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Sound of silence mean loss of revenue for towns that host venues like Gillette Stadium

  • 5 min to read
Gillette Stadium Exterior (copy)

Gillette Stadium in Foxboro

It makes for a disappointing attempt at planning your weekends.

At first glance, the online lists of concerts and shows at Gillette Stadium and the Xfinity Center read like a who’s who of some of the most popular entertainers today.

Who wouldn’t line up, either virtually or in person, for a ticket to see Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or Kenny Chesney at the home of the New England Patriots in Foxboro?

Or Niall Horan, Sammy Hagar or Lady A scheduled at the sprawling, 20,000-seat Xfinity Center, which usually plays hosts to dozens of events from spring right though the fall?

And then you read further: Canceled, Canceled, Canceled, Postponed.

Most summers, this little corner of Southeastern Massachusetts becomes one of the prime outdoor entertainment meccas of the East Coast, drawing thousands of fans and earning fees and other revenues for their host communities and business for nearby restaurants, convenience stores and service stations.

Not this year. The only sounds at Xfinity Center this summer are those of the breezes blowing across the grass of the lawn in front of the outdoor amphitheater or birdsong in the nearby Great Woods.

Gillette may be playing host to NFL football in the not-too-distant future — or it may not. (The league has yet to finalize a plan.) But concerts in the 66,000-seat stadium are not in the cards this summer.

In Foxboro

Gillette Stadium, along with serving as the home of the multiple Super Bowl winning Patriots and the New England Revolution Major League Soccer franchise, has played host to music legends as well.

Among the first events at the brand new stadium, in fact, was a performance by iconic rockers The Rolling Stones in 2002.

And the stadium provides a substantial amount of revenue to the town. While the bulk of net payments to the town by the Kraft Group and Gillette in the 2019 fiscal year were from football and other sporting events, money from concert ticket sales did not represent small change.

Partly that’s because neither the Krafts nor the Patriots own the land Gillette sits on. The property is leased from the town of Foxboro, which receives a “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT, based on each ticket sold for an event there.

The Kraft Group declined to comment for this story.

As noted in the 2019 Foxboro Town Report, concerts and international soccer matches provide revenues to the town of $2.86 per ticket. Football and soccer event ticket sales provide $1.64 each.

For the 2019 fiscal year, according to the report of the stadium advisory committee, that broke down to a little over $1.5 million for football and other sports and more than $1.1 million for concerts and other non-sports events. (The town also picks up additional cash in office space payments.)

While Foxboro’s total town budget for Fiscal 2021 was recently approved at $84 million, a cut in that nearly $2.7 million stadium revenue would surely have an impact.

Town Manager William Keegan says that’s already figured into the town’s fiscal planning. “We lowered our estimates by $1 million,” in anticipation of Gillette’s cutbacks this year.

Generally, Keegan says, Foxboro employs the stadium revenue to fund capital projects — long-term projects like street repair or building improvements. Since Foxboro recently completed a capital improvements program, it’s in better shape to handle the revenue downturn than it otherwise might be.

In fact, he says, the town could still see some revenue from football this year and there’s also the possibility that revenue from concerts and other events in the spring could be factored into the fiscal year before it closes. In any event, the town is guaranteed a $1.5 million payment from the stadium.

The report notes that the Patriot Place retail complex and parking lots contribute to the town’s property taxes and the restaurants and bars contribute “significant” meal and beverage taxes.

And when it comes to concerts, there’s an added benefit to town residents. They get first shot to purchase tickets for shows at the stadium before they’re offered to the general public.

However, along with that revenue comes a share of headaches and stresses on town services, including stadium fans taken into police custody, usually for drunkenness, traffic on town streets and noise complaints. Keegan, however, says emergency calls and security costs are fairly stable at Gillette, thanks to a good relationship with local police and stadium security.

In Mansfield

Xfinity Center in past years had scheduled an average of 36 to 40 events per season. This year there were events planned through December, all of which have been canceled.

There are 18 events listed as rescheduled for next year, from June through October, including the legendary rock band Chicago in July and country music duo Brooks & Dunn in September.

In an emailed statement, Don Law, president of Xfinity owner Live Nation, based in Los Angeles, hailed the financial benefits the venue brings to Mansfield and surrounding communities.

“At its core, live music venues bring people together and are vital to the city of Boston. Our venues like the Xfinity Center in Mansfield are an integral part of the community, generating an economic impact of upwards of $20 million, creating hundreds of jobs for local residents and stimulating the countless local businesses from fan activity before or after events through tourism, lodging, transportation dining, and more,” Law said.

“We all look forward to creating those memorable concert moments at our venues again, when the time is right, and our community will greatly benefit if the live music industry is supported so it can return to shows strong on the other side of this pandemic,” he added

For the town of Mansfield, Barry LaCasse, assistant town manager and finance director, says the direct rewards to the town’s fiscal picture of hosting the concert venue are actually modest.

Unlike Foxboro, Mansfield doesn’t get a “piece of the gate,” a share of the ticket revenues from Xfinity events.

Aside from a $25,000 “licensing fee,” the town’s budget doesn’t specifically rely on revenue directly from Xfinity events, or the occasional fine for concerts that run past an 11 p.m. curfew.

“However,” LaCasse said in an email, “the events at Xfinity help provide indirect revenue to the town’s budget, such as through hotel and meals taxes generated by event guests who lodge and dine in Mansfield. Of course, it’s difficult to quantify these indirect financial contributions.”

One person who has noticed the impact is Sheila MacPherson, owner of Alberto’s Pub & Pizza, a restaurant located just down Route 140, across the town line in Norton. Her word for the impact on the 27-year-old establishments business? “Tremendous,” but not in a good way.

MacPherson said the restaurant used to got a lot of business, both before and after Xfinity events. “We would be packed,” she said. But, along with the other impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, “it’s made a huge difference.”

“It isn’t just Xfinity,” she says. “People are not going out,” she said. Alberto’s has been doing increased takeout business, but it’s not enough to make up for the loss of walk-in customers.

And those include the ones drawn by Xfinity. MacPherson says she’d have as many as 10 servers working on nights when Xfinity was open. Now it’s three or four.

And while the impact of the Xfinity closing was only a part of it, the coronavirus impact on business for the town of Mansfield has been significant. Lacasse said the town was forced to lower its original revenue projections on items like hotel and meals taxes by 30 percent and licenses and permits by 20 percent.

“Naturally, the lowering of these revenue projections required corresponding cuts to our operating budgets.” LaCasse said.

Loss of local and state revenue due to the pandemic led to cutbacks on budget requests at town meeting last month.

This year, the $52.6 million school budget is a 2 percent increase, but will still bring the elimination of the equivalent of 7 1/2 full-time positions. The $45.6 million town government budget calls for no new positions, with nonessential vacancies unfilled.

But it has also meant that, for the first time in many years, officials and residents in Mansfield — and nearby Norton — have not had to contend with traffic-clogged streets before and after concerts, a problem that became particularly acute with the advent of smartphone navigation apps like Waze. They directed concertgoers onto neighborhood streets to avoid traffic, creating more backups in turn, neighbors complained. In Norton, the problem was a particular thorn in the side of local officials. They get no direct payments from the center, but still see traffic overflow onto surface roads.

Beyond the venues

The impact of the shutdown has spread beyond the immediate neighborhood of the venues, however

Kara Griffin, executive director of the Tri-Town Chamber of Commerce, cites “a trickle down effect to hotels to restaurants to convenience stores to mom-and-pop stores.”

Tri-Town, which covers Norton, Foxboro and Mansfield, is headquartered in the Mansfield Crossing shopping plaza and Griffin notes she has only to look at the parking lot and its empty spaces to see the impact of coronavirus.

People may still be doing day trips to the beach or a park, but the impact from the closing of entertainment sites is notable. “Hotels and restaurants are on skeleton crews,” she says and without concerts and destination events like training camps at Gillette businesses are suffering.

“There’s a huge impact on the local economy.”

Tom Reilly can be reached at 508-236-0332 or treilly@thesunchronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tomreillynews

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