Friday roundup: Coyotes seek investors, Detroit MLS stadium deal maybe not dead after all, and new stadium fireworks renderings!

So much news! Let’s get right to it:

Chicago, Minneapolis, Vancouver drop out of World Cup bid rather than grant FIFA a decade-long tax exemption

The leading candidate to host the 2026 World Cup has been a joint U.S./Canada/Mexico bid that would see the tournament take place across a long list of cities. And I put that in the present perfect progressive tense because what seemed a shoo-in looks a bit shakier now that Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vancouver have all removed themselves from the bid, on the grounds that FIFA’s demands for tax breaks and other concessions were just too much:

theBreaker has obtained a copy of FIFA’s requirements for governments bidding for 2026. The Swiss-based organization, still reeling from the FBI’s 2015 crackdown on FIFA’s massive bribery and kickbacks, requires host governments agree to grant it huge tax breaks for an entire decade and allow it to import and export unlimited amounts of foreign currency. FIFA also requires host taxpayers pick up the full bill for safety and security and assume liability should there be any security incident of any size…

For its workforce, FIFA wants a visa-free environment where work permits are issued “unconditionally and without any restriction or discrimination of any kind.”

“It is also requested to grant exemptions from labour law and other legislation for companies and personnel directly involved with the competition, provided that these exemptions do not undermine or compromise the government’s commitment to respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights.”

That is a lot! And it was apparently a take-it-or-leave-it deal: British Columbia tourism minister Lisa Beare explained that her government withdrew from the bid because “there was no interest by FIFA to negotiate or address our concerns, and that the costs still remain unknown”; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that “FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk”; and the Minneapolis bid committee issued a statement that “the inability to negotiate the terms of the various bid agreements did not provide our partners and our community with sufficient protections from future liability and unforeseen changes in commitments.”

The North American bid is still moving ahead with 23 locations — Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto in Canada; Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey in Mexico; and Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle. and Washington in the U.S. — all of which apparently agreed to FIFA’s terms. But it’s still an unexpected hiccup in FIFA’s plans, and shows that at least some governments are willing to turn down a major sporting event if it requires handing over tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues and untold security costs along the way.

Hartford arena director says building needs $100m renovation because it’s “tired”

The head of the state authority in charge of Hartford’s XL Center says it needs costly upgrades before it can be sold to a private operator, because of “tired systems”:

“The building is truly out of its prime,” Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said in a legislative hearing. “It has had a very difficult time competing, primarily with our own casinos, let alone when Springfield comes along. It requires quite a bit of upgrade, not simply of its tired systems which we can’t even find parts for anymore but just the way it presents itself.”

Among other things, apparently none of the elevators or escalators at the building are functioning. The Connecticut legislature is currently considering a $100 million proposal by Gov. Dannel Malloy to rehab the arena, though Freimuth didn’t say whether that would be enough to make it competitive.

The other obvious question that Freimuth didn’t answer is whether anybody would pay $100 million to buy the arena — if not, it’d be kind of a dumb investment by the state. But apparently he considers the XL Center too big to fail, or too downtown to fail, or something:

Knocking down the building could cost as much as $40 million, Freimuth said, all to create a hole in the middle of downtown.

“Frankly, having that go dark at the center of town, well, symbolically, it sends a lot of bad vibes, obviously,” Freimuth said. “It impacts everything from parking revenue to restaurant revenue to taxes. … The event load plays into the hotels.”…

The arena also is considered a key amenity in the city’s revitalization and is attractive to people moving into the new downtown apartments, Freimuth said.

This is the same claim that arena advocates made a year and change ago, when they argued that nobody was going to move to downtown Hartford without a renovated arena, despite tons of people in fact moving to downtown Hartford in recent years. Maybe millennials just like climbing stairs? Damn kids today are killing escalators, too.

FC Cincinnati sticks fork in West End stadium plan after school district rejects tax break

F.C. Cincinnati‘s plans to build a soccer stadium on the site of a high school football stadium and then not pay very much in taxes on it are apparently dead, after Cincinnati’s public school district delivered a letter to team execs insisting that they pay full property taxes on the site:

CPS sent a letter to the soccer team holding its ground on what it wanted in tax payments. CPS argued that the district, even with tax abatements currently in play, should get more than $2 million a year – more than double what FC Cincinnati was offering.

In a letter from CPS lawyer Daniel Hoying, the school district called the 5 p.m. deadline set by FC Cincinnati Wednesday morning “unreasonable.”

“The Board of Education will not consider a proposed land agreement with FC Cincinnati unless the club promises to pay its fair share of property taxes,” Hoying wrote.

F.C. Cincinnati immediately issued a statement saying it “did not move ahead with the purchase of needed property for a West End stadium,” which presumably kills the deal.

This leaves the would-be MLS club with two options: the Oakley neighborhood of Cincinnati, and Newport, Kentucky, across the river. The Oakley plan has already been approved by the city council — over the unanimous objection of the local community council — but is far from the city center, while Newport is close to the city center but in another state. Team execs say they’ll pick a site by the end of the month, so we’ll see what haggling goes on between now and then; maybe we’ll even find out who’s going to be expected to fill that estimated $25 million funding gap for stadium construction, which nobody has been talking about since the whole site kerfuffle took center stage.

Hillsborough County considering $500 million in tax hikes to fund new Rays stadium

The indefatigable Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV has unearthed some documents from law firms working with Hillsborough County that show how the county is considering raising public funds to help pay for a new $600 million–ish Tampa Bay Rays stadium. And the options are:

  • Raising the county bed tax from 5% to 6%, which could provide another $6 million a year, enough to pay off close to $100 million in stadium costs.
  • A $2 a day hike in car rental taxes would generate $15 million a year (enough to pay off around $250 million total), though with ridesharing on the rise it would risk driving people out of the car rental market and thus providing significantly less than that.
  • Extending the Community Investment Tax sales tax surcharge that currently funds payments on the Buccaneers stadium beyond 2026. This could provide $10 million a year (enough to pay off about $160 million worth of stadium), but the Bucs could also want some of that money when their lease expires the same year as the Rays’.

Put it all together, and you’re certainly in the ballpark (sorry) of the $450 million in public funds that would be needed if the stadium comes in at $600 million and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg sticks to his guns about only chipping in $150 million from his own pocket. Of course, the fact that Hillsborough County can come up with $450 million it can raise by taxing its own residents (and visitors) doesn’t mean that it should — that’s a hell of a lot of money to hand over to a sports franchise just so that it doesn’t move to a city that probably doesn’t exist, not to mention for a franchise that is actually profitable right now under baseball’s revenue-sharing system. The documents Pransky uncovered don’t talk about what the effect on the local economy would be of raising multiple taxes by this much, or how a Rays stadium compares to other projects that could be funded by similar tax hikes, but I’m sure Pransky will be examining those questions in coming weeks and months.

Anyway, this is far more information than Pransky got by following local politicians around and asking repeatedly, so kudos, Noah! Sometimes journalism is mostly about finding the right people to pester.

FC Cincinnati asks to pay property taxes on stadium site as if it weren’t building a stadium there

One of the big unknowns in F.C. Cincinnati‘s plans for a soccer stadium on the site of a high school football stadium in the city’s West End has been how much the team would pay in property taxes to the local school district. We finally have a figure, and West End leaders are not at all happy with the offer:

Under the deal revealed Monday evening, FC Cincinnati would:

• Pay $100,000 a year in property taxes during construction.

• Pay $250,000 a year in property taxes the next five years, from 2021-2026.

• Pay $500,000 a year in property taxes the five years after that, from 2027-2031.

• Pay an amount, up to $3.6 million, based on team profits.

But school officials calculate that, if FC Cincinnati builds a $250 million stadium as expected, the club should under typical guidelines pay CPS more than $2 million a year in taxes.

And this is actually the second deal FC Cincinnati offered the school district. The district rejected the first, a $70,000-a-year offer, telling FC Cincinnati it was “very disappointed.” The team came back with the current $100,000 a year, but the school district still seems unsatisfied.

“There’s not a magic number, per se, but there’s a wide gap between $70,000 and $2.8 million,” said CPS spokeswoman Lauren Worley.

That there is! Excellent powers of subtraction on display there!

The philosophical gap here is equally easy to see: F.C. Cincinnati’s owners are saying, Hey, you’re not getting much tax money from the land now, at least this is more than that, while Cincinnati school district leaders are saying, Uh, dudes, you don’t get to be taxed on your $250 million stadium as if it were vacant land. Team owners are also citing the $20 million “investment” it plans to make in the school district, most of which consists of building a new high school football stadium to replace the one they’d be tearing down, so yeah, not a huge net gain there.

F.C. Cincinnati president Jeff Berding also said yesterday that the team’s owners will be making a decision by the end of the month on whether to put the stadium in the West End, in the Oakley neighborhood, or across the Ohio River in Newport, Kentucky. Since the school board has to approve the West End deal, it doesn’t sound super-likely that that’s going to happen, but you can still do a lot of haggling in 18 days.

West Ham fans run onto field to protest team’s disastrous move to Olympic Stadium

You’ll recall that West Ham United F.C. moved out of its 112-year-old Boleyn Ground in 2016 and into London’s Olympic Stadium, after the city spent something like a billion pounds building it and then handing it over to the team with a sweetheart lease in which the public has to pay for everything from security to corner flags. Previously West Ham’s owner had called the stadium “ridiculous” and fans threw coins, bottles, and even seats at fans of opposing clubs; are things going any better now?

“Pitch invasions” is British for “fans running on the field,” and “players scuffle with fans” is British for this:

This is truly the worst for everyone concerned — taxpayers, fans, players — especially with West Ham currently only three points above the relegation zone, which is British for “if they lose one more game than one of the teams below them in the standings the rest of the way, they could be sent to play in a lower-level league.” And now Eurosport sportswriter Desmond Kane says the building should just be demolished, or at least redesigned (again) for soccer:

It should be knocked to the ground and rebuilt as a football stadium as soon as possible. Juventus and Bayern Munich have left stadiums built for athletics for stadia suitable to host football. Sevilla and Real Betis opted out of a move to an athletics stadium in Seville because of such dangers.

You’ll get no argument from me here, though there is the little problem that the Boleyn Ground currently looks like this, en route to being redeveloped as housing:

So, in short: The city of London is losing money, the team is losing money, fans are miserable, the team sucks, and there’s no going back. There are lose-lose scenarios, and then there is West Ham. At least everybody loves some soccer schadenfreude.

Flames arena wasn’t built to last like in Charles Dickens’ day, writes confused Canadian columnist

Here’s an article from the Globe and Mail on the Calgary Saddledome that starts with an extended Charles Dickens reference, because man, oh man, does sportswriting get boring after a while if you don’t mix it up.

Once columnist Roy McGregor gets to the point, it turns out to be that unlike the things Charles Dickens saw on his visit to Canada — and, presumably, Dickens’ works themselves — the Flames‘ arena wasn’t built to last, or at least “wasn’t made to produce revenue in the deep streams demanded these days by professional hockey.” (Whereas Canadian buildings in 1842 were? Hey, it’s not my metaphor.)

This is an assertion we can actually check! Hey, Forbes magazine, how does the Calgary arena compare to the rest of the NHL in revenues? Unfortunately, Forbes doesn’t break down the NHL by venue revenues, but the Flames rank 21st out of 30 overall in the league in total revenues, which is neither great nor awful. They’re about $22 million in annual revenue behind the Edmonton Oilers, the team that’s most often held up as an example of a nearby franchise that got a new arena and is now thriving — spending $1.2 billion on a new arena to get back $22 million a year in new revenue would be spectacularly stupid, which is no doubt why the Flames’ owners want the city of Calgary to spend much of the money instead. And if that strikes you as spectacularly stupid in turn, McGregor has an answer for that: revitalization!

In this era of what he calls “sportainment,” André Richelieu says that, increasingly, arenas are being built as entertainment hubs, the “jewel box,” so to speak of massive developments that go far beyond any sporting event.

Richelieu, who has taught sports marketing at Laval University and is currently a professor at École des sciences de la gestion in Montreal, says “The rationale behind these real estate projects is to trigger traffic all year round in order for the new stadium complex to become a point of convergence for the community and, in some instances, revitalize a neighbourhood.”

Yeah, no, not so much. With numbers like this, maybe it’s understandable that you’d reach for the Dickens quotes instead.


Precourt picks Austin stadium site, mum on whether he’ll pay city for it

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has settled on a preferred site for his proposed Austin soccer stadium, and it’s McKalla Place, a 24-acre former chemical dump that looks like this:

On first glance, that certainly seems like the kind of unwanted property that is the perfect place to dump a soccer stadium. Except that it’s owned by the city, and already targeted for future development, and there’s no indication Precourt is willing to pay market value for the land:

“I’ve been pushing for private land, but public land keeps the city in the conversation,” said [councilmember Leslie] Pool, whose District 7 includes McKalla Place. “I’d rather see practice fields at McKalla and the stadium somewhere else.

“I’m open to it. I’m agreeable to participating in the analysis. I just don’t want to be taken to the bank.”

The week before last, Precourt declared that a new stadium would bring $400 million in economic benefits over the next 25 years, “in the form of community investments, park improvements, soccer wellness and programming, wages and construction services, among others” — a statement that was widely derided, especially after Precourt refused to provide details on it other than to say that “we have a spreadsheet that breaks it down and line-itemizes it” but that he wasn’t going to release yet.

As we’ve seen lately, free land is the flavor of the month when it comes to stadium subsidy deals, so Pool is right to be skeptical until Precourt provides more details. The site has road and rail access, but needs things like sidewalks, and Pool says any infrastructure should be on Precourt: “Every dollar and penny in community benefit needs to come back to the community. Let’s have staff do the analysis. If it turns out to be a great idea, I’ll be all for it.” Words to live by!

Friday roundup: Crew claps back at Modell Law suit, Cincy mayor thinks his citizens are dumb, Wrigley Field is a construction zone again

This week brought thundersnow that led to a fireball in a subway tunnel, but the stadium and arena news was reasonably exciting too:

  • Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt says the lawsuit to force him to offer the team for sale to local owners before moving it to Austin is groundless, since he made “significant investments” in the team “both on and off the field” and yet the team isn’t making money hand over fist like he’d like it to. I would have gone with “fine, you can buy the team if you want, my asking price is one quattuordecillion dollars,” but that’s why Precourt pays himself the big bucks.
  • Oakland Raiders management says it has identified room for 27,000 parking spaces within 1.5 miles of its Las Vegas stadium, and 100,000 spaces within three miles. “Now, obviously, people don’t want to walk three miles, so you have to have a pretty strong infrastructure program and transportation plan in place,” said Raiders president Marc Badain. “We’re working on all of that.” Cool, get back to us!
  • Residents of the West End opposed to building an F.C. Cincinnati soccer stadium on the site of a revered high school football stadium there are all about “maintaining disinvestment, maintaining the status quo and not closing racial and economic gaps but keeping them divided,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said this week. “I think that’s wrong.” But enough with the pandering to your constituents, Mayor Cranley what do you really think about them?
  • Because no arena project can truly be cost-free for the public, the new Muni Metro stop being built at the Golden State Warriors‘ new San Francisco arena has now risen in cost to $51 million, and the city of San Francisco hasn’t figured out how to pay for $17 million of that yet. Not that a new mass transit stop isn’t a public benefit for people other than Warriors fans, but just saying.
  • This is what Wrigley Field looked like as of a couple of weeks ago. There’s still time before opening day, so hopefully this renovation will go better than the Chicago Cubslast big one.
  • Does an “asteroid the size of a sports stadium” zooming past Earth count as stadium news? It does to my custom RSS feed for “stadium” news, so enjoy!