FoS supporter chat, Monday 9/8, noon Eastern

Since today is a day for celebrating all the people who do all the work and don’t get paid enough, it’s a good time for me to celebrate the people who enable me to labor on this website and actually get paid a little: you, my readers. And while every eyeball that lingers on an ad helps out a bit, the biggest thanks go to those of you who directly contribute to this site by becoming FoS Supporters, whether mini- or maxi-. At a time when corporate journalism remains unsure about whether it actually wants to pay people to report on things like stadium shenanigans, I’m increasingly grateful for your willingness to chip in so that I can keep this site going and my lights on, all at the same time.

Which reminds me that I haven’t done a supporter chat in a while, and we have a bunch of new members to invite into the inner sanctum, so let’s do next Monday, September 8, at noon Eastern time. (I’ll try to stick around until around close to 2 pm, for late-rising West Coasters.) I’ll send out a password via email shortly, and you can post questions or discussion topics starting early that morning on a password-protected item that will appear here. Please join in if you can — it’s way more fun with a crowded room.

UNLV president tells board meeting on stadium: Never mind, check back in 2017

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas released a report on Wednesday identifying two possible sites for a new 45,000-seat football stadium, with plans to submit them to a university board meeting yesterday. That was the plan, at least, until the start of the meeting itself, when acting UNLV president Don Snyder did this:

UNLV acting president Don Snyder called an audible Thursday, delaying the proposed $523 million campus stadium project by two years.

Snyder’s move came at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas Stadium Board meeting called to finalize a proposal to send to the Legislature for consideration early next year. Instead, the project will go to state lawmakers in 2017.

He said the university is now working on too many issues, such as creating a medical school, to ask state support for the proposed stadium.

“All these things take time and energy,” Snyder said. “The medical school is the top priority. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to also know there are other demands in the community like schools and police officers … It’s more important to do this right than to do it fast.”

It’s not clear what led Snyder to put a hold on the stadium talks at the last second, though it’s reasonable enough to assume that he’d taken the temperature of the room and realized that his stadium plan was going nowhere. Now he can sit back and work on the plan for a couple of years behind closed doors, and either drum up more support (and money) for the project, or let it die quietly.

This would also, come to think of it, be an excellent time for the local media to do some research into whether a 45,000-seat football stadium for a low-profile NCAA program makes much sense. But my money’s on everyone going back to sleep until the press releases start flying again.

Vegas would be “disaster” for NHL expansion, Seattle not much better, according to Fivethirtyeight’s numbers

Fivethirtyeight has taken a look at the hard numbers behind the possible NHL expansion targets [or at least as hard as you can get from counting up Google searches for "NHL" — see comments], and pretty much concurs with what I said off the top of my head the other day: Quebec could work, as could Toronto (leaving aside the pesky problem of the Maple Leafs wanting that market all for themselves), but Seattle and especially Vegas would be pretty lousy NHL sites:

Teams in markets with fewer than 300,000 hockey fans, however, have tended to lose money, and that’s where the wisdom of adding franchises in Seattle and (especially) Las Vegas gets iffy. We estimated that Seattle contains about 240,000 NHL fans — fewer than that of Phoenix and Florida’s Tampa Bay, home to two franchises that have struggled to turn a profit for many years. And if Seattle is an enigmatic choice by this metric, Las Vegas would be a disaster. According to our estimates, there are only 91,000 hockey fans in the Vegas media market, which is nearly 40 percent fewer than even Nashville, Tennessee, the least-avid current NHL city, has.

Interestingly, Fivethirtyeight estimates that Kingston and Halifax, and maybe even Moncton, Sherbrooke or Sudbury, could viably support an NHL team better than the U.S. cities under consideration — and better even than five current NHL cities, Phoenix, Columbus, Raleigh-Durham, Miami, and Nashville — thanks to the fact that there are actually people who like to watch hockey in Canada. No doubt there are other factors here at work as well — TV networks, in particular, care as much about overall media market size as whether the market contains any actual hockey fans — but it’s still a worthwhile reminder that just because a city has possible arena plans and some name recognition doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good place to start up a sports franchise.

Nets arena housing halts construction, as builder says newfangled design “just doesn’t work”

I’m not up to researching the Atlantic Yards section of The Brooklyn Wars just yet (current status report: wrapping up Coney Island chapter, starting to move on to Bushwick and Downtown Brooklyn), but I may have to make an exception for this news: Work on the housing tower next door to the Nets‘ arena, which in recent months had finally started to take shape as the first of the project’s promised housing component, abruptly shut down this week amid complaints by the builder that designer/arena owner Forest City Ratner massively underestimated costs.

Take it away, Charles Bagli of the New York Times:

Skanska on Wednesday unilaterally closed the factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard where 157 workers assembled and built the steel-framed modules for the first of a planned 14 prefabricated apartment buildings, at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street.

A day earlier, Skanska ceased work at the construction site, where the building rises to only 10 floors of its 32-story height, 21 months after work started.

“The purpose was to save time and money and they’ve done neither of those things,” said David Burney, a former commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction.

For those who haven’t been religiously following the Atlantic Yards saga, this building was supposed to be a breakthrough in “modular construction,” where sections of the building are assembled offsite by assembly-line workers and then stacked up like Legos to make a giant apartment block. (As you can see from the work done so far, they even picked Lego colors.) This required building an entire factory to manufacture the modular units, which, surprise surprise, took a while; the finished building was originally supposed to open this summer, but remains only one-third completed.

And it looks like it’ll stay that way for a while, to hear Skanska tell it:

Richard A. Kennedy, co-chief operating officer of Skanska USA, was emphatic that, contrary to Forest City’s claims, it had not “cracked the code.” Its design, he said, was flawed.

“It just doesn’t work the way it was sold to work,” he said. “We’ve had real challenges with it that’ve delayed the project and led to cost increases. We finally came to the decision to stop work on the project until our significant commercial issues are resolved.”

Forest City, Mr. Kennedy said, had ignored its “design responsibility” under the contracts.

“It was represented to be a complete and buildable modular design,” he said. “That simply was not the case and that’s what we’ve been struggling with.”

None of this should be terribly surprising, given that using modular construction on anything over 20 stories is “quite out of the ordinary,” as Brooklyn modular architect James Garrison told me shortly after the project was first announced, since taller building require stiffer frames for wind resistance, which isn’t modular’s strong point. Still, here we are, two years after the arena opened, and the promised 6,430 units of new housing (one-third of which were supposed to be “affordable,” though it turned out most of those would go to families earning more than $100,000 a year) currently amount to one half-finished building that will now likely be tied up in litigation, or at least some really nasty out-of-court wrangling. According to a new deal negotiated in June to speed up development, Forest City Ratner will be subject to up to $2,000 per unit in penalties if the buildings aren’t completed by 2025, but the way things are going, it has to be a serious worry that FCR will just throw in the towel and take the fine.

Washington owner Snyder confirms NFL stadiums now obsolete the minute you take the shrink-wrap off

So here’s how yesterday afternoon went:

4:57 pm: Email from a fellow journalist: “Maybe this is the high-water mark of public-financed stadiums. Even the NFL is having trouble selling out stadiums since people have hi-def TVs and don’t enjoy fighting traffic and paying through the nose of the privilege of watching football.”

6:00 pm: CSN Washington reports that Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder says he’s “started the process” of seeking a new stadium, saying of his team’s current home, FedEx Field: “It’s a great place to feature our home games, but it’s 17 years old now.”

6:05 pm: I come down with a splitting headache.

There’s little to say here, really, other than that the Atlanta Falcons have successfully lowered the bar for what’s considered retirement age for a football stadium, to where “17 years old” is supposed to sound ancient now. (Of course, one might argue that Snyder himself lowered the bar by holding meetings with D.C. back when his new field was just ten years old, but he wasn’t making public pronouncements then.)

Snyder explicitly said a new stadium could go in Maryland, Virginia, or D.C. itself. Since his lease in Prince George’s County doesn’t expire until 2027 — though there’s always the possibility he could leave early and pay penalties — expect to see the next several years to play out as a three-way (or more: there are a lot of different suburban towns and counties) bidding war for the right to play host to an NFL team for at least another 17 years. Assuming the NFL lasts that long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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