The Washington football team is looking to move out of their current stadium in Prince George's County, FedEx Field, in 2027. With new football stadiums ringing up well into the $1 billion range, the team's owner Dan Snyder is likely looking for help from taxpayers to pick up that check.
However, an unlikely bipartisan team of legislators from Maryland, Virginia, and DC want to prevent this from becoming (another) race to the bottom that pits local jurisdictions against each other in the name of economic development and prestige.
The next decade may seem a long way off, but Snyder has been exploring options for a new location for more than 10 years. Fans have a laundry list of ideas for how the current stadium experience could be improved, including winning more games and a better experience on game day. Specifically, they want more options around the stadium beyond tailgating in a sea of parking.
Prince George's County has big plans to urbanize Largo, but Snyder is already shopping around to other jurisdictions who may have more of the pieces in place. He may well also be looking for friends to help him buy a retractable dome.
Feeling déjà vu?
Taxpayer subsidies for stadiums played a role in the team's original departure from DC after the 1996 season. The team's owner at the time, Jack Kent Cooke, had grown frustrated with the lengthy multi-level negotiations required to build a new stadium on federal land in the District near the existing RFK Stadium with his own money. When Virginia offered to almost match his construction money with $130 million in land and infrastructure at Potomac Yards, Cooke made plans to cross the river. When that deal ultimately fell apart, Cooke pursued several Maryland locations and ultimately settled on Landover.
FexEx Field opened as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in 1997. Snyder's team is obligated to occupy the stadium until 2027 by an agreement with the State of Maryland and Prince George's County, who assumed $58 million in local infrastructure costs — for a $150 million stadium — to improve the site at the time of construction, including a costly new exit off the Beltway. The county earns about $1 million per game through the lease.
At the state level, the NFL's largest tax payment to Maryland is actually income tax on player salaries. The vast majority of that probably comes from the Baltimore Ravens and visiting teams, since every player on Snyder's team as well as his headquarters are located in Virginia. The state also receives sales and parking taxes from FedEx Field.
A new playbook for stadium deals
The Washington football team is the fourth most valuable franchise in the National Football League, generating $145 million in operating income each year. Historically, this has been a team that can afford to build its own stadium. However, Snyder is in competition with the Dallas Cowboys, and their $1.2 billion stadium got $325 million in public subsidies. It's only logical to expect Snyder's team to try to copy a winning play.
Any play can potentially be countered, however, and a new regional team has entered the field: Delegate Michael Webert (R-VA-18), Delegate David Moon (D-MD-20), and Councilmember David Grosso (DC-at large). This unlikely bipartisan trio has proposed parallel legislation in their jurisdictions to bar public spending on incentives for a new stadium.
In the past, such attempts at coordination have been undermined by corporate threats to depart the region altogether. In the case of the NFL, Los Angeles was repeatedly used as a lever to pry stadium deals out of smaller markets. With the recent moves of both the Rams and the Chargers to LA, that leverage is gone.
Both Governors Terry McAuliffe and Larry Hogan have expressed their strong desire to have the Washington football team in their respective suburbs. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is also looking to bring the team home (and clearly likes stadiums). As the goalposts move, Virginia is looking at getting creative with adjacent development rights in order to attract the pricey stadium.
This is a twist that shifts risk from the public to the private sector, and DC and Maryland may well want to consider the strategy for this and future location deals.
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