Falcons solve seat-license conundrum by selling tickets with no guaranteed seats

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, like many NFL owners, decided to require fans to buy personal seat licenses to be eligible to buy tickets for his new stadium when it was opened back in 2017. (He also got about $700 million in public money to help pay his construction bills, but that still left him about $900 million short.) Blank then had trouble getting Falcons fans to keep up with their PSL payments, as also often happens in the NFL, after fans realized that paying twice for the same tickets just to get to see crappy Falcons games was not such a great deal. The obvious solution would be to start offering some tickets for sale without asking fans to buy ticket-purchasing rights first, but how, since team officials had previously gotten fans to cough up for PSLs by saying they were the only way to get seats?

The answer, as revealed yesterday, is to get rid of the seats:

The Falcons plan to convert about 750 seats in Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a “super fan” section that won’t require personal seat licenses.

The seats, located in a lower-level corner, will be the only ones in the stadium to be offered as season tickets without a PSL fee. The section will be sold as general admission, meaning buyers won’t be assigned a specific seat.

A spokesperson for the Falcons’ parent company, AMB Sports & Entertainment, said the area will be “geared toward super avid fans” and “is expected to add to the energy level inside the stadium.”

I have no idea how the team will select for “super avid fans,” but no matter. The idea here is clearly to back away from PSLs while pretending you’re not, by making the section general admission and the ticket price thus technically not for “seats” but for “admission.” In fact, there’s another bonus for the team, though definitely not for fans: Falcons execs plan to sell 900 season plans for the section at $1,000 a pop, though there are only 753 seats; if more than that many people show up, the overflow will have to watch from standing room at an in-stadium restaurant. What super avid fan wouldn’t jump at a deal like that?

On top of this, about 140 PSL holders in the affected section will have to be relocated to other parts of the stadium, which will surely go over well after those fans paid $3,500 each to purchase what was supposed to be the rights to buy tickets to those specific seats in perpetuity. (The PSL contracts allow for to team to do this, but also allow for fans to be hopping mad.) This seems destined to be just one more data point in the sad tale of how PSLs are a way of scamming people for their inability to accurately predict the future value of an asset, and … oh, hey, this post almost ended without me mentioning Megatron’s Butthole, that was a close one!

Friday roundup: Raiders stadium runs short of tax dollars, Falcons owner makes film about how great Megatron’s Butthole is, and a Ricketts cries poor (again)

Well, that was certainly something to wake up to on a post-Thanksgiving Friday morning. Not sure how many U.S. readers are checking the internet today, but if that’s you and you’re looking for some non-Canadian stadium and arena news for your troubles, we have that too:

Roughly 7,000 Falcons fans have now defaulted on their PSLs, because PSLs are kinda garbage

Journalism may be dead and all, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is still giving it the old college try, today by publishing the results of their latest public records request into how many Atlanta Falcons season ticket holders are defaulting on their personal seat licenses, eating the payments they made already to avoid having to make any more. And the answer is a whole heck of a lot:

About 7,000 Falcons season-ticket account holders have defaulted on their seat licenses since 2016, records show, with the vast majority of those accounts representing two or more seats. About 650 of the account holders who defaulted later returned as PSL owners.

Records show that seat-license purchases made before the 71,000-seat stadium opened in August 2017 totaled $299.1 million, including interest added to accounts annually. Of that, $196.5 million had been paid as of June 30, and after the $42.9 million in defaults, $59.7 million remains outstanding (plus future interest).

The total “default write-off balance” of $42,933,454 as of June 30 was up from $32,001,679 as of one year earlier.

That’s a lot of numbers, so let’s break them down a bit. When the Falcons built their new stadium — with the help of more than half a billion dollars in taxpayer money — they forced fans to plunk down anywhere between $500 and $45,000 for the right to buy tickets to sit beneath the glory of Megatron’s Butthole. The magic of PSLs, though, was that if fans decided they didn’t want the tickets, they could sell their ticket rights to someone else.

At least 7,000 Falcons fans, representing perhaps double that in total seats, have instead decided over the past four years to just walk away from their seat rights, which the AJC notes “apparently reflect[s] the difficulty in finding buyers.” It probably doesn’t help that the Falcons have been aggressively mediocre the last couple of years, but they made the Super Bowl as recently as 2017, and anyway, no team is very good or very bad for long in today’s NFL. (Okay, no non-Cleveland Browns team.) And while the pandemic undoubtedly isn’t helping, the $10 million in defaults from July 2019 to June 2020 are right on pace with the previous three years.

The bigger issue appears to be something we’ve already seen in other NFL cities, which is that PSLs are kind of a scam. Despite the promise that they’re an investment, not an added cost on top of your actual ticket fees, way too often their resale value plummets soon after purchase, to the point where even finding a buyer may seem like less trouble than just stopping annual payments and eating what you’ve spent so far. Some fans appear to be catching on — the Los Angeles Chargers had to massively downgrade their expected PSL sales after it turned out no one really wanted to buy them (or just that there are no Los Angeles Chargers fans), and even the Falcons had more trouble selling them than they’d hoped. But even if they don’t always raise as much as team owners hope, PSLs are still worth it, since they’re essentially free money: Making a waitlist of fans for season tickets never used to generate any revenue until Max Muhleman accidentally invented them.

None of this is illegal, obviously, and in a “let the buyer beware” sense, it’s not even unethical, since you’re only scamming people who fail to understand that sale price doesn’t necessarily reflect actual market value. (And PSL money has enabled team owners to put up more capital toward stadium expenses, though as we saw with the Falcons, it hasn’t stopped them from demanding plenty of public cash as well.) Still, you have to wonder how long NFL owners will be able to keep on charging fans twice for the same product, especially as people get more used to sitting at home and watching TV, something that started before Covid but is only likely to accelerate now. Time for team owners to start demanding new stadiums with smaller capacity, you think? As with the PSL racket, you can’t get if you don’t ask.

Friday roundup: Nashville SC “disappointed” mayor upset at overruns, Miami paying Super Bowl teams’ hotel bills, and the return of Cab-Hailing Purse Woman

It’s been a long week and there is apparently some other stuff in the news and also I want to go read the new Deadspin writers’ temporary blog that is not Deadspin, so let’s get straight to this week’s roundup, which is long, because remember what I literally just said about it having been a long week?

I absolutely cannot wait for the first stadium report to calculate the projected economic impact of Cab-Hailing Purse Woman. Clearly she’ll go anywhere to see a game of baseball and/or soccerfootball! How can your city possibly turn up its nose at the spending on ride-hailing services she will bring?

UPDATE: Someone just forwarded me another article with more Royals stadium renderings, and OMG that sign:

If you’re having trouble reading it, the side facing the camera reads “HEY CDC KC HAS THE FEVER,” which is apparently a joke about the coronavirus epidemic now threatening to sweep the globe? And the other side, facing the field, reads “TODAY’S MY BIRTHDAY SURPRISE ME WITH A WIN” which is a way too on-the-nose reference to the fact that the Royals have lost more than 100 games the last two years. Forget any innovations in stadium design, I want to hear more about how the Royals can draw more fans by encouraging negging.

Friday roundup: Helicopter rides for rich fans, pricey bridge prices, and why Deadspin mattered

In case anyone hasn’t been following this week’s Deadspin drama, pretty much the entire staff has resigned over the past two days, following Tuesday’s decision by CEO Jim Spanfeller to fire acting editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky because the staff had responded to Spanfeller’s edict to “stick to sports” by posting a ton of excellent non-sports content. A few last posts have gone up the last couple of days, some to burn off features that were already scheduled to run and some to take classically Deadspinesque digs at management for burning down a popular website seemingly out of spite for continuing to do exactly what it had been doing for years before they bought it.

This is very bad news for journalism and America and humanity, and not only if you, like me, will miss the site’s potshots at our Big Wet President. There’s a popular notion that sports is just a fun diversion where the “outside world” of politics has no place — and that, as I hope the entire 21-year history of this site has made abundantly clear, is an extremely dangerous notion, because it means that concerns over what taxpayers are being charged for places to play sports or what athletes are being paid to play sports or who is allowed to speak out on what issues involving sports are dismissed with a Can’t we just watch the game? But games are serious — and lucrative — business, and can’t be divorced from the greater culture, any more than we should be just watching movies as pure entertainment without attention to the bigger issues involved. Deadspin was dedicated to erasing those lines and allowing its writers to address whatever they felt needed addressing at the moment, whether it was the meaning of who you’re seen sitting with at a football game or what we’re getting stuck in our rectums each year, and until and unless a successor emerges to pick up the torch, the world will be a sadder, dumber place.

(Already yesterday I read about Josh Hamilton’s arrest after his daughter said he threw a chair at her — a phrasing I owe to this excellent Deadspin non-sports article, incidentally — and wished I could read Deadspin’s analysis of it. Then I read about John Wetteland’s arrest for reportedly sexually assaulting a four-year-old child, and thought I wonder if maybe men’s sports should just be banned altogether at this point given the kind of behavior it encourages and realized Deadspin was probably my best bet for reading that take, too. It’s going to be a long however many weeks or months until something arises from Deadspin’s ashes, if that ever happens.)

Anyway, on to the weekly muddling of sports and politics:

  • The Indiana Pacers‘ arena will still be named after the bank that stopping paying for naming rights in June until the team has found a new naming-rights sponsor, which seems weird at first but actually makes total sense: It costs money to change the signage so why do it twice, and also the value of naming rights goes down with each new iteration of a corporate moniker that dilutes the name’s image for the public — quick, tell me what the Oakland Coliseum’s official name is these days — so calling it “Pacers Arena” or whatever for a few months might get fans to start calling it that permanently, and we can’t have that. And if you’re wondering why the Pacers get to sell naming rights to a building that was built entirely with public dollars and is owned by the public: It’s Indianapolis, Jake.
  • St. Louis’s new MLS stadium finally has a site picked out — Market Street near Union Station, if you’re scoring at home — and new renderings as well, though they look pretty much like the old renderings except for the one that is just a closeup of a kid riding on his parent’s (?) shoulders. The state of Missouri has received approval to sell 22 acres of land for the stadium to the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, which will then lease it to the MLS team for … oh, that doesn’t seem to have been reported. Just look at the pretty pictures and don’t worry your head about that nasty money business.
  • A public city database in Atlanta is indicating that the city’s $23 million pedestrian bridge for the Falcons actually cost $41.7 million, but the city insists it’s really just that they entered the same checks multiple times. I’m not sure “spent $23 million on a pedestrian bridge for a football team and also can’t do basic bookkeeping” looks much better, honestly.
  • The San Antonio Spurs — whose mascot is for some reason a kangaroo, is that a kangaroo? — have installed four new helipads so that fans can buy helicopter rides to games, which really tells you everything you need to know about 1) who sports teams are interested in marketing to these days and 2) just how ridiculously much money rich people in America have to burn these days.
  • Fresno FC owner Ray Beshoff has declared he “will almost certainly be relocating the team” because he hasn’t been provided with a new soccer-only stadium, unless “in the next two or three weeks if people come to the table with ideas or suggestions that we think are tenable.” This will come as a huge shock to fans who’ve been dedicated followers of the USL team since (looks up team on Wikipedia) March of 2018.
  • The San Francisco 49ers are raising ticket prices by 13% but giving season ticket holders free food and soda, which I guess means 49ers fans will be spending most of games from now on pigging out on all-you-can-eat nachos instead of watching the action on the field. Also, you can’t get the free food if you buy tickets on the secondary market, only if you’re the original season ticket holder. Or, I guess, borrow the season ticket holder’s free-food card? Or have a season ticket holder go up to the counter for you and get your nachos? I don’t live anywhere near Santa Clara and hate football, but I am very excited at seeing how fans figure out how to game this system.
  • Still nobody is sure which minor-league teams MLB will threaten to eliminate as part of its plan to restrict minor-league affiliates, or what criteria MLB will use for deciding who shall live and who shall die or whether MLB is even serious or just trying to scare minor-league players into not demanding they be paid minimum wage. I really should write about this for Deadsp — crap.
  • It rained at the Buffalo Bills game last weekend, so a local country music station ran a poll asking listeners: “Would you be in favor of a roof stadium or no?” Not included: any mention of what a roof would cost, or what WYRK has against the word “roofed.”
  • The corporate newspaper that helped gut a free daily by selling it to people who immediately laid off most of the editorial staff ran an article this week asking if the new New York Islanders arena will make it harder for the nearby Nassau Coliseum to draw events, but I’m not going to link to a union-busting-enabling outlet that put the article behind a paywall anyway, so let me just answer the question here: Duh, yes!
  • A former assistant to Inglewood Mayor James Butts has changed her testimony in the lawsuit against the Los Angeles Clippers‘ proposed arena, and Inglewood officials are asking that her revised testimony be rejected because they say she’s in “cahoots” with Madison Square Garden, which opposes the arena because it doesn’t want competition for its own arena nearby. Elephants, man.
  • The DreamHouse New Mexico Bowl has been canceled, because alleged film production company and title sponsor DreamHouse turns out not to exist, but rather to be a scam perpetrated by “a relentless self promoter who lies about nearly everything he says he does.”
  • A giant water droplet named Wendy has made a video suggesting that Washington’s NFL team should move back within city limits. Sorry, Sean Doolittle, this is actually the most 2019 Washington thing ever.
  • The Sunshine Coast Pickleball Association is seeking funding from the city of Sechelt for a new pickleball stadium. I don’t actually know where Sechelt is and am only dimly aware of what pickleball is, and I’m not going to ruin the perfect sentence above by looking either thing up.

Friday roundup: Ex-D.C. mayor says his $534m Nats stadium expense was worth it, Clippers arena stymied by car trouble, MLS franchise fees to go even higher

Shouldn’t posting items more regularly during the week leave less news to round up on Fridays? I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to work, but here I am on Friday with even more browser tabs open than usual, and I’m sure someone is still going to complain that I left out, say, the latest on arena site discussions in Saskatoon. I guess lemme type really fast and see how many I can get through before my fingers fall off:


Atlanta bridge that cost $27m to be ready for the Super Bowl will be closed for the Super Bowl

It got a bit overshadowed by Cobb County’s Atlanta Braves bridge fiasco, but the Falcons got their own crazy-expensive pedestrian bridge as well as part of their new stadium deal with the city, at a crazy price tag of $27 million. That was up from an initial, marginally less crazy, price tag of $12.8 million, with the increase thanks to rush charges to get to bridge ready for this year’s Super Bowl:

At the council’s Transportation Committee meeting earlier this week, Katrina Taylor-Parks, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, requested that the committee approve an additional $12.3 million in funding quickly because of next year’s NFL Super Bowl, which will be played at Mercedes-Benz.

“It is time sensitive,” Taylor-Parks said at the committee meeting. “You know Atlanta is planning on hosting a huge event in early 2019, actually several.”

Fortunately, the bridge was completed on time. Less fortunately, it will be closed for Super Bowl week, because security:

“The bridge is considered inside the stadium security perimeter,” said Alison Blue, spokeswoman with AMB Group LLC, the parent company of the Atlanta Falcons. “It will be used by only credentialed staff/media after they’ve gone through a security checkpoint.”

On the bright side, Northside Drive, the road that the bridge spans, will be closed during the Super Bowl itself, so nobody will need a bridge to get across it. On the significantly less bright side, what the heck was that extra $14.2 million for, then? Hopefully at least the Falcons will turn the bridge lights on, so football fans can admire it as really pricey artwork.

Fulton County court to rule on whether Falcons owe $700m in property tax on grounds their “public” stadium really isn’t

Ever since a New Jersey court ruled that the New York Red Bulls had to pay property taxes on their new stadium even though it was city-owned, because it was a private use, a small subset of people — okay, probably just me and Geoffrey Propheter — have been wondering when some other jurisdiction, or its residents, would try a similar gambit. And some Atlanta residents are doing just that with the Falcons‘ publicly-owned-and-subsidized, privately controlled stadium:

For a year and a half, some residents have argued that the stadium — which has been exempted from property taxes since it was built — should be paying into city, school and county tax funds. A lawsuit the group filed in 2017 estimates its tax bill at $26 million a year under June 2018 tax rates…

Over the life of a 30-year agreement the Falcons have to use the stadium, it might generate more than $700 million in property taxes, according to estimates by attorney Wayne Kendall, who is representing the residents who filed the suit.

This suit has been kicking around since 2017, and already got bounced by Fulton County Superior Court, but was revived by a state appeals court last month and kicked back to county court for reconsideration. The key argument for the Falcons having to pay property taxes is that, unlike in its previous deal at the Georgia Dome where it just rented the place 20 days a year, the new stadium is fully controlled by the team: “The Falcons manage the stadium year-round, and receive the revenue from all events held in the building, not only ticket revenue. Kendall argues that under the new agreement, the Falcons are a long-term leaseholder, and long-term leases are taxable under state law.”

College of the Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson tells the Atlanta Journal Constitution that this would be “a real game changer nationwide” if the Atlanta suit prevails, and while Matheson is almost always right, the Harrison case hasn’t been a game changer yet, so it’s possible this wouldn’t be either. Though for Atlanta residents looking to get back some of the $700 million they’re spending on Megatron’s Butthole, it would be a huge deal indeed.

Friday roundup: Tampa won’t divert road money to Rays stadium (probably), Columbus may spend $100m on Crew stadium, Anaheim signs Ducks lease extension as new mayor vows to placate Angels

You know who the real turkeys are this week? Nah, my heart isn’t in making Thanksgiving puns, just read the news, folks:

  • Three of seven Hillsborough County commissioners have promised that a new sales tax for transportation projects won’t mean diverting money from the existing transportation project to, say, a Tampa Bay Rays stadium, which the mathematically inclined will notice isn’t actually a majority of the county board. It’s still not super likely that the county will try to raid transportation funds to pay for a stadium, unless maybe it’s for transportation costs related to one, and there’s still several hundred million dollars in construction costs unaccounted for, but anyway it’s worth keeping at least half an eye on as we head toward the team’s December 31 lease opt-out deadline.
  • A paid consultant working on a new downtown arena for Saskatoon says it could have a “catalytic effect,” because of course he does, really, Global News, you ran an entire article that’s just interviewing one guy employed on the project? For this you want me to disable my ad blocker?
  • Forbes’ Mike Ozanian reports that “a person with knowledge of the deal to keep Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew in that city” says the new owners will pay $150 million for the franchise and spend $150 million toward a new downtown stadium, while “the public would foot the other $100 million.” Nobody else seems to be reporting on this, so maybe we should wait to be sure that Ozanian didn’t get his plus and minus signs mixed up again.
  • The Atlantic’s Rick Paulas suggests that we end stadium extortion by forcing pro sports leagues to massively expand and then institute promotion and relegation, which would sort of work, if there were an easy way to accomplish this through antitrust legislation, which you’d think if Congress could manage that they could manage the much more straightforward measure of taxing sports subsidies out of existence, but who knows, maybe a “market-based” solution would go over better in these times, sure, what the hell. “Of course, cities could also elect leadership that will defend them against bad deals,” notes Paulas, which isn’t a bad idea either.
  • Anaheim has signed a lease extension to keep the Ducks in town through 2048, involving the city selling the team 16 acres of land for $10 million — which if the stymied Angels deal is any guide would probably be a small discount, though Anaheim officials claim it’s market value — but the city will get a cut of arena profits after the first $6 million a year instead of the first $12 million, a threshold that’s never been hit. There are a lot of (small) moving pieces here, but I’m willing to say this is probably not too bad a deal, especially compared to some of the much, much worse lease extensions that cities have agreed to. Next is to to see about getting Angels owner Arte Moreno to accept the same logic, now that newly elected mayor Harry Sidhu is vowing to change “the hostile political environment in Anaheim” and “keep the Angels in Anaheim where they belong,” okay, Anaheim residents are probably going to have to settle for just a good Ducks deal.
  • Atlanta Falcons COO Greg Beadles tells NPR it’s not team owner greed that causes stadium food prices to be so high, it’s just that after teams force concessions companies to bid as high as possible for stadium contracts, the only way they can make money is to charge through the nose for food! Anyway, NPR gets busy talking to fans at a Falcons game about whether they’re happy the team lowered its food prices, and they’re happy about it, so no time to fact-check whether team execs’ statements make any damn sense. Free refills on soda, woohoo!

Friday roundup: Bad spring training math, Beckham’s curse, and the opening of Megatron’s Butthole

No time for quips today, just the news:

  • A study by Arizona State University found that spring-training baseball was worth $373 million to the Arizona economy in 2018. I can’t find the actual report itself, but it looks like they came up with this number by interviewing a sample of out-of-town visitors at spring training games about how much they were spending on their trips — which would be a perfectly good methodology if not for the fact that lots of people travel to Arizona and then think “I’ll go see a baseball game while I’m there,” instead of traveling there just for baseball and thinking, “Sure, I’ll check out that big canyon, too.” Which is why when spring-training games have been canceled for labor conflicts, the observed impact on local economies has been pretty much zero. I wonder if the people who wrote this Arizona State report are actual economists, at least.
  • Nashville is getting an MLS franchise because it promised to build a soccer stadium, but it still might change its mind and not build a soccer stadium, and this is going to be great fun to watch if it does. (Not if you’re a Nashville MLS fan, I guess. But [insert requisite jibe about anything being more fun to watch than MLS soccer].)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he hopes MLB expands by two more teams during his lifetime (or during his tenure as commissioner — he wasn’t exactly clear), specifically mentioning “Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada. We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.” That got people in those cities all excited, which is presumably the point in saying such things — of course, none of those cities have MLB-ready stadiums (unless you count Olympic Stadium in Montreal), so prepare for a stadium arms race sometime before Manfred dies.
  • Megatron’s Butthole is now fully operational.
  • The estimated cost of renovating Key Arena has risen from $600 million to $700 million, but the city won’t have to pay any of that because their deal with the developers says those guys have to pay any cost overruns. Kids, when signing your next arena deal, do that.
  • A Florida man was arrested for setting fire to golf carts at the golf course where David Beckham wants to build his soccer stadium, but police say it was just arson and has nothing to do with the stadium proposal. Except insomuch as David Beckham is cursed, okay? If construction on this place ever begins, I fully expect it to be interrupted by all its milk cows going dry.