Posted August 8, 2014
By Jason Notte - The Street
PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) – The NFL just played its last Super Bowl in a stadium that didn't require a dime of public to build.
It won't do that again for a long, long time. When the Seattle Seahawks hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy after their Super Bowl win at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., they did so in a building whose $1.6 billion cost was paid for entirely through private funding.
When the Super Bowl is played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., next year, it will be its second stop in a stadium that was paid for with $308 million in tax dollars covering 68% of the cost of its construction before it opened in 2006. In 2016, the Super Bowl moves to the San Francisco 49ers' new home in Santa Clara, Calif., made possible through $114 million in public funding. Considering that's only 12% of the nearly $1 billion cost, that's a steal by comparison.
Especially when you consider that the Houston Texans' NRG Stadium, home of the 2017 Super Bowl, left taxpayers holding a $289 million tab for 72% of that stadium's costs, and even that's a pretty sweet deal compared with the price Minnesota paid to host the Super Bowl in 2018. When Vikings ownership threatened to move the team to Los Angeles, state and local government coughed up a whopping $498 million to build a stadium. That's little more than half the full cost, but it's also more than the total on NRG Stadium ($474 million), University of Phoenix Stadium ($455 million) and 13 of the 20 National Football League stadiums built since 1997.
It is also the second-largest public contribution ever made toward an NFL stadium. Only LucasOil Field in Indianapolis cost taxpayers more, and the $620 million they paid for the Colts' new home came on top of debt they were already paying for the demolished RCA Dome.
What about the years beyond 2018, you ask? It's already not looking good. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell already squeezed $200 million out of Atlanta and Fulton County's coffers to build a replacement for the 23-year-old Georgia Dome. That's just a fraction of the estimated $1 billion cost of building the stadium, but it's still almost equal to the $214 million it cost to build the Georgia Dome -- not including the renovations that followed.
Despite all of the threats and outright extortion, an NFL team hasn't moved in 17 years. Even after the Houston Oilers left the AstroDome and moved to Tennessee, however, Houston was rewarded with the Texans, Reliant Stadium and Super Bowl hosting duties in 2004 and 2017. The Oilers' move ended a three-year game of football musical chairs in which the Rams and Raiders left Los Angeles for St. Louis and Oakland, respectively, in 1995 and the Cleveland Browns found a home in Baltimore and new life as the Ravens in 1996.
Abnormal silence and stability followed as the NFL entered its longest stretch without a franchise move since the dry spell between the Cleveland Rams' move to Los Angeles in 1946 and the Chicago Cardinals' flight to St. Louis in 1960. As the 2014 NFL season approaches, however, very little seems stable about the current league. Goodell has made it very clear he wants upgraded facilities and all the technology that comes with them.
That's putting a whole lot of teams into a bind and leading several NFL cities debating whether it's more important to keep a team at any cost or to save public money for public works and let NFL owners panhandle elsewhere. Here are just five teams leaning on taxpayers to give them new places to play or to spruce up existing facilities:
San Diego Chargers
Issue: Stadium upgrades
The game of chicken between the Chargers and San Diego has been one of the more hilarious exchanges in all of stadium politics, thanks largely to San Diego taxpayers' complete disregard for Chargers ownership.
Each time the Spanos family of owners tries to strong-arm San Diego into paying for a new, tricked-out facility to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium -- which has existed under various names since 1967 -- it punches itself in the face. Just last season, the Spanos clan was responsible for one of the league's two blacked-out games last season and would have been on the hook for another had ESPN not shelled out to keep a Chargers Monday Night Football matchup on the air. That not only failed to scare fans into buying the team a new stadium, it angered one of the NFL's most deep-pocketed broadcast partners. Unsurprisingly, a network that already pays $1.9 billion a season to air Monday Night Football didn't place a Chargers home game on its Monday Night Football schedule this year.
The Spanos family tried to use a move to San Antonio as leverage, but Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hasn't been fond of other owners sniffing around his 300-mile radius. Besides, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis has already been down there to hear the city's pitch, and it needs only one team.
This has placed the city and newly elected Mayor Ken Faulconer in an excellent position to negotiate stadium terms and keep tax dollars largely off the table. The Chargers have proposed building a $800 million-to-$900 million, football-only facility downtown and to the east of Petco Park -- home of baseball's San Diego Padres -- that could seat as many as 70,000 for the Super Bowl. How would they pay for it? As suggested, contributions from the Spanos family and the NFL would be a big part of it, but sale and development of roughly 266 acres of city property -- including the San Diego Sports Arena -- would cover the city's end without raising . In fact, new tax revenue from that development has been touted as one of the keys to the deal.
That's just one of the plans on the table. A stadium has been floated as part of an expansion of the city's Convention Center, but that particular plan has no less than three lawsuits attached to it. Though Faulconer and the Chargers want a deal done by the end of the year, Faulconer's made it clear that whatever solution they reach must be voted on by taxpayers in a 2016 referendum.
Again, San Diego taxpayers get the opportunity to dictate terms directly to Chargers ownership. Taxpayers and fans are aware that Qualcomm Stadium got its last facelift in 1997 just in time to host the Super Bowl in 1998 and hosted yet another Super Bowl in 2003, but the NFL has stated bluntly that San Diego will need a new stadium if it wants to host another Super Bowl any time soon. They just don't see why they should have to pay for it.
They also know that the Chargers draw a third of their fans from Orange County and points north and that a move to Los Angeles would be a move back after the Chargers spent a season there in 1960. But they also know that building a stadium on their terms not only keeps the Spanos clan in check, but gives San Diego first right of refusal on any plan to relocate a team to Los Angeles.
It's the rare situation where a city's taxpayers have all the leverage and NFL owners are left to bite their nails and wait. If San Diego feels that a land swap without a tax increase is the best way to build a stadium, they'll get to make that decision. San Diego is naming its price for an NFL team, and other cities should take note.
Those pulling for the Chargers to stay have suggested redeveloping the Qualcomm Stadium siteat no cost to taxpayers, but the Spanos clan is fielding better offers. Chula Vista and Escondido have made pitches, but the Chargers have been linked to at least two Los Angeles stadium proposals and spent that season there in 1960 before moving to San Diego a year later.
Issue: Attendance and stadium renovations
Unfortunately, there are portions of the younger Davis that seem just as obstinate as his dad. The 1966-vintage O.co Coliseum is the third-oldest stadium in the league. Chicago's Soldier Field bears almost no resemblance to the stadium built in 1924 after getting a facelift in 2003 that makes it appear as if a spacecraft landed in it. The Green Bay Packers' Lambeau Field, meanwhile, is the cathedral of the game that's been renovated several times since opening in 1957 and was paid for by selling of the team, giving a whole bunch of Packers fans and other like-minded Americans a stake in its history.
The Coliseum's age wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't an outright disaster. Its full capacity is 64,000, but has trouble reaching even a reduced capacity of 53,000. Raiders fans have dealt with dozens of home-game blackouts since the team returned, while the Raiders themselves have to deal with a building in which raw sewage occasionally backs up into the locker rooms. Oh, and it's the only NFL stadium that shares space with a Major League Baseball team, which Davis and company are reminded of every time there's infield dirt on the turf and just about every time the stadium itself is addressed.
The Raiders' lease at O.co Coliseum is up, and the team isn't exactly short on options. In an about face for a man usually imploring teams and host cities to spend as much on new construction as possible. the NFL's commissioner implored Davis and the Raiders to move in with the 49ers at their new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The 49ers front office is also pushing the idea, as it fills dates and gets the most out of their facility.
Davis absolutely hates that option. He notes that the stadium's decor is already crimson and gold, and that posters and tributes to 49ers legends are everywhere. In short, he doesn't want the Raiders relegated to the New York Jets in the 49ers' version of the old Giants Stadium. Oddly, he seems to have no such reservations about the Raiders being the second team in a new Los Angeles stadium built on the same Hollywood Park plot where St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke just bought large amounts of land and may be interested in buying more.
That, however, is seen as a secondary option. Davis has made it clear that his first choice is to stay in Oakland and build a new facility there. The 10-year lease the A's just signed to stay in the Coliseum makes that plan a bit more difficult, as does the fact that the Raiders and Oakland/Alameda County are about $600 million apart on just how much public should go into a new facility. That prompted Davis to go to San Antonio and listen to that city's pitch for his team, which didn't sit well with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Officials back in Oakland and Alameda County seemed just fine with that.
Unfortunately for Davis, he owns a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2002, when they lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII. He's asking for public money from a local government that doesn't seem to care if he ever gets it, and his best options for moving the team require other NFL owners to play along. Kroenke may be open to having some company in Los Angeles, but Jerry Jones just sank $750 million into a stadium for his Cowboys and isn't about to let some carpetbagger move less than 300 miles away and siphon from his revenue stream. Meanwhile, for once, the NFL has proposed an option that would not only keep a team in its own market, but do so without costing taxpayers a dime. Just remember that it was Mark Davis -- the somewhat more reasonable scion of bejeweled city-hopper Al Davis -- who said no.
St. Louis Rams
Issue: Stadium upgrades
How did Rams owner Stan Kroenke celebrate the end of last year's football season? By buying a site in a sports complex in Los Angeles just to leverage a better stadium deal out of his town.
Kroenke and the rest of his ownership group have been griping about the $700 million "first-tier" stadium they were promised by 2015 and their threats to move the team out of the city into the St. Louis County suburbs or beyond. The franchise called Los Angeles from 1946 to 1994, but the fact that they'd consider returning to the city and only getting closer to their NFC West rivals doesn't seem to sit poorly with NFL owners.
The Los Angeles Times says Kroenke has been considering adding the adjacent Los Angeles Forum and Hollywood Park properties to his and may be quite serious about a future in Los Angeles. St. Louis, St. Louis County and Missouri told Kroneke last year that he wouldn't get anything resembling $700 million and put the figure they're willing to pay at closer to $100 million. If no agreement is reached by the end of the year, the Rams can get out of their lease next year.
In fairness to the Rams, they do tend to migrate every few decades or so. The franchise left Cleveland for Los Angeles in 1946 and left L.A. for St. Louis nearly 50 years later. Meanwhile, it's been more than a decade since the Kurt Warner “Greatest Show On Turf” Super Bowl years, and the Rams haven't made the playoffs since 2004 and haven't won more games than they've lost since 2003.
As we've mentioned earlier, no franchise has ever received more than $620 million in public. Even giving Kroenke control of parking facilities in St. Louis wouldn't get him anywhere close to the return he's looking for. There's a chance that the Missouri native takes some pity on his home state, but those chances are dwindling by the minute.
Issue: Change of ownership
The Buffalo Bills are without an owner after their founder and stadium namesake Ralph Wilson died in March.
n June, the firm handling Wilson's estate contacted prospective buyers including Donald Trump, Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and a group including rocker Jon Bon Jovi and the heads of Toronto-based Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (owner of the NHL's Blue Jays, the NBA's Raptors and MLS' F.C. Toronto) and Rogers Communications (the media company that also owns the Toronto Blue Jays). Aside from Pegula, none of the above have made any promises about keeping the team in Buffalo if the sale closes.
A move seems likely if the Bon Jovi group offers a successful bid, but the Bills' Toronto Series featuring one game a year in that town didn't exactly draw sold-out crowds. Besides, New York State and Erie County just paid $226 million for stadium renovations and a lease that extends through 2022. For Bills fans, the best part of that agreement is a stipulation that not only hammers an owner with a $400 million relocation fee if the team is moved before 2019 (at which point the fee drops to $28 million), but would cost owners a bundle in legal fees to fight an injunction by the state and county that's written directly into the lease.
But note the wording that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer used to describe the strength of the lease to The Buffalo News back in April: “This gives us the time to explore and evaluate all potential options for keeping the Bills in Western New York, so that we can present whomever the next owner is with viable and well-thought-out plans to keep the Bills here well beyond the next 10 years.”
That “Western New York” clause alludes to speculation that the Bills may not stay in Buffalo city proper. While there are a number of proposals involving the Bills' current site in Orchard Park and other sites in Buffalo itself, other plans have involved moving the Bills to nearby Niagara Falls or to Batavia -- which would place it squarely between large fan bases in Buffalo and Rochester.
Buffalo and Bills fans have already been squeezed for stadium once, but they're likely going to have to part with tax dollars again if they accept a plan that keeps the team in either the city or Western New York. Staying out of Canada won't be cheap.
Issue: Economic conditions and attendance
Fans don't want this team to move, the city doesn't want it to move and owner Shahid Khan is doing everything in his power to keep it from moving.
But in a small market such as Jacksonville, sticking around is expensive. Local government just funneled $43 million into a $63 million renovation project that tore 9,500 seats out of 76,900-seat EverBank Field to make room for a two-level party deck that includes two pools and 16 poolside cabanas. Companies or fans can rent cabanas for $12,500 a game, or $250 per person. The 50-ticket package includes an all-you-can-eat and drink concessions service. An upper-level party deck without pool access costs $3,000 a game, or $150 per person.
Hey, it beats the tarps that the team was putting over those unused seats to get capacity down to about 67,000. About 20 NFL stadiums hold more than that, but few have the same issues as Jacksonville. The economic downturn hit Jacksonville hard, and the big military presence gives the town greater population turnover than Washington, D.C.
It's a tough place to build a fan base, but it's even more difficult considering the Jaguars' legacy of futility. In the past three years, the team has won a scant 11 games. In 20 years in the NFL, the Jaguars have put up a winning record exactly seven times. They've had a winning team only three times since the 1990s and haven't had a winning record or playoff appearance since 2007. When you're not giving fans much to watch on the field, it helps to fill your stadium with tables in the club section, the world's largest LED screens and four screens in the end zones showing the NFL RedZone channel: Because if your team isn't scoring, you may as well watch a team that is.
Ownership has tried selling the Jaguars as a traditional NFL experience, but it was really difficult to get fans to buy in -- especially when it required a lot of grassroots effort just to keep games on TV. If they can sell Jaguars games as a big Florida pool party, however, that might be worth the price of the city hotel that are keeping the team around.
Khan may own second-tier English Premier League club Fulham and may have signed the Jaguars to a multi-year deal to play one “” game in London each season, but you get the sense that Florida agrees with him. His methods may make traditionalists cringe, but he seems to be giving Jacksonville its money's worth.