New Crown Jewel

New Orleans needs new stadium to keep Saints, attract premier sporting events

In this month’s issue of Biz New Orleans, I argue that the time is getting close for the Saints, city, state and regional leaders to begin working on a plan for to replace the Superdome with a new $1 billion-plus stadium as an investment to keep New Orleans as one of the nation’s premier sporting destinations. The article was written before the Benson Family drama erupted over succession of the Saints and Pelicans. While the family feud may take years to resolve, it is time to begin a plan for the future of major sports in the city.

The Saints’ deal with the state will keep the team in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome until 2025, at which time the stadium will be 50 years old. Current trends have the NFL awarding its marquee event, the Super Bowl, to cities with new stadiums – Dallas, Phoenix, New York, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco. None of them are known for being a better host than New Orleans and none can compete with its geography, which may be its greatest asset, with sporting venues, entertainment districts, and hotels within a walk or very short cab ride.

New Orleans has hosted the big game 10 times, but has had false starts last year in bidding to host the Super Bowl, as well as the new College Football National Championship Game and the NCAA Final Four – the “Big 3” of major annual American sporting events. Even though the Superdome underwent a $320 million renovation after Hurricane Katrina, it has become evident that it will be increasingly tougher to land one of the Big 3 events without a new stadium and/or greater financial incentives in future bids. 

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Just before the storm, Tom Benson and Arnie Fielkow, then the Saints’ Executive Vice President, released HOK architects renderings of a new retractable-roof stadium, and the state seemed game to be on board with the plan. The team stayed in the Superdome under the current deal, which, according to Forbes, sees the state pay Benson at least $198 million in revenue from the Superdome, $142 million in rental payments on Benson Tower, $10 million in bonuses for bringing the Super Bowl to New Orleans and $2.6 million in tax breaks. He is estimated to get about another $40 million from private rent payments at the high-rise office building.

The current deal will be tough to beat, but a new stadium gives New Orleans greater leverage when bidding on major events. This is no doubt a city dependent on tourism. It is estimated that as many as 150 million Americans – nearly half of the country’s population – watch part of the broadcast of Big 3 events. The value of advertising that comes with the game telecast, not to mention the hype on major broadcast networks, cable, the web and social media before and after the game, is priceless for the city.

 The Sports Foundation says athletic events have had more than a $2 billion economic impact for the city and state over the past 26 years. The American sports culture is increasing steadily, and so is the pile of money available to be made by host cities through their events and franchises. Benson became a billionaire through his sports investments. The city and state have done well, too. For the mutual benefit of all parties, we need a new deal and a new stadium soon.

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