Football on the Great White Way

Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi in his college playjng days, circa 1933. Lombardi was an undersized guard (5'8' 185 lbs.) on Fordham University's imposing front line, which became known as the "Seven Blocks of Granite."

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Kai Ryssdal: From the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders to the drama of whether Brett Favre's really going to retire again to the once-hapless New Orleans Saints being the defending Super Bowl champions -- The National Football League knows a little somethin' about putting on a show. Millions will be watching Thursday night when the Vikings and Saints open the 2010 regular season. The NFL's also running a big play on Broadway this year. A new drama about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi opens later this month.

From New York, Sally Herships has more.


Sally Herships: Most football fans know Vince Lombardi. The Super Bowl Trophy is named after him. And he's famous for quotes like this.

Vince Lombardi: Winning isn't everything, but it's the only thing. In our business, there is no second place.

In the 60s, Lombardi took the Packers from football nobodies to five NFL championships and two Super Bowls. But let me remind you, we're talking theater here -- not football.

Tony Ponturo is one of the producers of the new play about Lombardi. He says it's not just for football fans.

Tony Ponturo: The show is really about a man who happens to be a football coach. It's also about not giving up your dream, even if you're not successful at 20 or your 30s or even your 40s. Don't give up on your dream.

Sounds like Broadway. Or does it? Not to stereotype, but almost 70 percent of Broadway patrons are women. So, who's gonna see this show?

I asked Jim Glaub. He's creative director at Art Meets Commerce. The marketing company promoting Lombardi.

Jim Glaub: Our top target is theater-goers. And they're typically on average, a 45 to 50-year-old woman with an expendable income.

That's right, he said women. So Glaub says they're focusing on story -- Lombardi's relationship with his wife, the players and the press. Here's an Internet ad for the show.

Commercial: Press is hard on me, because I push my players to the brink. But they sing a different song when we win on Sundays.

Jim Glaub says it's great for date night -- a play you know your man will like. But it's still risky. Just the advertising budget for a play like "Lombardi" can run up to a million dollars. Then there lights, music, actors.

Glaub: What is the statistic for a success show on Broadway? It's like one in 100 shows end up being a success.

The National Football League hopes the show will be a success. They're one of the producers, and they expect football fans will come. But if you look at the "Lombardi" website you can tell it won't be your typical theater audience based on the frequently asked questions.

Adam Feldman: Questions like "I've never been to a Broadway show, what should I expect? Do I need to dress up?"

Adam Feldman is theater critic for Time Out New York.

Feldman: They seem to be going for people who have never been to the theater at all -- and that is ambitious.

But Feldman says targeting specific audiences can work well. Recently, there have been shows with African American or Latin themes that have been able to find audiences on Broadway. The only problem with targeted audiences is they're small. Last season, Denzel Washington starred in "Fences," the award-winning drama. It only ran from April to July, but it was a hit.

Feldman: And that is something that producers are starting to discover. Bring in big stars, do a great play, do it really well, run it for three months, make millions of dollars.

He's not quite Denzel, but the actor playing Lombardi will be Dan Luria, the dad from "The Wonder Years." And Judith Light from "Ugly Betty" will go on as his wife. So, will football fans spend on Broadway? To find out, I headed to a sports bar in Greenwich Village. It was game night.

Packers fan Christine Tilt told me she's never been to a Broadway show. She's not a fan.

Christine Tilt: Because I don't like singing and I don't like dancing. I don't like choreographed movement. But I love football.

I asked her if she would go see "Lombardi."

Tilt: That's the only one I would go see ever.

But not during football season.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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