NHL to add four new teams for $1.4B by 2017 purple monkey dishwasher

If you loved last March’s unsourced rumors about how the NHL is ready to expand, expand, expand, you’ll love today’s similarly unsourced rumors about the exact same thing! Take it away, Tony Gallagher of British Columbia’s The Province:

Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determined being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City…

A new team close to the newly renamed Arizona squad and California’s big three is all but assured, the only question being when and with which other city. Or should that be plural?

With all the activity going on in the Seattle area in the last little bit it would be quite a stretch to imagine that much time and effort being spent by so many wealthy men being frittered away for nothing.

(Is it just me, or does this entire thing read like a gossip column? I kept waiting for “What mid-sized city was spotted on the dance floor, cavorting with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly?”)

As Deadspin notes, Howard Bloom of Sports Business News then upped the ante by predicting that Quebec, Seattle, Las Vegas, and a second Toronto team will all be joining the NHL by 2017, in exchange for $1.4 billion in expansion fees.

This is simultaneously crazy and not-crazy. On the not-crazy side, $1.4 billion, people! In a world where Steve Ballmer is willing to plunk down $2 billion for an NBA team, and MLS franchises are going like hotcakes, it would be foolish not to at least consider taking some of the money that the world’s billionaires are waving around like drunken sailors.

On the crazy side, with the exception of Quebec, all of these are seriously problematic markets. Seattle doesn’t have an arena that really fits hockey, and any hopes of building one would depend on the NBA first approving a new basketball team for Seattle, which doesn’t sound like it’s happening anytime soon. Vegas is Vegas, which is a small, poor city with a bunch of people with lots of spending money visiting all the damn time, which isn’t a great recipe for season ticket sales. Toronto would run up against the Maple Leafs corporate buzzsaw, which would undoubtedly try to seize a chunk of that expansion fee as payment for incursions into its territory.

So, there are some stumbling blocks that make one wonder if Gary Bettman has really thought this thing out. (Not that thinking things out in advance has exactly been Bettman’s strong point in the past.) If the reports are true, and NHL officials are thinking clearly, it seems far more likely that this is a trial balloon designed to see what arena concessions they can get by waving a possible expansion team under a few municipal noses. Guess we’ll find out soon enough — 2017 isn’t that far away.

Cuomo task force nixes Niagara Falls as possible Bills stadium site (also, doesn’t know how to pay for anything yet)

Just two days after the Columbia Journalism Review reported on how the Buffalo news media is focused exclusively on where to build a new Bills stadium instead of whether to build one, here’s an article from the Buffalo News about where to build a new Bills stadium:

Consultants have narrowed the list of recommended sites for a new Buffalo Bills stadium to four best sites, and it appears all the finalists are within Erie County…

Not making the list of finalists are Niagara Falls and Buffalo’s outer harbor. The consultants determined they are good sites, especially Niagara Falls, but currently there are too many transportation hurdles.

The News can be cut a little bit of slack, since it’s just reporting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s task force’s study of a new Bills stadium, which was supposed to be out in July but is still not finalized. (Cuomo should get less slack for launching a new-stadium study for a team whose $200-million-plus stadium renovation bill he just paid, but Cuomo needs all the slack he can get these days.) Still, focusing on a leak of selected information from an unreleased state report counts as spinning the news, especially when the bigger news — how much a stadium would cost and who would pay for it — is still unrevealed, something that got all of one sentence in the story.

Meanwhile, at least one upstate New York journalist is making the opposite argument: Auburn Chronicle political reporter Robert Harding writes that the Bills don’t need a new stadium, because the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs play in renovated stadiums, and they do just fine. (Calling the new Soldier Field a “renovation” is stretching things, but whatever.) Of course, lots of other teams without new or renovated stadiums have done fine, too — it’s the NFL, where every team owner gets to pocket a $200 million check just by showing up to play on TV — but then we’re getting into the whole question of what billionaire sports capitalists “need,” and that way madness lies.

Las Vegas MLS stadium would cost public 41% of price, or 75%, or 45%, or who knows, really?

The city of Las Vegas has finally released some details on how to fund that MLS stadium for a nonexistent MLS team that Cordish Cos. wants to build because it has an option on some land and doesn’t know what else to do with it. According to that newspaper that just laid off half the sportswriters I know and let them learn about it on Twitter, here’s the scoop:

The stadium would be located in the city of Las Vegas’s downtown Symphony Park area and the total project cost, including interest on bonds, would be $410 million. Sixty-nine percent of that would be privately funded and 31 percent would come from public sources. The statement says that the public funding would mostly come from taxes collected on tourists and from public infrastructure funds.

Okay, that’s a little vague, but at least it spells out the split: 69% private, 31% public, which — wait, what’s that, Las Vegas Review-Journal?

The city of Las Vegas would be responsible for more than $150 million — or more than 75 percent — toward the cost of a $200 million, 24,000-seat soccer stadium in Symphony Park that would be built for a possible Major League Soccer team, according to a term sheet obtained Tuesday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The term sheet contradicts a press release distributed Tuesday by the city and its two private soccer stadium partners, which stated, “59 percent of these (stadium) costs would be privately financed.”

The Review-Journal later goes into more detail, which explains that the $150 million public subsidy isn’t quite that bad: The team would pay about $4 million a year in rent and shares of non-soccer revenue, which would cut the public’s total cost to, let’s call it maybe $90 million. (That “total project cost” of $410 million was apparently bulked up with future interest payments and the cost of acquiring an expansion team in the first place, which is major-league-level chutzpah, at least.) Though there’s also no detail on who would pay operating costs for the stadium, so that $90 million could easily go back up again.

This whole mess will be presented to the city council next week, at which point it will likely proceed to three months of public hearings, with an actual vote slated for around December. In the meantime, we can look at the pretty pictures, which apparently involve a translucent roof and spotlights and all kinds of other stuff that seems unlikely to look that glitzy considering what $200 million typically buys you in a soccer stadium, but let’s ooh and aah anyway:

Oh, and all this is, of course, contingent on Vegas actually getting an MLS team, which is no sure thing given that there’s only one expansion slot left and tons of cities angling to fill it. But I guess if Minnesota is announcing it’s figured out how to divide up the rent from any future MLS team, Las Vegas has to do something to show that it’s ready, too, if only to stay even in the battle of press releases.

[UPDATE: Vegas councilmember Bob Beers writes to point me to his blog, which has a more detailed explanation of the stadium funding plan. In short: The city would put up $41 million in cash (some of it provided from sales taxes redirected, as discussed back in June, from a “Sales Tax Additional Revenue” district, i.e., a STIF), plus $115 million worth of bonds. Those bonds would be repaid via $3 million a year in park maintenance funds, plus $4-5 million a year in payments from the team — which would come out of soccer team profits (if there are any), and would otherwise presumably have to be covered by the city. In other words, we yet again have a scenario where an MLS team could be guaranteed to cover any losses before it would have to start paying for its stadium debt. It's almost like these guys compare notes, you know?]

49ers have now ripped up entire field at new stadium twice before opening day

Oh hey, did I neglect to mention that the San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium has a field that’s falling apart? Apparently the 49ers (or maybe the field itself) is trying to get my attention, because the team has now replaced the grass twice in the last week:

The thicker-cut field installed two days before Sunday’s preseason game against the San Diego Chargers was meant as a temporary solution because the sod cannot generate the deep roots needed for long-term use.

Now, team officials are also removing and making undisclosed “tweaks” to part of the sand base below the turf, and are ripping out the entire 2.5-acre playing surface, including the sidelines and the area behind the endzones, which had not previously been replaced.

Deadspin posted this photo from Instagram (the link appears to have gone dead), which, um, yikes:

The 49ers are footing the bill for all this, so the only harm done here is to the high school games that have had to be canceled rescheduled (they’ve been moved to Columbus Day weekend, with additional games added then as well), and maybe to any players who end up getting injured playing on turf that isn’t actually rooted to the ground. (The 49ers’ home opener is on Sept. 14.) Still, it’s a reminder that “new” doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” or even “done well.” Just think: If this happened at the Oakland Coliseum, people would be calling for the wrecking balls to start swinging before halftime.


Charlotte to vote on $27.5m in upgrades to NBA’s 3rd-newest building, because NOT NEW ENOUGH, DAMMIT

The city of Charlotte is asking the city council to approve $27.5 million in upgrades to the Hornets‘ nine-year-old arena — the NBA’s third-newest building — on the grounds that hey, it could have been worse:

In March, the Hornets asked the city to also spend roughly $6 million to renovate suites and $600,000 to refurbish the Hornets’ locker room.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said the city pushed back against spending taxpayer dollars on those expenses, even though he said the team could have had a legal case that those particular upgrades are part of the 25-year operating agreement.

“The city didn’t want to pay for home team locker rooms and suite improvements,” Kimble said. “We want to fund (improvements) that the everyday fan can enjoy.”

The problem is that in exchange for the Hornets (then Bobcats) owners agreeing to severe penalties for breaking their lease and going elsewhere, as the old Hornets (now Pelicans) did when they bolted for New Orleans, Charlotte agreed to a lease clause that requires the city to keep the arena among the NBA’s most modern — which is effectively a blank check for the Hornets to bill the city for anything that the guy down the road has in his arena.

Kimble told council members he believes the city could not spend any less.

“I feel like this is the lowest amount (we could spend) under the contract,” he said.

All together now: Friends don’t let friends sign state-of-the-art clauses.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/25/5128281/charlotte-spend-335m-on-arena.html#.U_yRGUgsOuM#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/25/5128281/charlotte-spend-335m-on-arena.html#.U_yRGUgsOuM#storylink=cpy

Yup, media still suck at covering sports stadium subsidy debates

If I link to an article and only quote the part that quotes me, that’s not narcissism, it’s repurposing, right? I’m going with repurposing.

Anyway, David Uberti of the Columbia Journalism Review has an article up today about how local journalists drop the ball on covering sports stadium subsidy debates, a topic that you know is near and dear to my heart. After discussing how the Buffalo media has largely skipped over the question of whether the city should help fund a new Bills stadium in lieu of the question of where to build it — something that’s devolved into self-parody at this point — Uberti asks me why the hell this is:

“You might end up with sportswriters covering this, whose eyes glaze over when they see an economic-impact report,” said deMause, who co-authored a book, Field of Schemes, on the topic. “Or you have news people handling it, who might be able to handle the economic aspects, but they can easily get distracted by the sports aspect of this.”

He added, “When you have to fight against the fact that nobody has this issue as their beat, no one has the time. It’s easy to cover it in a very surfacey way.”

The CJR piece also cites some other friends of FoS (correspondent Bob Trumpbour of Penn State Altoona and Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, among others), and is well worth reading for a reminder of how the news media really isn’t helping promote more intelligent public discourse on stadium issues. Though I’d still love to see an article digging into the dynamics of why individual reporters who get assigned to these stories end up punting on the bigger issues — lack of time, lack of expertise, lack of editorial support. Hey, David, I’ll race you to it!

Milwaukee business leader wants Bucks arena plan by January, or he’ll hold his breath and turn purple

If there were an award for the most slavishly stenographic sports stadium journalism, we might just have to retire it in the name of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Don Walker, who has never seen a press statement by a Bucks exec or elected official that he didn’t want to rush into print. Yesterday it was Milwaukee chamber of commerce president Timothy Sheehy, who noted that the 2015 Wisconsin legislative session starts in January, so he wants to have an arena plan ready to go in January, even though there’s a gubernatorial election in November and all state-level arena talks are on hold until then. This could have led to a headline along the lines of “Tight timetable for arena talks before 2015 session,” but instead they went with “Local leaders say arena plans must be in place by new year,” because the Journal-Sentinel.

Let’s move along, then, to the one piece of almost-news in Walker’s article, which is that Sheehy is considering proposing diverting income taxes paid by NBA players to pay off arena bonds. Sheehy says about $90 million in total costs could be funded with $6-8 million a year in tax proceeds; the math on that is correct, anyway. Whether NBA players really generate that much in income taxes is more doubtful: The Bucks’ salary cap is currently $56 million, the top state income tax is 7.65%, which gets us to about $4.3 million a year. (Yes, visiting players would pay the tax as well, but Bucks players could also deduct their out-of-state income taxes.) But NBA salaries will go up, so … maybe.

The bigger leap is Sheehy’s conclusion that “if there is no NBA play here in 2018, there’s an assortment of revenue that flows to the state that will no longer be there.” Even if one assumes that the Bucks will leave in 2018 without a new arena (possible, but hardly a sure bet), Bucks fans won’t go with them, and will still need to do something with their winter evenings other than watching terrible basketball. Those other things could include just about anything, but with a couple of obvious exceptions, they’ll all put income in somebody’s pockets that will be subject to income tax. So all that “new” money thanks to the Bucks isn’t actually new — some of it is just Milwaukee entertainment spending that happens to be going to basketball.

In any case, it looks like we can see where the Bucks’ (or at least Sheehy’s) strategy is going here: Piece together $200 million or maybe it’s $300 million who can say in private money, $90 million in player income taxes, maybe another $100 million in sales taxes on spending at the arena (likewise much of which would be cannibalized from other in-state spending), and voilà, you have half a billion-ish dollars and nobody’s really spending any public money, because public money that is rebates on your sales and income taxes doesn’t really count as public money, because it just doesn’t, okay? Now if the Bucks (and Sheehy, and Walker) can only convince the governor, whoever that may be, of this in the few weeks between the election and the start of the legislative session, they should be sitting pretty. At least for the 25 years it takes until they want another new arena.

Birmingham domed stadium advocate: “We don’t need public support”

There really isn’t much I can add to this lede from an article yesterday at AL.com:

Birmingham will get a domed stadium in the next few years whether the public wants one or not. That was the message shared by Gene Hallman, CEO of the Bruno Event Team and Executive Director of the Alabama Sports Foundation at a Birmingham CREW luncheon on Tuesday.

“We don’t need public support,” Hallman said. “I don’t mean to be arrogant, but we aren’t running a campaign like we did in 1998 where we need a vote– we are looking to fund the stadium using existing funds from the city, county or state. The best thing we can do is just get it done and then tell people why it’s a good thing we’re doing it.”

Then, because he couldn’t help himself, Hallman told people why he was doing it anyway:

“Right now we are turning down a number of conventions and trade shows because we have nowhere for them to go,” Hallman said. “It’s shocking the number of associations that exist out there that need a place for their convention or trade show. They need to be able to make Birmingham their destination.”

This, as Heywood Sanders makes clear in his excellent new book Convention Center Follies, is an even worse idea than a city like Birmingham building a domed stadium in hopes of getting an NFL team, because there is at the moment a massive convention center glut in the U.S., to the point where many if not most cities that expand their convention facilities don’t actually get any additional convention business.

As for how Birmingham would fund a domed football stadium tapping only existing public tax dollars — what it would take to do this without a referendum — Hallman didn’t say, because he doesn’t have to tell you, okay? He just knows he doesn’t want any votin’, because last time Birmingham did that people voted the wrong way, and we can’t have that, can we?

Hallman does make one valid point, which is that if Birmingham is going to go after a team in any sports league, it should be the NFL, because “the NFL shares its revenue equally among all 31 teams,” so a small market like Birmingham could legitimately survive. Er, except for the part where the NFL has had 32 teams for the last 12 years. But hey, the guy’s been busy pushing for a domed stadium in Birmingham since 1996, you can’t really expect him to keep up with current events, now can you?

Selig marks retirement by noting that he never got around to getting the A’s that new stadium

MLB commissioner-for-life Bud Selig is finally retiring, which I guess means either that that “commissioner-for-life” thing really was a joke, or that even stranger forces are at work here. Anyway, Selig took time out from his ballpark farewell tour to make clear that he still really, really wants somebody to build the Oakland A’s a new stadium:

“This is always something I wanted to get resolved before I leave office, which is another 5½ or six months,” Selig said. “If it were easy, just like if it were easy in Tampa, then I would have been 24 out of 24 (in new ballparks). I have hopes in both places. But do I wish it had been solved? Of course I do, and I understand people’s frustrations.”

Oh, yeah, he still really, really wants someone to build the Tampa Bay Rays a new stadium, too. In case you’d forgotten the last few times he mentioned it.

This is actually an interesting moment, because we tend to look at commissioners like Selig as all-powerful gods, wreaking vengeance on cities and any owners who don’t toe the line by flinging thunderbolts from on high. In reality, they’re more like corporate CEOs: At the helm of a hugely powerful enterprise, but having to answer to major shareholders, and having to constantly strategize how to best use their leverage to extract concessions both from external forces and in internal power struggles.

All of which is to say: No, Bud Selig was not able to get new stadium for the A’s and Rays just by waving his magic Bud Selig wand, nor should we have expected him to. The Rays have that ironclad lease that St. Petersburg is holding them to, and the only easy route to a new A’s stadium would have been to force the Giants to let them move to San Jose, which would have been “easy” only in the sense that the massive shitstorm that would have followed would have been internal among baseball owners, not out in public like most stadium battles. Selig has been very adept at steering his massive money-sucking craft to suck as much money as possible — since becoming The Commissioner Who Canceled the World Series he’s even managed to avoid labor strife — which is worthy of some measure of props, I suppose. But in the end, he’s just this guy, and Rob Manfred will be another guy, and most of the forces determining who gets stadiums where will be beyond their control, if certainly not their influence.