Friday roundup: I, for one, support our new dancing robot overlords

Happy Friday, everybody! Let’s see what’s going on:

While I’m sorely tempted to stop right there, we do have some other news this week to cover, so let’s continue:

  • Oak View Group, the operator of the New York Islanders‘ new Belmont Park arena currently under construction for a planned opening next year, is reportedly interested in taking over operations of the Nassau Coliseum as well, according to Newsday “sources.” I mean, so would I if the price were right, and given that current operator Mikhail Prokhorov is $2 million behind in rent and threatened with eviction, OVG probably thinks it can get a good deal here, but still it’s hard to see this as anything other than throwing a few pennies at shutting down a rival so as not to risk any competitors making a go of it.
  • Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury has looked at the impact of the new Atlanta Braves stadium that “was intended to serve as an anchor for further economic development in the suburban business district of Cumberland that would ripple throughout the county,” and found that local commercial property values actually went down relative to similar properties elsewhere in the Atlanta metro area. Bradbury theorizes that businesses may not want to locate near all the traffic congestion of a sports stadium, or be scared off by the tax surcharges put in place to help fund the $300 million public cost. “This finding is consistent with the vast literature on the economic impact of sports venues and events,” concludes Bradbury, which is economistese for “We told you so, over and over and over again, but you wouldn’t listen.”
  • Restaurant owners in Edmonton are so desperate for business that one declared himself “super-excited” at the prospect that visiting NHL teams might place some takeout orders, and the Edmonton Journal sports section is so desperate for hockey news that it ran a whole article about it. Wait, that was in the business section? These are not glorious times for journalism.
  • The National Women’s Soccer League used a forgivable loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program to help pay players when its season shut down, which sounds like (and is) a subsidy but is also exactly how the PPP is supposed to work: covering salaries to keep people from being laid off during a pandemic, thus keeping the economy from collapsing even more than it is otherwise. Sure, it would have been nice if the program hadn’t run out of money before most businesses could access it, but given that the maximum player salary in the NWSL is $50,000 a year, it’s hard to complain too much about them being less deserving than anyone else.
  • The way the PPP was not supposed to work was for companies to hold onto employees and then lay them off as soon as they’d certified for the forgivable loans, but that’s what New Era did in Buffalo, and now Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is so mad that he’s refusing to call the Buffalo Bills stadium by its New Era-branded name, which will totally show them.
  • Lots of NFL teams are planning for reduced capacities at games this fall, while the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is preparing for his players to “all get sick, that’s for sure.” And that’s the state of the NFL in a nutshell right now.
  • Hawaii can’t spend $350 million on replacing Aloha Stadium with a new stadium and redeveloping the area around it because somebody made a typo in the legislation and wrote 99-year leases instead of 65-year leases, everybody laugh and point!

Does a Nashville MLB team make any damn sense? A brief investigation

While MLB tries to figure out if it can cobble together enough players for a shortened season amid the increasing number of players testing positive and opting to sit out the year, a different group of rich dudes are working on another possibly quixotic quest: landing a major-league franchise for Nashville. As you may recall from the before times, said rich dudes had previously drawn attention for speculation by announcing that their team that they don’t have would be named the Nashville Stars, then releasing stadium renderings that featured previously unheard-of crimes against geometry; there was also that rumor that the Baltimore Orioles could move to Nashville, which presumably wasn’t the wannabe owners’ doing, though since the report cited just “one rumor” as a source, it could well have been them.

Anyway, this week saw two separate headlines about Nashville’s MLB dreams:

The managing director of Music City Baseball is John Loar, who is a real estate developer (of gated communities in California!) and film producer (Teenage Paparazzo, an Adrian Grenier–directed documentary that according to one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer was “more thought provoking than I would have expected“) and looks like this:

I don’t normally like to make assumptions about people’s ethnicity, but I think it’s pretty fair to say that this guy is white.

Neither Stewart nor Loar, it turns out, said anything to USA Today about how the team would be majority Black-owned, but they did drop a whole lot of references to African-American things in hopes you won’t notice what the main owner and public face of the non-franchise looks like:

They plan to present MLB through a feasibility study and economic analysis why Nashville would be ideal for MLB. The plan is to build a 42,000-seat stadium, in honor of Jackie Robinson, with privately-funded money, and a surrounding mixed-use family sports and entertainment district.

“We have something unique here, and a way to unite the country,’’ said Loar, who also is creating a diversity oversight committee. “I really think MLB has a chance to be very proactive. We will honor the Negro Leagues with the name, the Nashville Stars. The connection to the Negro Leagues, diversity and inclusion is a big part of the foundation. We reached out to the black community here, our board is majority minority, and our current investors are over 30% diverse.

To recap: The stadium will “honor” Jackie Robinson, the Stars name will “honor” the Negro Leagues, and about a third of the individual investors (not a third of the shares, presumably) are “diverse,” however that’s being defined. To be charitable, one could say that Loar is reading the room well; to be less charitable, he’s a white guy trying to gain entry into the lucrative MLB owners’ club by portraying it as a way to “unite the country” around race.

None of which is likely to matter all that much to MLB, which will almost certainly select any future expansion franchises on the basis of 1) how much money an ownership group offers, 2) how big a media market it represents, and 3) see 1. On that count, Nashville scores pretty poorly: It’s the sixth-largest Nielsen market without an MLB team (behind Sacramento, Charlotte, Portland, Indianapolis, and Raleigh-Durham, plus Montreal, which as a Canadian city isn’t covered by Nielsen). It does have one of the better-attended Triple-A franchises, the Sounds, and is bigger than San Diego, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati, so you could make a decent case that it could be a marginal MLB market; however, you could make just as good a case for any of those other cities, so it’s hard to see why Nashville should be seen as at the top of any heap.

Also, MLB probably isn’t expanding anytime soon, though it’s possible that could change if owners decide they want a quick cash infusion to make up for Covid-related losses. More likely is that Thom Loverro is right:

A savvy negotiator creates leverage, and you can’t have leverage without other suitors. Maybe Loar is hoping that other MLB owners will be so happy with him for giving them a move threat candidate to shake in the faces of their current homes, they’ll eventually reward him with a team of his own? That would indeed be a kind of unity, but probably not the one most people would be hoping for.

Congress to consider bill offering RFK Stadium land to NFL team once it drops “Redskins” name

There’s been talk for years that one condition of Washington’s NFL team getting a new stadium in D.C. would be changing its name from a pejorative term for an entire race of people based on their skin color, and now that the George Floyd protests have led to a mass rethinking of corporate racist imagery from Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben to possibly the Cleveland Indians, the time seems more ripe than ever for Washington team owner Dan Snyder to consider ditching “Redskins” as well. But where past discussions were always more in the “get rid of your godawful team name and then we’ll talk” vein, yesterday D.C. Congressional representative Eleanor Holmes Norton declared that she’s introducing a bill to … well, let’s start with how NBC Sports Washington reported this after Norton went on its football podcast yesterday (not yet posted on its website as of Tuesday morning, it looks like), then try to unpack what it actually means:

D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is prepared to bring a bill to Congress to buy the federal land that houses RFK Stadium in an effort to get a new facility built for the Washington football team.

As soon as the Redskins change their name.

“I certainly will. This is unused land. Unused Federal land. And the District can’t afford, because we have a height limit, to have any land go that goes unused. I couldn’t get this bill through even when Republicans controlled the House,” Norton said Monday. “So I now believe I can get it through only after the name is changed for the good of the District of Columbia.”

Speaking exclusively with the Redskins Talk Podcast, Norton explained that a new stadium on the RFK site will make a tremendous economic impact for both the citizens of D.C. and for Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

“Everybody wants to come to the nation’s capital. Events benefit tremendously by coming to the nation’s capital,” the congresswoman said. “But you’ve got to have a place to hold those events. There was only one place to hold those events. And [not having] that place has – for no good reason – cost all those involved, including the District of Columbia, but above all Dan Snyder, a boatload, indeed a fortune, in revenue.”

So, the first part of this makes no sense: Congress doesn’t need to buy federal land, because it’s already federal land. If this is the same bill that Norton proposed back in March 2019 and later nixed by the White House — which she seems to be implying by saying “this bill” — it was actually to sell the RFK Stadium land to D.C. for fair market value once the team name issue was resolved, with D.C. presumably figuring out from there what it wants to offer to Snyder in terms of a stadium deal.

As for a stadium making “a tremendous economic impact for the citizens of D.C.,” there’s tons of reasons to believe that’s not true; yes, D.C. has more to gain by luring in people from outside the city since so much of the local population would otherwise stay home in the burbs, but that still doesn’t likely raise the impact level to “tremendous.” And in the abbreviated quotes provided, Norton doesn’t appear to be leaning heavily on that part anyway: She’s more trying to dangle that “boatload” of revenue in front of Snyder in hopes of getting him to agree to this quid pro quo.

That’s something that’s seemed unlikely for years, since Snyder loves the team name so much that he’s resisted all attempts to change, including pleas from a giant water-drop mascot, while trying to buy Native American support with a foundation donating to tribal causes; as one FoS reader originally from the D.C. area noted to me this morning, a football name change there would feel like a seismic shift akin to the Berlin Wall coming down. But then, that’s how historical change tends to happen — either not at all or all at once — so maybe this will be the moment that Snyder chooses to go along with what many people have been clamoring for and change the name. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t manage to leverage that decision into getting paid handsomely with public dollars in exchange for doing what other corporations are doing just because it’s right — or because they want to look like they’re doing what’s right, anyway.

Friday roundup: New Rangers stadium scam movie, Nevada arena petitions rejected over technicality, and many many dumb ideas for getting you (or cardboard cutouts of you) into stadiums this year

Welcome to the end of another crazy week, which seems redundant to say, since that’s all of them lately. I spent a bunch of it working on this article on what science (but not necessarily your local newspaper) can tell us about not just whether reopening after lockdowns is a good idea, but what kinds of reopening are safe enough to consider. And important enough to consider, since as one infectious disease expert told me, “It’s not ‘open’ or ‘shut’—there’s a whole spectrum in between. We need to be thinking about what are the high-priority things that we need to reopen from a functioning point of view, and not an enjoyment point of view.”

And with that cheery thought, on to other cheery thoughts:

  • If you’re a fan of either sports stadium shenanigans or calamitous public-policy train wrecks in general — and I know you are, or why would you be reading this site — you should absolutely check out “Throw A Billion Dollars From The Helicopter,” a new documentary about the Texas Rangers‘ successful campaign to extract half a billion dollars from the city of Arlington so they could play in air-conditioning. It’s a story that has everything: a mayor who was elected as a stadium-subsidy critic then turned around to approve the biggest stadium subsidy in local history, George W. Bush grubbing for public money and failing to do basic math, grassroots anti-red-light camera activists getting dragged into stadium politics, a trip back to the Washington Senators’ final home game before moving to Texas which they had to forfeit because fans ran on the field and walked off with the bases, footage of that 1994 Canadian TV news story I always cite about how video-rental stores comedy clubs in Toronto were so happy with extra business during the baseball strike that they wished hockey would go on strike too, plus interviews with stadium experts like Roger Noll, Rod Fort, Victor Matheson, Allen Sanderson (the man whose line about more effective ways than building a stadium for boosting your city’s economy gave the documentary its title), and me. Rent it here on Vimeo if you want some substitute fireworks this weekend.
  • Opponents of the publicly funded minor-league hockey arena for the Henderson Silver Knights got enough signatures to put a recall on the November ballot, but have had their petitions invalidated for not including a detailed enough description of their objections on every page. This will almost certainly result in lawsuits, which is how pretty much every battle for public oversight of sports subsidy deals ends — that, and “in tears.”
  • The San Diego city council approved the $86.2 million sale of the site of the Chargers‘ former stadium to San Diego State University, which plans to build a new $310 million football stadium there. Whether this is a good deal for the public is especially tricky, because not only do you have to figure the land value of a 135-acre site in the middle of an economic meltdown, but also San Diego State is a public university, so really this is one public agency selling land to another. It’s all more than I can manage this morning, so instead let’s look at this rendering of a proposed park for the site that features bicyclists riding diagonally across a bike path to avoid a woman who stands in their way with arms akimbo, while birds with bizarre forked tails wheel overhead.
  • You know what would be a terrible idea in the middle of a pandemic that has closed stadiums to fans because gathering in one place is a great way to spread virus? An article telling fans what public spaces they can gather in to catch a glimpse of game action in closed stadiums, and Axios has you covered there! And so does the Associated Press!
  • Sure, hundreds of thousands of people have died and there could be hundreds of thousands more to go, but won’t anyone think of the impact on TV network profits if there’s no football to show in the fall?
  • And speaking of keeping an eye strictly on the bottom line, the NFL is considering requiring fans (if there are any) who attend NFL games this fall (if there are any) to sign a waiver promising not to sue if they contract Covid as a result. But can I still sue if someone goes to a football game, contracts Covid, and then infects me? I’m not actually sure how easily one could sue in either case — since you can never be sure where you were infected with the virus, it would be like suing over getting cancer from secondhand smoke — but I always like the idea of suing the NFL, so thanks for the idea, guys!
  • New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says he wants to see fans at Yankee Stadium “in the 20-30 percent range,” a number and prediction he failed to indicate he pulled from anywhere other than his own butt. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are reportedly planning to open rooftops around Wrigley Field at 25% capacity for watching games this year, something that might actually be legal since while would mean about 800 fans in attendance, they wouldn’t all be in attendance in the same place, so it could get around rules about large public gatherings.
  • If you want to spend $49 and up so a cardboard cutout of yourself can watch Oakland A’s games, you can now do that on the team’s website. If that sounds like a terrible deal, know that with each purchase you also get two free tickets to an exhibition game at the Coliseum in 2021 (if there are any), and if you pay $129 then you also get a foul ball mailed to you if it hits your cutout, all of which still sounds like a terrible deal but significantly more hilarious.
  • If you were hoping to make one last trip to Pawtucket’s 74-year-old McCoy Stadium to see Pawtucket Red Sox baseball before the team relocates to Worcester after this season — it was on my now-deleted summer calendar — you’ll have to settle for eating dinner on the field, because the PawSox season, along with the rest of the minor-league baseball season, has been officially called off. Also, the Boston Herald reports that the Lowell Spinners single-A team won’t be offering refunds to those who bought tickets for non-canceled games, only credits toward 2021 tickets — shouldn’t ticketholders be able to sue for not receiving the product they paid for? I want somebody to sue somebody, already! When will America’s true pastime be allowed to reopen?
  • Here’s a New York Times article on how new MLS stadiums are bucking past stadium trends by being “privately financed, with modest public support for modernizing infrastructure,” which is only true if you consider $98 million (Columbus) and $81 million and up (Cincinnati) to be “modest” figures.
  • I apologize for failing to report last week on the Anaheim Ducks‘ proposed development around their hockey arena, less because it’s super interesting or there is amusing vaportecture than because it’s supposed to be called “ocV!BE,” which is the best name ever, so long as you want to live in a freshly built condo in what sounds like either a randomly generated password or an Aughts rock band.

Mark Davis is a big dumb idiot, Tuesday edition

If some things about Covid safety are becoming increasingly clear — outdoors is better than indoors, short interaction times are better than long ones, masks are hugely important — there are still a lot of question marks, including how safe outdoor sports are, for both players and fans. For now, most sports leagues look to be committed to restarting this summer, though not all the players may choose to show up: The Colorado Rockies‘ Ian Desmond just became the fourth MLB player to declare he’ll be skipping 2020, something that overshadowed the rest of his eloquent Instagram post focused on baseball’s structural racism, and more defections are likely, as everyone starts deciding for themselves what is reasonable behavior amid a fast-moving epidemic that a month ago seemed to be sparing the South and West but now is very much not.

Of course, if you’re a sports team owner, you get to make decisions for far more than just yourself. And Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis is ready to make all kinds of decisions, based on the latest science — ha ha ha, no, of course it’s based on him wanting to sell tickets, the more glorious tickets the better. And he’s especially steamed that his fellow NFL owners have decided to sell ad signage space on seats near the field this season instead of allowing every single seat to be filled to capacity:

“I can’t imagine telling one fan they cannot attend the opening game of our inaugural season in Las Vegas at the most magnificent stadium that they helped to build, let alone tell 3,500 fans that their seats are gone for the entire season,” Davis said. “Those seats in the front rows are some of our most ardent fans, including members of the famed Black Hole. You think I want to sell advertising on their seats? … We will do everything we can to see that all our fans are able to attend every game this season.”

“They helped to build” is a nice acknowledgement from Davis, given the $750 million he received from Nevada taxpayers for his new stadium, though given that his marketing campaign has been largely geared toward selling tickets to out-of-towners — the Black Hole members mostly still live in Northern California, presumably — maybe that’s not what he’s talking about at all.

But more alarming was the idea that Davis wants to have a full stadium this fall, in a state that is seeing a huge spike in virus cases even as testing rates have not increased. Though he immediately hedged on that as well:

“What Gov. (Steve) Sisolak and the state of Nevada determine to be safe in the face of coronavirus after careful consideration, I’ll abide by,” Davis said. “And at the appropriate time, he may determine that it isn’t safe for 100 percent of the fans to attend. At that point, I have to make a decision.”

If it comes to that, Davis wonders if the best solution might be to play all games without fans.

“Maybe that is the fairest thing to do,” he said. “Maybe it’s all or none, because I’d hate to have to tell any of our fans they can’t go to some or any Raiders games.”

So he’d rather tell all fans they can’t go to games than some fans? Or he just wants to make sure if he can’t sell tickets, no other NFL teams can? (He also griped during his Las Vegas Review-Journal article that “We have potentially 32 different capacities and seating formations. Where is the equity in that?”)

Or maybe looking for any sense in Davis’s statements is a futile scavenger hunt, because there was also this:

While other leagues are creating a bubble component to protect players, the NFL has not. Teams will be in their respective cities, and presumably players and staff will be free to come and go as they please.

“You can keep players from the fans, but you can’t keep players from the players,” Davis said. “That could be our Achilles’ heel. Without some form of bubble, we may be asking for trouble.”

Okay, so to recap: Mark Davis will do everything he can to make sure 65,000 fans are cheek to jowl at Raiders games this fall, but if not he may try to insist that no fans can go to NFL games at all, but players absolutely have to be kept away from anyone other than teammates, such as people in the general public who might be teeming with virus. Which they might have picked up at, you know, some big public gathering, maybe one that involved lots of cheering and shouting that is great at spreading viral droplets? It’s almost as if letting unelected business leaders set public health policy isn’t a great idea — speaking of which, somebody tell Ohio that, wouldja?

Friday roundup: Grizzlies lease has secret out clause, judge orders do-over in Nashville stadium vote, reviewers agree Rangers stadium is super-butt-ugly

Normally the end of June is when news around here starts slowing down for the summer, but as no one needs reminding, nothing is normal anymore. There isn’t even time to get into sports leagues trying to reopen in the midst of what could be an “apocalyptic” surge in virus cases across the South and West, because busy times call for paralipsis:

  • The Daily Memphian has uncovered what it calls a “trap door” in the Memphis Grizzlies‘ lease that could let the team get out of the agreement early if it has even a single season where it doesn’t sell 1) 14,900 tickets per game, 2) all of its 64 largest suites, or 3) fewer than 2,500 season club seats. (There is at least a “force majeure” clause that should exclude any seasons played during a pandemic.) That could force the city to buy up tickets in order to keep the lease in force, the paper notes, and though talks between the team and city are underway to renegotiate the deal, you just know that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera will want something in exchange for giving up his opt-out clause. Pera has so far said all the right things about not wanting to move the team, but then, he doesn’t have to when he has sports journalists to spread relocation rumors for him; if savvy negotiators create leverage, city officials really need to learn to stop handing leverage to team owners when they write up leases, because that really never works out well.
  • In a major victory for local governments at least following their own damn rules, opponents of Nashville’s $50 million-plus-free-land deal for a new MLS stadium won a court victory this week when a judge ruled that the city violated Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act by approving the stadium’s construction contract at a meeting held with only 48 hours notice, when the law requires five days. The city’s Metro Sports Authority can now just hold another meeting with normal notice and reapprove the contract, but still it’s good to see someone’s hand slapped for a change for hiding from public scrutiny.
  • The reviews of the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium that received $450 million in subsidies so the team could have air-conditioning are in, and critics agree, it looks like a giant metal warehouse, or maybe a barbecue grill, or maybe the Chernobyl sarcophagus. Okay, they just agree that is is one ugly-ass stadium from the outside; firsthand reports on whether the upper-deck seats are as bad as they look in the renderings will have to await fans actually being allowed inside, which could come as soon as later this summer, unless by then Texans are too busy cowering in their homes to avoid having to go to the state’s overwhelmed hospital system
  • Amazon has bought naming rights to Seattle’s former Key Arena (Key Bank’s naming rights expired eons ago), and because Amazon needs more name recognition like it needs more stories about its terrible working conditions, it has decided to rename the building Climate Pledge Arena, after an Amazon-launched campaign to get companies to promise to produce zero net carbon emissions by 2040, something the company itself is off to a terrible start on. The reporting doesn’t say, but presumably if greenwashing goes out of style, Amazon will retain the right in a couple of years to rename the building Prime Video (Starts At $8.99/Month) Arena.
  • The NFL is still planning to have fans in attendance at games this fall, but it’s also going to be tarping off the first six to eight rows of seats and selling ads on the tarps as a hedge against ticket-sales losses. Even when and if things return to normal, I’m thinking this could be a great way for the league to create that artificial ticket scarcity that it’s been wanting for years, n’est-ce pas?
  • Amid concern that the New York Islanders will be left temporarily homeless or forced to move back to Brooklyn in the wake of the Nassau Coliseum being shuttered, Nassau County’s top elected official has promised that “the next time that the Islanders play in New York it will be in Nassau County.” If my reading-between-the-lines radar is working properly, that probably means we can expect to see the Islanders’ upcoming season played someplace like Bridgeport, Connecticut.
  • New Arizona Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez is definitely hitting the ground with all his rhetoric cylinders running, telling ESPN: “When I took the job, [owner] Alex Meruelo told me finding a solution for where we should be located was priority one through five. I thought it was one through five, and he quickly corrected me and said, ‘No, it’s priority one through 10 for you.'” Shouldn’t that really be one to 11?
  • Here’s an actual San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist saying voters did the city a favor by turning down a $1.15 billion-dollar Chargers stadium plan, because the city would be having a tough time paying it off now what with the economy in shambles. Of course, $1.15 billion still would have been $1.15 billion even if San Diego had the money, but budget crunches do seem to have a way of focusing people’s attention on opportunity costs.
  • Speaking of which, here’s an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about how it’s hard for Cobb County to pay off the construction debt on its Atlanta Braves stadium what with tourism tax revenue having fallen through the floor, though at least the AJC did call up economist J.C. Bradbury to let him say that it doesn’t really matter which tax money was used because “there’s no found money in government.”
  • Both of those are still way better articles, though, than devoting resources to a story about how holding baseball games without fans is going to lead to a glut of bags of peanuts, for which Good Morning America has us covered. Won’t anyone think of the peanuts?!?

Angels owner releases pictures of whatever stadium development idea is in his head this very second

After getting granted a one-month extension by the Anaheim city council, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has come out with his redevelopment plan for the Angel Stadium land he got from the city at a bargain price last winter, and the whole thing is so handwavy that it makes you wonder why he couldn’t have just made a crayon drawing of some buildings and released that on time in May. Let’s see what Moreno’s planning team came up with:

That is indeed a bunch of numbers of things! Can we get any renderings that aren’t just bird’s-eye schematics?

That’s a little better, I guess, though still pretty generic, aside from somebody coloring in the roofs green because that what one does in 2020.

More to the point, there’s nothing that I can find in Moreno’s plans that indicates a timeline: Is he actually committing to building all this stuff, or just sketching out pretty pictures of what it might look like if he decides this is a good idea? (Past “ballpark village” concepts, it’s worth noting, haven’t always immediately panned out as planned, and have sometimes come with requests for more public money to make them happen.) Presumably if the city of Anaheim is selling him the land because they want it developed, there should be some rules about when it will be developed by — maybe that’s still in the “TBD” folder, but if so, what’s the point of releasing this plan now?

As for what will happen to the stadium itself, we learn this from the Los Angeles Times:

The Angels put off for now the decision to renovate Angel Stadium or replace it. If the Angels decide to build a new ballpark, the plan calls for it to be located immediately adjacent to the 57 Freeway, and closer to the Anaheim train station. If they renovate, they plan to open up the outfield and turn it into a grand entrance plaza.

Definitely one of those things! Maybe.

Let’s see, anything else remotely of note here? There’s a guy pointing randomly at the sky outside a bistro called “Bistro,” and oh hey check it out:

Yes, that is indeed Cab-Hailing Purse Woman, though someone has tried to disguise her true intent by placing a giant foam finger over her cab-hailing hand. If this clip-art woman is indeed the key to all sports-related economic development plans, maybe it would cheaper for cities just to buy her plane tickets (on clip-art airplanes, obviously) so she can bestow her presence on their populaces? Do you think she’s based on a real person, and if so does that person get royalties? Did anyone at the rendering software company think to shop around for a purse company that would pay for product placement? So very many questions, so few answers.

Amazing study claims spending public money on sports is good because big cities are big

One of the basic tenets of sports economics at this point is that there is zero evidence that whether a city plays host to sports teams has any measurable effect on its local economic health. That was the finding back in the 1990s when Joanna Cagan and I first started researching sports stadiums, and it’s continued to be the case in more recent studies — though as academic researchers have told me, it’s hard to get new studies approved when studying the economic impact of sports teams is like studying whether gravity makes things fall down.

So it was more than a little surprising when I was alerted (thanks, David!) to a new study out of Ball State University that claims that investing in luring and retaining pro sports teams has a long-term payoff for cities. According to the university’s press release, Census Bureau data show that if you look at certain long-term metrics, hosting a sports team “has a positive effect on the GDP and the population of the metropolitan area.”

There were some red flags, certainly — for starters, nobody on the study team appears to have any background in economics, rather being an assemblage of IT professors and business students — but still I figured this would be worth checking into. And then I got a look at the actual study itself, and I knew that I had to head straight here to share it with you, because this is one of the most hilariously incompetent pieces of academic work you could ever expect to see. Let’s skip straight to the “methodology” section, which is really where you want to start in any economic research paper:

We argue that not all economic benefits are measurable with typical metrics. Nor are they tangible in terms of their visible impacts on the appearance of the city and its residents. Rather, the main impact of investing in large-scale sports facilities and also hosting professional sports teams appears in the long term.

Okay, so not “typical metrics,” but rather something “in the long term.” What’s your actual data, guys?

In order to see the effect of hosting professional sports teams on the local economy, the correlation between the sum of the number of teams and the GDP of the Metropolitan area is calculated which is given below.

GDP SUM(Teams)
Linear Correlation Table Data Set #1 Data Set #1
GDP 1.000 0.881
SUM(Teams) 0.881 1.000

Table1. Correlation between Team Numbers and GDP

And … that’s it. This entire paper is based on the observation that if you look at which cities had the most economic growth from 2001 to 2018, and which cities have the most sports teams, they’re the same cities.

But, you know, of course they are. The whole reason you choose put a sports team in a city is because it’s growing in relative size and economic activity — it’s why Rochester used to have an NBA team, but doesn’t anymore, and won’t anytime soon. Also, the last two decades have seen a historic rebound of the largest cities in particular, with well-off residents and companies alike recolonizing the metropolitan areas that they largely abandoned in the 1960s and ’70s. So if big cities are doing well over all, and big cities have the most sports teams, obviously there’s going to be a correlation there — it’s like observing that rich people tend to own the most yachts, and concluding that buying a yacht is a great way to get rich.

This is one of the most famous logical fallacies of all time, and is usually summed up as correlation does not imply causation. It has its own Wikipedia page, with some terrific examples, the best of which may be this one:

Example 1

Sleeping with one’s shoes on is strongly correlated with waking up with a headache.

Therefore, sleeping with one’s shoes on causes headache.

The above example commits the correlation-implies-causation fallacy, as it prematurely concludes that sleeping with one’s shoes on causes headache. A more plausible explanation is that both are caused by a third factor, in this case going to bed drunk, which thereby gives rise to a correlation. So the conclusion is false.

I reached out to Ball State’s PR spokesperson to see if the authors would be available to answer some questions about their work, but I haven’t heard back. In the meantime, I talked to College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson, who agreed with me on the correlation vs. causation error, and added:

It is unfortunate that they didn’t understand the huge statistical error they were making here, but that’s what being a student is all about – learning by doing and recognizing mistakes so you don’t make them again in the future. What is concerning here, however, is that two Ball State professors also put their name on a paper that is clearly wrong and allowed it to be issued in such a way that the general public could read it despite its obvious flaws. Perhaps they were just trying to do something out of their area of expertise and didn’t understand why the analysis was wrong, but I
certainly wouldn’t put my name on a paper about computer technology or information systems unless I was very sure that I wasn’t doing something that would instantly make me look very foolish.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that at least this paper doesn’t seem to have resulted in a flurry of media coverage that grabs at the man-bites-dog nature of the headline without looking into whether the paper itself makes any damn sense. In fact, I thought twice about whether writing about this would be giving the paper more attention than it deserved — but it is still a fascinating case study in how bad ideas can take on a momentum of their own, eventually enlisting an entire public relations apparatus to put them out into the world and defend them. Thank goodness we have professional journalists out there to tell legitimate research from utter gibberish — oh wait

MLB’s aborted restart shows sports owners only get the “evil genius” thing half-right

On Friday I reported how plans to restart American pro sports leagues were hitting snags in the form of rising Covid caseloads in major sports states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas, and since then things have gotten oh so much worse:

Now, there’s no reason you can’t hold a sports season even with a few players testing positive — it’s what soccer leagues in Europe are doing, figuring that if you keep testing and quarantining anyone who turns out to be infectious, the rest of the league can continue more or less as normal. But Europe has way, way less virus than much of the US right now: Even the United Kingdom has a daily new cases per capita figure that’s barely 5% of that in Arizona, so fewer Premier League players are likely to be getting infected when they go to a local restaurant or grocery store (“community spread,” in the epidemiology lingo), meaning there’s less risk of a surge of cases that would require an entire team to be sequestered for two weeks.

This is the whole reason MLB was considering its “bubble plan,” wherein all the teams and game officials and TV crews and hotel workers and everyone else necessary to support them would be walled off in a single location, something that it soon became clear would be entirely unworkable. The NBA is looking to do its own version of a bubble, but as that includes things like being allowed to leave the “campus” for excused absences without having to quarantine on your return, it’s clear that this is more a “let’s figure out something workable and cross our fingers” plan than something that’s actually airtight from a public health standpoint — if that wasn’t already clear from the fact that the NBA is locating its bubble in Orlando and not New Zealand.

There is also always the possibility of just rolling the dice and figuring if some players get infected, so be it — they’re relatively young and healthy, so most of them probably won’t get very sick. But that can’t be said for coaches, or game officials, or players with preexisting risk factors (have we discussed here how half of the US adult population has high blood pressure?), or family members who are going to continue to be in contact with players, whether they’re in a bubble or not? Even setting aside whether sports leagues want to be responsible for exacerbating the spread of a deadly disease in the general population, it would be very bad if they ended up telling Dusty Baker he has to decide between risking his life to show up for work and staying at home watching cowboy movies. (Not that plenty of other workers aren’t being asked to do the same thing, but that’s not great either.)

As it looks increasingly like the US is headed toward a patchwork of outbreak scenarios, with some regions seeing low caseloads while others face second waves or even first waves that never ended, it’s probably impossible to have any kind of sports that involves travel and maintain any kind of safety from infection for those involved. That leaves several unpalatable options: 1) gather all the players in one spot with low infection rates and try to play a quick season before they go stir-crazy and miss their families; 2) damn the virus and go full speed ahead, and hope you still have enough players to finish out the season after they start getting quarantined or head for the hills to avoid getting infected; 3) cancel everything and wait for a vaccine — or at least for infections to get down to a low enough boil that contact tracing can keep them under control, something that isn’t getting off to a great start what with states reopening even while caseloads are still high.

It would arguably make more sense, even just in terms of self-interest, for sports team owners to take the lead by saying, “We’re not restarting nothing until the virus is under control,” in hopes of encouraging local leaders to pursue a plan where in a couple of months we might be in a place — like Spain and Germany and even the UK are in now — where resuming sports might be a reasonable gamble instead of a desperate dice roll. But then, long-term thinking is never what sports team owners were known for; the botched restart plans are just another reminder that rich people may know how to throw their money and power around, but that doesn’t mean they’re always going to be smart about it.

Oakland reportedly ready to sell Coliseum site, remember when that was A’s owners’ biggest problem?

The Oakland city council is reportedly (according to “sources close to the talks” who spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Phil Matier) now ready to sell the city’s half of the Oakland Coliseum property to the A’s owners, after the Covid economic crisis has left the city desperate for cash:

The decision came Thursday in a closed session and marks a stark change from last October when city leaders filed suit in an attempt to block Alameda County from selling its half-share of the 155-acre East Oakland site to the team…

Council members are barred from discussing what goes on in closed session, but sources close to the talks said the city’s deal would mirror the county deal and net about $85 million spread out over a yet-to-be determined number of years…

“For me it is about looking at how things have changed when it comes to money,” Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo said before the meeting.

“After the coronavirus shutdown, we are looking at a very, very serious budget deficit, and they are saying it could cost us $6 million just to maintain the site,” Gallo said. “We don’t have that kind of money. This way we can get some badly needed help.”

As discussed before, this isn’t a terrible idea: $85 million spread out over a few years seems pretty close to fair market value, and if it would get the A’s to start paying property taxes on the Coliseum property, all the better. Yes, there are still state laws requiring that public land for sale be used at least in part for affordable housing, and there’s still the whole issue of whether the Coliseum site would be used for development that would then help fund a new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal, or if a stadium would be built instead on the Coliseum site, or how exactly land value and demand for new development will even work in a post-Covid world. Many, many devils in the details in other words, all of which will presumably be haggled over by the two parties in the middle of a rapidly shifting health and economic disaster — watch out for information asymmetries, that the only advice I can give.