Wisconsin pols turn on each other as Bucks arena deadline nears, but would team really move without one?

It already seemed like it was headed this way, but the Milwaukee Bucks arena squabble is fast deteriorating into a slap fight between the state, county, and city on who’ll pay for the share of the cost that the team’s owners don’t want to. I mean, check this out:

[State Sen. Alberta] Darling accused [Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett of “appalling leadership,” saying he was shifting the blame for crime without taking responsibility for what’s happening in the city. Last week, Barrett called on Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature to devote more resources to public safety in Milwaukee, saying the state’s gun laws have resulted in more guns on the street.

“He never is at fault for anything,” Darling said. “He’s never the key player.”

Asked if she wanted Barrett to bring cash to the table for a new arena, Darling nodded yes.


If you’re wondering what arenas have to do with gun laws, this all goes back to last week when a toddler was run over by a car and killed, leading to a gunfight that left two other people dead as well, and Barrett blamed state legislators for loosening gun laws. In other words, the two have nothing to do with each other, but now the legislators who are pushing for a new Bucks arena aren’t going to pay for one to spite Barrett, or something, I mean anyway:

“Politics is about relationships,” [state Rep. John] Nygren said Friday. “You poke a finger in our eyes, it makes it a little harder.”


The legislators’ idea here, presumably, is that they will be able to shame Barrett into finding more money to chip in for a Bucks arena, even though he doesn’t really have any to spare. But Wisconsin officials are up against a deadline, kinda sorta, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reminds us:

If an arena is not in place in Milwaukee by the start of the 2017-18 season — an ambitious schedule — the NBA has the right to buy the team. League insiders suggest a sale and relocation is the next logical step. The team would be worth more, by most analyses, in another city. … The NBA has communicated it could give on the schedule a bit, but only in the case of true progress. The league isn’t threatening consequences; it’s guaranteeing them.

Let’s check the record on that. This all goes back to Wes Edens and Mark Lasry’s deal to buy the Bucks last spring, when they agreed to a clause that would allow the NBA to buy the team (and presumably move it) if arena construction isn’t underway, or at least in the works, by November 2017. You have to assume that Edens and Lasry didn’t need much arm-twisting to include this clause — it neatly lets them make the NBA the bad guys who are forcing them to demand hundreds of millions of dollars in arena subsidies, or else. And while we don’t know much about the details of the clause, thanks to the fact that the only people talking about it are unnamed sources, it sounds vague enough that the NBA could easily give Milwaukee some more rope if it feels like subsidies might be just around the corner. So the deadline is fake, just like stadium deadlines usually are.

Ultimately, though, would the Bucks likely move if more more arena funding is forthcoming in Milwaukee? The assumption here is that Seattle would be the likely relocation site, given that it’s a bigger market than Milwaukee and Chris Hansen has an arena plan ready to go, or could next year anyway, assuming he finds somebody new with deep pockets to take over for Steve Ballmer as part of his ownership group. And on top of all that, recall that the last time we went through all this with the Sacramento Kings, the NBA seemed way more interested in using Seattle as leverage to extract arena subsidies from the team’s existing city, rather than actually jumping at the chance to move into an arena that, on the plus side, would be built without a ton of taxpayer subsidies, and on the minus side, would saddle any team with arena debt since it would be built without a ton of taxpayer subsidies.

I’d say right now the move threat level posed by Seattle is low-to-moderate — worth keeping an eye on, but also not something that necessarily means Milwaukee taxpayers need to shovel as much money as possible at the Bucks owners or their team is 100% gone. (Shoveling moderate amounts of money might well do it.) Instead, we have city and state officials shouting at each other increasingly frantically to find some money already, either out of genuine fear that time is running out, or just in hopes that with enough finger-pointing they can make sure people get mad at the other guy if the Bucks do end up leaving. The American political system continues to be corporate subsidy seekers’ best friend.

SD columnist says Chargers deal needs Hail Mary off flea flicker [metaphor overflow, please retry]

Last week we had the perfect example of an “assuming the premise that funding a new arena is the public’s problem” article, and this week it’s the archetypal “using sports metaphors to paint building a stadium as victory” piece, courtesy of “star” UT San Diego sports columnist Kevin Acee. I mean, this guy really emptied the sports metaphor bowl:

[Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group] Adam Day is the Doug Flutie in this stadium game.

He and his team were handed the ball in the fourth quarter and told to win with a Hail Mary off a flea flicker.

But how much time is left in the fourth quarter, Kevin?

As the seconds trickle off the clock, with no timeouts remaining, San Diego’s only hope is a delay of game being called and eventually getting to overtime.

This metaphor is getting confusing. Who would call a delay of game, exactly?

For the Chargers to not make that request [to relocate for 2016], they are going to need to get their way. They are the clock operator, the referee and quarterback.

I’m … pretty sure that’s against the rules? Also, wasn’t Doug Flutie the quarterback? Help!

Anyway, the guy that UT San Diego kept as sports columnist over the guy who actually asked questions wants you to know that San Diego has to meet the Chargers’ demands, and soon, or else, and is going to use every football reference in his arsenal to drive this home. It’s still not quite the time Connecticut approved funding a new stadium to lure the New England Patriots and the Hartford Courant reported on this by splashing “Touchdown!” across their front page, but it’s a valiant attempt nonetheless.

Cubs really need less ironic slogan for Wrigley renovations than “Making the Confines Friendlier”

Putting up some kind of barrier so that fans can’t hassle players for autographs while they’re walking to their cars isn’t all that unusual. Doing so while in the middle of renovations that have left fans without enough restrooms for two months, then slapping a logo on top reading “Making the Confines Friendlier” — that’s so Cubs.

(Incidentally, can anyone tell me who’s actually being protected from whom by this autograph barrier? It looks like it’s on the corner of Seminary and Waveland, adjacent to the “triangle building” site that’s under construction in the background. But I see what look like fans on both sides — do the players walk a gauntlet between the two fences to the lot on the north side of Waveland? And do they have their own restrooms there?)

This may be the stupidest paragraph ever written about a sports stadium finance plan

Pawtucket Red Sox president James Skeffington went on local TV today to stump for his $60-million-plus-free-riverfront-property stadium plan, and according to the TV station’s report, he said this:

Skeffington and his partners promise to build it at no cost to taxpayers, unlike most sports stadiums. But they are asking in return a $4 million a year contribution from taxpayers that Skeffington said would be offset by more than $2 million in taxes on economic activity around the field.

Good job, NBC 10 in Rhode Island, you’ve just broken math.

Milwaukee official says arena subsidies are stupid, proposes sales tax hike to pay for one

Sure, every politician in Wisconsin is coming up with a way to use public funds to help pay off a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, but what do those other people in Wisconsin think? You know, the ones who voted them into office?

Seventy-nine percent of registered voters oppose a plan being discussed by Republican legislative leaders for the state to cover part of the $250 million in public funding the Milwaukee Bucks owners say they need to complete funding of the estimated $500 million project, [a Marquette Law School] poll found.

The poll only asked about Gov. Scott Walker’s plan for the state to borrow $150 million for an arena, not other iterations of public funding; still, that’s a pretty whopping majority, and the margin wasn’t much smaller (67-29%) when the poll looked at only residents of Milwaukee itself. And you know who else thinks giving public money to sports teams for new buildings is a lousy idea? Milwaukee alderman Bob Bauman, that’s who:

No one has answered the question: why are we providing any public money in the first place? Explain to us again why there’s a need for any public financing for a private basketball franchise. Why are we offering any money? Why is that even on the table?

The answer may well be, well, we’re being extorted. Then we at least know that, and the answer is these guys are going to get public financing because they can. They can leverage one city against another and basically extort the money. But so far, it’s just assumed that a private professional sports franchise requires a public subsidy. Why is that so?…

It is a money-losing investment, from the public standpoint.

Bauman then followed this up by — just minutes later — proposing to hike sales taxes by 1% in Milwaukee County to fund a new Bucks arena. And new parks. And mass transit. And museums. And cut property taxes. Raising sales taxes by that much would funnel a ton of money from Wisconsin shoppers to the county government ($125 million a year, by Bauman’s calculations), so the county could use it to pay for all kinds of stuff, only some of which are extortion plots that voters overwhelmingly hate.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Bauman isn’t entirely serious about this, and that he’s just floating his sales tax plan either 1) to tweak state officials for refusing to consider a tax hike as a way to pay for public projects or 2) to try to build support for funding other things, like public transportation, that he actually likes. Still, it’s not every day that a U.S. elected official gets up to proclaim that sports stadiums are a ripoff and blackmail, and we should immediately raise sales taxes to keep team owners happy — in a state that once recalled a state senator for approving a sales tax hike that was only one-tenth the size for a Brewers stadium. Racino time is weird, indeed.

Minneapolis mayor to MLS team owner: You are too asking for a subsidy, quit pretending!

No sooner was I reading this column by Minneapolis Star Tribune online sports editor Michael Rand arguing that “even if you don’t like soccer, rich people or stadiums, it’s hard for a reasonable person to find much wrong with” the plan to give Minnesota United almost $50 million in tax breaks for a new soccer stadium, when this came across the digital transom:

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges doubled down Wednesday on her rejection of a plan to provide tax breaks for a new professional soccer stadium, calling the request from the team’s owner unprecedented and “extraordinary.”…

Hodges dismissed McGuire’s suggestion that the plan includes “no public subsidy whatsoever,” and said she and other city leaders have not been provided with enough information to assess the full cost of the project to taxpayers.

“If people want to debate the merits of this public subsidy, let’s do that,” she said. “But we’ve got to start with the accurate information that what they’re asking for is a public subsidy.”

That seems … pretty reasonable, actually! Hodges was elected mayor in 2013 partly on her opposition to the $1.1 billion in taxpayer costs for the spendy Vikings stadium plan, and clearly is intent on joining her colleagues in Anaheim and Calgary on the short list of mayors who actually approach stadium subsidy requests by asking whether they’re a good deal for taxpayers, and not just whether they can find enough money to shovel at team owners without making the wrong taxpayers too mad. The Minneapolis city council is split on whether to go along with her — Hodges could veto council approval, and the council could in turn override her veto with the vote of nine of its 13 members — so it’s not like the mayor is in total control of the situation, but it’s a nice starting point for negotiations, anyway.

Meanwhile, city councilmember Andrew Johnson raises the interesting question of whether tax breaks worth more than $10 million (which this would certainly be) would trigger the requirement for a city referendum on the project, as approved by voters back in 1997 during the Twins stadium battles. The state legislature could overturn that — as it did for both the Twins and the Vikings — but that would add another contentious step to the approval process. I bet I know what Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire is thinking about now: Man, this would all be so much easier if our system of tax expenditures were controlled by online sports editors.

Kevin Johnson wants to build a Sacramento soccer stadium for nonexistent team at unknown price

His city may have been rejected for now for an MLS expansion franchise, but Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson isn’t going to let that stop him from building a new soccer stadium regardless. KJ announced yesterday that he was launching “Operation Turkey,” a plan to — sorry, what? Oh, “Operation Turnkey.” Well, that does sound better, but you decide for yourself which one is more apropos:

One of the toughest tasks on the mayor’s list might be obtaining control of the proposed stadium site, located on the eastern end of the long-vacant downtown railyards…

City officials said the sticking point involves determining who will be responsible if additional toxic pollution is discovered in the ground…

Johnson appeared Wednesday to have softened his opposition and said he imagined the stadium as a public-private partnership. He pointed out the state has already invested million for roads and bridges in the railyards, but declined to say if would support a subsidy for the project.

Cost of said stadium? Unknown! Who’ll pay for it and how? Also unknown! When Sacramento might actually get an MLS team to play in it? You guessed it! Johnson says he hopes to have all this worked out by the end of this year, which bwahahahahaha, damn, he’s a funny guy.

PawSox owner wants taxpayers to fund three-quarters of new stadium, calls this a great deal

The owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox have revealed the subsidies they’re seeking for their proposed new stadium in Providence, and it’s a whole hell of a lot more than the free city land they’ve been expected to ask for:

The team is asking state lawmakers to approve a guaranteed 30-year state lease of the new stadium that would commit taxpayers to pay about $5 million a year in rent, which would come out to $150 million over the life of the lease. The team would then sublease the stadium back from the state for $1 million a year, putting the net cost to taxpayers at $4 million annually, or $120 million over the life of the lease.

That’s a lot of numbers there, but just focus on that last one: Team owner Jim Skeffington wants the state of Rhode Island to pay him $4 million a year to play in his own stadium. That’d leave the public paying almost three-quarters of the $85 million construction cost, plus providing city land for $1 a year.

How on earth would this be a good idea?

The economic-impact study commissioned by the team from the consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey estimated games played in the new park will generate $12.3 million in direct spending and about $2 million a year in additional state tax revenue, which Skeffington said would further reduce the out-of-pocket cost of the park to taxpayers to about $2 million a year.

Woohoo! According to the team’s own economic projections, taxpayers would only take a $2 million a year bath on the stadium! That’s … not exactly a strong selling point, Jim, what else you got?

“In our present case, the new owners are taking all the risk of designing and completing the construction of a ballpark and are offering to pay 100% of the costs with our private funds,” he said. “We are using the lease/sublease arrangement as a vehicle to obtain financial support to help us keep the team in the state.”

So there you have it: The owners of the Boston Red Sox‘ top minor-league affiliate (who include some owners of the Red Sox themselves) are demanding that Rhode Island taxpayers foot the lion’s share of a new stadium, or else they’re going to move the team … somewhere. Somewhere that would have to be in New England, really, since the Sox want to keep their top prospects close by and stay near the team’s fan base, and no other suitors have emerged. But you don’t want to risk that, Rhode Island, so time to cough up $60 million (present value) worth of annual subsidies, plus free land, in order to get the team to move from one part of your state to another, because that’s sure to be a big economic boon!

All for a team that just sold for only $20 million, a fraction of the asking price for public subsidies for the stadium. This really couldn’t be a better time for local officials to try the eminent domain gambit.

Anyway, enjoy your blackmail threat, Rhode Islanders. Here’s some vaportecture porn to go with it. Not pictured: the redevelopment that was supposed to go on the site when the federal government spent $610 million moving a highway to clear it.

Braves VP on parking at new stadium: I hear bicycles are all the rage

Hey, Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, how’s that transportation plan that you’ve been punting on for a year and a half coming along?

The plan for where people can park near the stadium, spread out over 40 acres of property the Braves have purchased around the stadium, will be revealed in the last quarter of 2015 or the first quarter of 2016, he said.

Alrighty then. Do you have any ideas at all for how to get people to games in a spot next to a highway intersection without enough off-ramps in the middle of a not-all-that-developed suburb?

Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of operations, said he encourages business owners and residents to “think outside of the box” and look into new transportation methods to the stadium. For instance, he said, he hopes local community improvement districts will consider extending their biking trails toward the stadium.

Anyone else have any other ideas?

Kim Perez, president of the Kennesaw Business Association, said at a meeting of the organization Tuesday she knows of many business owners in Cobb who are working on a smaller scale to transport employees or customers to the 81 games each year.

“Restaurants and other businesses are thinking about how they can get people to the stadium, and that’s a really neat thing,” Perez said.

Bicycles and crowdsourcing. This really is going to be a 21st-century stadium!

NFL VP delivers a master class in San Diego on shaking down cities for stadium cash

Hey, Rob Manfred, you want some pointers in how to shake down cities for stadium deals? You might want to talk to NFL VP Eric Grubman, because he has this stuff down:

“It’s obvious that no proposal has gained the support and enthusiasm of the Chargers — that’s obvious,” Grubman said in [a] press conference with reporters after the meeting [of the San Diego mayor’s citizens’ stadium advisory group]. “So you don’t need me to tell you that.”…

“If you start out with the key parties that have to support these things on different pages, it’s certainly a recipe for delay,” Grubman said. “It’s probably a recipe for failure.”…

“At this point of time, I think it’s more likely that we would move it up than leave it the same or delay it, unless something happens to knock one or more of the projects off of its pace,” he said. … “To wait until the end of next year to get the vote it seems to me to be very risky.”

Vague threats about “failure” and “risky” behavior, a message that no deal is a deal until the local team owners have been made happy, the general tone of a scolding dad — now that’s why they pay commissioners, and their henchmen, the big bucks. Not that this solves any of the problems that San Diego is having in finding a way to fund a new Chargers stadium that makes the team owners happy (key to this being “somebody who is not us paying for a large chunk of it”), but it turns up the perceived heat on city officials, and that’s all that league officials are expected to do, really.