Successful Rose Bowl Comes With Cost, Says Stadium’s Outgoing Board President

Departing Rose Bowl Operating Company President suggests a yearly City contribution would help ‘stabilize’ historic stadium

Published : Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | 5:14 AM

[Updated] The City Councilmember who is the outgoing President of the Rose Bowl Operating Company says “stability for the Bowl is needed” in today’s rapidly changing marketplace for stadiums and it may be time for the City to provide financial support.

Pasadena owns the stadium and the surrounding parkland. Councilmember Victor Gordo said in an interview he sees a challenging future for the venue unless the City begins to contribute financially.

For the better part of the last decade, Gordo has been at the helm of the RBOC. In late September, he announced he is stepping down from its Presidency but not from the Board.

Gordo said last week he plans to raise the topic of the Rose Bowl’s financial future and a possible contribution by the City when City Council budget discussions come up next year.

Gordo has served as president of the RBOC since 2010, serving as the liaison between the Council and stadium management, so he’s seen the past issues and hurdles. He also helped manage the recent extensive renovations and the stadium’s successful Legacy fundraising campaign, which has raised $36 million.

In 2007, the gross revenue for Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium was $11.6 million. Following millions of dollars in renovations in one of the most competitive markets in the nation, the stadium’s revenue will have climbed to $50.8 million in 2019.

But the stadium’s steady success, ironically, means that it needs to continue to invest and attract more events, said Gordo.

“The Rose Bowl is intended to be an economic engine. It’s the heart and soul of the city and always remains that,” Gordo said. “When our generation of Pasadenans inherited the Rose Bowl from past generations of Pasadenans, we did inherit a burden and a responsibility, but we also inherited one of sport’s greatest architectural treasures. The sports world’s greatest piece of architecture and one of the most storied athletic venues in the country, if not the world.”

Therein lies the challenge, says Gordo, who says the stadium’s goal “is to have long-term tenants and help them to be successful, and rethink the use of the Rose Bowl grounds. That includes the golf complex, and at the same time, be respectful of the surrounding neighborhoods and the surrounding parkland. And that’s difficult to do.”

“I believe that there’s a challenge to be put before the city of Pasadena and the City Council in order to allow the Rose Bowl to continue to be successful, and to be stable and not overburden the surrounding neighborhoods or the surrounding park space.”

Gordo also noted that “The Rose Bowl is at the mercy of multiple markets including the music, entertainment and sports markets. That is a year-over-year challenge. This year may be different than next year. This year is certainly different than last year. And that will continue until there’s some long-term stability for the Rose Bowl.”

As Gordo explained, security and traffic management costs have also risen exponentially.

“Security today at a major stadium is not what security was, pre-2011. And certainly not pre-2001,” he said. “Everything has changed, and it’s not going to go down anytime soon. So, the City of Pasadena, as the owner, needs to find a way to help the stadium find financial stability because ultimately that means neighborhood stability.”

Gordo was reluctant to specify the exact method or amount of money needed to “stabilize,” the stadium, but said the RBOC and Council knew years ago that the stadium needed to improve, and that the market would only grow more competitive.

“We knew,” said Gordo, “and we adopted a bond schedule. We knew the bond cost would go up, right about 2020, 2021. We also knew that a new stadium was going to arrive. And when it arrived, we understood that the competition for acts, and for events, would be tremendous.”

But Gordo said that the Council did not anticipate the number of small stadiums that have since been built.

“And we also didn’t anticipate that the City of L.A. would hand over the Coliseum to USC, who would then invest over $300 million into creating more competition by renovating that venue,” he continued. “We also can’t anticipate year-over-year how, one of our primary tenants, UCLA, will perform. That’s tough to predict. And that brings about instability.”

Gordo is quick to say that any new funding would not amount to a “subsidy,” however.

“It really would be an owner’s contribution. I think it’s premature to say that’s the solution, but I think we ought to have honest conversations between the elected representatives of the City, the City council, and the Rose Bowl Operating Company, appointed by that same City Council.”