Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

Steelers owner: If you won’t pay for my Wi-Fi, maybe I won’t host the Super Bowl, nyah

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II has announced that he’s suspended efforts to get awarded the 2023 Super Bowl, and is blaming it on the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority not giving him enough money for stadium upgrades:

“I don’t know that there’s a real commitment here from our landlord to do what’s necessary and work with us in a way that’s cooperative,” Mr. Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s hard for me to explain what the reason is. It’s been something that’s becoming more difficult as the years have gone on in our lease.”

Rooney’s gripe is that he wants to expand capacity by another 2,000 seats (after already adding 3,000 in an expansion set to be completed this year), build a new scoreboard and expanded museum and concessions space, and pay for new sound and Wi-Fi systems that have already been installed, all using money from a capital reserve fund being paid into by ticket surcharges. The sports authority is pushing back on that, and Mayor Bill Peduto was even more vocal on the subject yesterday:

“What they’re asking for is tens of millions of dollars in public money, out of a fund that doesn’t have nearly enough,” Peduto said. “They want to have a state-of-the-art wifi system for eight games a year. I want a state-of-the-art wifi in every one of my schools for 180 days a year. I want to have the ability to reinvest in neighborhoods, not just reinvest in a Jumbotron.”

That’s a little unfair, as the capital reserve fund won’t be available to pay for schools funding if it’s not used on stadium upgrades. If the capital reserve fund runs dry, though, and the city ends up having to pay for other maintenance costs out of its own pocket because it used all the money on a new Steelers scoreboard, Peduto has a bit of a point. (It would take a deep dive into the Steelers’ lease to determine how exactly the capital reserve fund can and can’t be used, and all I can find at the moment is this summary, which doesn’t go into that level of detail.)

Peduto has played hardball with sports team demands before — he was elected in 2013 after campaigning against public funding being used for the last round of Steelers upgrades, and managed to successfully get the team owners to pay for them with increased rent payments. And the Pirates owners have threatened to sue the stadium authority over a similar issue about tapping a capital reserve fund for improvements to their stadium.

Ultimately, this is a minor squabble that mostly points up the importance of having good lawyers write up your leases so everyone doesn’t end up in court a few years later to determine what the heck they mean. Peduto and the stadium authority, though, are doing their job, which is to protect money controlled by the public from being used on anything that it doesn’t have to be. It seems a little harsh to report on that with headlines about “The dream of holding a Super Bowl at Heinz Field has come to a halt,” but I suppose it could be worse.

St. Pete mayor ousted, Astrodome rehab defeated, and other stadium-related election returns

Travis Waldron of ThinkProgress thoughtfully ran down five elections yesterday with stadium implications, from a vote on rehabbing the Astrodome to decisions on new mayors for cities facing sports venue battles. And the results are:

The big one to watch immediately is clearly the St. Pete mayoral situation, given that Sternberg is undoubtedly going to be one of the first to call on Kriseman wishing to start those promised “conversations.” There are still a heck of a lot of obstacles to the Rays getting a new building — how on earth to pay for it, mostly — but Foster, at least, is no longer one of them.

Steelers demand $20m for new seats, because all the other kids have them already

To the list of “state-of-the-art” accoutrements that sports teams can demand public money for as part of their leases — a list that previously included such items as giant scoreboards and holographic replay systems — we can now add a new item: chairs. The Pittsburgh Steelers are asking a judge to issue a summary judgment on their lawsuit to get the public stadium authority to pay for two-thirds of the costof a 10,000-seat stadium expansion, on the grounds that their leaser equires that taxpayers must supply any addition or modification that, in the words of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has “been installed in at least half of all NFL stadiums with at least 25 percent of the cost covered by federal, state or local governments.”

The cost of the public’s share of the expansion is expected to be about $20 million, which is roughly $16 million more than the stadium authority has in its capital reserve fund. As Deadspin reports, the Steelers and the stadium authority were looking into paying for the expansion — which will cost $40 million total, including the addition of a new (presumably non-holographic) scoreboard — with ticket and parking surcharges, but that didn’t work out:

The Steelers and the SEA had an agreement in place to fund the expansion by passing the cost on to those who attend games. The plan called for raising an existing surcharge on ticket prices in addition to implementing a parking surcharge. When the deal fell through, the Steelers took the SEA to court. There was a hearing today in front of a county judge—who happens to be a Steelers season-ticket holder, natch—and a ruling is expected within a week.

According to Judith Grant Long’s book, Pittsburgh, Alleghany County, and the state of Pennsylvania already spent $338 million (adjusted to 2010 dollars) on building Heinz Field, so this would raise the total cost to more like $358 million. At least, until more than half of all NFL stadiums get retractable roofs, which may not be that far off.

Steelers to sue Pittsburgh for not paying more for stadium expansion

The Pittsburgh Steelers want to add 3,000 seats in the end zone of Heinz Field, and the City-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority has agreed to look into doing so. The problem? The sports authority wants the Steelers to pay for about half the approximate $39 million cost, while county-backed bonds would be repaid by new ticket and parking surcharges. The Steelers, pointing to a lease clause that requires the public to pay two-thirds of the cost of a “designated expansion,” now say they’ll go to court to demand that the public pay more. Notwithstanding that two years ago, the team said it would foot the whole bill.

It’s the latest example of a stadium lease that keeps on giving, though some of the sting would be taken out of it if the authority can use ticket and parking fees to repay itself, since economists agree that most of that ends up coming out of team owners’ pockets. (Basically, if there are ticket surcharges, it means teams can’t raise ticket face values as high as they’d otherwise like.) But it’s still another example, along with the notorious state-of-the-art clauses, that it’s really important for legislators to read the damn lease before voting to approve it. Agreeing to build a stadium is one thing; agreeing to build a stadium and then expand it by up to 10,000 more seats (as the Steelers say their lease requires) is a potentially expensive something else. We’ll see if other cities have learned this lesson yet … yes, I’m looking at you, Atlanta.

Steelers explore stadium expansion, say they’d need more parking

The Pittsburgh Steelers, unhappy with the 65,000-seat capacity at nine-year-old Heinz Field, are looking into adding several thousand seats. The good news is that the Steelers are willing to pay for it:

The Steelers lease of the stadium, owned by the joint city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, contemplates additions. This one would be privately funded, though some revenue from a surcharge on tickets could conceivably be used.

The bad news: Team owner Art Rooney notes, “If we’re going to have that many more seats, there’s obviously got to be somewhere for them to park,” and there currently aren’t enough parking spaces to go around near the stadium. It’s unclear at the moment whether the city is going to be asked to chip in for more parking to go along with the privately funded stadium expansion, but it’s definitely worth watching.