Arthur Blank was damn near deified in Friday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which offered most of its front page to host an adoring press release trumpeting the retired Home Depot mogul's $545 million deal to purchase the Atlanta Falcons.
The announcement followed several days of news leaking from Atlanta insiders -- and several years of attempts by the heirs of Rankin Smith to unload the sadsack franchise so they could divvy up their dad's cash.
The spin doctors worked furiously -- not to get real news out about the sale, but to conceal the one fact they really don't want you to know or guess: It won't be long before Blank will demand a new stadium. If Blank follows the lead set by other pro franchise owners, a morally crippled lot at best, any balking by the public at the idea of a new football pleasure palace will be met with an ultimatum: Give Art what he wants, or say, "Adios, Falcons."
The Georgia Dome, only a decade old, is nonetheless an over-the-hill loser compared to newer NFL stadiums with their turbo-charged revenues. And this deal is all about money.
To understand the gap, consider that the Georgia Dome produces only a paltry $4 million a year for the Falcons, plus some rather meager percentages. The state keeps much of the parking, concessions and signage income -- treasure greedily and totally snatched by most other NFL warlords.
By comparison, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get everything, and reap about $40 million a year from Raymond James Stadium. Other franchises get even more. Heck, the state of Louisiana provides Saints owner Tom Benson with all of the usual stadium windfalls -- and then gives him another $12 million a year in mad money for, well, for being such a nice guy.
It's those lush fountains of cash that will be demanded by Blank.
Although Blank's Home Depot partner, Bernard Marcus, may have ponied up a $200 million charitable contribution to build an aquarium, the Falcons aren't a philanthropic endeavor. No way, no how.
Major league sports is a business. And it's an enterprise where the skyrocketing net worth of teams, now heading toward $1 billion for outfits such as the New York Yankees and the Washington Redskins, directly depends on extorting new stadiums from state and local governments.
It's simple math. The price Blank has offered Rankin Smith's son, Taylor, for the Falcons isn't a record -- but it's close. Only three deals have topped Blank's ante -- the Redskins ($750 million), the NFL's new expansion Houston Texans ($700 million) and the New York Jets ($635 million). Those stratospheric prices can't be justified by ticket sales, overpriced beer or even the lucrative TV contracts.
The Falcons, according to a September article in Forbes, is the lowest valued NFL franchise, and has an anemic annual operating profit of only $5 million, a third of the league's average. Performance like that won't recoup Blank's investment.
Thus, to make Blank's adventure a happy one, the proposed deal definitely includes provisions for a new taxpayer-paid-for sports palace, according to one of the nation's leading sports financial consultants, who is knowledgeable of the terms of transaction.
In fact, a new stadium is essential. Financial World has commented: "Today a new facility is a necessity rather than a luxury. [A new kind] of improved facility can increase a team's revenues, and therefore its value, through additional sky boxes, concession stands. ... Without a new facility, many owners simply cannot afford to field competitive teams."
The first consultant didn't want to be named, but a second stadium expert and NFL insider, Marc Ganis of Chicago, also confirms that a new stadium is in the Falcons' future.
"Blank's job will be to make the team buzz," Ganis says. "He's going to need to build interest in the team, build the market."
Then, when everyone is feeling warm and fuzzy about the Falcons: Surprise!
The team will pop open its plans to build a new stadium -- which could easily cost $500 million or, considering the way deals are done in Atlanta (every politician, plus every relative and pal of every politician, has to get a cut of the action), the community may be looking at a $1 billion price tag.
"The stadium will be built in the suburbs to the north" of the Perimeter, says the first NFL consultant. "It will be closer to where the fans are," fitting in with the NFL's current game plan of demanding stadiums be built in affluent suburbia and far away from poor, urban cores. The NFL loves blacks on the field, but not living around stadiums.