Stadium Plan for NFL's Tennessee Titans Reflects Nationwide Wave of Sports Development

Nashville Football Team Joins Chicago Bears in Seeking New Revenue-Generating Home

The NFL's Tennessee Titans want to replace their home field, Nissan Stadium, with a new stadium next door in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. (Getty Images)


New stadiums and arenas are all the rage for professional sports teams and owners looking to increase revenue, and the NFL’s Tennessee Titans are just the latest franchise navigating lengthy and complex deals for public financing.

The Titans are proposing a new stadium that would cost at least $2.2 billion in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, next to the team’s existing facility, Nissan Stadium. Team officials have argued that a new stadium makes financial sense because renovating the 23-year-old Nissan Stadium would cost $1.8 billion. The Titans also want to surround the stadium with new residential and retail development.


But a new stadium is not guaranteed, and an official announcement has not been made. The city council and state officials must first approve financial agreements and use of public funds.


In a similar situation, the Chicago Bears have also proposed building a multibillion-dollar stadium and mixed-use development in suburban Arlington Heights, Illinois, instead of renovating their existing stadium, Soldier Field in Chicago. The city of Chicago offered a competing plan for $2.2 billion of upgrades to Soldier Field, but the Bears have not made a final decision.


The Titans and the Bears' quests for new stadiums come amid a wave of new professional football facilities being built across the country, including the $5 billion SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both were built to steal teams away from other cities and have hosted major revenue-generating events. Even older stadiums that cost less, such as the $720 million Lucas Stadium in Indianapolis for the NFL's Colts, have hosted multiple major sporting events outside of home football games.


But complex stadium lease agreements with local governments often require lengthy negotiations to determine how and when money is spent on new stadiums. The Bears' existing lease at Soldier Field runs through 2033, but the team can pay $84 million to break the lease, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.


The Titans have argued that the Nashville-Davidson County metropolitan government, the owner of Nissan Stadium, are legally obligated under the terms of the Titans' lease agreement to either upgrade Nissan Stadium or help finance a new facility, according to media reports. The Titans' lease runs through 2039, and Nissan's naming rights agreement expires in 2035.


Kate Guerra, a Titans spokeswoman, declined to comment to News. Representatives for Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee did not respond to requests to comment.

Public Funds

Many stadium proposals rely heavily on funding from taxpayers. The Titans, owned by billionaire Amy Adams Strunk, want the city of Nashville and state of Tennessee to provide about $1.4 billion for the new stadium. The Titans' owners are expected to contribute about $700 million.


Having an ownership stake in the new stadiums — mostly enclosed facilities large enough to host a variety of events such as the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and NCAA basketball Final Four games — allows team owners to schedule and collect revenue from events.


Local government officials and team owners usually tout the economic benefits that new stadiums provide the surrounding areas. But some opponents argue that’s almost never the case.


“They have no long-lasting effect on job growth or the state of the economy of the city where they’re built,” John Solow, a sports economist at the University of Central Florida, told News.


The use of public funds for stadium development sometimes makes the projects an even worse deal for the areas they are in, said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross.


“Owners want new stadiums,” Matheson told News. “They don’t need new stadiums. They just want to hang on to their earnings and have taxpayers pay for their expenses.”


That hasn’t stopped local governments from offering financial assistance to build new stadiums to lure lucrative sports teams. In fact, that's how the Titans landed in Tennessee in the first place. The Titans, then known as the Houston Oilers, moved to Tennessee in 1997 after team owner Bud Adams was unable to extract a new stadium from the city of Houston and was promised one would be built in Nashville.


Other teams have pursued the same path to secure new stadiums, including the Oakland Raiders when the team moved to Las Vegas and the Indianapolis Colts when they left Baltimore. Most recently, Los Angeles snagged both the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers in 2020 with the newly built $5 billion SoFi Stadium, which is known as one of the most expensive stadiums ever built and was mostly financed with private funds.


The more than 70,000-seat stadium and surrounding mixed-use development at Hollywood Park has led to a real estate boom and soaring interest from investors in Inglewood, California, a city of roughly 100,000 residents southwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Revitalization

It's becoming more common for team owners to use private funds to develop commercial and residential properties surrounding their stadiums and revitalize the area.


The MLB's Atlanta Braves, the defending baseball World Series champions, opened their new stadium, Truist Park, in 2017. The team led the development of property surrounding the stadium into The Battery, a mixed-use collection of apartments, restaurants, offices and hotels. Truist Park is in the suburbs in Cobb Country and was built using $400 million of public funds to recruit the team from downtown Atlanta.


In the case of the Titans, both the proposed and existing stadiums are in an area that Nashville leaders have long eyed for redevelopment along the Cumberland River’s east bank. Software maker Oracle plans to build a $1.2 billion campus on a site north of Nissan Stadium that could employ at least 8,500 technology professionals.

Four bridges over the Cumberland River, including a pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge, connect Nissan Stadium to the downtown Nashville entertainment district.


The Titans' proposed stadium would include a dome and have enough seating to allow Nashville to qualify to submit bids to host the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, according to USA Today. The stadium would be surrounded by as much as 6 million square feet of retail, offices and residential development, USA Today reported.


The Titans also argued in their proposal that the new stadium would host more events than the smaller, outdoor Nissan Stadium. The team said the additional events could generate $225 million more per year than the current Nissan Stadium.


The bells and whistles that come with new sports stadiums, such as expanded dining options and better views, are usually enough to win over fans. Other features can include upgraded technology, more parking and better connections to public transit. Centene Stadium, the new $458 million facility for Major League Soccer’s St. Louis City SC, is across the street from the MetroLink Union light rail station.


Wealthy team owners often want new stadiums designed for unique fan experiences to help with ticket sales. Otherwise, many fans are content to stay home and watch games on television.


“We’re competing against the 80-inch television in your living room,” Jon Ledecky, owner of the professional hockey team the New York Islanders, told CNBC in January.


The Islanders, meanwhile, in November opened the $1 billion UBS Arena next to the Belmont Park horse-racing track on Long Island. The team used no taxpayer money to build it.