It is a good time to be an owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. You are sitting on one of the most valuable teams in the NFL, with a Forbes guess of around $4 billion dollars. Like every other NFL team, you are now making almost $400 million per season from the NFL alone. Your stadium sponsor nets you $10 million dollars per year for 15 years. It seems like a tremendous amount of money that is being put into the Steelers wallet.
So it seems a bit odd to me that the Steelers are fighting the city over payments for the improvement of the south end zone scoreboard. The improvement didn’t happen last year. It happened five years ago in 2018. It is now sitting in arbitration due to both sides refusing to cave to the other. This story can get confusing at times, so let me try my best to keep it simple.
Before the 2o18 season, the Steelers spent $3 million to upgrade their video board on one side of the stadium. The screen was increased and the picture quality improved. The argument comes down to this simple yet complicated question. Was this a capital repair? If it was a capital repair, then SEA must pay for the entire cost out of a reserve fund, which is financed through ticket surcharges from events at the stadium. If it wasn’t, the city will not pay the Steelers whatever part of the upgrade was deemed to be significant in nature.
The city’s side, called the Pittsburgh Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA), noted in a filing that the Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins both paid for their scoreboard upgrades. In fact, the Pirates really did the exact same thing as the Steelers. They made the video size bigger and the picture resolution improved. In summary, the city is saying that the scoreboard upgrade was a “major expansion” rather than just a simple upgrade. The city also pointed to the fact that the capital repair definition in the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates leases are mostly the same.
Lastly, SEA mentions that the Steelers originally wanted $1.2 million dollars for the scoreboard upgrades. The team then dropped that amount to $964,015. Why? According to the lease between the Steelers and SEA, any legal action that is valued at less than $1 million dollars is eligible for arbitration. Over $1 million and it is to be contested in public court. In a reply brief to the arbitrator, SEA wonders if the team dropped their amount because they didn’t want “this dispute heard in a public court of law”.
The Steelers side claims that the city is trying to “avoid its contractual obligations”. As for the Pirates/Penguins argument made by the city, the Steelers claim that this whole argument is “preposterous and irrelevant”, which isn’t a good legal comeback to what SEA was arguing. The Steelers also argue that SEA shouldn’t even be allowed to argue their points “because they were raised late in the game”. Again, this just comes off like a child being mad that a parent has called them out on something they did wrong.
The Steelers did do their best to throw the Pirates under the bus. They counter the city by stating that the Pirates are not actually paying for the scoreboard upgrades, since the money used was funded through a ticket surcharge. The Steelers would never try to treat Pittsburgh fans like the Pirates do.
“Thus, the only usage of trade evidence that can possibly be derived from the recent Pirates deal is that the Pirates are willing to pass on the cost of their expanded video board to PNC Park visitors…(the Steelers are) not willing to pass on the costs of the upgraded south end zone video board to Acrisure Stadium visitors because the lease requires such costs to be paid from the capital reserve fund” — Pittsburgh Steelers Brief to Arbitrator, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 08/20/2023
The Steelers finally get around to an actual legal point by showing that the Penguins lease doesn’t include language stating that “capital repairs shall not include upgrades to components of the scoreboard more frequently than once every seven years”. The Steelers do satisfy the seven years requirement, and nobody argues that point. The Steelers also have the above language in their lease with SEA. So it comes down to what the word “upgrade” means. The Steelers claim that an upgrade can mean an increase in size and therefore an expanded screen.
To summarize, the city asserts that capital repairs are “major repairs of components to the…scoreboard”. The SEA says this was not a major repair. The Steelers assert that SEA’s position defies “all logic and common sense”.
By the way, does anyone find this interesting? In 2017, the normally quite Art Rooney II publicly talked about his anger at the city not paying for a lot of upgrades to the stadium. Which part exactly? Well, this may sound familiar to people who read this story:
“Steelers president Art Rooney II is upset. Allegheny County government, which some say stole taxpayer money almost 20 years ago to build his Heinz Field and PNC Park, has been reluctant to cough up money for improvements at the football stadium. The Steelers would like taxpayers to pay for a new scoreboard in the south end, an expansion of the Great Hall and new sound and Wi-Fi systems, among other things”— Observer-Reporter, 2017
It makes sense now that the Steelers just did the upgrades anyway and expected the city to come along with or without their support.