PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) – The NFL just played its last Super Bowl in a stadium that didn't require a dime of public funding 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.
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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 taxes. 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 site at 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.