CEO Burke Nihill on Thursday shared the Titans’ interpretation of the city’s lease, assessing Nashville’s potential liabilities at $1.8 billion through 2038.
The Titans estimate that Nashville is on the hook for $1.8 billion in maintenance and renovations, should the Titans extend their lease at Nissan Stadium through 2039. If they don’t, Nihill put the city’s short-term obligations at $1.2 billion over the next four years.
Presenting Thursday morning to the Metro Sports Authority’s finance committee, Nihill, the Titans’ former general counsel, laid out the Titans’ interpretation of the lease. Much of the estimates come down to what it means to maintain a “first-class stadium,” the language included in the lease signed in the late 1990s by then-Mayor Phil Bredesen. Nihill compared peer stadiums to Nissan’s current condition, finally presenting the total amount the Titans could legally require from the city.
Nihill told the Post that he had not yet shared these numbers with Mayor John Cooper’s office, the party representing Metro in ongoing stadium negotiations. Cooper’s office said Thursday it has "no plans" to commission a study of its own.
Metro Sports Authority board member Dan Hogan prompted the Titans’ presentation with a question in April.
“It is a bigger liability than any of us anticipated,” Hogan told the Post. “While it’s not entirely a surprise, it is shocking. We need to know what estimates are going to be applied by the Titans and the mayor’s office to figure out what’s bondable before we can do anything meaningful. The point is that we’re already on the hook. It’s a matter of how much relief we can get in a new deal.”
Nissan upgrades come out of Metro’s general fund, a tax burden the mayor and Titans have attempted to shift onto a combination of revenue streams backed by sales and hospitality taxes. The state will pitch in $500 million towards a new stadium and the Titans’ owners, led by billionaire Amy Adams Strunk, have pledged around $700 million, a number corroborated today by Nihill’s presentation. The mayor’s Capital Improvements Budget, released last week, included plans for $2.2 billion for a new stadium, alongside additional infrastructure costs to develop the surrounding district.
The Titans are currently paying tens of millions of dollars in maintenance and upkeep at Nissan Stadium, including costs billable to Metro. The Titans haven’t been reimbursed since 2016, according to a team spokesperson.
Scenarios get blurry if negotiations don’t settle soon. The current lease is set to expire 90 days after the last game of the 2028 season. The Titans hold a unilateral option to extend the current lease through 2038. With a new stadium, the Titans would not exercise this extension, according to the team. Without a new stadium, the team is not prepared to say definitively whether it would exercise the extension or consider other options. Nihill told the Post that the team has not considered moving out of Tennessee nor have they ruled out the possibility of a renovated Nissan under a new lease, a scenario specifically allowed under the contract.
“We haven’t ruled out any possibility, we’re still exploring every possibility, but it’s increasingly unwise to do that due to the condition of this current building,” Nihill said via a spokesperson.
The more numbers that come out, the more it looks like Nashville is backed into a corner by a lease signed in 1996 by a city desperate for pro football. Negotiations have shifted to how best to get out of an increasingly expensive thicket of legal commitments and billions of dollars of obligations.