There is no franchise in sports like the New York Jets. Uniquely, they have NEVER had their own stadium, which is unprecedented in major US sports history (now that the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas). From sharing Shea to renting at Giants Stadium to their current 50/50 split of MetLife Stadium, this is the start of an identity crisis this franchise has faced outside of Joe Namath and their Super Bowl III upset win (when almost every football team shared a baseball stadium).
MetLife is by far the best situation the organization has been in, but it is in no way the BEST possible solution for the team. In fact, only eleven years after opening, the time is right now for the Jets to begin the process of moving forward to build their own stadium, in New York City, to begin play in 2026.
The problems with MetLife are not surprising since you had to accommodate the requirements of two teams with competing visions for what a great stadium should be. The simple requirements of compromise created a generic stadium, built more for functionality than ambiance. However, the environment is only part of the problem.
First and foremost, it is too big. With over 82,000 seats, it will be the largest NFL stadium once the LA Coliseum is retired when the Rams move in 2020. While capacity was important in 1976, the fact is that times have changed dramatically. Quality of seating is important, as is scarcity, given that the real value of a ticket is now measured in the secondary market. MetLife has about 55,000 quality seats, and an upper bowl with thousands of low value seats. They have poor sight lines, are far from the field, and it is really the only stadium built in the last 20 years for football that built these upper level end zone seats.
This situation was part of the Giants compromise. The Giants wanted to replicate the bowl configuration of Giants Stadium, and they also wanted more seats to satisfy the long waiting list they had. The Jets on the other hand designed the West Side Stadium with fewer seats and no upper end zone seats.
In reality, even the West Side Stadium at 75,000 proposed seats was too large. 60,000 to 65,000 seats would in reality produce more revenue than the 82,000 seats they have now. Considering the aftermarket (which teams get a cut of) and the increased scarcity by reducing capacity, on top of making all the available seats better would have a positive effect on revenue.
A second issue is the coaches club section. While the idea and revenue associated with super premium seats makes sense, MetLife and Yankee Stadium have the same problem…the most visible seats on television are often empty. If the fans are eating at the buffet, staying out of the cold, or the seats are unsold, it is a visible eyesore that has to be an embarrassment to Jets management every week.
Beyond these issues, the stadium offers little in the way of “cool”. While this is subjective, it is simply a pretty generic stadium. There is no signature element of the stadium to identify with, which again is part of the compromise.
Finally, to build a stadium without a retractable roof in the Northeast is beyond comprehension. Forget fan comfort, the revenue opportunities of a retractable roof stadium in the New York market are almost reason alone to build it. Super Bowls, bowl games, 365 days of concerts and events…this is a no brainer. The West Side proposal was a retractable roof, which at the time was estimated to cost $200-$300 million, and was being picked up by the city. Of course, this was part of why Jim Dolan was so opposed to the stadium, he knew how much business it could take from MSG.
The facts are clear…a generic stadium, with lots of low value seats, with no roof and little ambiance should be a no brainer to replace. It appears the Jets knew this as the lease has some interesting out clauses starting in 2025, a mere 16 years after opening.
So the lease has an out, and the stadium issues are well documented. The big question is can it be done?
The first issue in building a new stadium is financial. There is no question a new retractable roof dome stadium in NY starts at $2bn and probably gets closer to $3bn. Considering the Jets had to finance their share of MetLife (about $540 million per Forbes), and they have taken a bath on PSL’s, that’s a lot of debt to take on. A deeper look however suggests it is very doable.
First, let’s start with overall value of the business. Forbes currently estimates the value of the Jets at $3.2bn. So in the 20 years of owning the team, the Johnson’s parlayed a $635m investment and have realized a 5x return. That valuation is based on owning 50% of MetLife, so it would not be unreasonable to estimate their valuation with 100% ownership of a retractable roof stadium in NYC would increase by at least $1bn, so conservatively the team would be worth $4.2bn.
On the debit side of the equation is the debt on MetLife. If the Jets offered the Giants the opportunity to own 100% of MetLife in exchange for the remaining debt the Jets have, I imagine they would jump at it. If they didn’t, the Jets could sell their share of the stadium LLC, which I am sure would motivate the Giants to snap it up.
In this scenario, you have a business worth $4.2bn with only the debt remaining on the financing of the original purchase (which really shouldn’t be more than $100m unless the Jets have tapped into the equity). Not to play CFO, but finding financing in this scenario should be pretty simple. If you consider that the debt on MetLife was upgraded because of the consistency of the revenue, a new Jets stadium would have banks lining up to lend the money.
So now that there is a path to finance a stadium, where do you build it? While the West Side project had some upside, the location was never ideal. Public transportation was poor (solved since by the 7 train extension), and parking was impossible, making tailgating obsolete.
The easiest answer is in Queens, adjacent to Citi Field. I know most people like to talk about the Jets being a Queens/LI fan base, but I don’t buy that. The team has been in NJ longer than they were in Queens, and no sport is as regional as the NFL. Winning makes for fans, just look at how teams like the Steelers, Cowboys, and Patriots pack fans into opposing stadiums. It’s not that the fans “travel well” exclusively, but there are thousands of fans of most teams in every major city.
The reasons for Queens are simple. There is ample space, public transit is in place, parking is no problem. One only has to drive 90 minutes down the NJ Turnpike to see a complex that works in Philadelphia. Side by side baseball and football stadiums maximize the space and just makes sense.
In addition to all of this, the area surrounding Citi Field is under significant change. In fact, it is really one of last opportunities for significant development in the five boroughs. Imagine a hybrid of Patriots Place in Foxboro or the stadium district in San Francisco, retail and housing development spurred by stadium development.
Given the investment in the Atlantic Health training center as the home of the Jets, would a stadium move to Queens require the Jets relocate yet again. Simply put, no. NFL teams stay in hotels before every game, home and away. Finding a creative way to get the team from NJ to Queens (Probably less than 30 miles as the crow flies) quickly, be it bus, ferry, or train should be doable.
The only real question is Jets ownership. Do they want to take this leap? While it has some inherent risk and a lot of moving parts, I think it is ultimately a risk where the upside far outweighs the downside.
On the business side, it adds enterprise value to the business. It creates new revenue opportunities for the Jets. It potentially wipes the stink of the PSL disaster away from the fan base.
On the fan side, it creates the opportunity for a better, more compelling game environment. The stadium could have some signature elements, and create a true home field advantage.
Finally, it solves the identity void that this organization has been looking to fill since Namath wagged his finger in Miami. Woody and Christopher, this is the opportunity.