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Steelers Revenue from premium seating is the coin of the realm in the NFL

Wednesday, August 01, 2001

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The most oft-asked question when the Steelers were seeking to build a new football stadium was, "What's wrong with Three Rivers Stadium?"

The answer: Structurally, nothing.

Financially, plenty.

More revenue from luxury suites and club seating was a key in the Steelers' decision to push for the construction of Heinz Field. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Like most National Football League teams, the Steelers were seeking to increase revenue. And the easiest way to do that was with a new stadium, where the team could sell personal seat licenses, club seats and luxury suites without having to split much, if any, of the profit.

In the Steelers' case, they will share a small portion of the revenue generated from the luxury suites at Heinz Field with their tenant, the University of Pittsburgh, which will play all of its home games at the new $281 million North Shore stadium. The Steelers get to keep the rest.

That was not the case at Three Rivers Stadium, where the Steelers received only 10 to 15 percent of the revenue generated from the 115 luxury suites. The Pirates got a cut and the remainder went to the Stadium Authority, which managed the stadium for the city.

"We get all this," said Steelers vice president Art Rooney II, standing in one of the luxury suites at Heinz Field, looking out over the new facility.

The Steelers have only a few more luxury boxes at Heinz Field -- 129 -- and they will range in price from $44,000 to $125,000, depending on their location in the stadium and the number of seats (either 12, 14 or 16) in the suite. Luxury boxes at Three Rivers cost between $70,000 and $80,000 and the price included both football and baseball stadiums. The reason there are not even more luxury suites at Heinz Field is because, unlike Three Rivers Stadium, the new stadium is not enclosed.

Also, the team chose not to build luxury suites in the north end zone, though Rooney said that could change in the future.

Nonetheless, the revenue generated from the luxury suites -- between $10 million and $11 million annually -- will be a significant increase from what the Steelers earned from the luxury boxes at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers say they need such revenue streams to remain competitive in the NFL.

One of the things teams use stadium revenues for is player signing bonuses. While at Three Rivers, Steelers officials contended that they had a difficult time competing for free agents and keeping their own players because the stadium didn't generate enough revenue. A National Football League Players Association study showed that from 1993 to 2000, the Steelers spent the least on bonuses of any team in the league.

This off-season, with Heinz Field opening, the Steelers made several key free agent acquisitions and signed running back Jerome Bettis to a contract extension which included a $6 million bonus. In all, the club paid $30 million in bonuses this year, a team record.

Some teams still will make more than the Steelers from their suites.

"We're definitely not one of the highest in the league," said Rooney, who orchestrated the team's stadium deal with the city and Allegheny County. "Some teams are getting over $200,000 [for a suite]. To be honest with you, Baltimore and Cleveland are getting a lot more."

Cleveland, which opened its new Cleveland Browns Stadium in 1999, has 148 luxury suites, some with as many as 20 seats, that sell between $35,000 and $125,000 per season. But the Ravens, who moved into PSINet Stadium in 1998, want between $55,000 and $208,000 for their 108 luxury suites, which seat between 20 and 24 people.

Some of the other teams in the AFC Central Division charge more for their luxury suites.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who moved into Paul Brown Stadium last year, sold 114 luxury suites between $45,000 and $134,000. The Tennessee Titans, who moved into Adelphia Coliseum three years ago, have 165 luxury suites (16 to 18 seats) that sell between $50,000 and $125,000. The Jacksonville Jaguars have 90 suites that go for $70,000 to $130,000.

The Steelers have sold 122 luxury suites. They elected to hold seven suites aside to use for sponsors and VIPs on game day. Suites can be rented for birthdays, weddings or other special occasions.

"We've sold everything that we're going to sell this year," Rooney said. "We actually held seven boxes out because we had nowhere to put our sponsors on game day."

There are 1,500 seats in the 129 luxury suites at Heinz Field. Most of the suites have 12 seats. Rooney said there also are some eight-seat "mini-suites" toward the corners of the end zone.

The suites in the middle of the field sell for $125,000. The price is scaled down as the suites move away from the 50-yard line.

Same with the 6,600 clubs seats at Heinz Field. Those are the dark grey seats located a level below the luxury suites, and they include use of the indoor bar and restaurant before, during and after the game. The club seats located in the middle of the field, called the Club One seats, are $1,900 per season. They scale down in price as they move toward the end zones.

The price of the luxury suite includes tickets to all Steelers and Pitt games. Under their arrangement with Pitt, the Steelers will pay the university a portion of all suites sold, approximately 10 percent.

"Let's put it this way, they can't lose money," Rooney said.

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