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,Bill Sayer

New stadiums forget their real purpose: The sport

By - Last modified: May 11, 2012 at 9:05 AM

Twenty-one museum-worthy contemporary art installations, viewable with a guided art tour. Granite countertops, marble floors. The world’s largest movable glass doors. Half-million-dollar suites with customizable color schemes. Sixty-dollar pizzas and $15 martinis. Carving stations with Kobe beef and truffle mac and cheese. Thinking a pricey modern hotel in NYC? Nope.

Cowboys Stadium.

Opened in 2009 after four years and $1.3 billion in the making, the new home of the Dallas Cowboys is the poster child of what is hot, new and wrong with the new stadiums.

Everything now has to be the biggest and the best. When the new Yankees and Mets ballparks opened recently, the press releases were talking about scoreboards and celebrity chefs, not sightlines and average ticket prices. Sure, the Cowboys, Yankees and Mets are some of the most valuable and popular franchises, but it’s not only them.

The Amway Center, home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, has a 340-piece art museum and a signature 180-foot glass and steel tower overlooking downtown. Marlins Park, the new home of the Miami Marlins, features the ugliest ever use of $2.5 million in its outfield — 60 feet of aquarium backstopping home plate and a South Beach-style nightclub with a DJ and private pool.

Teams argue that the costs are justified because they attract fans willing to pay for higher ticket prices and the real moneymaker, luxury suites. You really have to wonder how much it would cost to build a moderately priced stadium without all the bells and whistles.

The “Birds Nest” stadium in Beijing, good enough to be the main arena for the 2008 Summer Olympic games, cost $500 million. TCF Bank Stadium, the new 50,000-seat home of the University of Minnesota football team, was “just” $330 million, and the Vikings will use that for years while their $1 billion new stadium is being built. Fenway Park, one of the most loved ballparks ever, was built for $15.7 million in 2012 dollars, with about $300 million in renovations.

Maybe the reason why these stadiums are so costly is that, to the teams and cities, it feels like the money is free. The city of Arlington, Texas, where Cowboys Stadium is located, contributed $325 million in financing for the Cowboys’ new home. How did Arlington come up with that cash? By raising taxes, including a 0.5 percent increase in sales tax. That’s a lot.

Imagine knowing that every time you bought something, you paid 0.5 percent more in income tax to pay for that stadium. Miami-Dade County paid for two-thirds of Marlins Park through taxes. The city of Orlando financed the Amway Center with about $300 million in bonds that Fitch later downgraded to junk status.

What’s almost as evil as charging taxpayers for these excesses is pricing out regular fans.

The hot new trend in paying for these behemoths is the “personal seat license.” Want to buy season tickets? You need to fork over thousands just to buy the right to buy season tickets. But wait, there’s more!

Teams like the Ravens will allow you to buy a place on a waiting list, which then allows you to buy a PSL, which then allows you to buy season tickets. And the Ravens make money on every part. Less wealthy fans are financing the building of luxury suites so that teams can make more money on the wealthier fans.

Execs say they want to create the ultimate fan experience. No, they don’t — they want to create the ultimate experience.

But the ultimate fan experience is a clear line of sight, a stadium full of fellow actual fans and reasonably priced parking, food and beer. That doesn’t cost $1 billion.

Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of Upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?

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