New NFL Stadiums Need a Reality Check

Another year, another plan to bring the NFL back to LA hits a major setback. For those who haven’t read the update, you can check it out over at ESPN.com by clicking here.

Lost amidst the political and legal wrangling is the overall price tag for the project: $1.3 billion (and also note that some call the estimate “conservative”, going on to say the total cost could almost double). That’s a price that’s the size of the Gross National Product of a small country for a building that will be used 10 times a year by its primary tenant. Though the building would have a retractable roof to allow for other events (such as an NCAA Final Four), this building will be empty on far more days than it will be filled.

And this is the problem. People love to debate the merit of NFL stadiums, discussing their large price tags in comparison to the far more cost-effective downtown Arenas and baseball parks which host a minimum of 81 home games a year. But the price isn’t the issue, it’s the amount of usage for the price, making NFL stadiums a terrible overall value.

But this doesn’t have to be the case.

NFL stadiums are relatively simple buildings overall: a bunch of seats set on slanting concrete pads outside with large concourses with shops and food included. Though I’m not an architect or engineer, consider the following combinations:

1. Shopping mall. Large concourses with shopping and food with huge parking lots outside? Doesn’t this sound like a shopping mall? Malls are open just about every day of the year. While the seats won’t be used more, the concourses are much more expensive in the building process.
2. Baseball parks. The baseball/football combination stadium was popular before football became the huge corporate Goliath it is today. These also made for crappy stadiums with terrible views. But you can’t tell me that with all the technology today that it wouldn’t be possible to put the seating bowl on rails somehow, adjust the seating to enhance the views specifically for the views.
3. Arenas. The Carrier Dome in Syracuse is home to both the school’s football and basketball teams. Though this causes the team’s regular season games to often not sell out (large empty sections don’t look good on television) and the weirdness of having half the field on the one end in the dark, it works and works quite well. And, consider being able to move the seating bowl around on rails, this problem might be somewhat alleviated.
4. Multi-use corporate luxury boxes and party areas. A stadium that’s built right in the center of town with reasonable access (unlike the archaic and extremely poorly planned FedEx Field) can make use of these luxury boxes and party areas for conventions, parties and so on.
5. Multiple games at once. With multi-use seating, it could be possible to host simultaneous events, such as an NBA game alongside an NHL game, or an AFL game opposite a WNBA game in the summer. There’s no problem here with the space; just logistics.

Understand that building a building where the seating bowl can spin around would likely be incredibly expensive, perhaps upwards of $2-$2.5 billion. Okay, consider this: build a building in the center of town that can hold the following franchises: NFL, AFL, MLB, MLS, NHL, NBA and WNBA as well as the occasional Super Bowl, Final Four and even possibly host an Olympic Games and on top of it be used just about every day as a mall and corporate meeting spot. Then consider the cost of the separate buildings being built in every major city in America: NFL stadium, Baseball stadium, Arena, Soccer-specific stadium and shopping mall.

In an era of green technology and trying to make the most out of everything we have, doesn’t this just make more sense?