Here’s one data point for Roger Noll’s optimistic view of the sports subsidy future: Comcast Spectacor, the cable TV giant that owns the Philadelphia Flyers, has announced it will spend $250 million on renovations to the team’s arena, because building a whole new one would have cost $750 million:
The bulk of the upgrade will come over the next three summers, with about 21,500 seats being replaced so as to not disrupt Flyers and Sixers games. Concerts will continue through the construction…
First up for the upgrade: the mezzanine (200 level) this summer. Here, Comcast Spectacor will carve out two lounges by tearing out cinder block walls on the southeast and northeast corners, adding about 7,000 square feet for fans to drink and talk. Both were “void spaces” without public access, and one has served as the employee gym for years.
“Folks want a more social experience when they go to the game,” Phil Weinberg, executive vice president and general counsel at Comcast Spectacor, said. “They want to get up and go back and text and show photos. They want it more open.”
Assuming that there are no public subsidy demands involved, this is all as it should be, at least if your notion of “as it should be” includes a sports business model where you spend more money to renovate a 22-year-old arena than it cost to build it in the first place. If the Flyers think they can make more money by investing in renovations that will boost revenues, more power to them.
Of course, given that the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning have all gotten public money to pay for arena renovations in recent years, either Comcast Spectacor has decided not to demand the same out of the goodness of their hearts (pause for Comcast customers to laugh bitterly here), has decided that they wouldn’t be able to talk Philadelphia or Pennsylvania elected officials into giving them public cash, or are just starting with their best foot forward (we’re spending $250 million on arena upgrades!) before dropping the other shoe (we’re spending $250 million on arena upgrades for you, the people of Philadelphia, wouldn’t it be only fair if you’d help us?). I have zero inside information as to which is the case, but we should all be watching closely.