The upside to a publicly-funded football stadium is the free money. The downside is the potentially contentious relationship with the bureaucrats from the public agency that oversees the venue.
The Steelers are currently dealing with the downside, and the team’s usually reserved owner is speaking out.
Via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Art Rooney has publicly criticized the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority. Rooney said there’s “not a functioning relationship” with the authority.
“I don’t know that there’s a real commitment here from our landlord to do what’s necessary and work with us in a way that’s cooperative,” Rooney told the Post-Gazette. “It’s hard for me to explain what the reason is. It’s been something that’s becoming more difficult as the years have gone on in our lease.”
The two sides are haggling over improvements to the facility. The issue, per Rooney, isn’t money but action.
“It’s how we use the money,” he said. “It’s what kind of commitment we have to planning for the future. Obviously the development that we do around the stadium, that requires a lot of advanced planning. For whatever reason, working with these people . . . to get anything done, it’s like pulling teeth.”
Rooney criticisms elicited confusion from the authority’s solicitor.
“In the past six weeks, I personally have participated in at least three meetings with the Steelers organization in which the Steelers and [the authority] discussed the Steelers’ request for funding for Heinz Field,” Morgan Hanson told the Post-Gazette. “In all instances, the parties have worked together diligently and professionally in order that the stadium be maintained. . . . Obviously, [the authority] is the steward of the public’s monies. Accordingly, [the authority] must ensure that the Steelers’ requests fall within the public’s responsibility under the lease before approving them, a principle that both [the authority] and the Steelers have recognized from the beginning of their relationship. [The authority] intends to continue this long-standing practice of protecting the taxpayer while ensuring that our stadiums remain viable.”
Rooney believes that the delayed implementation of upgrades impacts the city’s ability to attract events like the ACC football championship, international soccer matches, and even a Super Bowl.
“It requires an awful lot of advanced planning and various people working together,” Rooney said. “Our problem is, at this point, we just don’t have that kind of relationship with our landlord, the Sports & Exhibition Authority. It’s a concern for us going forward whether we can continue to compete for those kinds of events.”
The Steelers wouldn’t have these issues if they’d built the stadium themselves. Then they could do whatever they want to upgrade it and market it for events on the 355 days of the year when NFL football isn’t being played there — and keep all the profits.
For whatever reason, most NFL teams choose not to own and operate football stadiums as private ventures. While that approach saves money on the front end, it makes it much harder for the team to maximize the use of the facility and the revenue it derives.