Showboats return could seal the deal for stadium renovation proposal

Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 5:58 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The return of the Memphis Showboats has a lot of city leaders excited for the upcoming USFL season.

For Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, it’s the return of what was a success back in the ‘80s.

“For people my age... there’s a lot of great feelings toward the Showboats,” Strickland said. “The games were fun. They were crowded. The product was really good. It was just a great atmosphere, and I think we can do that again.”

The USFL’s return is also another reason the mayor believes the state should give the city the $350 million he’s requesting to renovate Bluff City sports venues.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to get the funding for it, and I do think having the Memphis Showboats back playing in Liberty Stadium strengthens our argument,” Strickland said.

Back in May, Strickland, along with University of Memphis Athletic Director Laird Veatch and UofM President Dr. Bill Hardgrave, presented renderings for a revamped Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, with an estimated price tag of $150-$200 million.

Those plans were lumped into Strickland’s sports venue proposal in October, $684 million that also feature renovations to FedExForum, Autozone Park, and a brand-new stadium for 901 FC.

Now that the USFL plans to make Liberty Stadium a hub for both the Showboats and the Houston Gamblers for the 2023 season, the push for a stadium renovation has never been bigger.

“This stadium has great bones,” Strickland said. “It just needs to be updated.”

Present at Tuesday’s announcement of the Showboats returning was Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, telling us the USFL’s re-entry into Memphis makes Strickland’s proposal one worth listening to.

“Having multiple teams playing here throughout the year really does help with the return on investment,” Sexton said. “You have college. Now you have pro. And so, it really does help.”

Strickland’s plan says, based on an economic impact study, the state will make its money back and then some — $539 million off tax revenue over the next 15 years.

“That economic impact study... did not include USFL numbers,” Strickland said. “We may need to update that.”

“It also helps the University of Memphis if they want to go to a bigger conference and needs an upgraded facility,” said Sexton. “When you see all these other teams in the USFL playing in their stadiums, it really does help us make sure that we bring the Liberty Bowl up.”

Sexton said there are still some details that need to be hammered out with Strickland’s proposal, and since the next legislative session is not for another two months or so, he’s confident the support will be there among fellow Republicans.

“I think there’s a lot of approval for [Strickland’s proposal],” the House Speaker said. “We’re going to wait until we get back in January, but I’m hopeful that we can at least get the Liberty Bowl and FedExForum through the process, and then we’ll see what we can do with the rest.”

If approved, it’s anticipated Liberty Stadium’s renovations would be completed before the 2025 college football season.

The hope for Strickland, obviously, is his proposal is approved... but also that with the nostalgia from ‘80s Showboats fans, combined with the big push from broadcasting networks and the USFL, the Showboats will remain in Memphis long enough to kick off in a revitalized Liberty Stadium, with a packed-out crowd to boot.

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