Monday, September 27, 2010

Nighthawks & UNO Stadium Is Mostly A Dream

Last night, WOWT-Channel 6 reported that the Omaha Nighthawks are investigating the feasibility of building a 50,000 seat stadium in partnership with UNO at Chili Greens. Even though the Nighthawks set a UFL attendance record at Rosenblatt last Friday, Rosenblatt likely is going to be a little too small to help make the UFL viable long-term. I assume that when TD Ameritrade Park opens next year, it may only increase capacity by 1,000 or so unless they find a way to install bleachers in left and center field. Since the UFL is banking on getting attendance over 20,000 on average, the size of these stadiums mean that the Nighthawks have to consistently be sold out or pretty close every game to remain viable.

Could Omaha fill a 50,000 seat stadium for the UFL?  Maybe; never put anything past the city of Omaha.  But first, this deal is dependent on two things:  UFL survival and UNO going division 1. The UFL has long terms plans to grow, and Nighthawks operations director Don Igo told WOWT that NBC is interested in televising the UFL if they expand to 12 teams, especially if the NFL can't resolve their labor dispute with players next season. If that happens, the UFL becomes viable in the intermediate timeframe.

We know that UNO is inching towards division 1 status as well, but does that make a 50,000 seat stadium viable as well? I just don't see how it could be.  TD Ameritrade Park is coming in at around $140 million for a 24,000 seat stadium.  Minnesota just built a 50,000 seat stadium at a cost of $288 million, so I assume that the bare-minimum cost of a stadium of this size is going to be $200 million or more.  I don't see the city of Omaha being able to make a significant investment like this.  I don't see UNO being able to make an investment like this.  And I'm skeptical that the Nighthawks could make it work.  Borrowing $200 million over 30 years would require a $12 million mortgage payment each year, and who would sign onto that?  I don't think many bankers would take a 30 year commitment from a 2 year-old league.  UNO certainly couldn't make that deal unless they were ready to not only bypass 1-AA, but go directly to division 1-A. (Well, as long as we're completely suspending reality, they could simply replace Nebraska in the Big XII!)

Now while I think the Nighthawks and the UFL can work in Omaha, I simply don't see how this plan could work in Omaha.  Developing a way to install 15,000 temporary seats in the outfield at TD Ameritrade Park might be a more cost-effective solution for the Nighthawks.  (Or UNO as well, though I think that Al Caniglia Field could be expanded enough to suit 1-AA football.)  Of course, I've been wrong before, so I could be wrong on this as well.

Speaking of which...has Sarpy County ever said how they're paying for the Boondoggle?

Update:  Tuesday 9/28- Tom Shatel on the World-Herald talked to Igo, who said that a 50,000 seat stadium is a dream at best.  Sounds like channel six's report was based on idle speculation by a couple of fans and nothing more than that.


Adam F. said...

Oh boy…where to start?
I like Don Igo, I think he’s brilliant. Smart guy, loves Omaha and sports. Very good businessman. I actually worked with his wife at one point in time, about 12 years ago, she’s a whip-smart salesperson.
That being said, I have a very hard time seeing how the UFL becomes successful.
In year two, they’ve added a franchise in Omaha, and for year three, there’s going to be a team in the Hampton Roads (Newport News/Norfolk area) of Virginia. That’ll give the league an even six teams, but nothing even remotely geographically close.
So it’s not a bus league, there goes a huge chunk of revenue when you have to fly 50+ people plus gear all across the country.
Salaries are $50k/player, with the exception of quarterback (if I read correctly) plus playoff bonuses. With 52-53 players on the roster, that’s $2.6 million in just salaries for players…at least. At $10-$35 per ticket and 4 home games, you’re not even close to just paying player salaries, and that’s assuming 20k in paid attendance.
You’ve also got front office salaries, insurance, facility rental, equipment, pre- and post-game spreads (they probably trade this out), utilities, etc.
I’m going to assume that they’ve got a handful of corporate sponsorships and league-wide sponsorships (probably Coke or Budweiser or something like that), but I’d be hard pressed to think that there are enough companies in Omaha that are willing to pony up thousands of dollars to associate with the Nighthawks, an unproven entity in the sports marketplace.
TV contract? I’d have to think the revenue sharing from that isn’t a huge chunk of change.
Drawing 23k-ish to Rosenblatt is pretty impressive, Omaha is an event town (as are most cities, DC included) so it’s not surprising they did well. They’ll likely be the best-practice franchise.
All this aside…I’m not anti-UFL or anti-Nighthawks, I just have yet to find someone that can show me how the league generates revenue. It’s no wonder they lost money hand over fist last year.
What would I do if there was an NFL lockout or strike? Stick teams in NFL markets that have available stadiums you can use. I don’t know if the talent pool is deep enough to support 20 teams, but you could probably temporarily expand to 10-12 and be safe…at least for a season.

Anonymous said...

Igo is a big-talker who hasn't done much in any sport. If you have heard him speak in public or private you would understand this. The Nighthawks have a good staff selling football in the most fertile ground for football in the country.