The NFL, a nonprofit 501(c)(6), which gets three-fourths of their nonprofit revenues from the sale of services and goods, all earned income; wants to help the Atlanta Falcons owner’s new stadium. If the NFL and the Falcon’s owner want a new stadium, what do taxpayers and fans want?
First, look at the decision makers involved. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), created by the state and operates the Georgia Dome. Negotiated with the Falcons, to come up with their original master plan for a $700M open-air stadium; with 65K permanent seats, 10K temp seats, 7,500 club seats and 110 suites. Another plan, was to modify the current Dome; another plan is a retractable-roof.
Other than the Falcons, the Dome hosts yearly tournaments: like the ACC basketball championships, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Men's Final Four, and the SEC football championship. The Dome, was built in 1992 for $214M ($396M in current dollars).
The Dome, GWCCA and Centennial Olympic Park, accounts for $113M in revenue, with GWCCA $14.9M in net income. The Dome for FY 2009-10 had total operating revenue of $22.39M, and total expenses of $17.08M, for $5.31M in profit. Total attendance in the Dome was 1.19M in 2008, 1.26M in 2009 and 1.33M in 2010.
An April 2009 NFL Atlanta Discussion Document, stated NFL has 3 business partners to support: their corporate sponsors (Canon, Visa, FedEx etc); their Licensees (Wilson, Riddell, Reebok etc); and their Media Partners (Fox, NBC, ESPN, CBS etc). Where 82% of all NFL revenues are shared with all teams, from national sponsors to their licensing, and 34% is shared from ticket and club seat sales.
In 2009, the NFL helped build 25 stadiums with $11B in stadium construction costs, while naming rights revenue generated at least, $5M a year. In 2009, the Falcons local revenue gap versus NFL average was $42M; and the Dome was ranked 8th in market size, with the lowest club seat premiums.
Arthur Blank, a billionaire and Falcons’ owner; wants a new retractable-roof stadium, at the GWCCA Marshaling Field: a truck parking lot on Ivan Allen Boulevard, between Marietta Street and Northside Drive. The map above shows the location of the new stadium, the nearest MARTA train station and parking. In 2006, Blank predicted a new stadium, on AJC.
This new retractable-roof stadium would cost $947.7M and may go over $1B. Blank, wants to begin construction by 2014 and end by 2017; with a capacity of over 66K-72K for game days and 80K for special events, on 28 acres.
In February 2011, GWCCA negotiated with the Falcons, on their $700M open-air stadium. Legislation threatened GWCCA, because of their $200M cap on bonds, to fund the stadium with over $300M in bonds, paid by hotel/motel tax.
In April 2010, Georgia lawmakers wanted to extend hotel/motel tax in both, Atlanta and unincorporated Fulton County, which would expire in 2020. They passed H.B. 903 to extend the 7% hotel/motel tax to 2050, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ron Stephens.
In 2011, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the Senate bill by Republican Rep. Chuck Martin, to lift the GWCCA cap to borrow more and for Georgia's higher education; but S.B. 140 bill was later approved, and lifted the GWCCA bond capacity cap.
Yet, hotel/motel tax revenue has decreased since 2007 by 16%, from $50,917 in 2007 to $42,560 in 2010, which is not a constant form of revenue, to pay back bonds.
Since the law removed caps, GWCCA could go to the bond market to raise $300M for the new stadium, costing $947.7M, built with hotel/motel taxes by guests. The NFL/Falcons would pay the rest of the $648M, from the private sector.
The current Dome, still owes over $100M in bonds that would be paid off by 2020 on their 30 year bonds, but now extend until 2050, and add more debt with $300M in Atlanta bonds.
Both Republicans and Democrats tried to block muni bonds to fund stadiums with tax dollars since 1986; instead of using those bonds to help local governments cut their borrowing costs, for infrastructure/schools. Yet, the Tax Reform Act of 1986, removed sports industry from certain projects to qualify for subsidies, like bonds; if more than 10% of the building’s debt, was repaid by private business revenues.
Kansas City architecture firm Populous, hired by GWCCA to do three studies on the stadium. One in 2009, for $145K with their master plan, for the new stadium. A second in 2010, and another study in 2012 for $25K, for the new $947.7M stadium, on 28 acre of Ivan Allen Boulevard.
The March 2012 GWCC: Master Plan Phase IV by Populous, states during their market requirements and questions with the Falcons, found many reasons for the new stadium, like the desire for a “operable roof,” because:
“Today’s NFL Stadium needs premium level hierarchy and sponsorships executed in ways the existing Dome isn’t able to address. NFL stadium designs need to have built in flexibility at the function level, not just at the finish level. As the NFL program criteria has changed, the team’s ability to sell the product with the right level of amenities/experiences has diminished and has rendered the Georgia Dome incapable of being a stadium to take the franchise into the next 30 plus years.”
Populous, which has been the Architect of Record on 12 other new NFL stadiums and 2 renovations, says if Georgia modifies the current Dome to 1.8 million square feet; would not achieve the 66K-72K game day capacity or 80K for special events. If the Dome is modified, it would only be 57,500 total game day seats and 68,300 total special event seats, with a retractable-roof. The current capacity for the Dome is 71,228.
The Populous reported the new stadium with a retractable roof and demolition of the Dome, are projected to cost $947.7M. Some related costs to be later determined, like the stadium plaza and pedestrian bridge, maybe overrun costs to Atlanta's hotel-motels. For a modified Georgia Dome, the costs are projected to be $859.3M with a retractable-roof.
Jordan Rappaport and Chad Wilkerson study titled “What are the Benefits of Hosting a Major League Sports Franchise,” question studies to promote a new stadium. Atlanta has not yet done an impact study, until after a decision is made, but other studies were done.
These “impact studies” look only at the positive effects of hosting a sports franchise, but does not look at the negative effects, like “offsetting job losses,” which produce lower estimates on the “net impact on local economic development.” The “impact studies almost always fail to measure benefits in a form that can be compared with public outlays. While increases in output, increases in personal income, and job creation all measure increases in underlying economic activity, how should a metro area value these increases?”
When it comes to where the Falcons will get their private funding. The NFL's G-4 stadium-construction program for NFL owners, would allow Arthur Blank, to be eligible for $200M for the stadium. Also, the Falcons would get a $50M NFL grant and $150M in loans to be repaid over 15 years, from incremental increases of visiting-team shares of revenue, in their new stadium. If the Falcons fail to repay that loan from new revenues, it would add to the team's debt. Other revenue sources would come from the sales of luxury suites, naming rights, advertising, and concessions.
The trend of building these new stadiums, has been either funded by taxpayers, the private sector and/or the nonprofit NFL, ranging from: the San Diego Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium (1997) costing $92.2M, with 74% from public taxpayers; to NY Giants/Jets' Meadowlands Stadium (2010) costing $1.73B, with 100% from the private sector; and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Raymond James Stadium (1998) costing $198.7M, with 100% funding from public taxpayers.
Comparing the construction costs, of two other newly NFL built stadiums on the percentage of public to private costs. The Texas Cowboys stadium cost $1.15B, with 30.4% from the public and 69.6% from the private. The Indianapolis Colts stadium cost $719.6M, with 86.1% from the public and 13.9% from private sector. With the Falcons new $947.7M stadium, with $300M from hotel/motel taxes; means 32% from public taxpayers and 68% from the private sector.
Richard “Rick” H. Burton, a David B. Falk Professor of Sports Management at Syracuse University; says cost overruns add up to 5-10% of their original estimated price.
Burton tells PATCH why new stadiums are built, is because they, “are often built out of hubris/ego but more often for the new revenue stream the new stadium can generate. Rarely is the new stadium built in order for the team to be sold. Why? Because the owner wants to strut around the new stadium he/she just built.”
A.J. Robinson of Central Atlanta Progress, says the new stadium will revitalize the area saying, “we need to do everything possible to keep the Falcons in downtown Atlanta...It could have tremendous positive impact on our community.” Yet, Atlantans were told the same thing about the Dome in 1992, and Turner Field in 1996.
When asked about why teams are sold after a new stadium is built, Burton believes, “as soon as the owner can flip it (they will). Remember, sports is often viewed as a real estate play. There is land and there are assets with goodwill on the land.” Why do owners build? Burton said, we should ask why does, “Atlanta need to keep up with the Jones? As in Jerry Jones in Dallas (or)...the Giants/Jets in Met Life stadium in New Jersey?”
Arthur Blank is keeping up with the Jones alright; Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboy’s and his 80K seat stadium, which was built on tax subsidies (30.4% or $350M), making it the most valuable team. Yet, Jones and other owners benefit from taxpayer subsidies on interest paid by muni bonds, which cost the US Treasury $164M a year from Bloomberg data of 2,700 securities. Since 1986, the $17B of debt issued to build stadiums will mature by 2047, and will cost $4B in taxpayer subsidies to bondholders. Jones and 21 other NFL owners, have built stadiums on public tax borrowing, including 64 other teams in basketball, baseball and hockey; and remember the NFL is a nonprofit.
Burton, doubts a stadium economic impact in the community, over other projects, like a plant or hospital to create jobs. Billion dollar stadiums are now the “de rigueur,” with other owners, and have become the “white elephants” to build them.
Other than owner’s status and keeping up with the Jerry Jones’, there are other reasons to build new stadiums: like naming rights, luxury suite sales and higher fan costs.
Economists, Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys, studied data from 1969-1990s on US professional sports teams, including their stadium construction; and found local incomes fall $10 per person per year. Coates found the least economic impact was in metro areas, with little increase in attendance or number of concessions.
Coates/Humphreys found new taxes to build the stadiums, attracted less visitors; this created fewer permanent full time jobs, and instead created part-time, seasonal or low-wage jobs with no benefits. So, cost-benefit analysis or inflated economic-impact studies, for taxpayer to give tax subsidies to companies, did not improve the economy; because if you built it, the fans did not come, because they were priced out.
The Coates/Humphreys study titled “The Stadium Gambit and Local Economic Development,” found that impact studies; does not address alternative uses of public funds, since politicians think financing stadiums will generate “free resources” with no alternative uses.
Maryland tried to lure Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, and used the state lottery to fund the new stadium. Yet, state lottery revenues are not constant every year to pay off the city bonds, which added to the city's debt, and the state had to “dip into general tax revenues” to pay the bonds that could have funded schools, roads etc. The same applies to hotel/motel taxes, which are not a constant form of revenue to pay back bonds.
Coates/Humphreys’ real question a city should be asking is: If stadiums are a good investment for any city, compared to infrastructure projects since:
“(T)he rules for sensible public investment (should) apply to stadium finance as much as they apply to public provision of highways, schools, and airports. Specifically, the key is comparing the return on the investment in the stadium with the return on the same dollar investment in any alternative public use, including tax reduction. Efficient use of public resources requires that any given funds go into the uses that provide the highest return...But measurement of these returns is complicated by the fact that there are substantial services of the stadium and sports franchises that do not pass through the marketplace.”
J.C. Bradbury, department chair of Health, Physical Education and Sports Science at Kennesaw State University, said numbers predicting large gains from construction, does not materialize. Construction jobs are “fluid” and if the economy improves by 2014, then construction jobs rebound and there are fewer workers, which will increase labor costs of the stadium. Bradbury, believes the real rule in these analysis, is always the underestimated costs; and with the Falcons that could be over $1B.
There have been stadiums in other cities, which failed both fans and local taxpayers. The Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis cost $720M in 2008, but had a shortfall of $10M a year in costs. Without cash infusion from the city's Capital Improvement Board that oversees the stadium, with an increase in hotel fees from 6% to 9%, car rental taxes from 2% to 4%, and 6 counties agreeing to a 1% increase in food and beverage taxes; the stadium would go broke. Doubling the operating costs for the stadium, with no new revenue stream to offset the $10M shortfall.
In 1996, Cincinnati and Hamilton County agreed to build both the Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium; and city leaders persuaded taxpayers to a half-penny increase in sales tax, to cover the costs. Over a decade later, the lack of revenue, the Global Recession and NFL's revenue-sharing agreement; made what Wall Street Journal called, “one of the worst professional sports deals ever struck by a local government,” forcing city officials to create new taxes.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County also ended the parking subsidies on parking lots, because of the promises of a property tax rebate equal to 30% from sales tax revenue. The property tax rebate drained $19.2M from funds, for the upkeep of both Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park.
Andrew Zimbalist, a Roberts A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College, tells PATCH that stadiums, “unless they are largely funded privately, they are a substantial drain on the public budget (and if) they occupy 15 to 30 acres of urban land and used 10 to15 days a year,” is a bad investment for that land to create jobs. Zimbalist believes, “they do not generate sufficient economic activity or tax revenue to justify this investment on economic grounds alone.”
In 1989, George W. Bush with a group of investors (Bill DeWitt Jr., Rusty Rose, Richard Rainwater and others); bought shares of the Texas Rangers for $89M. In 1990, the Rangers persuaded Arlington, Texas voters on a $165M stadium; and in 1991, increased sales tax to pay $135M of the $165M cost. In 1994, Bush was the CEO of the Rangers, but resigned when he became governor; yet kept his shares in the team of 1.8% equity interest, plus another 10% bonus, if the team was sold.
In 1998, Tom Hicks bought the Rangers for $250M, and Bush received $14.9M from his 10% escalator bonus and was reelected governor. In 1999, the Rangers paid ASFDA settlement of $22.2M, to cover the costs of landowner’s litigation by eminent domain, of private land for the 13 acre stadium. Hicks racked up $525M in loan debt, and in 2010 the Rangers filed for bankruptcy.
Bush's Rangers stadium cost Arlington $191M, with $135M bonds paid by half penny sales tax; so Bush turned his $606,302 investment into $14.9M.
Currently there is an example of doubt from taxpayers, with the Miami Marlins new Sun Life Stadium at a cost of $515M; of what the Miami New Times called “the worst deal for taxpayers of any stadium in America.”
Many companies lobbied for the Marlins stadium, like Contex Construction, Moss & Associates, MasTec, Able Body Labor, etc.
In 2009, the Marlins stadium was promised to be an “economic vitality” to Little Havana, as city commissioner Joe Sanchez said, with 17 acres for parking garages; yet voters will pay $2.4B for the public bonds in principle and interest.
In the first year of opening the new Marlins stadium, they cut $160M off their payroll in players and pocketed millions in the baseball league revenue sharing; paid by teams throughout the country, like the Atlanta Braves. The Marlins also had the worst playing record, since 1999. Attendance in their first year was over 2.2M, the lowest compared to other newly opened stadiums, like Yankee Stadium in 2009 (3.7M) and Nationals Park in 2008 (2.35M).
Miami Marlins had Dade county taxpayers; pay over 70% of the total $515M cost, getting only $2.3M in rent and $40K for building youth fields, while the city floated over $100M in bonds. The value of the Marlins went up $90M after the new stadium, which Jeffrey Loria bought the team in 2002 for $158M, which is now worth $450M by Forbes, but the total cost of interest rate and principle to taxpayers, will be $2.4B.
In 2009, the Miami Marlins were exempt from paying property taxes, on their 4 parking garages covering 17 acres, and will not pay Miami $1.2M a year in property tax revenue. Instead, the Marlins pay Miami $10.00 per space to use their 5,700 space parking garage, for 81 home games, per year; thanks to H.B. 7097.
When it comes to why taxpayers still build stadiums; even when other cities have buyers remorse; it depends on who you ask. Zimbalist, said stadiums do not promote economic development, but becomes a “fiscal drain,” with their cost overruns, sales tax exemptions and maintenance obligations.
Other reasons why taxpayers keep building stadiums; comes from a 2007 PolicyMatters journal titled “Homefield Economics: The Public Financing of Stadiums” by Christoper Diedrich, from the University of California that believes:
“The civic pride, quality of life, and simple happiness this public good generates may be the salient considerations in our willingness to pay for stadiums. We want teams in our cities not because they make our city more prestigious or economically important, but rather because they help make us proud to live where we do, and because they give us something to talk about with our neighbors and coworkers. We want sports teams because we love sports – our fandom helps us define ourselves as individuals and, taken collectively, our support of a team helps develop a communal identity.”
If teams create a sense of community identity and conversational, for many taxpayers to keep voting for these tax-exemptions, tax increases or city bonds to fund new stadiums; then this community identity has a high price. Some teams have no loyalty to the city's community by being sold off or moved; since the team is not owned by the fans or taxpayers, like the Green Bay Packers.
There are four reasons to building a stadium, other than increasing club seats and being one of the few stadiums in America, with a retractable roof. One is when fans hear the team is leaving: A standard scare tactic. Recently, there have been rumors the Falcons are moving. Governor Nathan Deal was asked about the Falcons being moving to L.A., but he did not have an answer. Nobody suggested to Deal, in his November 2012 meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, of moving the Falcons.
The second reason to build, is the chance the NFL will award the city the Super Bowl. Goodell said, Atlanta could compete against other markets for that right, if they build a new stadium. Atlanta won in May 1990 by NFL owners, for Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994, with the Cowboys and Bills with 72,817 in attendance. Yet failed the 2000 bid, because of a ice-storm and murders in Buckhead, by Ravens’ Ray Lewis.
Thirdly new stadiums, increase the value of the team. The Falcon's value could increase to $175M-225M; Barrett Sports Group (BSG), a sports management consulting firm, predicts. Forbes magazine 2012 NFL annual survey, states the Falcons is currently worth $837M, and is 28th out of the 32-team league.
Lastly the reason to build; is the promise of redevelopment. Turner Field was built in 1996, as an Olympic venue to jump-start businesses and retail, yet in 16 years; there is only 1 hotel and very few restaurants, with many parking lots. The Dome, was also promised to jump-start the area in 1992.
There are two new businesses moving near the Dome. The College Football Hall of Fame, which opens in 2014 inside GWCCA, a $80M project with $15M from taxpayers; and Wal-Mart, one of few franchises to open in Vine City, west of the Dome.
After 20 years of disinvestment in both Vine City and English Avenue, the new stadium has many residents looking for a cure.
Byron Amos, president of Capacity Builders Inc. in Vine City, and former president of neighborhoods civic association; hopes for a better deal than the 1992 Dome. The $8M to $10M to help Vine City build new homes randomly in the area, were surprised when buyers turned away, were foreclosed on or left the neighborhood. They should have built, a live-work-play styled gated community, like other parts of Atlanta.
Tillman Ward, of Vine City's Neighborhood Planning Unity, said the Dome since 1992 failed to jump-start Vine City, but hope it will again. Some residents and civic groups in Vine City, English Avenue and Marietta Street, have concerns with the new stadium: like access to construction jobs, church attendance, minority contractors, and infrastructure improvements; to widen steps/streets to mitigate water runoff, during construction.
Vine City west of the Dome, is similar to Turner Field with many parking lots, blighted buildings/homes, and few restaurants or stores. Turner Field’s FanPlex for Braves fans, was closed in 2004, only after being open for 18 months. Turner Field and the Dome are cut off from commerce and tourism, in Mechanicsville and Vine City.
There are only a few clusters of restaurants, near the Dome. One near Centennial Olympic Park and the other inside CNN, which would be affected by the new stadium; since most of their business comes from tourists near the Dome, GWCCA and Centennial Olympic Park.
There are some shopping, restaurants, gated community and condos, north of the Dome; beyond Marietta Street-Northside Drive intersections to Howell Mill. Not enough to attract restaurants, offices and hotels, for jobs in Vine City/English Avenue.
David Marvin, president of Legacy Property Group that owns hotels and restaurants, said the stadium site is to too far from MARTA stops; and is in the opposite direction of Atlanta's streetcars, multimodal station, and Central Atlanta Progress' Green Line project.
Other than location and redevelopment, there is the issue of ticket costs; which always increases with new stadiums and prices out fans. AJC found 3 NFL stadiums built for the past 5 years, had ticket increases of 26% and personal seat licenses (PSL) go up; a one-time charge, for the right to buy season tickets for specific seats for a specific number of years. Some PSLs, could go up to $500-1,000 for fans with license fee.
The BSG also found, the Baltimore Ravens M&T Bank Stadium was built in 1998 for $224M, with 89.3% from public taxpayers. The PSL revenues from the Ravens, was $69.8M used for: “NFL relocation fee; NFL PSL visitors' share (if any); training facility; moving expenses; City of Cleveland settlement; and City of Berea settlement.”
Team Marketing Report (TMR), found a family of four can pay $391.64 to attend a Falcons game. With tickets, parking, food, drinks, 2 programs and 2 caps included, can increase that cost, to an average of $427.21.
In 2011, Georgia Dome's 5,740 club seats were only 55% occupied, according to GWCCA. Lower-bowl ticket holders, were forced to upgrade to premium seat prices. TMR survey found that NFL general seating are $77.34, compared to Falcon's $68.91, with average premium seats costing $242.32. The average 2012 Falcons ticket, is $87 and TMP reports the index is $391.64.
BSG study of 31 stadiums built for the NFL, found some NFL owners attempt to generate bidding wars with local communities to get their projects built. Some projects do not specify resources or funding, like infrastructure and land acquisition; which happened with the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins.
Other than the cost to fans by stadiums; what about the local infrastructure and their funding? Invest Atlanta with their Tax Allocation Districts (TAD), offer government taxpayer funds on revitalizing projects, like Atlantic Station. Invest Atlanta divided Atlanta into 10 TADs covering 27 square miles; and holds 15% of assessed property values to fund redevelopment projects, from museums, hotels, condos etc. The Dome,Vine City and English Avenue, are part of the Westside TAD, with little redevelopment in that area, compared to other parts of Atlanta.
A city audit by Leslie Ward of Invest Atlanta, found bonds from 2001-09 for 5 of the 10 TADs: Atlantic Station, Beltline, Eastside, Princeton Lakes and Westside; did not keep track of their redevelopment plans. When projects were completed, these 5 TADs kept getting more public subsidies, when they did not need them. Even the Atlanta Better Building Challenge, to make downtown office buildings more energy and water efficient by 20%, is funded by the Westside TAD.
The Atlanta City Council now oversees the use of funds on new projects, after the audit. Some see this as slowing down the process, and making TADs less attractive, as a redevelopment tool for developers and community organizations; but they need oversight.
Invest Atlanta bonds, are paid back by future increases in property taxes, generated by new developments; from new buildings to retail centers. Even though redevelopment plans were finished, like Atlantic Station, they still collected Soft Costs (subsidies); which were no longer needed.
The Westside TAD, may even fund the new Falcons stadium on redevelopment projects, around the stadium and future property tax increases.
William Perry of Common Cause Georgia, tells PATCH that “Invest Atlanta is the City's development authority, so they would probably be involved in the infrastructure projects the city would take on (maybe up to $350 million worth) in and around the construction of a new stadium;” through roads, sewers etc.
Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, said infrastructure would be needed, and could increase the project's price to $1.2B; for the spillover of construction for hotels, restaurants, sidewalks, roads and other infrastructure projects from the Westside TAD. The new stadium, may create 30K indirect/direct jobs.
The last issue not touched on by Blank, developers and lawmakers; are the voices of the fans and taxpayers to build. Perry of Common Cause Georgia tells PATCH, “We're not focused on where the best location is, but we want to make sure the public has a chance to weigh in on these issues and more...(We are not) for or against the stadium, we just want to make sure the public has a seat at the table.”
The final decision will be done by the Falcons and GWCCA, on either a new stadium or modification, before the end of 2012.
Local Atlantans need a voice with this new Falcons stadium, but the owner/developers/investors, have not ask all in the community for their feedback in the decision.
Some developers/investors, like some NGOs, do not ask local hurricane victims what they need: They just assume. The same with building a new stadium, they do not ask all the fans or taxpayers, they just assume they will come, if it is built.
So Atlantans need to weight the numbers of the costs and debts, before the Falcons and GWCCA decide so quickly on a new stadium. If other cities have buyer’s remorse on their decisions, maybe Atlanta needs to heed their red flags; before relying on civic pride and emotions, to supersede their reason to build, before we will come.