When I wrote on Monday that Indianapolis giving Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon $600 million worth of renovation payments and operating subsidies to extend his lease for 25 years was setting a new standard in making sports leases the grift that keeps on giving, I figured that record would last, oh, I dunno, more that a couple of days. And yet:
State and New Orleans Saints officials are working toward an agreement that will keep the team in Louisiana through 2035 and include a transformative $450 million renovation of the Superdome, officials said this week.
The deal would extend the Saints’ current lease agreement with the state another 10 years and feature the most elaborate and expensive overhaul of the iconic stadium in its 44-year history.
It’s not quite as bad as that lede makes it sound: The Saints owners will be chipping in $150 million of the renovation cost. But still, that leaves $300 million to be paid for by the state, which for a ten-year lease extension means Louisiana taxpayers will be shelling out $30 million a year for the Saints to play in New Orleans — blowing away the Pacers’ just-established $24 million a year record.
This new agreement — which the New Orleans Times-Picayune calls “the lynchpin to a long-term agreement between the state and the team,” which is not at all how you should be spelling “linchpin” — would be, like the Pacers’ deal, just the latest in a long series of subsidies the Saints owners would be collecting from the state of Louisiana: Late Saints owner Tom Benson, in fact, pioneered the pay-to-play concept when he engineered a lease in 2001 where the state would pay him $18.6 million a year to play in the Superdome for another ten years. Then he got another $392 million in 2013, and now is set to receive another $300 million just six years later — adding in all the earlier money Louisiana spent on building and renovating the dome, the Saints’ five-decade total will come to $1.442 billion (non-inflation-adjusted dollars), which is even more than the Pacers’ $1.161 billion, though the Pacers got all their cash in the span of just 20 years, so they still take the subsidy-rate crown.
The latest Saints plan still needs to be approved by state officials — certainly the state bond commission, maybe the state legislature as well, though the Times-Picayune didn’t do any better a job reporting this than they did on their spellchecking. Gov. John Bel Edwards reportedly already “gave his blessing: to the plan, though, and given past history in Louisiana, it has to be considered likely to be approved. Some days, I feel like we’re making some headway in getting elected officials to at least check the literature on economic benefits or the lack thereof before lavishing tax dollars on the local sports team owner; other days, not so much.