer finally worked his way down from the 18th row of the south end zone to row 7. He liked his three seats, his sight lines, his Section 122 friends.
But now Pulsifer is an “unhappy camper,’’ one of many among the ticket-holders in Gillette Stadium’s south end zone.
The Kraft family, which owns Gillette, plans to replace more than 1,500 seats in the area after the 2014 season with a lounge for season ticket-members. The proposed establishment’s final dimensions have yet to be determined, but ticket representatives have begun breaking the news to longtime patrons in the first 15 to 20 rows of end-zone sections 117 to 124.
The Patriots are offering displaced customers seats elsewhere in the stadium. But because every home game is sold out, the options are limited, and many uprooted patrons are landing in less-desirable seats, some at higher prices. Others are considering ending their Gillette experience.
“I guess the team is trying to do the right thing in a bad situation,’’ Pulsifer said, “but it really stinks.’’
A Patriots official said the Krafts are building the members-only club in response to polls and focus groups with season ticket-holders. The research indicated that many customers favor more amenities, such as a lounge experience that would be less costly than the stadium’s elite clubs.
Season ticket-holders may pay an additional fee to join the new club, which will feature indoor and outdoor drinking and dining experiences. The fee has yet to be determined, as has the cost of building the facility.
The Patriots are offering displaced ticket-holders free parking this season if they change seats soon. Those affected also will be given priority in choosing new seats before other season ticket-holders try to upgrade their positions.
But customers who choose to keep their seats this season will not be guaranteed priority choices for the 2015 season.
The development has distressed many Patriots diehards who cherish their current seats. Steve Conchiglia, who has fully tattooed his back with Patriots-themed ink, is part of a group that shares five season tickets in the third row of the south end zone, right above the team’s musket-firing militiamen.
Conchiglia, a flooring contractor and amateur artist, gave Patriots owner Robert Kraft a drawing of the team and Myra Kraft after she died in 2011. The drawing is displayed in the Patriots Hall of Fame. But now Conchiglia, after learning he will lose his favorite seat, is having second thoughts about his donated artwork.
“This is such a horrible thing,’’ he said. “Those seats are like home to us. Mr. Kraft is taking them away from us, and I almost want to take back [the drawing] from him just to prove a point.’’
Conchiglia and other season ticket-holders in the south end zone pay $1,350 per seat. They are not assessed a personal seat licensing fee, which at some NFL stadiums can reach $20,000.
But many are blue-collar workers who consider the seats prized possessions.
Relocating to a higher section, far from their longtime end zone neighbors, struck many as unacceptable.
Charlie Protopapas, an electrical lineman who belongs to the group with Conchiglia that has controlled five seats since 1992, said the Patriots ticket rep compared the proposed end zone lounge with the Legends Club at TD Garden. The plan struck Protopapas as not only unfair but counterproductive.
“You often hear about the Patriots crowd not being into games,’’ Protopapas said. “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.’’
While the Protopapas group weighs its next move, Pulsifer, a retiree from Dracut, later Tuesday said he accepted the best alternative and relocated his seats to the 22d row of the north end zone.
Now he will be situated four rows higher than where he started in row 18 in 1994.
Sadly, Pulsifer said, “I took the best of a bad situation.’’