Falcons get $200M in stadium funding, want Super Bowl

NFL owners voted Tuesday to provide the Atlanta Falcons with $200 million in league funding for their planned stadium, and after expressing his appreciation Falcons owner Arthur Blank said he’ll ask his fellow owners for something else, too: a Super Bowl.

Blank, in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the NFL owners’ spring meeting, said he expects Atlanta to bid for the 2019 Super Bowl – the first Super Bowl that the new retractable-roof stadium will be eligible to host.

“We will be bidding. We will be in the bidding process,” Blank said. “We think that is the year that makes the most sense for us at this point.”

The NFL on Tuesday awarded the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls to the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and Houston’s Reliant Stadium, respectively. The league plans to award the 2018 Super Bowl next May, and a decision on the 2019 game probably won’t come for two years.

Under league rules, a stadium cannot host a Super Bowl until it has operated for at least one full year. The new Falcons stadium is scheduled to open in 2017, making the 2018 season — or the February 2019 Super Bowl — its first opportunity for the mega-event.

The Atlanta stadium got an expected boost Tuesday when NFL owners, meeting at a hotel overlooking Boston Harbor, voted to provide the Falcons the maximum amount of league funding for the project. The funding, which is a combination of loan and grant, is designed to be repaid mostly from the league’s share of increased revenue expected to be generated in the stadium.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the road over the last three years visiting other stadiums and have spent time with their ownership and leadership groups and gotten benefit of their ideas and wisdom,” Blank said. “When I was running Home Depot, I never could call Lowe’s and ask them for advice, what was working and what wasn’t working.

“The great thing about the NFL is that it is a partnership. You have 32 (owners) in the room that, while they do battle on (the field), really do work together as a group.”

The owners approved the Falcons stadium funding by a 31-1 vote, Blank said. He wouldn’t say which team opposed, but suggested it was a frequent lone dissenter on league votes. “It’s the normal pattern,” he said.

Bidding for a Super Bowl long has been part of the plan for the new Falcons stadium, but Blank was more specific about the target year than the franchise had been previously. New stadiums often get one Super Bowl, but Blank said he hopes Atlanta will become a regular rotating host in the new stadium.

“The intention now is that we would like to become, going forward, a part of a cycle,” he said. “I think with a retractable roof-stadium, a brand new stadium with significant public support, that will become more of an opportunity for us.”

Asked if he believes his fellow owners have moved beyond the ice storm that marred the 2000 Super Bowl, the most recent in Atlanta, Blank said: “Well, I would hope so. And the less you write about it, the better off we’ll be. You know, it was a 100-year storm.”

He said the Falcons have notified the league of Atlanta’s interest in bidding. Owners vote by secret ballot on Super Bowl sites.

“There are 32 perspectives,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking generally about the bid process. “I can tell you that a stadium is a very important part of any of these proposals.”

The Atlanta stadium is the third facility to receive $200 million in league funding since the NFL owners adopted the “G-4 stadium construction support program” in December 2011, replacing the previous “G-3” program. The new 49ers stadium, slated to open in 2014, and a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, slated to open in 2016, previously got such funding.

The NFL’s $200 million contribution includes a $100 million loan that can be repaid over 15 years from the league’s share of the increased revenue generated in the new stadium, a $50 million grant that does not have to be repaid and a $50 million loan that the team repays.

In general, NFL teams pay 34 percent of home gate receipts into the league’s revenue-sharing pool, which is distributed equally to all clubs. But the NFL waives its 34 percent share of revenue from premium seats and its share of the incremental increase in other gate revenue for the first 15 years in a new stadium, allowing those funds to instead go toward repaying G-4 loans. The team is responsible for any shortfall if new revenue proves insufficient.

For the $1 billion Atlanta stadium, the league contribution will provide a big chunk of the $800 million planned in private funding. The rest of the private funding will come from the Falcons, personal seat license sales and possibly the sale of naming rights.

The $200 million public contribution toward construction, approved in March by the Atlanta City Council, will come from bonds backed by the city’s hotel-motel tax. Additional hotel-motel tax money — probably hundreds of millions of dollars more over 30 years, according to projections — will go toward paying interest on the bonds and toward offsetting the Falcons’ expenses of maintaining and operating the stadium.

The owners’ funding vote followed a presentation about the particulars of the deal by league staff, which initially forgot to recognize Blank for customary post-vote comments.

When belatedly recognized, Blank recalled later, “The first thing I said was, ‘It’s not often you get financing of $200 million without a chance to say thank you.’”