Center Square reporter Jon Styf — who was part of that Twitter Spaces thing I participated in last week — has gotten hold of the Tennessee Titans‘ lease — via a public records request by Justin Hayes, who organized that Twitter Spaces thing, small world — and took a look to see what exactly it requires in terms of state-of-the-art stadium upgrades that team owners claim would cost the city $1.8 billion, so they may as well have taxpayers build them a new one. And the answer is:
[The lease] calls for the Titans to be provided “a modern, first class, open air, stadium designed primarily for football, with a grass playing surface, to be located on the Stadium Site.”
Okay, that’s not actually the full answer, because how does the lease define “first class”?
The lease defines “comparable facilities” as first-class sporting and entertainment venues of similar age, built within 10 years of each side of Nissan Stadium that include Carolinas Stadium in Charlotte, Jacksonville Stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Coors Field in Denver, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, The Ballpark at Arlington, Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Comiskey Park in Chicago, Olympic Stadium in Atlanta and BancOne Stadium in Phoenix.
The only time “comparable facilities” appears in the lease outside the definition, however, is when it stipulates that “Cumberland shall furnish at the Facilities all personnel and services customarily furnished by stadium operators at Comparable Facilities, including, without limitation, personnel and services related to parking, ticket taking and sales, security, concessions, gift shops, program sales, janitorial services and similar functions and duties.”
The full lease is here and here. It’s really long and I’m still going through it, but I’m not immediately spotting any “state of the art” clauses that would require the Titans’ stadium to be upgraded to match other new ones; I’m also not spotting anything that even allows the Titans owners to break their lease if upgrades aren’t provided, though it’s possible that’s hidden in some clause I haven’t got to yet.
So if the lease says what it appears to, Nashville is just on the hook for providing a stadium that matches other stadiums of its own age in terms of “personnel and services”? That maybe doesn’t sound like an $1.8 billion job. Kennesaw State economist J.C. Bradbury — who also appeared on Thursday’s Twitter Spaces panel — tweeted on Friday that “the case that Nashville is on the hook for $1.8 billion in repairs to Nissan Stadium is kind of weak”; he had previously noted that one of the comparable stadiums, the Miami Dolphins‘ former Joe Robbie, just got a complete overhaul for $350 million, so the Titans’ claimed tab seems a little extreme.
Overblown renovation cost claims have always been a major part of the stadium playbook: “The Home-Field Disadvantage” was Step 1 in the “Art of the Steal” checklist Joanna Cagan and I presented in our book. Most recently, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul claimed it would cost $862 million to renovate the Buffalo Bills‘ current stadium, only for it to turn out that much of that was for blinging it up with new clubs and “decoration work,” and for an independent engineer to determine that the real cost would be more like $123 million. Obviously, every stadium (and every lease) is different, but past history certainly argues for getting a second opinion before just taking team execs at their word.
For Nashville, some of this should be resolved if the city of Nashville goes ahead with hiring a consultant to see what the city’s lease obligations actually are, but the Metro Council didn’t get around to voting on that at their meeting last week. The next council meeting in July 5 — we’ll see what happens then.