“If you build it, they will come” – Field of Dreams
The San Diego Chargers have formally filed papers to relocate from their home of 56 years to Los Angeles (Inglewood to be more precise) and share quarters with the brand-new Los Angeles Rams. In the span of 2 seasons, Los Angeles will go from having 0 to 2 teams. This as Atlanta prepares next season to move into their new digs, and a year after the Minnesota Vikings opened their new stadium. These are things that may not seem important today, but New Orleans Saints fans should be watching these happenings VERY closely.
The Saints deal with the Superdome runs through the year 2025. At that point, all bets are off as to the future of the Saints. Not only with a stadium but with the city of New Orleans. No one likes to believe the Saints would ever leave town. But the reality is that teams want new state-of-the-art stadiums. And if the city they are in won’t work out a deal (normally including mega-funding from the local and state governments), they will look to move.
The San Diego deal makes one look even more carefully at the entirety of the what could be – the Chargers were in San Diego before the Saints were even a franchise. It’s hard to believe a team so much a part of their community would just up and leave.
There are many arguments about whether it was right or wrong for San Diego to move, or who may have been at fault. The team says it’s tried to work in good faith with the city of San Diego to move forward on funding for a new stadium, as Qualcomm Stadium was outdated. They were looking for hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to subsidize the stadium build, mostly coming from an increase in hotel/motel taxes (sound familiar, New Orleanians?).
The NFL says the city of San Diego is to blame – the non-football fans and the naysayers. They tell you that the NFL has done all it can to help keep football in San Diego. The citizens of the city at large, who voted down the measures to keep the team, say they don’t want to pay out of the city’s general fund to support the team – what happens when they need those hundreds of millions for something more important than football? And the hoteliers say they don’t want their taxes raised because it will drive convention and tourist business away. Whatever side of the argument you are on, these are the realities.
So what does this have to do with the Who Dat Nation?
Well, the Saints and the Superdome have had a great agreement and lifetime together. The Dome has improved in leaps and bounds over the years. This year, the addition of the huge end zone screens was phenomenal. She’s a beautiful girl, that stadium, with a ton of history and great selling points. The visionaries behind the Superdome had the great foresight to have the stadium downtown, within walking distance of so many of the cities great attractions and hotel rooms. Many a Super Bowl aficionado say if the Super Bowl had to be held annually in one city only, New Orleans would be the place. The food, the ambiance, decent weather, a domed stadium, and everything in walking distance. It’s truly the perfect place for a Super Bowl.
But we were passed over for several Super Bowls recently, and it’s not just because the lights went out during the last Super Bowl. So many cities are building new stadiums, and one of the things the NFL truly wants to do is give all these cities building new stadiums a Super Bowl as a token of appreciation. That’s why a city like Minneapolis, which never has (and in my opinion, never should) hosted the big game gets a shot. The NFL will take a chance on a blizzard or horrible conditions making travel or preparation dangerous to impossible simply to give these cities a reward for ponying up hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to help finance a new stadium.
The Saints do not have a new stadium.
Even though we are on the brink of celebrating 300 years as a city, we were passed over for a Super Bowl next year to help coincide with our tricentennial. We’ve fallen out of favor and out of the “rota” of sorts there was for Super Bowls (for so many years, all the Super Bowls seemed to be held in Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans. The Crescent City is second only to Miami in the number of Super Bowls held in the area (10 for New Orleans, 11 for Miami).
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This season’s Super Bowl will be the second in Houston’s stadium. The next 2 are in new stadiums (2018 in Minneapolis, 2019 in Atlanta) and then the third one in 2020 will go to Miami, where their stadium just completed a massive renovation. With Los Angeles getting a new stadium, they will get the 2021 Super Bowl, another the Saints missed out on. That leaves 4 seasons before the Superdome’s lease is up to host a Super Bowl.
The NFL will likely want to go back to Arlington, Texas (Cowboys) and Indianapolis during that time frame, and with Buffalo and Oakland looking for either new stadium deals or new cities to play in (AND new stadiums), the window gets tight for the Superdome to host another game. Odds are in our favor to get one more Super Bowl before 2025, and possibly as early as 2022. The NFL will want to say goodbye to the Superdome and help push the message of “get ready to pay for a new stadium” as loudly as possible to New Orleans. And if it’s played in 2022, the prospect of building a new stadium and being ready to host again in 2027 or 2028 is a possibility.
Which brings us to the major point… when the Superdome lease is up, there will be no option but to build another stadium if the Saints are to stay in New Orleans.
We have renovated the Superdome – made changes to the seats themselves, reconfigured some seating arrangements, redesigned concourses, built Champions Square. But there are only so many cosmetic changes you can make with a 40+year old building (as far as the NFL is concerned). At some point, you must do something to keep up with the rest of the league. Atlanta will play in their third stadium next year since the Saints began play in the Superdome. These are the signs of the times.
The two major question are:
1. Where will another stadium go in the city (assuming we build one)?
2: How do we pay for the new stadium?
The first question is a smaller subject than the second. Minnesota’s new stadium came in just under $1.1 billion, which included $348 million from the state and $150 million from the city of Minneapolis. Atlanta’s is running about $1.5 billion, about $600 million of which are public funds (including $200 million from the city, with additional tax revenues). The Chargers wanted more than $350 million in public funding from the city of San Diego. The stadium in Inglewood (Los Angeles) will probably near the $3 billion mark, but will include a complex with other entertainment venues. Today, the word is there will be no taxpayer dollars involved. The Rams’ owner is allegedly taking out a $1 billion loan, and the rest of the money will come from personal seat licenses and other avenues that aren’t related to extra taxing.
Assuming in 2025, a stadium in New Orleans would be in the ballpark of $2.3 billion, where does that money come from? Personal seat licenses? In this market, that’s not going to generate much. Not enough Saints fans would pony up tens of thousands of dollars for a license, just to have the “right” to purchase season tickets. As an investment tool, it’s dicey at best – if the revenue stream to build the stadium gets short, the team likely holds the right to increase the cost of those licenses.
This will have an inverse effect on the value of the license – it becomes harder to recoup your individual investment.
It’s like being upside down on a mortgage, where your home is worth less than the money you still owe on it. You would own a license on which you’d be underwater. For this reason, teams (and investment professionals) would tell you this cannot be used as an investment tool.
Taxes? The city already levies a fairly pricey tax on hotels, at 13%. Of that revenue, 4 cents go to the Superdome. It’s a good stream and a place to start – the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED, or the Superdome) benefitted to the tune of $53.4 million in 2015. Is it a thought to place another temporary 2-3 cents on top of that? Yes, and it’s likely that would be one of the first places to stream from (be wary of that “temporary tax”, for it would likely become permanent – and maybe should to help fund the city government as we put less hotel tax money towards city government than any other major American destination city [courtesy of Robert McClendon]… but I digress…).
However, like San Diego, we should be wary of putting too much a burden on our visitors, lest they stop coming or conventions decide to book elsewhere where rates are less.
Taxes on locals? A city/parish hike? Don’t know that it’s possible with the tax code, but it seems that a city in such financial dire straits as this one is would not think to add so much as a quarter cent to pay for a new domed stadium when we can’t fix potholes or pay public servants better.
And here’s another sobering thought – this is all under the scope of a Tom Benson owned Saints team.
There is a reality that says someone else may be brokering this deal, which leaves everything open. Who’s to say a different owner won’t want to move the Saints, or be less inclined to work thoroughly through a deal with the city and state.
It will take some great minds coming together to piece together the puzzle of how to best fund a new stadium for the Saints. But mark this down – it WILL be necessary to keep the Saints in the city, and of course to get back in the field of Super Bowl host cities. It’s not a thought we’d like to ponder, but we see the landscape of the NFL and new stadiums are the only way to get into the race for Super Bowls and to ensure keeping teams happy and in your city.
We’ve seen 4 of the last 6 Super Bowls held in facilities recently built prior to the big game, and 3 of the next 5 will be in stadiums under 3 years in use when the games are played there (and again, Miami’s stadium has just been renovated, so it won’t look like it did for the 2010 Super Bowl the Saints won). But this isn’t just about Super Bowls; it’s also about our home team, the Saints staying and continuing to be a part of this community.
COULD they stay and continue to play in the Superdome?
Sure; the Bears, Packers, and Chiefs also play in older stadiums that just keep getting makeovers. And there will be more moving of teams between now and 2025. Jacksonville won’t last much longer, likely moving to London if the commissioner has anything to do with it. Indianapolis may opt out of their place and relocate. Oakland might end up in Las Vegas. Football could (and somehow should) get back to St. Louis. And we know the league wants to try a team in Mexico City. Between moving and expansion, the league might make it easier for the Saints to just remain where they are. Or with all the moves and new stadiums that will come from the moves, the Saints may end up being “in that number” that moves on.
The line from Field of Dreams itself may be one of the most misquoted lines of all (the line was actually “if you build it, HE will come”), but it fits the world of modern football. And it’s a line New Orleans Saints fans will become intimately familiar with as we begin the second decade of this century.