Keep an eye on the stadium front

As we keep an eye on the on-field exploits of the revived St. Louis Rams, it makes sense for fans to also keep an eye on what’s happening on the stadium front around the NFL. In January, an arbitration hearing will essentially determine whether or not the CVC should finance the Edward Jones Dome to “top tier” status. But, what are other teams building, and how are they financing their new football palaces?

On Monday, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the group that developed and operates Atlanta’s convention center, Millennium Park and the Georgia Dome, approved terms that would provide the framework for financing a new retractable roof Falcons stadium. It would be owned by the GWCCA, but the Falcons would run it, be responsible for all operating expenses, and would keep all revenue generated.

A hotel-motel tax would cover $300 million of the cost, while the Falcons (and presumably the NFL) would be responsible for the rest. Personal Seat Licenses would cover much of the remaining $700 million.

As Rams COO Kevin Demoff noted on Tuesday in The Fast Lane, fixed roof facilities aren’t being built any more. In fact, the Edward Jones Dome was the last one built without significant natural light (Ford Field in Detroit isn’t retractable, but does have tremendous natural light coming in).

Cities vying for NCAA Final Fours, Bowl games, concerts and conventions are building retractable roofs. Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Minnesota and Arizona have all done that. As the Jets and Giants, 49ers and Chargers pursued new homes, they were willing to play outside.

The other thing that has happened is that taxpayers have developed quite a disdain for paying for stadiums. According to The Gainesville (GA) times, a poll in Georgia found that 75% of residents are against any funding for a new Falcons stadium, and only 12% were for it. There’s been substantial resistance to using tax funds for a Viking stadium in Minnesota, and here in St. Louis a group got a law enacted that requires taxpayers to vote on stadium expenditures.

The 49ers are using an $850 million loan from several banks to help build their new stadium. The team will pay $30 million a year in rent for 40 years, and will get $114 million from Santa Clara. The NFL is scheduled to chip in $150 million. Interestingly, the 49ers have agreed to pay for any and all cost overruns.

In Minnesota, where a new Vikings facility is scheduled to be built, the franchise is paying $477 million of the $975 million freight. Part of the public funding mechanism includes pull-tab gambling revenue, and earlier this week it was reported that income from that source is falling far short of expectations. Governor Mark Dayton says he doesn’t plan to try and change the financing plan.

There certainly is a trend toward more private financing of stadiums. In addition to the Vikings paying for about half of their stadium and the Falcons prepared to pay about 70%, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey was 100% financed by the Giants and Jets. The 49ers are paying 88% of theirs. In Dallas, Jerry Jones paid for 63% of his new place.

It’ll be interesting to see how the situations in Atlanta and Minnesota wind up finishing. But it seems clear that the league and owners that want to stay in a market have been willing of late to pay for their own house. It will be intriguing to see what Rams owner Stan Kroenke decides to do if he’s not happy with what comes of the Edward Jones Dome arbitration.