Falcons stadium now to cost $1.6 billion, and it’s not finished yet

Both Atlanta Falcons officials and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have started referring to the team’s new stadium opening in 2017 as a $1.6 billion facility, which probably means it now costs $1.6 billion, though there’s been no official announcement. That’s up from $1.5 billion in April, which is up from $1 billion in late 2013, which was already a pretty crazy amount of money to spend to build a new stadium to replace a 20-something-year-old one next door.

Now, Falcons owner Arthur Blank recently revealed that the amount of public money for the stadium is now “almost $700 million,” up from almost $600 million at last accounting, probably because projections of the hotel-motel tax that will go into the stadium’s “waterfall fund” for future maintenance and operations have risen. Still, that’s a hefty sum for Blank to pay, on top of a hefty sum that Atlanta citizens will be paying (yes, they’re paying it even if comes from a tourist tax, since once the city collected the tax money it’s the city’s to spend however it likes). It seems inconceivable that this will end up paying off for anyone, but apparently this is what Jerry Jones and the taxpayers of Arlington have wrought.

NFL gives three Super Bowls to cities with new stadiums, implies, “Keep ’em coming”

The NFL awarded the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles yesterday, continuing its policy of using the big game as a reward to cities and teams with new or significantly renovated stadiums. Or as Rams owner Stan Kroenke said following the decision, “I think they are telling the communities and the owners who stick their necks out that it’s worthwhile.”

The most important target of the announcement, then, isn’t the three cities that will now get the questionable benefit of hosting the NFL’s annual week-long road show, but those that are being wooed with that dubious carrot. Right now most of the reporting is on how New Orleans and Tampa Bay were snubbed because their stadiums aren’t as shiny as the cities that got the nod, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays into future coverage of stadium campaigns — already, San Diego Union Tribune chief Chargers stadium cheerleader Kevin Acee has written that the possibility of getting a Super Bowl shouldn’t be the reason to vote for a new stadium, but really he means that you should vote for a new stadium regardless, so all remains right with the world.

Interestingly, there’s no reporting yet that I can see out of Las Vegas on the Super Bowl decision, but that may be because they’re too busy covering yesterday’s conflicting comments on a potential Oakland Raiders move from owner Mark Davis (“This is the real deal. If Las Vegas can come through, we’re going to be there”) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (“It’s very premature at this point. Until we have more information, it’s pure speculation”). This could be just everyone playing their role — in terms of using Vegas as leverage in hopes of drumming up stadium subsidies from Oakland, Davis is bad cop, Goodell is good cop — or it could be a sign of deeper rifts among league owners over whether Davis should get to bolt from a bigger market to a smaller one in exchange for a lucrative (to him) stadium deal, and on what terms. We won’t know for sure until the next ESPN postmortem, I expect.

Falcons lower food prices at new stadium from completely insane to only mildly overpriced

The Atlanta Falcons owners have announced that when they open their new stadium next year, ticket prices may go up but concession prices will come down:

On what team officials are calling a “fan-first menu,” a number of items will be priced at $2: soft drinks (with unlimited free refills at self-serve stations), Dasani bottled water, hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn.

Also part of the plan: Pizza slices, nachos, waffle fries and bags of peanuts will be available for $3. Twelve-ounce domestic beer will cost $5.

That’s not all that impressive in the real world, but in the captive-audience universe of sports stadiums, bottled water for $2 is a freaking revelation. Steve Cannon, CEO of the Falcons’ parent corporation, told ESPN’s Darren Rovell that they tried to match prices fans would pay in “everyday life,” which bucks sports trends, to say the least.

Possible things that are going on here:

  1. The Falcons owners are hoping that if fans can get cheap food, they’ll be willing to spend more on tickets.
  2. The Falcons owners are hoping that if fans can get cheap food, they won’t bring their own in those clear plastic bags the NFL requires.
  3. The Falcons owners are hoping that if fans can get cheap food, they’ll start buying more PSLs already.
  4. This is a bait-and-switch where in a year or so, the cheap concessions items will get smaller and smaller, and you’ll have to pay top dollar for a normal-sized Dasani water.
  5. The Falcons just love their fans so much that they’re doing them a favor by HA HA ha ha sorry, couldn’t keep a straight face there.

Anyway, something is going on here, and it’s worth noting in case it becomes a more widespread trend. I still stick to my motto of “friends don’t let friends buy stadium food,” but if other teams started charging $2 for water, I … would probably still pay 50 cents for mine at the corner grocery before heading to the game, but it’s be less of a necessity.


Falcons PSL sales slow before reaching halfway mark, haven’t we seen this movie before?

Personal seat licenses are a weird thing. When it goes well, forcing fans to buy the right to buy season tickets — a right that they can then sell to other fans down the road, demand willing — can raise hundreds of millions of dollars for teams building new stadiums. When it goes not so well, fans realize they don’t have to spend on PSLs in order to get tickets, the bottom drops out of the PSL market, and the Oakland Raiders happen.

The Atlanta Falcons are currently walking that knife’s edge with their PSL sales, which with 16 months to go before the new stadium opens, are slowing just shy of the halfway mark:

The latest sales figures — obtained from the GWCCA, a state agency, through an open-records request — show 4,437 club seats have been sold (up from 4,259 through Nov. 30) for $98 million and 24,774 non-club seats have been sold (up from 22,358 through Nov. 30) for $70.8 million.

The Falcons have said PSLs will be required for all seats sold as season tickets in the 71,000-seat stadium, with the exception of about 5,000 seats in suites. Team officials have declined to say how many seats are available as season tickets, noting some seats are withheld for groups, sponsors and other business purposes.

This isn’t necessarily a disaster — 16 months is a long time, and the Falcons can always tweak their pricing like the New York Jets did if they have to. And since they’re only counting on the PSLs bringing in a couple hundred million dollars, and it’s on Falcons owner Arthur Blank to make up any shortfall, it’s not a big deal from a public-cost perspective.

Still, if it turns out that Falcons fans didn’t have to buy PSLs in order to get seats, and the value of the licenses collapses as a result, this could lead to other cities’ fans getting cold feet about giving their cash over for an asset that they can’t resell at anything close to what they paid for it, which could ultimately end up wounding the PSL goose, if not outright killing it. And that would have a significant effect on how future NFL stadiums get funded, and which ones get built at all. Worth keeping an eye on, anyway.

Falcons stadium to open three months late, cost even more than $1.4b projection

The Atlanta Falcons stadium slated to open next year is … under budget and ahead of schedule? Ha ha ha ha, guess again, foolish human:

Construction of the downtown stadium that will become home to the Atlanta Falcons and a new professional soccer team won’t be completed in time for a long-planned March 2017 opening.

The new target date for completion of Mercedes-Benz Stadium is June 1, 2017, Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons and Major League Soccer team Atlanta United, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview Thursday…

He said the delay will add to the cost of the $1.4 billion project but declined to say how much. He said he’ll bear the additional cost, as required by his stadium deal with the city and state.

For the Falcons, this doesn’t mean much, as I am told that football is not played in April and May anyway. (This is why I think of those months as “The time I can safely watch Sportscenter.”) For Atlanta United, though, it’s going to be a mess, because that’s the first three months of the MLS season, meaning they’re going to face the choice between launching its first season at a temporary site, or going on a Yard Goats-esque road trip.

The AJC has also reported (last week, but I just noticed it) that the Falcons have only sold about 27,000 PSLs for their 71,000-seat stadium, which the agency handling PSL sales says is “right on line” with what they expected. Still, it does leave open the possibility that the Falcons could have to offer price cuts for the less-desirable seats — all those except the cheapest and priciest ones, which is about as you’d expect given our current economic structure — which could be interesting to anyone who cares about the future capacity of PSL sales to pay for stadiums. Which might just be me and NFL owners, but I’ll be watching this closely, anyway.

New radio series explores WTF is up with all those new Atlanta stadiums

WABE radio in Atlanta kicked off a week-long series yesterday on the metro area’s multiple new stadium and arena deals for the Falcons, Braves, and possibly Hawks, and I had the honor of being one of the first guests, pointing out that while there are certainly cities that got worse deals (hello, Indianapolis!), that’s not really something to brag about. You can listen to the whole interview here.

More interesting to me (since I know what I was going to say already) is Thursday’s upcoming appearance by Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who will try to explain why it made sense to throw $300 million at the Braves to get them to move to a new stadium in the suburbs, plus maybe what’s up with that pedestrian bridge that won’t be ready in time to get fans from their cars to games, plus maybe the soaring ticket prices planned for the new place, plus even maybe why he secretly hired a lawyer with county funds to negotiate the Braves deal without even telling his fellow commission members, then lied about having done so. Come to think of it, I would have rather skipped my appearance yesterday and instead gotten to interview Lee. Now that would be some must-see radio.

Atlanta TV station gives viewers exclusive look at Falcons’ attempts to sell them tickets

Look, I know that news outlets, especially crappy ones like local TV stations, are obsessed with scoops and that corporate communications directors exploit this by offering “exclusives” to things that are really just PR events. But that doesn’t stop this report on Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News from being so, so very sad.

So very sad.

Falcons stadium cost hits $1.5B, everybody acts like this is totally normal and sane

Speaking of stadiums replacing other stadiums that weren’t even of legal drinking age, the price tag of the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium is now $1.5 billion, which is up from $1 billion less than two years ago. The reason? “Financing costs,” which you’d have thought Falcons owner Arthur Blank would have worked out long ago since he already started construction on the place, but I guess this is just how rich guys who own NFL owners roll: Sometimes you need to cut another $100 million check to the bankers, whatcha gonna do?

Anyway, this does not increase the amount of money that Georgia taxpayers will be putting in, which is a good thing, since that’s already almost $600 million. It does make you wonder if building modern NFL buildings is really worth these insane price tags — are owners like Blank just chasing the increased franchise values that come with new stadiums, more so than actual revenues? Is this all a giant bubble that will collapse once the NFL concussion cascade collapse hits? Is the Falcons’ crazy sphincter roof really a clever homage to tulipomania? If not for that $600 million in public funds, these would all be fun questions to ask and kibitz on.

Georgia top court dismisses Falcons bond challenge, Braves challenge next up

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled on the challenge to the Atlanta Falcons stadium bonds, and it did not buy the argument that using the hotel-motel tax that funded the Georgia Dome to now fund its replacement violated the state constitution:

“[T]here is nothing arbitrary or unreasonable about allowing the same taxing entities that already have experience paying for a multipurpose domed stadium facility through the collection of a 7 percent hotel-motel tax…to collect such a tax in the future to fund a different stadium after the first tax has expired,” Justice Harold Melton wrote in the court’s opinion.

That was the last round of appeals for the Falcons suit, so we can stick a fork in it. The Braves bond lawsuit, meanwhile, which rests on whether a baseball stadium is a “public purpose” and which got one of the craziest legal responses ever from the Braves’ crack legal team, is still proceeding, having had a supreme court hearing last month and with a ruling expected in July. I’m not holding my breath or anything, given that courts are usually hesitant about injecting themselves into this kind of development policy even when the law might imply it’s their job to, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.

If Georgia-funded parking deck isn’t for Falcons, don’t expect conventions to make it worthwhile

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported recently on a $23 million proposal “tucked into Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget” for an expanded parking deck at the new Falcons stadium. “You wouldn’t build something like this parking deck for just eight games, Frank Poe, head of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (owner of the World Congress Center, the Georgia Dome, and the new stadium) told the paper. “You build it because it’s sustainable for all the other businesses we have on our campus.” Maybe what Poe meant was “You build it and hope somebody actually turns up.”

Unfortunately for Atlanta, they haven’t been turning up much. For fiscal year 2014, the World Congress Center saw just 390,870 convention and trade show attendees. That’s down 17 percent from the previous year, and less than half the 807,000 attendees the center saw in 2007. It’s even far less convention business than the 601,000 attendees the center saw in 1989 — and that was two expansions ago. And if anyone thinks a big new parking garage is going to lure thousands to downtown Atlanta, the World Congress Center Authority has another trick to lure all that new business: a big new hotel.

The Authority just issued a Request for Proposals for a new 800- to 1,200-room hotel next door to the GWCC. According to the RFP, “The Authority envisions a new Hotel, if developed, to be an immediate enhancement to financial viability and dynamism of surrounding facilities, GWCC convention business, and to the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia in general.” That would of course be the dynamism of a failing convention venue and a brand new $1.1 billion stadium, along with the booming convention business.

Add a P.S. on the work of the consultants: PriceWaterhouseCoopers produced a “market analysis” in October 1996 that forecast that after the latest center expansion, completed in 2002, the World Congress Center would see 1.4 to 1.5 million convention and tradeshow attendees a year. Didn’t quite work out that way.