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The NFL Stadium Shakedown


Costa Tsiokos takes note of an “especially mercenary” effort by the National Football League to get Atlanta and Georgia taxpayers to buy the Atlanta Falcons a fancy new stadium, replacing the Georgia Dome. Or, to be more precise, the eighteen-year-old Georgia Dome:

While in Atlanta, [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell made clear the connection between Atlanta hosting a third Super Bowl and Atlanta getting a new stadium.

The NFL has staged Super Bowl XXVIII and XXXIV at the Georgia Dome, which was opened in 1992.

“I think this is a great community,” Goodell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But as I mentioned to the people earlier today, the competition for the Super Bowl is really at an all-time high, in a large part because of the new stadiums. The provisions that they have for a new stadium in this great community, I think that’s a pretty powerful force. We have a history of going back to communities when they have those new stadiums.”

Costa argues this is a pretty despicable move by the league:

It’s fairly idiotic to think that a world-class venue like the Georgia Dome has a shelf life of only twenty years. This is a pure greed move by the NFL. Having already extracted new stadiums from most franchise cities, the league is now trying to re-start the process by prematurely declaring barely-used buildings as outmoded. Essentially, they’re trying to make supposedly long-term landmarks into disposable commodities, to be recycled every few years for a cash infusion to team and league.

Similarly, on tonight’s NBC NFL pre-game show, Sports Illustrated reporter Peter King stated that the NFL’s long-awaited (well, by the media and the NFL, at least) return to Los Angeles is likely in the near-future… depending, of course, on the outcomes of ongoing efforts by the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers to shake down their communities for new stadia.

Of course, the NFL’s greed is nothing particularly new, but as Costa points out while it’s one thing to argue for the replacement of outmoded stadia that were designed for a different era, often for both baseball and football–sports played on very differently-sized fields, leading to compromises that made fans of both sports unhappy–it’s another to argue that a stadium with modern amenities that has barely reached an adult age is somehow decrepit and in need of replacement.

The move is not without precedent, though. The NBA somehow got Memphis’ politicians to pony up to build the FedExForum to house the ex-Vancouver Grizzlies, which opened only 13 years after the city opened the Pyramid, itself built in large part to (ultimately unsuccessfully) attract an NBA franchise to the city. Maybe Roger Goodell thinks Atlantans are equally gullible.

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About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State College in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi.

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    Not to mention that a major renovation project was done just 4 years ago. And that major college football games — the SEC Championship game, the annual kickoff classic — are held there.

    Truly bizarre.

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  2. Ja'far says:

    It’s not just the NFL but the individual owners who squeeze their cities for new stadiums. As a Bengals fan, we had to endure the franchise owner demanding the city build a new stadium not too many years ago under threat of moving the franchise to a new city. Essentially, the city picked up the bill for the new stadium in what was a sweetheart deal for the owner. And the result was not a better product, but simply to keep the status quo.

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  3. Trumwill says:

    Similarly, on tonight’s NBC NFL pre-game show, Sports Illustrated reporter Peter King stated that the NFL’s long-awaited (well, by the media and the NFL, at least) return to Los Angeles is likely in the near-future… depending, of course, on the outcomes of ongoing efforts by the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers to shake down their communities for new stadia.

    Interesting. I thought we were looking forward to the Los Angeles Bills. Then again, both San Diego and Oakland are former LA teams.

    Personally, I think that the Raiders should be looking towards San Jose. Keeps them in-market and San Jose is probably anxious enough for a team that they would be happy to pony up.

    One thing I think that should really be considered by somebody is that instead of placing the team in LA, put them in Riverside. Los Angeles is relatively indifferent to the NFL by virtue of all of the other entertainment in the city. Riverside, though, has a huge population of its own and can draw on Los Angeles as a lot of people are willing t make treks for football games. They could pull on LA the same way that Green Bay pulls on Milwaukee.

    Tangentially: I know this isn’t going to be a popular opinion around here, but I think the government needs to get involved. Not in preventing municipalities from building stadiums, but rather in forcing the NFL to expand. The team-to-population ratio has gotten ridiculously out of hand. There’s something like 7 markets right now that are larger than the 5 smallest NFL locales. There’s little doubt that there are a number of cities out there that could house a team. However, the fewer teams they have, the more they can demand to keep teams from moving. MLB and the NBA can claim that they’re in a financial spot, but the NFL cannot.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    The team-to-population ratio has gotten ridiculously out of hand.

    There’s been quite a bit of expansion, really. There are currently 32 teams, up from 26 when I started watching and 24 in 1976.

    Beyond that, while NFL athletes have gotten better over the years, I don’t know if there’s enough talent for radical expansion. There aren’t 32 starting caliber NFL quarterbacks now.

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  5. george says:

    The NFL is a business. If they can’t make a profit without public money, then they should be run as a charity.

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  6. DC Loser says:

    Just say NO. This is definitely one area the government at all level should not get involved in raising money for teams. Let them make their own profits themselves. I’m not a Redskins fan, but at least I do admire them for having the gumption to build their own stadium.

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  7. Trumwill says:

    There’s been quite a bit of expansion, really. There are currently 32 teams, up from 26 when I started watching and 24 in 1976.

    Yeah, but if you look at the populations they have not come close to keeping up. Back in 1970, there was 1 team for every 8.5 million or so Americans. Now that number is over $10. That’s leaving aside the increased urbanization that means that people are more concentrated in places to place sports teams.

    Beyond that, while NFL athletes have gotten better over the years, I don’t know if there’s enough talent for radical expansion. There aren’t 32 starting caliber NFL quarterbacks now.

    Only because the defensive players are all so good. As a general rule, the better the overall athletes, the better defenses are*. Spread the superstar defensive players out among more teams and more quarterbacks will start looking better.

    Anyhow, the term “NFL-Caliber” is defined by how many teams there are. You could cut the teams in half and half of the existing QBs wouldn’t be NFL-Caliber.

    I would be amazed if we weren’t producing more, better quarterbacks per-capita than we were thirty years ago. More better everything, really.

    * – This is my theory, anyway. Look at low-rent FCS teams. They often don’t struggle for great quarterbacks and great offense (except the offensive line). It’s invariably defense that suffers. That’s where the real talent dropoff is. I have a number of ideas as to why it is so, but it seems to be so.

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  8. Herb says:

    “As a Bengals fan, we had to endure the franchise owner demanding the city build a new stadium not too many years ago under threat of moving the franchise to a new city.”

    That’s always the blunt tool used, innit? “Build me a new stadium at your expense, and I won’t move.” And then, as if to add insult to injury, they sell the naming rights of the stadium to some company that probably shouldn’t be naming stadiums anyway. (Enron Park?)

    That’s how Denver got rid of Mile High Stadium and replaced it with Invesco Field. Of course, I think this has to do with the deceitful nature of sports team naming. Yes, they’re called the Denver Broncos, but they’re really Pat Bowlen’s Broncos. Pat Bowlen makes the decisions and the money. Denver just pays the bills.

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  9. PD Shaw says:

    A shelf-life of twenty years isn’t bad these days. The Rams will probably be leaving St. Louis because the fifteen year old stadium is antiquated. The lease and compensation package that drew the Rams to STL required the facility to be in the top half of NFL stadiums at this point, or the Rams could leave. The STL stadium, opened in 1995, is one of the oldest (top 1/3rd in age).

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  10. Trumwill says:

    And then, as if to add insult to injury, they sell the naming rights of the stadium to some company that probably shouldn’t be naming stadiums anyway.

    This particularly irks me. Hey City and County, we need $200m for a new stadium! Oh, thanks Corporation for that $30m, for your generosity we will name the stadium after you!

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  11. Jack says:

    Gee, I wonder if the US would have exported so many manufacturing jobs if we got cities to pay to build the factories?

    That’s all the stadiums are, factories for the NFL owners to generate money.

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  12. An Interested party says:

    If only cities/states could practice the same extortion on professional sports teams as well as the latter practice on cities/states…meanwhile, I wonder how many of the people who scream bloody murder about the government spending one penny on the poor or stimulus don’t mind obscene amounts of money being spent on new stadiums…ahh, priorities…

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  13. Trumwill says:

    I wonder how many of the people who scream bloody murder about the government spending one penny on the poor or stimulus don’t mind obscene amounts of money being spent on new stadiums…ahh, priorities…

    In my experience, support for lavish stadia does not really come from the right. Or the left, for that matter. It’s one of those centrist things that “pragmatic” politicians from both sides of the aisle get behind. Most of the anti-government types I know are those that hate sports team subsidies the most.

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  14. Rick DeMent says:

    Problem is that this is hardly an issue with sports teams, companies and industries play this game all the time. Extorting tax credits and other goodies in exchange for building a factory or bringing their business to the state in the first place. It’s the free market in action, one they figure out that cities will pay for the privilege of bringing jobs, they get any thing they want.

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