2012. szeptember 30., vasárnap

NFL stadiums and stadium projects - Interview with Neil deMause

This week I had the chance to interview Neil deMause. Neil is a book writer, a magazine and newspaper journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a frequent contibutor to several publications, but he is best known by the followers of www.profootballbusiness.com as the co-author of Field of Schemes, a book about the stadium projects in major sports. This time he answered my questions about NFL stadiums and relevant news about stadium projects.

Sándor Gaál: After some years without a finalized stadium deal, we have two new initiatives in Santa Clara and Minnesota. The 49ers’ project in Santa Clara was started after a decade long process, and the Vikings’ new stadium also took a lot of time to develop. Comparing the two projects, which one is more favorable to the teams (i.e. includes less cost and liabilities by the team)?

Neil deMause: The Vikings deal is more favorable to the team owner, hands down. The 49ers will be on the hook for most of their stadium costs, whereas by some estimates the Vikings will be getting more than $1 billion in subsidies for their new building, when you count property tax breaks. Santa Clara is probably a marginally more lucrative market than Minnesota so the 49ers will be able to make more money on naming rights and the like, but still there's no comparison: Zygi Wilf got much more of a sweetheart deal.

Sándor Gaál: Art Rooney II., the chairman of the NFL’s stadium committee said, that he believes there will be an NFL team in five years in Los Angeles. There are two stadium plans as of now, Ed Roski’s plan in the City of Industry and the AEG’s Farmers’ Field project. What do you think about those plans, do you think either of them will be attractive for NFL teams with some modifications? Do you think the NFL will return to LA in this decade?

Neil deMause: I'm skeptical that either the AEG plan or the Roski plan will work under current conditions, given the amount of money (or equity) that a team owner would have to put up to get a stadium built. There's a slim chance that you might be able to justify the expense given the new revenues, a la the Santa Clara model — or better, the Jets/Giants model, with two teams sharing costs — but given that you'd have to convince a team owner that this low-subsidy deal is better than whatever they could get in their current city, I don't see that happening anytime soon. I'd put the chances of the NFL returning to L.A. by 2020 at around 50/50, maybe a bit less.

Sándor Gaál: As ESPN pointed out, there is a decreasing trend in the US population connected to the stadium preference over just staying home and watching the games on television. As the research pointed out, in 1998 41 % of the fans preferred the stadium experience and now it is only 29 %. This is mainly due to the high costs of attending the game and the technical evolution of the television experience on the other hand. What can the NFL do to stop this trend?

Neil deMause: They can, and are, doing things like adding free WiFi to allow fans to check on other scores and such during the game. And the Cowboys-style scoreboard obviously make being at the game more like watching on TV, which is important for football, which is such a made-for-TV game to begin with.
But really, the only answer is lowering ticket prices. Why would you pay $100 to watch a game in person when you can watch it for free on TV?
Though I should note that there are obviously exceptions: The Cowboys successfully charged $200 a pop to watch the Super Bowl from *outside the stadium* on a big screen. So maybe selling the party experience of the game is more important than selling being able to see the game itself.

Sándor Gaál: Considering the aforementioned problem, do you think that the power of the NFL owners will decline when it comes to using the methodology of forcing their own cities to build a new stadium for them or offer them significant contributions? Or the otherwise questionable „economic impact, new jobs, etc.” mantra will still be enough?

Neil deMause: No, because people still care about having their team in town, even if they're only watching it on TV. Move threats are always powerful, and NFL owners are in the one sport where they can carry them out - thanks to the huge national TV deals, you could move your team to the surface of the moon and still rake in tons of money.

Sándor Gaál: Which is the most one sided stadium deal in the NFL today? Can you name one project, which includes the least public funds, and one, which includes the most?

Neil deMause: Indianapolis is probably the worst, just because of the huge amount of public money involved. Best could be the Carolina Panthers (almost no public money), though Metlife Stadium is impressive in that it was far more expensive and built with minimal public subsidies. There were two teams footing the bill there, of course.

Sándor Gaál: The Metlife Stadium is the home of the New York Giants and the New York Jets since 2010. There is a significant difference between the two franchises when it comes to the utilization of their new stadium. The Jets sell fewer tickets and get less profit from operating the stadium. Why do you think it is?

Neil deMause: The Giants have been around several decades longer, and win games every once in a while. The Jets are always going to be second fiddle in New York, just like the Mets are to the Yankees and everybody else to the Rangers and Knicks. Sports allegiances die hard.

Sándor Gaál: As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out, the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium project could be finalized this year. The major problems are related to the site of the project and the source of the public funding. Do you believe it is achievable, considering that recent stadium projects needed years and sometimes decades to develop?

Neil deMause: It could happen this year, it could happen ten years from now. Getting a stadium bill passed is mostly about throwing as many funding ideas at the wall as possible and waiting for one to stick, so it's all a matter of what year the Falcons get their lucky roll of the dice.

Sándor Gaál: There is growing excitement about the NFL’s presence in London. As Patriots owner, Robert Kraft talked about it in June, there is a possibility of an NFL franchise in the city in the future. When this becomes a more realistic goal, do you think building a stadium used only for the future football team can become one of the roadblocks of the project?

Neil deMause: London has how many major soccer stadiums already? I know everybody wants their own stadium, but if Wembley's not good enough for the NFL, then they're being truly ridiculous.

Sándor Gaál: Neil, thank you for answering my questions.

Neil deMause: Thank you for the opportunity.  

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