Steelers to sue Pittsburgh for not paying more for stadium expansion

The Pittsburgh Steelers want to add 3,000 seats in the end zone of Heinz Field, and the City-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority has agreed to look into doing so. The problem? The sports authority wants the Steelers to pay for about half the approximate $39 million cost, while county-backed bonds would be repaid by new ticket and parking surcharges. The Steelers, pointing to a lease clause that requires the public to pay two-thirds of the cost of a “designated expansion,” now say they’ll go to court to demand that the public pay more. Notwithstanding that two years ago, the team said it would foot the whole bill.

It’s the latest example of a stadium lease that keeps on giving, though some of the sting would be taken out of it if the authority can use ticket and parking fees to repay itself, since economists agree that most of that ends up coming out of team owners’ pockets. (Basically, if there are ticket surcharges, it means teams can’t raise ticket face values as high as they’d otherwise like.) But it’s still another example, along with the notorious state-of-the-art clauses, that it’s really important for legislators to read the damn lease before voting to approve it. Agreeing to build a stadium is one thing; agreeing to build a stadium and then expand it by up to 10,000 more seats (as the Steelers say their lease requires) is a potentially expensive something else. We’ll see if other cities have learned this lesson yet … yes, I’m looking at you, Atlanta.

10 comments on “Steelers to sue Pittsburgh for not paying more for stadium expansion

  1. Hmmmn. $39m for 3,000 seats that are used no more than 12 times a year by the Steelers. And they are endzone seats, right? Not the high revenue club seats…

    Just wondering, does the lease clause demand that the PA sports authority expand the stadium whenever the Steelers want them to? Because if it doesn’t, the simplest answer to this would be to say “no, we aren’t expanding the stadium we built for you”. Possibly including a hearty “And your quarterback is a jackass”.

  2. The lease allows for them to request an expansion of up to 10,000 seats. Also, the stadium is used by the University of Pittsburgh 6-8 times a year, and hosts the Western Pennsylvania high school playoffs.

    These being lower endzone seats, they would assuredly be used by both Pitt and the WPIAL.

    I’m not defending what’s clearly corporate welfare, but John Bladen’s portrayal of the picture isn’t exactly accurate.

  3. Well, considering Heinz Field is a bit like a not-so-closed-off horseshoe, it’s a rare facility design to have one endzone so open without permanent seats there… amongst large college/nfl stadiums. It sounds like something they compromised on in the initial designs.

    Not that I enjoy the public subsidy aspect of it.

  4. I said the seats would be used no more than 12 times a year by the Steelers (and 12 times is on the generous side, since it would require TWO home playoff games).

    What part of that statement “isn’t exactly accurate” to you use your direct quote.

  5. For one, the lease does demand an expansion of up to 10,000 seats, of which the Steelers are only on the hook for 1/3rd of (and, which they’ve sank several million into for studies and other issues related to said seating).

    Two, you make it sound as though it’s a lot of money for something to be used rarely by juxtaposing the total amount and the number of Steelers’ dates. Why you did this, who knows. It is a bid misleading, however, in light of other stadium uses.

  6. What’s disturbing in all this is that the Royal Family of Pittsburgh felt it was necessary to sue the SEA to get what it wants. This, in light of the fact that this same SEA gave an extension to the Steelers and the sweetheart deal to purchase the land around Heinz Field at a ridiculously discounted price.

  7. EG:

    The University of Pittsburgh and Western PA High School football don’t come close to selling out the current seating capacity. Believe me, the seats are not for them.

  8. William:

    I wasn’t really commenting on capacity so much as I was trying to (clumsily?) refute John’s characterization of the stadium as something used “12 times a year by the Steelers.” He may be semantically correct in his comeback, but I believe his intention was to comment on the absurdity of spending money on something used rarely. I agree with the sentiment that spending public money on the venue sucks, but it *is* used by other groups.

    Also, in relation to capacity, the other point that I was making was that these seats would be used since they’re in the lower bowl and by the entrance; whether that’s just displacement of fans from the upper rows of the upper decks was not my point. It would be providing better seating for many fans, and said expansion, as Neil noted in his blog post, is part of the Steelers

  9. That cut me off early and I didn’t even realize it. To continue:

    It would be providing better seating for many fans, and said expansion, as Neil noted in his blog post, is part of the Steelers’ contract with the city.

    Also, Pitt has an average attendance in the mid-50s as a woeful Big East member. If they ever become decent-to-good again, while welcoming teams like Notre Dame and its future ACC opponents, expect huge crowds.

  10. EG:

    Still waiting for a designation of what exactly was inaccurate in the original statement. It is absolutely fine for you to disagree with the characterization, but if you wish to call it inaccurate, I would appreciate a direct quote of any part that was demonstrably inaccurate.

    Nonetheless, it is the Steelers who are seeking/demanding the expansion, not the University, high school (or travelling revival show) users.

    Put another way, if the Steelers weren’t the prime tenant, would this expansion even be contemplated?