Friday roundup: New sports venues, new sports venue threats, and our dwindling journalistic resources

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko is a national treasure whether he’s writing about sports or movies or punctuation, and his takedown this week of a Fivethirtyeight article that asserts there are too many minor-league baseball teams is very much no exception. Drop whatever you’re doing — which is reading this post, so okay, drop whatever you were going to do after that — and read it now, whether you care about the purpose of sports as entertainment or the role of the media in management-labor relations or the increasing propensity to reduce human beings to measures of technocratic efficiency. With the demise of the alt-weeklies, there are fewer and fewer outlets eager to combine tenacious reporting and big-picture analysis and engaging writing toward the end of helping us understand the world we live in beyond “here are some potentially viral things that happened today,” so we need to cherish those that remain while we can.

And with that, here are some potentially viral (in the not especially infectious sense) things that happened this week:

Oakland wins land swap approval for proposed A’s stadium site, actual public cost still clear as mud

The Oakland A’s stadium plan for Howard Terminal may seem like it’s been spinning its wheels forever, but it’s been slowly racking up legislative wins of late: A bill to authorize the city of Oakland to acquire property at the site by swapping other land to the state has now passed the state legislature, and is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing, this after another bill was approved to allow tax money to be used for “infrastructure” on the site.

After the bill passed the Assembly in May, [Assemblymember Rob] Bonta said, “This project is a win for Oakland and the East Bay. It will create strong union jobs that provide good wages and benefits.”

He went on to claim that the ballpark will help alleviate the housing crisis: “It will create badly-needed affordable housing and will keep the A’s rooted in Oakland for years to come.”

A figure denoting exactly how much housing might accompany the ballpark and retail mixed-use has yet to be determined.

“Has yet to be determined” is an apt description for most of the stadium plan, as it’s still not exactly clear who would pay for what (aside from the A’s owners funding construction of the stadium itself), or how much the city will get for its share of the Oakland Coliseum site that the team owners want to build housing on to help fund their stadium costs, or how property taxes will work, or lots of other things including how many shipping cranes will be left to decorate the stadium site. All this was par for the course when the stadium plan was still an abstraction, but now that actual authorizing legislation is being passed, maybe it’s time to actually deliver some hard numbers? Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, your Gang of Four membership is at stake!

First lawsuit is filed against Islanders arena, charging rigged bid and invalid environmental study

With the New York Islanders arena plan having received final state approval last month, the Belmont Park project is now facing the first of several lawsuits, as promised:

The Village of Floral Park has filed suit against the state to block the $1.3 billion redevelopment of Belmont Park, including the new arena for the New York Islanders, ahead of a ceremonial groundbreaking on the property expected this month.

The Article 78 proceeding, a lawsuit against a municipality, asks a judge to overturn all approvals of the project, stop construction on the site and restart the environmental review process, according to documents filed in state Supreme Court in Mineola.

Floral Park’s complaint is twofold: First, that the public bidding process was rigged because the state had already received plans for a hockey arena at the site; second, that the environmental review didn’t fully study the impact of a new Long Island Rail Road station planned to service the arena. And while the first may seem, as the Wii soccer announcer likes to tell me whenever I try a shot from midfield, “speculative to say the least,” the latter sounds pretty reasonable, at least in IANAL terms, considering that the train station plan wasn’t even released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo until the day the final environmental impact statement was being voted on.

Lawsuits to block development projects are always longshots given that developers can afford the best lawyers, among other things, but even longshots sometimes win, so we’ll see how this goes. My question: If they end up losing, will the developers have to re-plant the trees they already chopped down?

Clippers owner offers $100m in loans for housing and libraries as sweetener for arena deal

The Los Angeles Clippers arena battle is a weird one: Team owner Steve Ballmer says he’ll pay for the arena himself (yay) but wants the right to put up more ad signage than would normally be legally allowed, might want to use eminent domain to seize some property, negotiated with the Inglewood city council without telling anyone it was about a Clippers arena in apparent violation of open meetings laws, and is getting sued by both Madison Square Garden and some local citizens over the project (all boo, to varying degrees). All of which sort of explains why Ballmer is looking to sweeten the pot by offering to loan $100 million toward public benefits for Inglewood residents as part of the deal:

Such benefits, presented Tuesday at a meeting of Inglewood’s council by city manager Artie Fields, would include “up to $75 million in low-interest loans for the acquisition, preservation, or development of affordable and mixed-income housing in Inglewood,” according to the team. Other proposals include more than $12 million for youth and education programs, up to $6 million toward improvements of its public library and financial assistance for renters and first-time homeowners in the city.

This is all a yay, though it’s worth noting that the Los Angeles Times story on it didn’t bother to answer (or even ask) the question of whether this money would come out of Ballmer’s pocket or from some cut of arena revenues or taxes, or who would repay the loans or how. (Hey, L.A. Times! If you’re going to put up one of the strictest paywalls in all of journalism, at least use some of the resulting cash to give your reporters room to report!)

Still, it’s at least something more than most team owners do as part of arena deals, so it’s better than a kick in the head. Yet again, we’re seeing how the ease of getting voter initiatives on the ballot in West Coast states forces sports franchises to actually offer reasonable deals rather than just asking elected officials for wads of cash behind voters’ backs; democracy might not solve everything, but still has its benefits.

Hamilton hockey owner: Build me a smaller arena, or I’ll leave town

The Hamilton Bulldogs arena kerfuffle is reaching one of the lower DEFCONs, with the discovery of a confidential proposal to the city by team owner Michael Andlauer to have taxpayers build a new arena at Lime Ridge Mall, for which Andlauer would “partially offset” the costs:

No construction costs are included in proposal documents viewed by The Spectator and team owner Michael Andlauer declined through a spokesperson Monday to talk about how much he is willing to pay. Past estimates floated for a Mountain arena have been around $60 million.

That would be smaller than the 10,000-seat arena that the city council was discussing just last week to replace the city’s 17,400-seat arena. And Andlauer has upped the ante by threatening to move his team out of town if an arena isn’t completed quickly:

Team owner Michael Andlauer isn’t prepared to wait the four or five years the proposed project is expected to take.

Andlauer says if the city can’t get a new arena up and running before that, he’ll be forced to look at moving his OHL hockey team elsewhere.

“I don’t want to be put in that position, but I think timing is going to create that.”

He can certainly do that, but as the second-largest Canadian city without an NHL team, Hamilton would be well-positioned to pick up another hockey franchise if the Bulldogs left town. In fact, that’s how the city ended up with these Bulldogs in the first place, after Andlauer’s previous American Hockey League team of the same name moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland in 2015.

Also, Andlauer has threatened this before, using the same Hamilton Spectator columnist, Andrew Dreschel, as his mouthpiece. One hopes that the two-minute warning ploy wouldn’t carry as much weight anymore now that so many team owners have tried it over and over again, but nobody ever went broke gambling on the gullibility of local elected officials.

Friday roundup: When is a football stadium too old to be a football stadium?

If it wasn’t clear from the photos of devastation in the Bahamas, the death toll from Hurricane Dorian is going to get much, much worse than the official confirmed number (30, at this writing). You can find a list of some organizations raising money to help survivors here; please give generously if you can. And remember as you do that it’s the warming oceans that helped make this so bad.

And with that, on to news that’s marginally less life and death:

  • Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District chair Ray Baker says the Broncos‘ current stadium (which just got a new corporate name, go keep track of these things on your own if you like because I can’t be bothered to remember them) should last “between 50 and 60 years,” at which point Broncos president Joe Ellis replied that “I can’t judge where entertainment venues are going to need to be in the future” and “I can’t tell you whether or not, in 10 years, the city of Denver and our seven-county region has an appetite to host a Super Bowl or an appetite to host a Final Four, which means you need a roof. Or do you need a new stadium?” The new naming-rights deal lasts 21 years, at which point the stadium will be 40 years old; please place your bets on whether it will still be standing by then.
  • RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., will not make it to its 60th birthday in October 2021, which is all well and good as nobody plays there now and it’s costing the city $3.5 million a year for maintenance, landscaping, pest control, security, and utilities. (Note: Yeah, that seems like a lot to me too for an empty stadium.) D.C. officials say they plan to build an indoor sports complex and food market on the site, but have no plans as yet for an NFL stadium, no matter how much Mayor Muriel Bowser might want one.
  • Cleveland Browns COO David Jenkins says team execs still haven’t decided whether to demand a new stadium or a renovated one, but “we’re not far from having those conversations.” Note to Denver: The Browns’ stadium is two years older than the Broncos’.
  • Forbes reports that the value of the Oakland Raiders jumped by $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion after announcing their move to Las Vegas, which is an indication that either there’s something wrong with Forbes’ franchise valuation estimates or there’s something wrong with how much rich people are willing to spend to buy sports teams, or both. Even with the state of Nevada kicking in $750 million, the team will still be on the hook for more than $1 billion in stadium construction costs, which is going to soak up most of the team’s new stadium revenue even if their plan to sell tickets mostly to tourists and visiting fans works out.
  • The Anaheim city council is still squabbling over who knew when that when they voted on a Los Angeles Angels lease extension back in January, they were actually giving team owner Arte Moreno the right to stay through 2029 if he wanted, not just until 2020. (The team owner got a one-year extension of his opt-out clause as well, but the lease is now back in place to its original expiration date set before Moreno opted out the first time last year.) One thing that’s for sure is that this was a major gift to Moreno as stadium renovation talks continue, because “the best friend of a sports team owner is time,” says, uh, me.
  • A bill making it easier for Oakland to create tax districts at Howard Terminal to help raise money for infrastructure for a new A’s stadium passed the California state legislature this week; it’s still unclear exactly how much tax money would be spent on infrastructure, or exactly what “infrastructure” would mean, or even if the stadium will be built at Howard Terminal at all, but that’s one more skid greased, anyway.
  • The new Long Island Railroad station outside the new New York Islanders arena is set to be open by 2022, which only about 90 years faster than these things usually go in New York. It helps to have friends in high places!

 

Hamilton could tear down arena and build new one to trim 7,000 seats

It was only a decade ago that Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum was being considered as a potential relocation target for various NHL teams, or at least being used as a threat by them. The Ontario city ended up without a franchise, though, and now the 34-year-old arena — since renamed something about a bank — is being targeted for possible demolition and replacement, not because it’s too old, but because it’s too big:

The city’s general issues committee voted Wednesday to set up a steering committee, hire a project manager and look at partnering with private companies to replace the city’s largest entertainment venue with a smaller one.

The move came after city staff said Hamilton needs a “right-sized” venue to replace the former Copps Coliseum — one with about 10,000 seats rather than the 17,400 the aging arena has now…

The Bulldogs are the current main tenant, and the staff report predicts attendance at those OHL games would increase 20 to 50 per cent with a new facility. Increased revenue, staff say, would bring in $20 million over the next 30 years.

But it would cost as much as $130 million to build a new facility, the report says. And some councillors are hesitant to tackle that price tag.

Okay, so a couple of things: First off, the idea that sports teams and the cities that love them too much should be building smaller venues is an old one, and makes sense if the new sports marketing strategy is to sell fewer higher-priced tickets and charge everyone else to watch on TV at home. But that’s if you’re building new — the idea of spending $130 million just to get a new arena that is 7,000 seats smaller is pretty crazy, when you can reduce capacity at an existing building just by throwing a tarp over the upper deck.

The premise here seems to be that the Bulldogs junior hockey team — that’s under-21s — would draw enough more fans in a smaller arena to make it worth the expense, which is at best an extremely speculative notion: Yes, watching sports in a “right-sized” venue can be more pleasant, but enough so that an additional 1,000 to 2,500 people are going to turn up every night just because there’s no upper deck? (The Bulldogs currently average just under 5,000 fans a night in attendance.) And to make a $130 million investment pay off, adding even 2,500 fans apiece at 34 home games would have to spend about $100 each for the arena just to break even on increased attendance alone. (A city report projects that ensmallening the arena would also save a little under $1 million a year in maintenance costs, in which case an additional 2,500 hockey fans a night would just need to spend $90 each to make the numbers work.)

There are other possible upsides to replacing your arena — you can get more modern facilities including revenue producers like ad boards and luxury seating, you can relocate it elsewhere in your city and redevelop the old arena land, etc. — but that seems to be less of a motivation than this “the old one has 7,000 too many seats” thing. Though most likely the real motivation has more to do with the Bulldogs owner making noise about wanting a new arena, after the previous minor-league Bulldogs moved to Newfoundland and were replaced by the junior hockey franchise. So while a new Hamilton arena may not necessarily be the dumbest idea on the face of the earth, it seems only reasonable to consider it dumb until proven smart.

KC Star to new Royals owner: You’d like a new downtown stadium, wouldn’tcha? Wouldn’tcha?

Now that the Kansas City Star has editorialized against giving public money (at least, not too obviously) to new Royals owner John Sherman for a new downtown stadium, time for the paper to back up and ask whether Sherman is likely even to ask for money, or for a new stadium. Their answer: Nobody knows or has even asked, but maybe!

Could a new owner usher in the possibility of the Royals pursuing a downtown stadium? People close to Sherman say he hasn’t discussed the idea specifically, but clues exist to suggest he might be warm to the idea.

Sherman was part of an investor group that was looking at building a downtown stadium in St. Louis to support an expansion Major League Soccer team, according to a 2016 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The idea cooled when then-Gov. Eric Greitens said he would oppose public funding for the project.

Sherman also sits on and was a chairman of the board of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, a consortium of business people who look to guide the city’s future. The Civic Council is helping fund a new study by the Downtown Council of Kansas City’s urban core, an update to earlier studies referred to as the Sasaki Plan, which in 2001 and again in 2005 served as something of a blueprint for the rejuvenation of the city’s core in the years that would follow.

That’s several steps away from even circumstantial evidence: Sherman once was part of a St. Louis soccer team ownership group that wanted to build a new stadium, and is on the board of a business group that gave money to the downtown business group that is doing a study of things that could help downtown — including possibly a baseball stadium! You can practically see the blueprints dancing before his eyes!

Articles like these are tough: On the one hand, news outlets like the Star should be applauded for trying to get out in front of a story by investigating the new owner’s possible plans before he reveals them. On the other, when the result is just some vague tea-leaf reading plumped up with lots of speculation about possible sites and recitation of how other cities just love downtown stadiums to bits, it starts to feel like less of an investigation and more of a suggestion, along the lines of the Buffalo News’s campaign for a new Bills stadium whether or not the Bills owners even want one.

While the more typical dynamic at play is for news outlets to be overly attuned to the desires of team owners and prominent elected officials — because they’re powerful, because they control access to locker rooms, because they issue lots of press releases that can be written up without taking too much time away from the ten other articles you have to file that day — they can also have other reasons for talking up new stadiums: Because other local business leaders want them, because the papers want something that will grab readers’ attention, because their sportswriters are envious of other cities’ schmancier press boxes. The Star isn’t quite at Buffalo News levels yet, but given that the paper’s editorial board was already talking up the “incredible opportunity” of a downtown stadium months before Sherman started looking into buying the team — not to mention the paper’s scare tactics to encourage K.C. voters to approve public funds for stadium renovations back in 2006 — it’s certainly cause for concern. At least K.C., unlike a lot of other cities, still has an alternative weekly in town, so here’s hoping the Pitch will consider taking a slightly less pre-sold look at the downtown stadium prospects. Better hurry, the Royals’ lease is up in only 12 more years!

 

Friday roundup: Will Royals sale spark new stadium, is Miami asbestos report a Beckham ploy, could developers influence Bills’ future?

Happy last Friday of summer! You’re probably busy getting ready to go somewhere for the long weekend, but if you’re instead staying put (and enjoying the space left by all the people going somewhere for the long weekend), consider spending some time if you haven’t yet reading my Deadspin article on “What’s The Matter With Baseball?“, which interrogates the various theories for MLB’s attendance decline and determines which ones may not be total crap. Do I conclude that it’s all the fault of team owners who’d rather charge rich people through the nose for a lesser number of tickets than try to sell more seats to less deep-pocketed fans? No spoilers!

And now to the news, and lots of it:

  • A new rich guy is buying the Kansas City Royals, and already there’s speculation about whether John Sherman will demand a new stadium when (or before) the team’s Kauffman Stadium lease is up in 2031. The Kansas City Star editorializes that “Kansas Citians should reject any plan that significantly increases public spending for the Royals, either for a new downtown stadium or a ballpark somewhere else,” and further notes that there’s no guarantee a new stadium would even help the Royals’ bottom line (“Winning, it turns out, is more important than a new stadium”), which is all a nice first step; let’s see what happens when and if Sherman actually opens his mouth about his plans.
  • Miami has closed Melreese golf course after determining it had high levels of arsenic and reopened Melreese golf course after environmental officials determined there was nothing “earth shattering” about the pollution levels. And now there’s concern by at least one city commissioner (Manolo Reyes, if you’re scoring at home) that the release of the arsenic findings is part of a ploy by David Beckham’s Inter Miami to get a discount on the lease price of the land, which is still being hashed out. The Miami Herald reports that the team and city are at loggerheads over whether to take environmental remediation costs into account when determining the land value; this epic Beckham stadium saga may have a couple more chapters to go yet.
  • Buffalo developers Carl and William Paladino are really excited about the possibility of a new Bills stadium near land their own, because they could either sell it to the team at an inflated price or develop it themselves once people are excited to live or shop near a new football stadium. (No, I don’t know why anyone would be excited to live or shop near a football stadium only open ten days a year, just go with it.) Carl Paladino once ran for governor of New York, so it’s worth watching to see if he uses his political ties (or skeezy lobbyist friends) to try to influence the Bills’ stadium future.
  • A group trying to get an MLB team for Nashville may not have a stadium or a site or a team, but they do have a name for their vaporteam: the Nashville Stars. Guy-who-wants-to-be-an-MLB-owner John Loar tells the Tennessean he decided on the name “after reading a book on Nashville’s baseball history by author Skip Nipper,” which is presumably this one; the Seraphs, Blues, Tigers, Americans, Volunteers, and Elite Giants honestly all seem like better names than the Stars, which was last used by a franchise in the World Basketball League (the basketball league where tall players weren’t allowed, which, yes, was actually a thing), but it’s really not worth arguing over the name a team that may never exist in our lifetimes.
  • The Richmond city council’s plan to approve spending $350 million on a new downtown arena without consulting the public has hit an apparent snag, which is that four or five members of the nine-member council reportedly oppose the plan, and seven votes are needed to pass it.
  • The editor of the San Francisco Examiner has penned an opinion piece saying the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is overly opulent and expensive — premium lounges feature wine butlers and private dining rooms, so yeah — but is resigned to this as a necessity (or at least the headline writer is) that it’s “the price we pay for a privately-funded arena.” Which, does anyone really think the Warriors owners would have passed up the chance to charge through the nose for wine butler service if they’d gotten public money? This is the price we pay for rampant income inequality, and don’t you forget it.

Anaheim mayor hints at ways he could lowball Angels lease payments

The Anaheim city council met last night to discuss a new lease for the Los Angeles Angels that could include a sale of city development rights to team owner Arte Moreno to fund stadium renovations, but it’s 8:30 am on the West Coast already and nobody seems to be reporting on what happened, not even Twitter. Wake up and type already, Southern California!

In the meantime, though, the Voice of OC’s Spencer Custodio noted yesterday that an op-ed penned last Thursday by Mayor Harry Sidhu contained some clues about his thinking going into lease talks:

As part of the negotiating team, I will insist that any land sales or leases be at market prices, reflecting ongoing baseball use, development we’re likely to see and any requirements we may ask for with the land. You’ll hear some argue for unrealistic prices based on what we might see if we sold all of the land for housing.

That seems to imply that whatever valuation the city places on the land, it will be for its use for the hotel-and-retail development that’s actually planned, not the “highest and best use” test that would result if the whole site were turned over to housing. That’s not necessarily unreasonable — you want to value the land on what it’ll be used for — but it does mean any appraisal should be carefully judged for its methodology, particularly what comparables it uses to get a price per acre.

Sidhu also wrote:

If we see a new lease for a city-owned stadium, it should include annual rent payments, city revenue-sharing or a combination of both. You’ll hear a lot about rent at Angel Stadium. Unfortunately, much of it is misleading.

Those who don’t want the Angels to stay, or only want a deal on their terms, will tell you the team doesn’t pay rent at the stadium. From 1996 to 1998, the team paid $87 million to fix up Angel Stadium, which then was 30 years old.

That was $87 million our residents did not have to pay to fix up our stadium.

Under the team’s current lease, $80 million of that investment counted as prepaid rent, working out to $2.5 million a year for the 33-year life of the lease. But that’s history now.

That’s considerably less reasonable: The $87 million cost wasn’t for necessary repairs to Angel Stadium, it was for stuff the Angels (then owned by Disney) wanted, mostly the removal of the outfield grandstand that had been added for the Rams in the 1970s and its replacement by some bleachers and landscaping. Counting it as “prepaid rent” assumes that these were somehow public expenses for a public benefit that the team was reimbursing the city for, which is only true if Anaheim residents were clamoring for a giant fake pile of rocks.

Anyway, this is all very much the pregame: We’re not going to know what Sidhu has in mind until he lays his cards on the table, first and foremost that land appraisal. One can only hope that it will be revealed sooner than the day of a vote on the new lease, since that seems to be the way some governments operate these days. One councilmember has requested a minimum 30-day comment period, but Sidhu and the rest of the council weren’t having it — “I will not put any timeline,” said Sidhu said, “whether it’s 30 days, 45 days, 10 days, 5 days ”— so be afraid, be very afraid.

UPDATE: Here’s Custodio’s report on the Anaheim council hearing, and it doesn’t look like much of import happened, beyond agreeing that there should be “no public subsidy or giveaway of tax dollars,” which, nobody ever admits that their plan is a “giveaway.” The land appraisal is still being called a “draft” and has no set release date, and several councilmembers said they were against making public any of the proposals before a vote, with Councilmember Lucille Kring saying, “negotiations are done in secret for a reason.” Uhhh, so no one can find out about them and object to them before you vote for them and it’s too late? It’s that one, right?