New, larger video boards for both the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center are the most notable features of a joint $39.5 million investment in upgrades for the facilities coming over the next two years.
Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson is providing the bulk of the funding — $25 million — with $6 million coming from Louisiana’s Capital Outlay budget (subject to legislative approval) and $5 million from SMG, the company that manages the adjacent stadium and arena.
The SKC boards will be installed for the 2015-16 basketball season, while the Superdome ones will be ready for the 2016 football season.
“Whenever we survey our fans, the most important thing to them is having absolutely the best game experience possible,” Dennis Lauscha, president of both the Saints and Pelicans, said Tuesday. “With the help of our partners, the state of Louisiana and SMG, Mr. Benson is making the commitment to do that. He saw that these amenities are what we need to be a productive football team and basketball team going forward. He absolutely said, ‘Let’s find a way to make this work.’ ”
The Superdome video boards, which will replace those installed when the Dome was rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina, will cover considerably more area than their predecessors. They will be high-definition and more versatile in what they can display, including fantasy football stats.
While the bids for the video boards have yet to be advertised, early hopes that a single board, similar to the old gondola that was a feature when the Superdome opened in 1975 but more in line with the one at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, ended when it was determined the weight would be too much for the Superdome ceiling to bear. Also, the sight lines would not be as good for fans as end zone video boards are.
Along with the video boards, the Saints’ contribution will cover improvements to the audio system of the Superdome and to suites, the concourses and visitor’s dressing rooms.
The Dome also will have an in-house smartphone app that allows fans to choose between four replay views.
The video boards in the Smoothie King Center, which are being funded by the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (the Superdome board) through SMG, replace the ones from when what then was called the New Orleans Arena opened in 1998. They also will be high-definition and could extend from foul line to foul line.
The state’s portion of the contribution will go toward less-visible upgrades, such as to the water system.
Doug Thornton, regional vice president of SMG, said Benson’s investment is the largest private contribution to the Superdome in its 40-year history and that it represents the strength of what has been at times a contentious relationship between the Saints and their landlords.
“Katrina brought us all together,” he said. “We realized that this is a partnership that needed to be beneficial for all. Nobody wanted to keep the old model going. This takes our partnership to a new level. It has never been better.”
Lauscha said he sees commitment of the Saints and Pelicans to New Orleans extending far beyond the current facility leases, which run through 2025 with a five-year option by the Saints/Pelicans after that.
“Mr. Benson believes in this city and this state, and he sees this football team and this basketball team being forever in New Orleans as their home,” he said. “These conversations ... started out with our telling Doug we need these new fan amenities and Doug saying, ‘We need our money, making sure the pipes don’t explode on us.’ We all recognized that, so we sat down and worked it out, which is the way we’ve always done.”
Thornton said the Superdome improvements were part of the original proposal that was part of last year’s bid for Super Bowl LII in 2018. That game was awarded to Minneapolis, but Thornton said the improvements would enhance any future bids.
“We didn’t do it because we want to get the next Super Bowl,” he said “That’s part of it, but these things are being done for the fans that are here every week for Saints games. It’s for those at the Sugar Bowl, the Bayou Classic, Essence Festival and every other event we host. That’s what was motivating us as much as anything.”
Thornton added that the improvements help keep the Superdome, which is 40 years old this year, among the top 10 stadiums in the country and competitive with newer ones in other cities. Lauscha agreed.
“What’s important to us is your experience from the time you wake up in the morning and decide you are coming to the game, to the time you get back home and watch the highlights,” he said. “The game-day experience has to be first class.
“We already have some of the best amenities in sports, from the club seats to the interstate access. This keeps us right at the top.”