Titans stadium deal opponents slip in language to redirect funds to taxpayers; pandemonium ensues

A Metro Nashville council member against the new NFL stadium pushed through an amendment to the deal to redirect some of a ticket tax to the city’s general fund. The Titans and the city’s top tourist groups are trying to kill it.

By: - April 17, 2023 6:00 am
Nissan Stadium in Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Nissan Stadium in Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Nashville’s sports and concerts lobbying groups are aggressively trying to remove an amendment that opponents of the new $2.1 billion Tennessee Titans stadium project pushed through in the late hours of a Metro Council meeting two weeks ago. 

The amendment — proposed by council member Brandon Taylor and passed with a narrow 19-18 vote at around 1 a.m. on April 5 — would change the structure of ticket fee or tax imposed on all non-NFL events, potentially impacting the bottom lines of the Titans, major college sports leagues, promoters and artists most likely to benefit from a new stadium. 

“It puts money right back into the city of Nashville to pave roads, fix potholes and fund transit,” Taylor told the Lookout. “Some people will never set foot in the stadium, so I wanted to ensure all of Nashville gets some benefits.”

Under the original deal, each ticket for events like concerts and college sports would come with a $3 flat fee, with the revenue directed into a fund the Titans could use on stadium renovations to the new facility. 

Taylor’s proposal changed that payment to a 3% fee — which would be incrementally raised to a maximum of 10% over seven years — with the first $3 of that percentage going to the renovation fund and the rest to the city’s general fund. 

There is debate on whether to call these charges a fee or tax. The mayor’s office and Titans are calling this a fee as part of the team’s rent for the new stadium to lower the threshold from 27 to 21 votes necessary to pass the deal. This means the ticket fee or tax doesn’t have to be paid by ticket buyers. Instead, the Titans and promoters can choose whether to pass it on to consumers.

But, despite the fact that Taylor’s amendment operates the same way as the team rent previously proposed, a group of concert and sports promoters argued in a letter the amendment is a ticket tax that “inflates the costs to ticket buyers, including every Davidson County resident who wants to see a sports event or a music concert.” 

The letter was signed by leaders of the Academy of Country Music, Big Machine Grand Prix, Creative Artists Agency, Country Music Association, Country Music Television, Fellavision, Live Nation and WME.  

 A Titans spokesperson told Axios Nashville they opposed the amendment, saying “altering one piece of the financial structure impacts the entire agreement.” A spokesperson for the Titans declined the Lookout’s request for comment.

It puts money right back into the city of Nashville to pave roads, fix potholes and fund transit. Some people will never set foot in the stadium, so I wanted to ensure all of Nashville gets some benefits.

– Brandon Taylor, Metro Nashville Council

Those favoring Taylor’s amendment argued the Titans, companies or tourists attending events like the Final Four, SEC Championship Game or concerts would pay the ticket fee. 

“Those opposed are the ones most likely to financially benefit from the stadium,” Taylor said. 

Taylor added the amendment is a way for taxpayers to directly benefit from a deal designed to capture all tax revenue from stadium events and put it toward stadium costs. 

The amendment came during the second of three readings required for the council money to be approved. 

Although the amendment passed and is currently attached to stadium deal legislation, its status isn’t fully confirmed. The body eventually agreed to delay second reading approval until its April 18 meeting.

The delay will allow Councilmember Jennifer Gamble to propose a modification of Taylor’s amendment, which would cap the ticket tax at 3% and exempt college events and the CMA from paying the fee. Her amendment will also put the tax revenue in a special fund instead of the city’s main fund. 

Gamble called it a “compromise” because sports and concerts groups thought the fee would be too costly to host events in Nashville and instead they would go to places like Indianapolis. 

“Those groups say a 10% fee would make it prohibitive for them,” Gamble said.

The compromise will likely save sports and concert promoters hundreds of millions of dollars, giving them incentive to lobby for it. 

Nissan Stadium in Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The Metro Council will vote Tuesday on a new $2.1 billion Titans stadium. (Photo: John Partipilo)

How we got here with the new NFL stadium

The new stadium deal came together last year after Nashville Mayor John Cooper and the Titans claimed renovating the current stadium would cost $1.8 billion. 

Several economists cast doubt on the figure when comparing the renovation costs to other NFL stadiums built around the same time as Nashville’s. 

The team and Cooper proposed building a new stadium next to the current one; a few months later, the latter also floated a massive redevelopment of the area around the proposed facility. 

To cobble together the financing of $2.1 billion necessary for the deal, state lawmakers approved $500 million and a hotel-motel tax increase to help cover a portion of the agreement.

The Titans and NFL also agreed to contribute $840 million, with a significant portion of the money expected to come from selling personal seat licenses. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Las Vegas Raiders made $549 million for seat license sales for their new stadium opened in 2020.

The Metro Council is the last piece of a multibillion-dollar puzzle, needing to approve $760 million in financing before finalization.  

If the deal is passed at Tuesday’s meeting, the council will meet for a special-called meeting on April 25 to give the agreement final approval.

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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.