Falcons owner seems to have 'stadium envy'

storapse@aol.comDecember 13, 2012 

The shelf life of sports stadiums isn't what it used to be.

The original Yankee Stadium lasted 75 years. The Rose Bowl and Los Angeles Coliseum are about 90 years old. Fenway Park hit 100 last spring and Wrigley Field is closing in on the century mark.

But these are the exceptions.

In contrast, we have some National Football League owners insisting they need a new stadium after 20 years.

Case in point: The Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons, opened in 1992. But that is no longer good enough for Arthur Blank.

On Monday, Blank got approval from the Georgia World Congress Center Authority for a new $1 billion building with a retractable roof. The GWCCA affirmed the roughly 30-70 public-private split of construction costs for the stadium that would open in 2017.

If the legislature approves the plan, the GWCCA would issue bonds for construction money ($300 million), and an already-approved extension of Fulton County's hotel-motel tax would pay them off in time.

The Falcons would be responsible for the rest of the money ($700 million) and the state would own the stadium. The team would operate the facility for 30 years and retain all revenue -- parking, concessions, etc.

As new stadium financing goes these days, that does not sound like a bad deal for the taxpayers of Atlanta and vicinity. In my view, Blank has been one of the better owners in the NFL, usually making good decisions for Falcon fans.

But he is also a business man, who didn't become a multi-millionaire making dumb business moves. And he has a plan that will help him pay for some of the team's costs.

It is called Personal Seat Licenses, which require fans to pay for a seat before buying season tickets. Estimates are it could raise $100 to $200 million for the Falcons.

"There will be some component of PSLs," Blank said Monday. "We are going to try to keep that to the lowest possible number we can that's feasible. It will not be in the range of some of the newer stadiums that you have read about."

PSLs have been sold by at least 16 NFL teams. The New York Giants' and Jets' seat licenses in their new Meadowlands stadium were priced from $1,000 to $25,000, depending on seat location. It has been reported that the San Francisco 49ers will ask as much as $80,000 for seats licensed in the stadium they are building.

In addition, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a recent study found ticket prices increased 26 percent in the first season in the NFL's three newest stadiums.

All of this begs the question: Does Atlanta really need to replace a stadium that is only 20 years old?

I think we have a case of "stadium envy" here.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones orchestrated a $1.3 billion building in Arlington, Texas. In New York, the Giants, Jets and Yankees are settled in brand new stadiums. Same with the Indianapolis Colts.

But none of those teams were previously playing in a park only 20 years old.

If I were a Falcons ticket holder (or even just a citizen of Atlanta), I would say in these uncertain times we should not be spending any money to replace a very suitable stadium.

Sorry Mr. Blank. I suggest you put your plan on the shelf and try again in about five years.

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