For the Saints, It’s the Not-So-Superdome
The New Orleans Saints call it dirty and dated, not fit for an NFL team.
The Saints want out of the Louisiana Superdome, the team’s home since 1975 and host of the 2002 Super Bowl. Team owner Tom Benson is seeking a new stadium, saying the Saints need the money it would generate to stay in the city.
The team filed notice in January that the Superdome had violated terms of its lease by providing a dingy and depressing setting for games.
For many people, however, the Superdome still looks good after 26 years. That includes the Super Bowl planners and organizers of dirt-bike rallies, monster-truck meets, basketball games and trade shows.
About 20,000-25,000 people come to the dome each year just for tours.
“I’ve seen it on television, but it still impressed me,” said Bill Wayne of Los Angeles. “I’d probably be gawking at the building and not watching the game in there.”
The Superdome is impressive in size alone. Located on 52 acres in downtown New Orleans, the stadium covers 13 acres. The roof covers 9.7 acres and is as tall as a 27-story building. It’s the largest domed stadium in the world. The Astrodome in Houston could fit inside it with room left over.
New Orleans Saints director of administration Arnold Fielkow is not impressed.
“We stand by our statements in the letter on the lease violations,” Fielkow said.
The letter sent to the state Jan. 10 said the Saints’ lease, which runs through 2017, had been violated. Among the claims, the state and SMG, the private company that operates the stadium, are accused of not maintaining it as “a first-class facility.”
The Saints argue that the building is dirty, the staff is not properly trained and that the conditions create a bad impression on the fans.
The state is trying to work out a deal that would keep the Saints in the dome and make it profitable for the team. Some legislators have said a new stadium might be in the future, but not for 10-15 years.
The Superdome was built in 1975, 10 years after the Astrodome and about the same time as the Seattle Kingdome, the Pontiac Silverdome and Minneapolis’ Hubert Humphrey Dome.
The Astrodome is no longer used by an NFL team, the Kingdome has been demolished, the Detroit Lions are leaving the Silverdome for a new stadium this season, and the Vikings are pressing for a football-only stadium that could cost as much as $500 million.
Despite the Saints’ complaints, Jim Steeg, the NFL vice president of special events, said the Superdome provides as fine a setting for the Super Bowl in January as it did for the previous five NFL championship games there.
“It was ahead of its time when it was built, and they’ve done a wonderful job of keeping it state of the art,” Steeg said.
Although the sight lines from some of the seats aren’t as good as the NFL would like, the Superdome offers great space, versatility, and experience in playing host to events, Steeg said.
“We’ve never had a problem with it being ready or being able to meet our needs,” he said. “And it has an aura about it that Super Bowl fans like.”
The efficiency of the stadium personnel is what Eric Cole likes. His SFX Motor Sports Group stages a monster-truck show, and supercross and bull riding championships in the building each year.
“It’s one of the finest and best run facilities in the country,” Cole said. “And they seem to handle everyone. We set up one time when they had an event the night before. They were hauling that out one end and the dirt in for us on the other. And everything went like clockwork.”
Although many of the Saints’ complaints are dismissed as negotiating ploys, there are some problems with the building for a football team.
The Saints are also pressing hard for a new stadium as a key to boosting revenue, which they say is the lowest in the NFL, although they won’t disclose numbers.
But state and Superdome officials believe the dome could be upgraded to meet the team’s needs and generate more money. One idea is to add a string of luxury boxes near floor level.
There are also moves afoot in the state legislature to allow the Saints to sell naming rights to the dome and open up other revenue streams for the team.
The Superdome does not make money on the Saints because the income from the games, parking and concessions goes to the team. The Saints pay $815,000 a year in rent, but it costs about that to run theplace during games.
The dome, of course, would lose revenue from Super Bowls if the Saints moved.
“But more that that, it would hurt our national cache,” said Doug Thorton who manages the dome for SMG.
The Superdome, which has had $35 million in improvements in the last six years, will remain viable as a first-class facility for at least 25 more years, Thorton said.
He hopes it will also remain theSaints’ home during that time.
“The Saints are a valuable tenant for the Superdome, and we want to do everything in our power to make sure they are taken care of,” Thorton said. “If we lost them it would be a blow to our prestige.”
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