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.