More than two decades after it opened, Giants Stadium is about to become average.
Not in age, seating capacity or the type of food and drink available at stadium concessions, but in that most valuable commodity of late '90s sports complexes, the luxury suite.
By adding 46 private boxes for the 1998 Giants and Jets seasons, the stadium now has 118 luxury suites to lease to corporations, at a yearly cost of up to $350,000 a suite.
While that number pales in comparison to facilities like Texas Stadium -- the home of the Dallas Cowboys, bedecked with almost 400 fancy suites -- it nudges Giants Stadium just above the league average of 114. The private boxes will be ready for the teams' exhibition season, which begins shortly.
"The idea is to keep the stadium state of the art," said Dennis Robinson, president and chief executive officer for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. "We feel we have a better stadium now than when it was built."
The new suites put Giants and Jets fans a leg up on the Philadelphia Eagles, who play to 89 luxury boxes, and the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, whose home of Mile High Stadium has a paltry 60.
But keeping up with -- or ahead of -- the Joneses of the NFL was not the primary reason the Giants, Jets and the Sports Authority, which oversees operation of all Meadowlands sports facilities, formed a partnership to build the new suites several years ago. Money was.
Officials have projected the partners will net more than $4 million apiece each year from the deal, once a loan for the construction is paid off from leasing fees. The cost of the project was $43 million and Robinson said the work came in on time and just about on budget.
It was Giants Stadium's first major renovation since it opened in 1976. Each suite has been rented, and there is talk of following up with the addition of 52 boxes to the stadium's north side in the next few years.
During a recent tour of the new suites, sports authority officials said they believed the construction will prove a wise investment.
"Of all our facilities here, we think Giants Stadium has the longest running future," said Ray Bateman, the authority's chairman.
Sports Authority officials are wrestling with uncertainty over the fate of one of their other major facilities, the Continental Airlines Arena. Both its major tenants, the Nets and Devils, have talked about leaving the Meadowlands for other locations.
The Giants, however, have a lease with the Sports Authority that runs until 2026.
Industry experts say construction of luxury boxes is essential to surviving into the 21st century, noting they are a huge source of additional income for sports franchises grappling with higher expenses, including rising player salaries.
"The sale of luxury suites to corporate America is becoming increasingly important in the strategy of owners looking to deal with ever-escalating player costs," said Dean Bonham of The Bonham Group, a sports and entertainment marketing firm based in Denver. "It's not out of line today to expect new suites can bring in an additional $5 million to $10 million a year."
With the new boxes, fans can gather to watch games in carpeted, weatherproof comfort.Some fortunate suiteholders will even be able to step onto field-fronting patios to stretch their legs, enjoy a breath of fresh air or bask in the rough-and-tumble stadium ambience, without a thick window isolating them from loyal and often boisterous jersey-clad Giants and Jets fans.
Construction of the suites coincides with an overall upgrading of the stadium, including new and improved lighting, installation of a modern sound system, the opening of a new multimedia room that controls the stadium's scoreboard and replay systems, and a program to make the facility more energy efficient.
The new suites range in size from 460 to 746 square feet. They've been added in several tiers to the side of the stadium that faces Route 3. The boxes are known as tower, terrace or super suites.
In addition to offering different amenities, each also carries a different price tag. Tickets to the pro games and Kickoff Classic -- college football's season-opening game -- come with the rentals, but tickets to other events must be purchased separately.
The six super suites lease for either $350,000 or $275,000 annually, and have been built in the mezzanine level of the stadium overlooking the 50-yard line, where the original press box was located. Appointed with granite counter tops, tile and marble bathrooms and a boardroom table, they will be serviced by private elevators.
"Many stadiums have suites that are no bigger than the lobbies of our super suites," said Robinson.
Fourteen terrace suites, situated right below the super suites, offer outdoor seating for 20 and each is adjoined by a lounge area. They lease for $275,000 or $250,000, with Bateman likening their view to "sitting on the field." The 26 tower suites stretch from end zone to end zone on the stadium's upper level alongside new and enlarged broadcast rooms, coaching booths and press box. Their yearly cost is $156,000.
All but the terrace suites have front windows that open up to allow crowd noise to filter into their cozy confines.
The renovation also includes the addition of 120 club seats that sell for $5,000 a season. For the money, seatholders get a prime spot to view games, along with food and beverage service.