Idiotic lease clause could force Houston to spend $50m on upgrading Texans stadium for Super Bowl

To the list of crazy things that the NFL demands in order to allow cities the honor of hosting the Super Bowl (free billboards, free police officers, free bowling alleys), add spending $50 million to make the luxury suites more luxurious at your 13-year-old stadium. That’s what Houston was told for its plans to host the 2017 Super Bowl:

Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of events, said Monday that upgrading the stadium’s WiFi is something the bid committee has agreed to do. In terms of sprucing up the seating, he said he noted on a recent visit that NRG “is in a very good place at this stage in its stadium life, but there are opportunities to upgrade that are common across Super Bowl stadiums as they prepare and continue to make sure they are state-of-the-art.”

So far, no Houston government officials have stepped up to offer $50 million to the cause — in fact, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack swore earlier this week that “I’m not about to vote to spend a single dollar of county money updating these luxury suites” — and it doesn’t appear that the Super Bowl bid committee actually committed to it as a condition of hosting the big game. So the NFL seemingly doesn’t have a leg to stand on, unless there’s something in the Texans‘ stadium lease:

A clause in that lease agreement says the county must maintain the facility in “first class” condition and “a manner comparable to other stadiums.”

Noooooooooooo! Don’t you people ever learn?

Reminder: “state-of-the-art” clauses let team owners make stadiums the gifts that keep on giving

In case you missed it, Aaron Gordon had a good overview at Vice Sports yesterday of stadium state-of-the-art clauses and how they screw over taxpayers, citing me lots. In particular, Gordon noted that one of the big problems with these clauses — which tons of local governments continue to agree to — is that “state-of-the-artness” is a legally fuzzy concept:

According to the Rams’ lease, such things are measured by at least 15 different components: “everything from luxury boxes to club seats, lighting, scoreboards… regular stadium seating, concession areas, common areas (such as concourses or restrooms), electronic and telecommunications equipment,” as well as locker and training rooms, and the field itself.

But, according to an analysis by Kristen E. Knauf in the Marquette Sports Law Review, this doesn’t provide much clarification. What is state-of-the-art lighting? How does one rank NFL locker rooms? Does a state-of-the-art concession area mean better food, shorter lines, Apple Pay compatibility? The lease doesn’t provide any details. It’s up to an arbitrator to decide, and that arbitrator just so happened to side with the Rams in 2005. That triggered negotiations for a $30 million stadium upgrade, which was completed in 2009.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’re a local government official who is considering signing one of these clauses. In fact, if you happen to be standing near a local government official, consider printing this out and smacking them upside the head with it. History will thank you.