The name is now Sports Authority Field. But the legacy is lousy. And the whole idea of publicly funded sports facilities remains dubious. Here’s my ColoradoBIZ column on the curse of Denver’s Invesco Field.
The ROI on Invesco
By Stewart Schley
So, Metropolitan Football Stadium District residents: How’s that whole Invesco Field thing working out for you?
Next month marks the 10th anniversary of the stadium’s grand opening (an Eagles concert marred by horrible acoustics), so we’re dusting off the memory vaults to compare the promise then with the reality today. You may recall the public debate and behind-the-scenes manipulation associated with the new stadium’s funding was conducted with all the grace of a Monster Truck rally, except with more mud.
(And here, a personal disclosure. My late father, Bill Schley, ran a guerilla campaign opposing public financing for the stadium. It was summarily steamrolled by the Denver political and business establishment. My dad loved the Broncos. But he hated the idea that government would impose a tax forcing people to pay for a football stadium. So do I.)
Amid the noise and calculated brow-furrowing associated with Pat Bowlen’s bid for $265 million in tax money 12 years ago, some choice lines stand out. My favorite came from Denver attorney Porter Wharton, a Broncos consultant who worked the campaign’s public sentiment angle.
Explaining why a new stadium was essential, and in particular why the Broncos should be allowed to capture almost all of the revenue from the place despite the fact that it was taxpayer-funded, Wharton laid out the essential argument to the newspaper Westword: “Our whole reason to do this is to get the stadium revenues,” he explained in 1998. “It’s increasingly difficult for us to maintain a competitive franchise at Mile High.”
So there it was. So clear, so simple, so cleverly directed at our inner Broncomaniac. Competition! Yes! Yes, of course! Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell had just whacked taxpayers in Maryland for $200 million to build the Taj Mahal of NFL stadiums. And he was building … wait for it … luxury boxes! And he’d keep the revenue from them!
And pay really good players with it! And they’d be big and fast and lift weights and stuff! Lord, pass the tithing basket and sign us up for a penny on every $10 from here unto football eternity! Damned if we’d sacrifice our competitiveness on the field for a few lousy bucks on a new washing machine. We would, by gum and by John and by Pat … MAINTAIN A COMPETITIVE FRANCHISE!
Because, you know, the team was withering away at that decaying battle-axe of a ballpark, Mile High Stadium. Starved of revenue from luxury boxes and tamale stands and parking, the Broncos were dying on the gridiron vine, remember?
Except, not so much. In the 10 seasons preceding the parting of the Invesco turnstiles, your Denver Broncos produced a .625 winning percentage, took the AFC West three times, won eight playoff games and produced two conference titles. Oh yeah, and on a Sunday in Pasadena, the team outsmarted and outplayed Brett Favre and the favored Green Bay Packers for a Super Bowl victory whose glorious memory still sends chills down the spines of the faithful. A year later, the last Mile High Stadium year, the Broncos won a second Super Bowl.
Other than that, the team was a joke.
Since then – since the Broncos beat the New York Giants at Invesco’s first regular-season game in September 2001 – the whole “competitive” thing hasn’t exactly worked out.
The Broncos record, post-Mile High, is barely over .500. No Super Bowl rings. No conference championships. One playoff victory in 10 seasons.
Of course, it’s easy to play Monday-morning quarterback. Coincident with the Broncos’ Invesco slide has been the retirement (at least from the field) of the greatest player the team ever had. Players have been hurt. Some draft-day bets turned out to be wrong. Passes were tipped, and referees blew some calls.
But still. The Broncos brain trust willfully advanced the promise of fielding a competitive team to sell the metro-area populace on a $265 million tax contribution. The reality is that the Invesco Broncos, and?particularly the Broncos of the last four seasons (a 27-37 record), haven’t been competitive at all.
If a winning team is the measure of our portfolio’s performance, the first 10 years of Invesco Field – 86 wins, 74 losses and a lone playoff victory – look like a pretty lousy ROI.