While pro-football fans in Dallas – and around the nation thanks to gushing network broadcasts – were celebrating the ridiculously large and expensive new Cowboys Stadium, fans in St. Louis might have had a different reaction.
Every time an announcer referred to the new stadium as “state of the art” (as though any new building isn’t), Rams fans might have wondered how long their team would be around.
That’s because the Rams, playing in the not-so-long-ago-state-of-the-art Edward Jones Dome, are threatening to move even though the stadium is just 14 years old. Under the lease, if the stadium isn’t among the eight most-state-of-the-art in the National Football League, the team can demand that it be improved (the Qwest Field lease contains no such clause). By next season, 23 stadiums will have been built or renovated since St. Louis built its dome.
Each one of those is no longer on the top of the pile, thanks to Jerry Jones and his $1.2 billion stadium. While some of what exists there is to feed Jones’ ego – record seating/standing capacity and a big screen that makes all others look like an iPod – the rest is there to put more money into the team’s pockets.
Whether or not Jones succeeds in his campaign to end NFL revenue sharing that gives every team – from New York to Green Bay – the wherewithal to compete, all other owners will want to get even – more money from their stadiums. And whether they have escape clauses like the Rams doesn’t really matter because teams have always exploited the argument that they need more money to be competitive.
Which means that Cowboys Stadium might not be the final new edifice in the nationwide campaign to extort new stadiums from cities, it could well be the first stadium of the next round. The same way new arenas in Chicago, L.A. and Philadelphia triggered the drive to replace relatively new arenas in the National Basketball Association, Cowboys Stadium could be catalyst for Round Two in football.
“Every time a new stadium or arena opens it has something new that everyone else wants,” said Neil deMause, whose Web site fieldofschemes.com tracks public stadium politics.
And Cowboys Stadium isn’t a small step forward in revenue-producing features, it is one giant leap for fankind. Players enter the field through a massive sports bar. In addition to 80,000 seats, the stadium has 29,000 standing-room-only Party Pass tickets that sell for $29.
“You have to worry that teams with stadiums that are 10 to 15 years old might want to get back in line,” deMause said.
Qwest Field is seven years old, but Key Arena was barely a decade old when the Sonics (remember them?) deemed it substandard. A stadium is only as good as what the other guys have. It only makes a team competitive until other teams surpass it. Once surpassed, the blackmail starts all over again.
“The industry is addicted to tax subsidies,” deMause said. “Its entire business model is based on it.”
Rodney Fort isn’t so sure the Cowboys will trigger a new round of stadium wars. The former Washington State University economist (he’s now at Michigan) said owners have to keep their own markets in mind. What local fans and sponsors are willing to pay dictates what type of stadium a local owner will seek.
Cowboys Stadium is big and grand mostly because fans there will tolerate it, even crave it.
By the way, you wouldn’t know it from the broadcasts, but taxpayers chipped in for Cowboys Stadium. Of the original price tag of $650 million, Arlington, Texas, taxpayers and visitors took on $325 million through higher sales, hotel and car-rental taxes. Tarrant County put up $25 million for roads and parking lots.
Jones covered less than half of the original price tag but all of the overruns. But despite arguing that he needed taxpayer help, he ended up finding or financing $850 million in private money.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657