DENVER — For the owners of National Football League teams, it’s a matter of keeping up with Joneses.
Jerry Jones, and his son, Stephen, that is.
The owner and chief executive officer of the Dallas Cowboys, respectively, ushered in a new era with the $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009 and has helped spark a frenzy among other NFL teams clamoring for new venues.
The Buffalo Bills are planning a move, and the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans are flirting with the idea.
And the Denver Broncos – set to be sold for a record $4.65 billion – could be next.
“This all really came about with the development of Jerry’s World,” said Chicago-based sports business consultant Marc Ganis, referring to the nickname for the Cowboys stadium.
In addition to high-speed WiFi and a video board bigger and brighter than any one that came before it, the Cowboys stadium also features club areas all over the arena – in the end zones, near the players’ tunnel, up high.
“What you do is you create a situation where there are a lot of different options for the fans, where you can go all the way with a major suite in the middle of the building, or become part of a 50- or a hundred-person club in a different part of the building, or get general admission seating,” Ganis said.
The whole idea is to make the in-stadium experience as enjoyable as the on-couch experience many fans prefer.
“One of the things the NFL realized some years ago is they had a lot of no shows – tickets that were sold but people watching the games at home,” Ganis said. “That meant the at-home experience was better than the stadium experience. They worked really hard to reverse that.”
The agreement to purchase the Broncos by Walmart heir Rob Walton, his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, his son-in-law, Greg Penner, and Starbucks board chair Mellody Hobson has ignited talk that the team will seek a new stadium.
That despite the fact that Empower Field at Mile High isn’t yet 21 years old.
> Watch the story from the 1999 stadium groundbreaking:
“Stadiums 20 or more years old are somewhat economically obsolete, even if they’re not physically obsolete,” Ganis said. “So to be competitive with the teams … the teams need to generate more local revenue from the stadium activities, which leads to the need to either build new stadiums or renovate meaningfully existing stadiums.”
There are a lot more questions than answers about what the new Broncos owners might do. But if they look around, they’ll see sparkling new stadiums in other cities.
In Denver’s division, the Los Angeles Charges are playing in the league’s crown jewel – the $5 billion SoFi Stadium, which they share with the Rams – and the Las Vegas Raiders are playing in brand-new Allegiant Stadium.
“Our existing stadium is a fabulous asset to the community, but when you compare it to Las Vegas or Los Angeles from a technological standpoint, there’s just tremendous advancements that have been made in the last 20 years,” said Steve Sander, president of Sander Marketing in Denver.
> Watch the story from the first game at Empower Field:
That said, he suggested that even with all the new stadiums on the drawing board that the new Broncos owners could also consider renovating Empower Field.
“I think the ultimate question the new owner will have to answer is, can we improve it by putting money into the existing facility – and maximize the development for real estate and entertainment on the 55 acres surrounding the existing stadium, which I think most residents and most people who have lived here a long time would prefer,” Sander said. “When you think of a downtown stadium development, we have a tremendous asset, both to the community and to the team, to be able to play in close proximity to downtown Denver.”
The Bears are playing in Soldier Field, built in 1924 but gutted and completely rebuilt as a modern stadium, opening in 2003. It’s situated right on Lake Michigan on the edge of downtown – but the team is working to acquire land in a suburb with plans to build a new stadium there.
Could Denver end up with its most popular professional sports team playing in the suburbs?
And that’s just one question.
There’s also this: How would a new stadium be paid for?
In 1998, voters in the metro area agreed to extend a .01% sales tax, originally instituted for the construction of Coors Field, to cover 75% of the cost of the Broncos Stadium. But in many places, the public has soured on public funding of professional sports stadiums.
“The tide has shifted whether that’s good public investment,” Sander said.
> Watch the story from the first tailgate at Empower Field:
With Rob Walton worth an estimated $57.9 billion, he could build a new stadium without public funds – just as Stan Kroenke did with SoFi Stadium.
Kroenke is married to Rob Walton’s cousin, Ann Walton Kroenke.
Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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