Panthers, and Falcons, and Dolphins! Oh My!
Extravagant stadium renovations and construction seem to be the current trend among NFL teams. While these renovations are said to be for the “benefit” of the fans and city, the details of these costly changes get lost in the excitement. Inevitably, the state’s or city’s taxpayers are stuck with a good portion of the tab (as if paying at least $8 for a hot dog wasn’t bad enough). The most recent perpetrators aiming to game the taxpayers and fans for tax funds are the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, and Atlanta Falcons.
The Panther’s current renovation plan, set to begin after the 2013 season, calls for between $261 million and $297 million. Of that total amount, the organization is seeking roughly $206.5 million from the city and state through the doubling of the local restaurant and bar tax from 1 to 2 percent. The food and beverage tax hike levied against the city of Charlotte is expected to raise an estimated $143 million for upgrades. The Panthers are asking the state legislature for the remaining $62.5 million. In exchange, the team would be contractually bound to remain in Charlotte for 15 years. Not much of a bargain for taxpayers. Especially since Jerry Richardson’s Panthers made more than $100 million in profit over the last two fiscal years. Profit that could be used to upgrade Bank of America Stadium.
Similarly, the Miami Dolphins are planning a $400 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium. Stephen Ross, the owner of the historic Dolphins franchise, has pledged $201 million towards the project, and is calling upon the state to foot the rest of the bill. The other half of the funds, Ross hopes, would come from SB 306 – legislation that allows the state to designate exactly one "professional sports franchise renovation facility" to qualify for $3 million in tax rebates each year for 30 years to help fund renovations; a hotel tax increase from 6 percent to 7 percent, and HB 721 which grants sports franchise to receive a monthly distribution of sales tax revenues to improve conditions of facility to meet or exceed certain facility standards.
As the Sun Sentinel points out, the qualifications for the rebate state, “the stadium must be more than 20 years old, generate $3 million in sales tax annually and plan a renovation of $250 million or more where the team owners are willing to put up 50 percent of the cost.” As a matter of fact, the only team that could qualify for this is the Miami Dolphins. Rather than trying to stick half the renovation costs on taxpayers and fans, Ross should seek the extra capital from celebrity stock and partial team owners, such as Fergie and Marc Anthony who bought into the team a few years ago, and look to make it to the playoffs. Fins fans have been disappointed enough and don’t need matters made worse with the prospect of this financial burden.
The Falcons, on the other hand, want to build a brand new stadium to the costly tune of $1 billion. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has proven to be no friend to the taxpayers of Georgia, has agreed to use $200 million in revenues collected through the hotel tax to fund the project. The Falcons organization would then fund the rest of the project. Additionally, $30 million from The Arthur Blank Family Foundation and Invest Atlanta will go towards building up the surrounding neighborhoods.
As it stands, the current Georgia Dome has only been open for 21 years, and has hosted some of the largest entertainment spectacles in the world. This deal must still be approved by the Atlanta City Council, World Congress Center board, Invest Atlanta and the Fulton County Commission in order for the project to move forward.
State officials claim a tax increase will not be needed to fund the project, but it’s up to Georgians to make sure they honor their word. Don’t be surprised if lawmakers in Atlanta within the next few years try to levy some form of tax increase to offset the use of funds.
The concept that these owners are failing to grasp is it’s these taxpayers that attend the games, fill the stadium on game day, and purchase the vast array of concessions and memorabilia. These tax increases will only deliver a negative impact on the average taxpayer by driving the cost of business operations up while discouraging fans from coming to see their team. Taxpayers and fans attend games because they support their team and have fun. Ticket prices are already increasing each season. Do you really want to make them pay for the whole stadium as well?