Over the last decade, Roger Goodell’s NFL has broken ground on eight brand new football stadiums.
That means a quarter of the league has upgraded as owners seek the biggest, best and most lavish homes for their teams. The resulting construction race has turned Goodell’s 10 years on the job into the golden age of NFL architecture and excess.
And it sure has been golden.
Take U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened this year in Minnesota. It has a glass-like roof that protects patrons from the harsh midwest winters, a retractable seating section to allow for other events like baseball games, plush couches, a posh Purple Club, digital connectivity and seats close enough to touch the players. It also cost $1.06 billion.
If you saw Adrian Peterson get hurt in Week 2, you saw some great shots of the Vikings new stadium when TV cameras followed trainers carrying Peterson through a sports bar on their way to the locker room. Hey, Adrian, some wings to go with your balky knee?
This feature, of bringing fans closer to the action, is just one signature of new-age NFL venues.
Call it the Goodell Period, where structures are identified by their massive girth, custom amenities and artisanal food stands. Just like the players on the field, the NFL stadium experience has gotten bigger. Way bigger. And more expensive.
The last five NFL stadiums to be built have all surpassed the $1 billion mark, signaling the new normal for the league. Levi’s Stadium, the home of the 49ers, cost $1.3 billion when it opened in 2014. You can cram more than 100,000 Cowboys fans into AT&T Stadium, which cost $1.3 billion when it opened in 2009. And at $1.6 billion, MetLife is currently the NFL’s costliest venue.
A hefty price tag is a defining trait of these modern marvels, with fans and taxpayers typically financing a huge portion of construction.
“U.S. Bank Stadium is not just a location, but an epicenter of excitement, opportunity, and Minnesota pride,” according to its website. “The Vikings are an important part of our proud heritage and the relationship between the Vikings and the citizens of Minnesota runs deep. But the stadium is not just the home of the Minnesota Vikings, it’s a facility that will host major national and international events that create economic, fiscal and social benefits to the region.”
The stadium better represent Minnesota pride. It was built with $500 million of the state’s money.
Since Goodell has been the chief executive of the NFL, eight new stadiums have either opened or broken ground, each more expansive and expensive than the last. When the L.A. Rams move out of the L.A. Coliseum and into their new stadium in 2019, it is expected to cost a whopping $2.6 billion.
As the sticker price of a contemporary stadium surges into the billions, team owners are demanding more money from the public to build them.
In the last 10 years, eight NFL stadiums have been funded by an average $285 million of taxpayer dollars. If you take out the $1 billion MetLife Stadium, which was remarkably built without any public money (but has bilked fans for years through PSLs, which we’ll get to in a minute), NFL stadiums erected during Goodell’s tenure have commanded an average of $326 million in public money.
“It’s absolutely out of control,” David Williams, president of the watchdog Alliance for Taxpayer Protection, told the Daily News. “It’s the biggest waste of money that taxpayer money can be spent on mainly because these owners are billionaires. They should be funding their own stadiums. Taxpayers should not be footing the bill.”
But they are. And it seems they’re footing a bigger bill each time an NFL owner announces he wants a new home.
Just this month, a Nevada panel voted unanimously to help finance a stadium project with $750 million, which would be raised through jacking up local hotel taxes. If the state approves the deal and a Raiders move from Oakland is ratified by the NFL, the $1.9 billion stadium would sit just off the Las Vegas strip.
That massive sum of public money is as alluring to Raiders owner Mark Davis as the bells and blinking lights at any Vegas casino. It would be the largest infusion of public money to an NFL stadium project, dwarfing the $619 million Indiana taxpayers laid out to build Lucas Oil Stadium for the Colts in 2008.
It’s money Davis may not be able to find in Oakland, and that’s exactly why he wants to move to Vegas so badly.
“We tried to get something done in Oakland, and we can’t at this point in time,” Davis has said. “It’s a very tough political process up there.”
The Vikings have a brand new stadium which cost $500 million of Minnesota taxpayer money to build.
The Raiders want to get out of Oakland Alameda Coliseum they share with the Oakland A’s and into a new stadium of their own, and they may go all the way to Vegas to do it. While Nevada lawmakers are dangling three-quarters of a billion bucks in public funds to influence a move, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley have been reluctant to offer subsidies to build a new stadium to keep the Raiders in California.
“We want to make sure we protect the public’s dollars,” Miley has said.
Local taxpayers are still paying for more than $100 million in renovations to their current home, which explains why officials are hesitant to give the Raiders much more to build a new stadium. But not forking over enough money to an NFL team can have consequences. The Raiders have moved twice since 1982 as Los Angeles and Oakland both struggled to support an NFL franchise. St. Louis lost the Cardinals to Arizona in 1988 and last year it lost the Rams because it could not offer a sweeter stadium deal than Los Angeles did.
Why should the NFL or a team owner pay for one when taxpayers continually agree to fund these projects? The public is often asked to subsidize NFL construction while new stadiums like AT&T Stadium pay no property taxes. Residents are told by elected officials their cities are better off with a franchise than without one.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said if taxpayers did not cover the Vikings stadium costs, the team would have “absolutely” left the state.
The risk of losing a team is real. Look at the Raiders power play to go to Vegas. Look at the Rams’ move to Los Angeles. Look at the political fight being waged over new stadiums for the Chargers in San Diego.
“People identify with their local sports team,” Williams said. “The NFL is such a popular sport, and people think that building a new stadium will bring them a Super Bowl and other kinds of games. It shouldn’t. Building a stadium does not help the economy. It’s not a magic pill to make the economy good again.”
While fiscal prudence threatens the future of the Raiders in Oakland, it has completely vanished in places like Minnesota or in Atlanta, where Falcons owner Arthur Blank is building a $1.5 billion new Mercedes Benz Stadium to replace the Georgia Dome, which is only 24 years old.
According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, local taxpayers are expected to contribute more than $700 million when maintenance and facilities management is factored into the cost of the project.
“It’s ridiculous,” Williams said. “It’s been going on for years. Stadiums are getting more and more expensive and more and more lavish. So there’s a lot more taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for.”
Bryan Trubey is the director of sports and entertainment at HKS Architects, which designed U.S. Bank Stadium, AT&T Stadium in Dallas and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, three of the NFL’s signature stadiums. His job is to help big-thinking NFL owners achieve their wildest dreams and to create the most majestic stadiums anywhere.
While the cost of NFL stadiums is steadily on the rise, Trubey says the actual value of a building for a city can’t necessarily be measured in dollars.
“These buildings can be the most representative, iconic image of their city,” Trubey said. “You’re not going to get more impressions in the city of Indianapolis or the state of Indiana on anything else, all put together, than the Colts playing an NFL game in that building. That’s the greatest awareness they get nationally and internationally, and I really think that’s true for most cities that have NFL buildings. And so, treating these as very important things to build that are representative of your state and city, your culture, how you feel about yourself from an environmental and architectural standpoint, has become pretty eminent.”
Despite the good vibes a new building brings to a city, some experts like Harvard professor Judith Grant Long don’t agree that big, expensive football stadiums improve their surrounding areas like U.S. Bank Stadium promises Minneapolis residents.
In her 2012 book “Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities,” Long writes “most economic analyses demonstrate that sports facilities produce very few or no net new economic benefits.”
“The consensus amongst economists — and this outcome has really not changed much over the last 20 years — is that new sports facilities deliver very little in the way of new jobs and new taxes that are meaningful,” Long has said.
Long maintains elected officials shouldn’t spend too much on stadiums and that smaller cities are more vulnerable to exceed their resources because they are forced to offer more money to retain teams.
According to an annual report published by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, “Sacking Taxpayers: How NFL Stadium Subsidies Waste Money and Fall Short on Their Promises of Economic Development,” median income decreased and poverty rose substantially in counties with publicly funded NFL stadiums.
In 17 of those 26 counties with tax-funded NFL stadiums, median household income decreased after the stadium received public money for construction or renovation. In the 12 counties where taxpayers funded more than half the cost of a new stadium between 1995 and 2013, the percentage of the total population living in poverty rose from 16 percent to 18.7 percent.
MetLife Stadium cost $1.6 billion.
“That poverty rate increase is a 26.3 percent greater increase in poverty over other counties that are home to NFL stadiums,” according to the report, “and an increase of more than 231 percent the national average, which rose from 13.8 to 14.5 percent during that time.”
A perfect example of this is in Indianapolis, where the poverty rate was 12.7% before Lucas Oil Stadium and 21.3% after taxpayers fronted the Colts more than $600 million to build their new digs.
Yet, cities are terrified of losing their franchises, which is why the state of Louisiana pays the Saints an annual inducement payment of $6 million lawmakers hope will dissuade the team from entertaining the thought of leaving New Orleans.
While the Jets and Giants were forced to build MetLife with only private funds, residents in Minnesota, Atlanta, Indianapolis and possibly Las Vegas are willing to shell out record subsidies.
But the most flagrant violation of public trust is happening in St. Louis, where the Rams left behind the Edward Jones Dome, which still has about $144 million in outstanding debt and maintenance costs. That’s right, construction is starting on a $2.6 billion new home for the Rams in Los Angeles, which will be padded with PSL sales, while St. Louis residents are saddled with the massive bill for their old, empty stadium.
The burden NFL owners place on taxpayers is only part of how these stadiums are built. Additional revenues are generated by going deeper into the pockets of loyal fans forced to pay high fees for personal seat licenses, a one-time only fee, typically in the tens of thousands, to have the right to purchase a season ticket. PSLs, which were introduced in sports in the 1980s before Goodell’s NFL tenure started, are fees fans must pay in order to reserve the right to purchase tickets.
When MetLife Stadium opened, the Jets and Giants irked loyal season ticket holders by introducing a PSL program. Depending on where you wanted to sit, PSLs could run fans thousands of dollars. While the Jets did not attach a PSL to seats in the upper deck, the Giants made fans in the entire stadium pay a PSL, prices reaching $20,000 for a prime seat, lounge access and an all-you-can eat dining experience.
Earlier this year, the Jets, with many fans opting not to purchase season tickets, were waiving PSLs for existing season ticket holders who wanted to buy additional seats down low.
The PSL racket is a lucrative one for NFL owners. More than half the league employs some type of PSL program. Seat licenses sell for more than $150,000 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas and 49ers fans were shelling out more than $80,000 for the right to buy season tickets at Levi’s Stadium.
On top of all that public money Blank is getting for a new Falcons stadium, the Home Depot founder got $170 million from PSL purchases, which boils down to a billionaire hitting Falcons fans up for a PSL fee, on top of the taxes they are presumably already contributing to the construction of the new building.
In St. Louis, those same fans stuck paying off a vacant football stadium, were also being bilked out of PSL money after the team left town.
Just this month, a judge ruled the Rams had to return PSLs purchased by St. Louis fans or honor them at the new stadium they’re building in Los Angeles.
The team had argued the PSLs, some sold for as much as $1,000 in 1995, weren’t valid at the new stadium and they were not refundable.
Ron McCallister was one of three separate parties that sued the Rams to get his money back. He paid $2,000 for two PSL he thought he was getting for 30 years, but the Rams left town with nine years left on his contract. He says the Rams were “double dipping” from two separate groups of fans, extracting PSLs from St. Louis and Los Angeles supporters.
“Am I still a fan of the Rams? It’s really not important. This is consumer protection. As a company they need to provide the service they promised they would provide,” McCallister said. “What is right is right and they need to pay myself and all of my fellow PSL owners in St. Louis the refund we deserve.”
Unfortunately for fans, PSLs aren’t going anywhere. Minnesota politicians were annoyed that on top of the public ransom the Vikings got from taxpayers, the team was also charging PSLs for those same residents to sit in the same stadium they financed. NFL stadiums will continue to get bigger and more expensive and opulent because the market demands they do.
But there’s also a trickle-down effect. As NFL stadiums get costlier, other sports are hitting up taxpayers to keep their teams in town, like conservative Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signing off on a $250 million subsidy for the Milwaukee Bucks’ new stadium. Or the over-the-top fields being built in Texas, where one school board approved a $62.8 million football stadium… for high school games.
It’s the Goodell Era. Where even the stadiums where the kids play cost taxpayers an arm and a leg.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News