This week, the Bengals are installing a new scoreboard; it costs $10 million and Hamilton County taxpayers are picking up three-quarters of its cost. Why would the county agree to give the Bengals even more money? It's because of the cherry on top of the sweetest stadium deal ever made: the state-of-the-art clause.
According to the Bengals' lease, if 14 NFL stadiums have something, then taxpayers must buy the Bengals that thing. It's like if your parents were contractually obligated to buy you a new iPhone if all your friends got one, every year for 30 years, but if you were a billionaire and your parents were barely breaking even. Good deal for you, bad for your parents.
There are so many problems with these clauses that it's hard to know where to begin. One of the first problems is how to rank stadia by state-of-the-art-ness. According to the Rams' lease, such things are measured by at least 15 different components: "everything from luxury boxes to club seats, lighting, scoreboards... regular stadium seating, concession areas, common areas (such as concourses or restrooms), electronic and telecommunications equipment," as well as locker and training rooms, and the field itself.
Because of the vagaries of such matters, the Rams have tremendous leverage in negotiations. In his book Field of Schemes, deMause estimates that, if the city wanted to keep the Rams, the city's Convention and Visitors Commission would have to put aside $36 million every year to keep the Edward Jones Dome a "first-tier" facility.
There is no good reason for any public official to entertain such a clause, much less grant it. Teams have state-of-the-art clauses because of two factors: they had the gall to ask for one, and the politicians had the stupidity to give it to them. In 2010, Demause conducted an interview with Jim Nagourney, a now-retired sports facility manager and consultant who was part of the Rams stadium negotiation. The way deMause tells it, "[the Rams] were just throwing stuff in there and they were amazed when St. Louis actually went for it."
The only appealing aspect of state-of-the-art clauses to politicians is that they probably won't have to deal with it. Even a decade later, most local governments will experience significant turnover. A state-of-the-art clause helps get the deal done without ever costing the current government anything. It's somebody else's problem, by design. Of course, as Hamilton County and dozens of other municipalities have learned, this is true of publicly financed stadium deals in general.