The Money (and Politics) of the NFL

Though sports are often in the news – almost always daily – recent announcements make things all the more interesting.

In Charlotte, the Carolina Panthers are seeking money for stadium upgrades. This is interesting on several fronts. One, because what we see as outsiders is that the team did not necessarily ask for the money – the city very nearly offered it. The first mention of the money was an article that essentially suggested the city would be open to offering money to the team if they were interested.

True or not, who in their right mind would turn down free money if it is offered?

Beyond that, the city has even suggested putting money aside for when the time comes that the current stadium is no longer adequate, and another is needed. Apparently as much as one billion dollars. The problem? Critics say that things are simply not done that way – if you have the money, it weakens your bargaining position. Apparently they don’t know how things are done in Charlotte.

Let us assume for a moment that it’s a good idea to invest that sort of money in a stadium. If it is, wouldn’t it be a good idea to put the money aside gradually, over time, rather than to incur debt for some point in the future? Sure, writing a billion dollar check isn’t the greatest idea I’ve heard, but it has to be a lot better than pulling out a billion dollar credit card statement.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Falcons have reached an agreement on just that – the team has come to terms with the city to build a new stadium with a retractable roof. The cost? $1 billion. It is going to replace their current facility, which is only 20 years old. It was built for slightly over $200 million back then (no fancy roof, however), and had a whopping $300 million in renovations a few years back.

The Georgia Dome itself was built for the Olympics, and was used to replace Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which had been used by both the Braves and Falcons for nearly thirty years (and cost a paltry $18 million to build).

This isn’t specific to the south – it is a common for stadiums in general, and NFL stadiums specifically to be upgraded and even completely rebuilt when they are determined to be no longer “feasible”. Both Lambeau and Soldier Fields recently underwent huge renovations, and despite being in cold environments, do not seem to be headed towards covered stadiums anytime soon. Perhaps once the stadiums get to a certain age, they become iconic. The problem is getting there.

Yet most interesting is a recent report that probably should not have been released, and that is one that says the Carolina Panthers have made more than $100 million in the last two years. Since the source has not been identified, it is not known if the number is accurate.

The Panthers do not play in a large market. There is no large following that they have built up through decades of existence. They are not generally a playoff contender. Yet they can make that sort of money. It then begs the question: If a team like the Panthers is making this sort of money, no matter how much attention they may or may not bring to an area, do they really need the sort of public assistance that they request?