I’m not offering this as a flat-out prediction of what’s coming on the college football side, but I defy any sports fan of normal means to read this article about the costs of the two new stadiums being built for the Braves and Falcons, partly with public funding, and not feel some unease about where the market is going.
The new Falcons stadium, which will be two million square feet, has a $1.4 billion price tag and features many of the amenities for well-heeled fans that can be found in Texas — including lavish club lounges attached to premium seating and luxury suites.
“The buildings are different today,” said Wayne Wadsworth, principal in charge of Falcons stadium general contractor Holder Hunt Russell Moody. “What we put into these facilities … continues to increase.”
The exclusive areas help teams justify higher ticket prices.
For the right to buy season tickets, Falcons fans will be required to pay license fees, priced at $10,000 to $45,000 for the best 7,700 seats. Season tickets in those areas will cost $325 to $385 per game — increases of as much as $200 compared to similar locations in the Georgia Dome without the attached amenities…
Whoa, Nellie. But nobody in the NFL got rich… er, richer, by ignoring the obvious math involved.
Newer facilities, designed to rake in more money from deep-pocketed fans, have fundamentally changed the stadium business model, said Robert Boland, a professor of sports management at New York University.
“Luxury boxes should produce twice as much revenue as all regular seats in the stadium,” Boland said. “Club seats should produce revenue about equal to that of all other regular seats in the stadium.”
The results seem inevitable.
“It’s one of the great ironies of these publicly financed stadiums — people are paying for stadiums that some of them can’t afford to enter,” Zimbalist said.
Jim Fuerst isn’t buying seats.
A 45-year-old civil engineer, Fuerst is a Falcons season-ticket holder. But he said that will end in 2017 because comparable seats in the new stadium have a $15,000 license fee attached to them.
“I’m sure the new stadium will be a wonderful experience, but I don’t know who can afford to go to it,” Fuerst said. “I think the Georgia Dome is a nice place. I enjoy watching football games. That’s what I thought I was there for. I’m not there to be wined and dined in any other way.”
There’s also factoring in the cost of making the in-game experience more like the rest of our daily lives. Like staying in touch every second of the day:
The technology allowing 70,000 cell phones to make calls and upload pictures to social media is wildly expensive and advances virtually overnight. It is one of the major drivers behind escalating stadium costs.
Cowboys spokesman Jon Winborn said the team started getting complaints about connectivity inside the stadium after just two years. It responded by replacing the 750 WiFi access points and adding an additional 500 units. Winborn wouldn’t say how much it cost, calling it “an incredible amount,” but said the stadium now also has the equivalent of 17 full-sized cell towers on site, for phone calls and texting.
Greg Beadles, Falcons executive vice president and chief financial officer, said cellular and WiFi technology in Atlanta’s new downtown stadium will cost tens of millions of dollars each.
“When folks come to the stadium, they expect to be able to use their phone just like they can at home or … at Starbucks,” Beadles said.
Technology costs aren’t limited to cell phones. Television broadcasts in high definition require brighter lights and more power. At the Cowboys stadium, the team has built a full television studio to operate the video board.
Aside from cellular and WiFi capability, architect Santee said other technology — video boards, LED lighting, sustainability initiatives — has added 20 percent to stadium costs since the 1990s. He said technology used to be an optional expense.
“Now, it is a fundamental thing, like restrooms and concessions and so on,” Santee said.
Sound familiar, college football fans?
Like I said, I’m not trying to make any absolute predictions here. But there’s little denying that big time college athletics chases the same money the pros do. And there are only so many ways to
separate us from the contents of our wallets skin that particular cat. Going after the fatter felines is part of what pitching your product as a national one and leaving your regional roots entails.
Even now, at the local level, there are already companion pieces. Georgia has had luxury boxes for some time now. The Falcons’ seat license fees are just a more expensive version of Hartman Fund contributions. And if you squint a little, can’t you see a special version of the Dawg Walk coming?
Cowboys’ players, for example, walk past fans in one of AT&T Stadium’s field-level clubs on their way to and from the game.
“It’s a pretty unique experience to get a fist-bump from Tony Romo, or catch Dez Bryant’s gloves,” team spokesman Joe Trahan said.
Fear not. Maybe I’m overly pessimistic, making too much of this. Anyway, it’s not like there aren’t a few spoils we’re being left to fight over. Hey, the broadcast delivery market is growing more competitive! (Even as the content itself grows more expensive to deliver.) Quite your dichotomy there, eh?