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Next Wave in NFL Stadium Renovations?

FirstEnergy Stadium

Even with a high number of stadium renovation projects completed around the NFL in recent years, more could be on the way. Several teams are currently evaluating their long-term facility options, with a few either planning renovations or offering signs that they will upgrade their existing facilities rather than build anew.

The NFL’s stadium landscape has been evolving over the last few years, and some of that will culminate in 2020 with the opening of new facilities in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. However, several venues have undergone major multi-phase projects in recent years, including Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, and Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. M&T Bank Stadium is in the midst of a third and final renovation round, while many of the major upgrades in Miami and Tampa Bay have wrapped up.

Still, even with many of the major additions to these stadiums either in place or close to complete, it seems that more major NFL stadium renovation projects are on the way.

The New Orleans Saints are engaged in a planning process for potential Mercedes-Benz Superdome renovations. There are no firm details yet, but it would stand reason that any major renovations could be completed ahead of the Superdome’s turn at hosting the Super Bowl in 2024 and its 50th anniversary in 2025.

Another renovation project could involve a newer facility, with Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam saying recently that they are planning to pursue upgrades to FirstEnergy Stadium—which originally opened in 1999. It was learned last year that the Browns could be exploring either a new or renovated stadium as part of a larger development initiative, but the Haslams indicated recently that they are setting their sights on upgrading the existing facility. Improving accessibility would be part of the agenda, along with continual updates to the facility.

“We’ll make improvements to the stadium,” Dee Haslam told The Plain Dealer this week. “We ask a lot of people about what they think we should do to the stadium and we’ll just continue to update it and make it the best possible place it can be. It has its limitations, right? But I think the location and kind of who Cleveland is, if we can develop around there and make it easily accessible to the city, I think the No. 1 thing we’ve got to do is make it easier to get to our stadium.”

The Browns might not be the only franchise that explores a renovation in the coming years. Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper indicated recently that the team could pursue a Bank of America Stadium renovation, with the upgraded facility a way to anchor the franchise in Uptown Charlotte while making the stadium usable for non-NFL events.

There is also the case of the Buffalo Bills, whose owner Pegula Sports & Entertainment is awaiting the results of a forthcoming study from CAA ICON. Until the study is released, it is hard to predict whether Bills will either replace or renovate New Era Field—which opened in 1973 and is currently the NFL’s sixth-oldest stadium—but the franchise’s course could become more apparent in the coming months.

Those examples point to some potential renovations, but that is not say some organizations are not seriously exploring a new stadium. The Washington Redskins have expressed no interest publicly in renovating FedEx Field as part of their ongoing stadium search, the forthcoming study could prompt the Bills to explore a new venue depending on its findings, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered about how the Panthers’ long-term facility plans will take shape.

It is easy to see, though, why some organizations are taking a closer look at the renovation route. Brand-new NFL stadiums are likely a $1 billion-plus venture at this stage, and not every city or organization wants to get into the market for major events like the Final Four that require modern venues with a fixed or retractable roof. This explains why some markets—Cleveland included as an example—might be better fits for renovations to their existing facilities, rather than building something comparable to $1 billion-plus facilities such as Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the upcoming Los Angeles and Las Vegas stadiums. As for perennial Super Bowl host contenders like Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay, there could be some success in modernizing what is already in place rather than looking to build completely anew.

Given those factors, expect more major renovations projects to emerge in the coming years, with some organizations finding it to be the best economical course for keeping their facilities viable.

Image courtesy FirstEnergy Stadium.

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