Build it, and they will pay in Charlotte Fans would foot most of bill for NFL stadium

June 04, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

"TC Being a football fan in Charlotte, N.C., is not going to be cheap.

Officials in that city, among five vying for two NFL expansion teams, yesterday unveiled their long-awaited plan to pay for their $160 million stadium. It spares taxpayers much of the cost -- but at the expense of fans who will be asked to pay a stiff up-front fee on top of slightly above average prices for tickets.

Lacking public financing for their stadium, the prospective team owners in Charlotte are asking fans to put up $150 million in one-time assessments before buying 90 percent of the team's season tickets. The assessments, called "permanent seat licenses," will range from $600 to $5,400 a seat -- not including the ticket price.

Of the money raised, about $50 million will go to taxes and the remaining $100 million will be used to defray construction costs. Team owners will privately finance the remaining $60 million, in addition to the $140 million NFL franchise fee.

Charlotte is competing with Baltimore, Memphis, Tenn., Jacksonville, Fla., and St. Louis for one of two franchises to be awarded in October.

A smattering of other stadiums have used similar financing strategies, but none at this level. Texas Stadium, for example, was financed by interest-bearing bonds purchased by season-ticket buyers. Charlotte's licenses would pay no interest.

"If this works, we think we have seen the end of the taxpayer-financed facilities and the emergence of facilities like this one paid for by the users," said Max Muhleman, a consultant working on behalf of the Charlotte NFL investors.

The ability of the group to sell the licensing rights will likely determine Charlotte's success at landing an NFL franchise, which it plans to call the Carolina Panthers. Baltimore and St. Louis have public financing in place for new stadiums; the other cities have public money to renovate existing stadiums.

The lack of public funding has been seen as Charlotte's most significant drawback. The league last year rejected the city's firstfinancing plan, based largely on borrowing, requiring the development of the plan announced yesterday.

"It's a very creative plan which addresses the issues in the market. We'll be watching it," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

If the plan works as envisioned, it will allow the stadium to be built without diverting ticket money from visiting teams. The NFL allows some club seat revenues to be retained by the home team if needed for stadium financing, something that would weaken a city's application.

Prices announced yesterday show Charlotte will have some of the cheapest and most expensive tickets in football. Seats will sell for as little as $19, and as much as $60.

The average Charlotte ticket will cost $34.12, compared to an NFL average that should be about $33 by 1995, the year the new teams will begin play. Charlotte's proposed prices exceed all the other cities vying for a team, according to one league official.

Baltimore's NFL application called for an average ticket price of $33.63, including taxes, although the actual prices are expected to be announced next week.

"They are pretty fair to start out with. It will be interesting to see what they do in the second and third year," said Noah Liberman, associate editor of Team Marketing Report, a newsletter that tracks ticket prices.

Liberman said the average NFL ticket sold for $27.19 last season, which would translate into $33.20 by 1995 if prices rise at the pace they have for the past several years.

Muhleman said the stadium planners worked to keep tickets affordable. About 7,000 tickets, or 10 percent of the facility, will be reserved for single-game sales and not require the licensing fee. About a quarter of the stadium's 72,302 seats will sell for less than $26, he said.

At the other end of the spectrum will be sky boxes that will sell for $40,000 to $296,000, depending upon location and capacity. "Silver Club" seats, or those with access to a special section of luxury bars and amenities, will carry a $1,500 annual fee.

Applications for tickets will be accepted in July and August, in accordance with the NFL's rules for the cities to test-market premium seats. Buyers will have to put down a third of the licensing fee upon application, another third next March, and the final amount in early 1995.

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