It looks likely that the New York Jets will actually play their home games in New York by 2009. According to BusinessWeek
, the team is expected to announce before the end of this NFL season that it will build a $1 billion, retractable dome stadium over Manhattan’s west side rail yards, between Penn Station and the Hudson River.
For the fans of a team that plays its home games in another team’s stadium, in a different state than the one that appears in its name, you might expect this to be music to everyone’s ears. But this is clearly a good news/bad news proposition, one that has drawn a wide range of reactions from Jets fans and divided us along geographic, economic and even age-related lines. The issues are plentiful:
For many fans from New Jersey, who have had it relatively easy for the past 19 years, putting a river in between them and their team is an unnecessary move, and a hassle. These fans seem content to ignore the huge GIANTS STADIUM sign on our present “home,” readily accepting that not-so-subtle humiliation in trade for a breezy commute and the right to contend “they really are the New Jersey Jets, ya know” to us residents of the Empire State. PATH trains, ferries, crowded tunnels and/or bridges are in the future for the New Jersey crowd, and that’s about as welcome to them as a sharp stick in the eye.
Upstate New Yorkers and Connecticut residents will now have “The City” to contend with on their drives. The phrase “game day Manhattan traffic” simply scares the hell out of the ones I’ve spoken to, although the new location will present new (rail) mass transit options for these fans.
Most of us from Long Island do cartwheels at the idea of the Jets moving closer than the Meadowlands. Trudging back and forth over those two rivers for the past two decades has not been pleasant. Being able to hop on the LIRR and be whisked practically to our seats does have its appeal. But then again, anyone that’s ever been on an eastbound evening train on St. Patty’s day knows that being stuck in a steel tube with 80 green-wearing, inebriated revelers can get old (and smelly) real fast.
With a West Side stadium and what promises to be horrendous city traffic and infinitely fewer parking spaces than we’re all used to, driving to the game seems to be the least feasible option. Which brings us to...
What’s better than packing the SUV with a cooler, grill, chairs and a football, then staking out your little square of the asphalt tundra and partying until it’s time to shuffle into the game? Certainly not squeezing into a sardine-packed theme bar and being charged eight bucks a beer and fifteen bucks a burger. But I suspect the latter may be the most prevalent game day option on the West Side in 2009.
Sure, some reports have the new stadium including “an extensive public plaza called ‘the Woodland Wedge’ on the 34th street side,” but that sounds to me like a place you bring your wallet and ATM card rather than your George Foreman Grill.
Of course, die-hard tailgaters may find a way to keep the tradition going inside the confines of Manhattan, albeit not necessarily with the blessing of stadium authorities or the NYPD.
And then there’s the “satellite tailgating” option. This calls for driving toward the stadium, but setting up camp and partying short of the final destination, then taking mass transit the rest of the way. For example, the West Side redevelopment plans are said to include an extension of the 7 train from its present termination point in Times Square to the new stadium. Why not allow fans (at least those of us from Long Island) to drive to Shea Stadium and tailgate there on game days? An hour before the game starts, fans could simply climb the stairs, hop on the 7 and take it right to the stadium.
In the innovation category, the coolest idea I’ve heard was derived from the Publisher of this site called “Sailgating”. The premise consists of gathering a large group of tailgaters, chartering a partyboat and taking the tailgate party to the river. Instead of a pre-game party in a dingy parking lot, you cruise the Hudson for several hours before the game and get dropped off right in front of the brand spankin’ shiny new home of none other than the New York Jets. Ah, the Home of the New York Jets. That does have a nice ring to it. Which brings us to...
Home Field Advantage
The Jets have really never had a true home of their own. From playing in the antiquated Polo Grounds, to bending the team’s schedule around Mets games at Shea, to hosting games in a poorly disguised Giants stadium, the Jets have always been second-class tenants. “We have no real home field advantage” has also been an available cop-out, trotted out occasionally to explain some pretty dismal performances.
Does a true home field actually bring with it an advantage? Will the fans’ relief in finally putting their fannies on a green plastic seat rather than a red one manifest itself in louder, more supportive cheers? Will the team take it up a notch or two to defend its “true” home turf? I guess we’ll find out.
One thing is for certain. Having a new, state-of-the-future stadium to call our own, right here in New York, will make this fan proud to be a part of it. That is if I can still afford to be a part of it. Which brings us to...
Season Ticket Costs
According to the BusinessWeek report, taxpayers will foot the bill for infrastructure and transportation upgrades at and around the stadium, while Woody Johnson and the Jets will pay for the bulk of the stadium project itself. Now, I’m no financial whiz, but when I squint my eyes real tight and read between the lines “Woody Johnson and the Jets will pay for the bulk of the stadium project itself,” the same three letters keep jumping out at me: PSL.
Personal Seat Licenses are the clever stadium revenue idea that involves a separate investment by season ticket holders to secure the right purchase seating at the facility. That's right: you get to pay money for the opportunity to pay more money. Thousands upon thousands of dollars for a single seat in many cases. Well, actually, thousands upon thousands of dollars for the RIGHT to THEN pay for that single seat.
Frankly, and I think I can speak for most Average Joes like myself here, a PSL fee will mark the end of my long and prideful run as a Jets season ticket holder. See, I'll basically have a choice to make in 2009: cough up the XX thousands of dollars for the right to continue to shell out more thousands for my two seats, or stay married.
The amount of nice-nice I have to make to my better half nowadays when the annual invoice shows up in the mail is ridiculous enough already. I can't imagine what I'd have to go through to get the green light to dip into (actually more like dig into) our savings to come up with the huge nut for PSLs. Besides, the wife and I are already committed to donating any expendable income (and then some) to the good bureaucrats of Nassau County.
So in the wake of this new financing scheme, whose fannies will be filling those bright new green seats? Almost certainly not the kind of ladies and guys I've been going to the games with for the past twenty years. I suspect we may see crowd demographics leaning more toward what you see at World Series games: corporate neo-sports fans and a more well-heeled bunch than the present collection of rough-around-the-edges and defiantly hard-core season ticket holders.
Perhaps PSLs are the only reasonable way anyone can expect to build a new stadium and create something that generates a steady, continuous revenue stream, which is certainly within Woody Johnson's rights. While to my knowledge no Jets officials have commented on BusinessWeek's report, or on whether or not PSLs will be part of the plan, it is almost inconceivable that a new Jets stadium will be built without them. Which is a shame, because it will leave long-time, long-paying and loyal ticket holders like myself on the losing end of the deal. Which brings us to...
The Real Winners
As I said, Woody Johnson has every right to figure out ways to make boatloads of money through his football team. I'd say shelling out $635 million for the Jets franchise gives him that right. Getting out of the Meadowlands and into his own best-of-everything stadium promises to enable Mr. Johnson to add considerable wealth to his Johnson & Johnson fortune.
New York City also stands to reap significant benefits from the proposed West Side Stadium, which would provide a huge boost to New York's bid to host the 2012 Olympic games. It would also help to make the city a magnet for additional major sporting events, such as NCAA Basketball Finals, and would make the idea of a New York-based Super Bowl infinitely more feasible.
The new stadium also reportedly includes plans for an extension/improvement of the Javits Convention center. According to BusinessWeek, city officials have estimated that the entire complex could eventually generate $2 billion a year in new tax revenues (although I am not convinced that the present state of the Javitz center is what keeps conventions away; I suspect the ludicrous union-related costs of hosting a show here and our freezing weather four months out of the year have something to do with it).
As for us Jets fans, some of us win, some of us lose. Personally, as my days as a tailgating season ticket holder seem numbered, I feel like one of the losers. But hey, if you can't stomach losing, then you sure as hell ain't a real Jets fan.