This season, as always, taxpayers are giving NFL owners money whether they watch football or not.
If you live in a National Football League market that isn't New York -- where the owners of the Giants and Jets and their investors covered all of MetLife Stadium's $1.6 billion cost -- your tax dollars are likely paying for the home team's facilities. It isn't just a minor contribution, either.
Back in 1998, taxpayers in Tampa parted with $194 million to build Raymond James Stadium for the Buccaneers. The cost of the Oakland Raiders' new home in Las Vegas will be ten times that once it's complete. The amount of tax money that Las Vegas and Clark County taxpayers are parting with to build that facility outweighs the cost of any NFL stadium built before 2009.
But that's the issue: it isn't 2009 anymore. The NFL and its owners have realized that schlepping to the stadium, paying for parking, sitting in seats exposed to the elements far from the action and being gouged for concessions isn't anyone's idea of a good time. When you have high-definition games on enormous screens at home and the league has so graciously televised every game through DirecTV's Sunday Ticket package (or at least the RedZone channel on other cable and satellite providers), it takes a wonder of the world surrounded by a city of entertainment options just to pry fans out of their homes.
That assumes they're even watching the games at home. Last year, NFL viewership dropped 8% after nearly a decade's worth of steady gains. Broadcasters blamed the presidential election, your angry uncle blamed Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem and various others speculated that the rise of e-sports, the proliferation of Sling TV and other live streaming options and the wide variety of other things to do might have caused the exodus.
But maybe people just felt helpless and acted out. After all, according to Georgia State University's Sport and Urban Policy Initiative, taxpayers have only been allowed to vote on stadium construction or renovations six times since 2000. There have been 19 stadiums either built, renovated or planned with taxpayer money since that time.
With the NFL preseason begun and the regular season right around the corner, we took a look at stadiums built within the last 20 years and found the ten most expensive stadiums that taxpayer money could help buy. You may never see a down of football played there, but you'll pay for it anyway.
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10 CenturyLink Field
Stadium cost: $461.3 million
Initial cost to taxpayers: $300.3 million
Seattle is so close to having no stadium debt that it doesn't want to jinx it. After the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and became the Thunder, the city sued the Sonics' owners and used the settlement money to pay off their old home at KeyArena paid off. As a result, every Seattle Storm WNBA game, concert or other event the arena has hosted since is straight revenue for the city.
In 2011, the city paid off the $384 million it spent building Safeco Field for the Mariners in 1997. Part of the sales and car-rental taxes that paid for the ballpark were shifted to arts, cultural and heritage programs in the city. Shortly thereafter, hotel tax revenue paid off the $67.6 million in municipal bonds the city floated in 1994 to repair falling ceiling tiles from the Mariners and Seahawks' old home at The Kingdome -- a building that was imploded in 2000. That left the $300.3 million the city gave Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen to help build the Seattle Seahawks' current home at CenturyLink Field in 2002 as the last debt to be paid. With the hotel tax now going directly to paying off CenturyLink instead of being split with a nonexistent Kingdome, the city is on track to pay off its portion of the Seahawks stadium debt by 2020. This not only frees up at least 37.5% of that hotel tax for the arts but, more importantly, it dedicates at least 37.5% of it to affordable worker housing and services for homeless youth. That's what the Seattle City Council has kept in mind as it spurned proposals for a new arena in the city's SoDo neighborhood and held out for a deal that requires no taxpayer money and no city-owned land.
9. NRG Stadium
Stadium cost: $474 million
Initial cost to taxpayers: $289 million
Houston and NRG Stadium hosted a super bowl in 2004 before hosting another this year. In the International Journal of Sports and Finance in 2006, University of Maryland professor Dennis Coates found that the Super Bowl increased tax revenues in Houston by roughly $5 million. Given a tax rate of 5%, that's a $100 million boost in taxable sales. However, that's only after spending $289 million in tax dollars to pay for 61% of the Stadium's construction in 2002. It's also far less than the $330 million that Houston's Super Bowl bid committee predicted the city would make.
Now 15-year-old NRG Stadium may not be able to host another Super Bowl without significant upgrades. Houston is already home to one giant vacant stadium in the Astrodome -- which Moodys Investment Service uses as an illustration of the credit risk behind stadium financing -- and poured cash into NRG Stadium for renovations in advance of this year's Super Bowl. The Houston Texans may be comfy in their long-time home, but the stadium finance landscape is no country for old buildings.
8. Lincoln Financial Field
Stadium cost: $518 billion
Initial cost to taxpayers: $188 million
Three years before this stadium was built in 2003, then-mayor John Street received a demand from the Eagles: cough up money for a new stadium or renovate Veterans Stadium for $80 million. Because it's Philly, Street and the council took the way more expensive option. Granted, it's only 36% of the total cost of the Linc -- the sixth-lowest public contribution by percentage in the NFL -- but if even the Eagles thought there was a way to make the Vet work, Philly could have pocketed that extra $108 million in rental-car taxes. However, the faithful seem happy with The House McNabb Built.
7. Soldier Field
Stadium cost: $587 million
Initial cost to taxpayers: $387 million
That wasn't even for a new stadium: It was a renovation of one of the oldest structures in the league. The Chicago Bears snatched the core and soul out of this 1924 gem and dropped a Vegas outdoor EDM venue into its center. The Bears, who didn't move into Soldier Field until 1971 and spent much of the '80s and '90s hating the building, wanted better seats, luxury boxes and stands closer to the action. Fulfilling that wish list led to Soldier Field being delisted as a National Historic Landmark in 2006. In a complete coincidence, the Bears haven't made it to a Super Bowl since, have made the playoffs just once and managed three winning seasons in that stretch -- equal to the number of wins they had all last season.
6. Lucas Oil Stadium
Stadium cost: $719.6 million
Initial cost to taxpayers: $619.6 million
Until recently, this was the worst stadium deal in the league.
That $619.5 million is more than the cost of any NFL stadium built before it. That doesn't count the millions in debt Indianapolis still owes on the long-imploded RCA Dome, which it will be paying off until 2021. The 2012 Super Bowl and the 2010, 2015 and 2021 NCAA Men's Final Four are nice consolation prizes, but they aren't doing much to dig Indianapolis out from under its stadium debt.
5. U.S. Bank Stadium
Stadium cost: $1.1 billion
Initial cost to taxpayers: $498 million
This is the home of the 2018 Super Bowl, but the city and state that paid for this building won't see much return from it.
The new home of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota's first Super Bowl since 1992 was only built because Vikings owner and New Jersey real estate mogul/accused racketeer Zygi Wilf hinted he might consider moving the team to Los Angeles. Since then, Minneapolis and Minnesota have watched a "charitable gambling" scheme that was supposed to pay for the stadium sputter along. They've also seen members of the stadium's governing body, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, resign after admitting that suites at the stadium were used as political perks, kickbacks and gifts for authority members' friends and family.
But that isn't the bad part. The failure of "charitable gambling" led to a cigarette tax that will have to pay off a whopping $678 million over 30 years once interest, operations and construction costs are factored in. The Super Bowl won't help, as the NFL awarded it with a 150-page list of demands that limit the revenue received by the city and state.
4. AT&T Stadium
Stadium cost: $1.2 billion
Initial cost to taxpayers: $444 million
This is one of the few places where covering 37% of the cost is considered a bargain.
Arlington, Texas, voters approved a 0.5% increase of the city's sales tax, a 2% hike in the hotel occupancy tax and a 5% boost in car rental tax to cover its bonds. AT&T Stadium was supposed to take 30 years to pay off after it was approved in 2005, but refinancing and additional payments from rising city revenue have shortened the payoff date to 2021 -- a full 14 years early. After voters gave the city their permission that year, Arlington will extend those taxes to cover the cost of a new ballpark for Major League Baseball's Texas Ranger and a surrounding entertainment complex.
Ideally, no public money would go into projects like these. But if you're going to borrow millions from the public, it helps to prove that you can pay them back.
3. Levi's Stadium
Santa Clara, Calif.
Stadium cost: $1.3 billion
Initial cost to taxpayers: $114 million*
Super Bowl 50 was played in the San Francisco 49ers' new home in 2015. On paper, the facility was buil with just $114 million in public funding. However, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority -- the public entity charged with paying off stadium costs through stadium revenue -- is on the hook for $933 million. Technically, that isn't "public funding," because it doesn't require taxpayer money... yet. However, it's a big gamble on the stadium's ability to pay its own debts, especially with the team's on-field fortunes taking a turn for the worse and stadium revenue poised to take a hit if the 49ers go into an extended slump.
2. Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Stadium cost: $1.5 billion
Initial cost to taxpayers: $200 million
The Atlanta Falcons' new home isn't even open yet and hasn't figured out how to work its retractable roof, but it's slated to host a Super Bowl in 2019. That's the least the NFL could offer after owner Arthur Blank eyeballed a replacement for the Georgia Dome before it turned 20, squeezed more than $700 million in Atlanta hotel tax dollars (once bond interest comes due), displaced two churches and six other properties (using the threat of eminent domain to force owners to sell). We'll note that the city isn't blameless here. Its decision to give the Falcons hotel tax money prompted baseball's Braves to leave for Cobb County when they didn't get a similar offer and forced the city to give basketball's Hawks $143 million in tourist tax revenue to renovate Phillips Arena. A stadium tax grab hurts, but even more so when all of a city's sports franchises grab at once.
1. Las Vegas Stadium
Stadium cost: $1.9 billion
Initial cost to taxpayers: $750 million
Look at that taxpayer cost and remember that Las Vegas is a city in which one out of every five homes is worth less than the mortgage being paid on it. It's a city that just got a free arena from MGM Resorts and Anschutz and a free team from the National Hockey League. It's a city that could have used $750 million in hotel room revenue for schools, roads, transit, kickstarting new resort projects -- anything but a stadium. However, when Raiders owner used casino mogul Sheldon Adelson as muscle to get tax money, only to throw him to the curb over a stadium rent dispute, he leveraged Clark County into a position it couldn't walk away from. If it wanted to beef up its convention center, it needed the Raiders. If it wanted to look like it was providing jobs to an area hard-hit by recession, it needed the Raiders. If it wanted to be "big time" -- even though it's already one of the biggest resort destinations in the world, despite yokels' claims that it's a rodeo town in need of the big leagues -- it needed the Raiders. Unfortunately for Vegas, the one thing it never needed in this whole equation was a nomadic team from California with a mercurial owner a questionable on-field history. The Raiders always needed Vegas more than the city needed them, but lawmakers in Clark County didn't seem to know that. Now the Raiders will spend a few awkward years in Oakland while Vegas builds a stadium for Cowboys, Packers, Steelers, Bears, Giants, Jets and Seahawks fans.
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