Bucks exec threatens move to “Vegas or Seattle,” er, that is, NBA would move team, yeah, those guys

Ooooh, he said it!

At an informational hearing held by the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, [Milwaukee Bucks president Peter] Feigin said the Bucks owners’ purchase agreement for the team includes a provision that construction of a new arena start in 2015. If that does not occur, he said the NBA will buy back the team for a $25 million profit and move them to “Las Vegas or Seattle.”…

“The window is closing,” Feigin said. “We can’t wait months, even weeks to start the public process.”

This, of course, has been the threat behind the arena demands of Feigin’s bosses, Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, ever since they bought the team early last year with the provision that the NBA could buy it back and move it if there was no deal in place for a new arena by 2017. (Whether this meant a new arena in place by 2017 or a deal in place by 2017 has been a topic of some debate, though Lasry himself seemed to indicate it was the latter.) But this is, I’m pretty certain, the first time that a Bucks exec has come out and said “Approve this deal now or the NBA shoots this team,” and absolutely the first time that anyone has dared name specific cities, which comes awfully close to a straight-out threat by the owners, even if the NBA is still cast in the role of the big bad.

So how real is the threat? The buyback clause is obviously there for a reason, and Seattle is both a TV market twice Milwaukee’s size and the home of a guy willing to both build a $500 million new arena and pay $625 million, plus relocation fees, for an NBA team to play in it. (Las Vegas is a tiny market, and its main association with the NBA is of an All-Star Game that everyone involved would seemingly rather forget.) That would represent a $50 million profit for the NBA if it bought the team off Lasry and Edens for $575 million (which would in turn be a $25 million profit for Lasry and Edens), and if that’s a crazy amount of money for Chris Hansen to be putting up for a team and arena — or more accurately, for an as-yet-unidentified Steve Ballmer 2.0 to be putting up — that would be Hansen’s problem, not the NBA’s.

On the other hand, this is the same decision that the NBA faced two years ago with the Sacramento Kings, and the league decided then to give Sacramento some more rope to get an arena deal finalized, even though that deal wasn’t any more approved at the time than Milwaukee’s is now. Plus, that was before Chris Hansen was revealed to have secretly funded a petition drive to keep the Kings from getting their Sacramento arena, which undoubtedly didn’t win any friends in NBA offices.

Still, that isn’t going to stop the NBA from using Seattle as a threat, because that’s what it’s there for. As to whether it would go ahead and consummate a deal if its bluff is called by the Wisconsin legislature — that’s a tougher guess, but I’d recommend putting your money on Milwaukee getting at least a couple more drop-dead deadlines if this one doesn’t work.

I went to see a sporting event at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and it wasn’t bad at all

So as part of my vacation last week, I got to attend the Women’s World Cup semifinal in Montreal between the U.S. and Germany, which was kind of a good game. Since the Women’s World Cup isn’t nearly as big of a deal as the Men’s World Cup (because, duh, girls), the tournament isn’t occasioned by the construction of massive new stadiums that nobody will ever use again, but rather is played in whatever stadiums the host nation already has available.

For the U.S.-Germany semifinal, this meant Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the erstwhile Big Owe that helped drive the Expos out of town. I’d been there once before in 2001 for an Expos game, and found it to be a weird place to watch baseball, though mostly because baseball in a cavernous indoor space with only a couple thousand fans is always going to be weird. Since the Expos left, it hasn’t been used for much — Alouettes playoff games, Impact spring games when the weather is too awful to go outside, occasional concerts.

Packed with 50,000 screaming (mostly) USA fans, though, it proved to be a great place to watch soccer. (Albeit soccer on fake turf, but that’s an issue with all the venues for this World Cup.) Olympic Stadium is a “concrete donut” era big oval, which is okay for soccer, and the sightlines seemed fine, though given that we were right behind one goal our sightlines would have been fine regardless:


freekickWhat was less fine was the scene outside the stadium when we (and a couple hundred other USA fans) showed up at 2 in the afternoon, two hours before gates opened, hoping to find some souvenirs or food to buy or other cup-related activities to take part in:

outsideoNow, I honestly don’t know whether the near-complete lack of activities (a feeble fanfest finally opened a couple of hours before the game) was because FIFA doesn’t care about women soccer players unless they’re wearing hotpants, because vendors were all busy with the Jazz Fest across town, or because of some traditional Quebecois aversion to providing timely service. But the point is that there was nothing wrong with Olympic Stadium that some better concessions options (and turning over more of the washrooms to women — predictably at a women’s sporting event with half men’s rooms, the women’s room lines were appallingly long) wouldn’t have fixed. Some renovations and a more attentive concessionaire (there were no USA player t-shirts on sale anywhere, which at most stadiums would be enough to get your marketing director fired, then rehired just so that you could fire him again), and Olympic Stadium would still be far from modern, but would be a perfectly okay place to watch a sporting event.

And that’s at a stadium that is perpetually ranked among the worst ever. Consider, then, to what degree bad management and disinterest in upgrading a facility that you want out of anyway contributes to the flaws that are being perpetually trotted out in support of arguments that pretty much any stadium over 15 years old is ready for the junkpile. The fact of the matter is that if the game is fun, it’s going to be fun pretty much anyplace; and if it’s not fun, a ride on a baseball-shaped Ferris wheel can only do so much to save it.

Anyway, soapbox off. Suffice to say that I went to a soccer match at what is rightfully considered one of the worst stadiums ever built, and had a great time. It seems like there should be some kind of lesson in that.

Stadiums can be anchors for related development, say newspapers in search of cheap headlines

You know what I missed while I was away? Having the time to read long, misinformed articles about new stadium projects and how they’re just totally different from those old bad stadium projects of a couple of decades ago. Got anything like that for me, Google News?

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.

The article in question is from the Tampa Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell, and argues that this newfangled stadium-plus-other-development model being used by teams like the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings (or “Redwings,” as he calls them) could be used by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium as well. It ignores the fact that these stadium-plus projects aren’t especially new, going back well over a decade (the St. Louis Cardinals‘ “ballpark village” was one of the earlier ones, but I’m sure I’m forgetting others), and mostly ignores, aside from a comment by stadium architecture consultant Philip Bess (who O’Donnell calls “Phillip” — fired all the copy editors, did you, Tampa Tribune?), the problem that if development around a stadium were profitable enough to pay off a stadium, teams would be able to pursue this strategy without public subsidies. Not to mention that if stadium-related development is profitable it could be pursued without the money suck of a new stadium attached, that it could just end up displacing development that otherwise would have taken place somewhere else in town, that development around stadiums has typically appeared years late when it shows up at all, etc., etc.

Anyway, good to see that these articles still pop up every once in a while for me to throw rocks at, and — whoa there!

The new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, to be completed a year from now, is helping draw nearby office towers, upscale housing and other developments, according to its supporters.

Guys! One article at a time, please! I’m still getting back up to speed here.

Court blocks mall on former Shea Stadium site, because oops, it’s still city parkland

If you’ve been to a New York Mets game ever, you’ll have noticed that the area right around the stadium is pretty desolate — there’s the parking lot, which includes the site of the former Shea Stadium (the old diamond is helpfully marked off in concrete), and the auto shops across the street in the neighborhood of Willets Point. New York City has long planned to redevelop Willets Point, most recently by building a shopping mall in the Mets parking lot and razing some of the auto shops for replacement parking. But that plan was unexpectedly shot down last week by an appeals court ruling noting that the Mets parking lot is still technically city parkland, and so can’t be used for commercial development:

The construction of a mixed-use, mall-anchored development on the former site of Shea Stadium in Queens, without the state Legislature’s approval, would violate the doctrine restricting the use of public lands for private purposes, a Manhattan appellate court ruled Thursday…

Justice Angela Mazzarelli said that purposes for the use of the subject law—”considered in vacuum”—are not necessarily related to a stadium, but that the law contains specific examples of purposes that are traditionally associated with a stadium, including athletic events, concerts and assemblies.

“Its focus is on the stadium, and the stadium only,” Mazzarelli wrote. “There is simply no basis to interpret the statute as authorizing the construction of another structure that has no natural connection to a stadium.”

In short, the city was trying to use a 1961 state law authorizing the construction of Shea Stadium on city parkland (which also was used to justify the later construction of Citi Field next door) to build a mall there as well, on the grounds that the old law said that a stadium would promote “trade and commerce,” so anything that promotes trade and commerce should be fair game, right? The appeals court told the city to stick it in its ear, though it did note that the state legislature could still amend the 1961 law to allow the mall to proceed.

This is good news for fans of parkland being protected space, certainly, though in the short run all it means is that people will still get to run the old bases in an asphalt parking lot for the foreseeable future. (Not that that’s not legitimate public recreation — it’s fun for all ages!) Also, there’s nothing stopping the city and developers, presumably, from switching up their plan and building the mall in Willets Point and leaving the parking where it is. That would be good for Mets fans wanting to buy whatever it is people buy at malls before games, I guess, and bad for merchants in the rest of the city that have been selling turkey sandwiches to fans to cart on the subway to games.

But hey, either way we can cheer the principle of the thing, right? After all, Mets fans are used to cheering pyrrhic victories.

Bucks arena backers still need dozen or two Dem votes, hope ghost threat will work its magic

I thought for sure when I went on vacation last week that something momentous would occur around the Milwaukee Bucks arena plan while I was gone, but aside from state legislative leaders agreeing to remove the arena from the state budget and make it a standalone bill, it’s been much the same old stasis. Recent developments include:

  • Republican leaders in the state senate and assembly say they’ll need three or four Democratic senators and ten to 15 Democratic assemblymembers to vote for the arena plan, because so many members of the Republican majority are balking at voting for state subsidies for the deal. (This is why it was removed from the budget bill in the first place.) With only 11 assemblymembers and four Democratic senators from Milwaukee proper, and many of them dead-set against the Bucks plan, this means Republican leaders are probably looking at having to horse-trade with non-Milwaukee Democrats to pick up a few more votes, in a game of Who Wants to Be the Next George Petak? “Oh, yeah, I think it happens,” a “top-ranking official” told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But it won’t be easy.”
  • The Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority board approved the city’s share of the arena financing on Thursday. The $234 million in cash and tax breaks still needs to be voted on by the city council, but that won’t happen until the state legislature approves it, and with the council taking August off, we’re talking September at the earliest for that.
  • The Bucks owners paid $750,000 for a lot measuring one-sixth of an acre near the proposed arena site, to be used for a pedestrian walkway between the arena and the restaurant district on N. Old World 3rd Street. Not that you can directly compare properties, but this would imply a value of a heck of a lot more than the $1.1 million per acre that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has put on city land being given to the Bucks, which would in turn mean the city cost of the deal would rise.

All that said, it still seems likely that some form of this deal will eventually pass, if only because, as the Journal Sentinel said in its latest editorial urging passage of the arena plan, “Without a deal, the Bucks will not remain in Milwaukee.” That may or may not be true — the only way to find out would be to reject the arena plan and see what happens — but it certainly shows that the NBA’s gambit to cast itself as relocation bad cop, then double down by having unnamed officials levy ghost threats, is working just great. Just think: In olden times, Bucks owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry would have to be the ones saying they’d move their team without a new arena, and that might get fans mad at them, whereas here it’s just the old passive voice that is threatening to take the Bucks out of Milwaukee. The NBA may not know how to build arenas that they’re happy with for more than 27 years, but they’re breaking new ground in ducking blame for it.

MLS seeks more Minnesota United stadium offers, says this isn’t extending deadline because it just isn’t

And now we know what the July 1 deadline for a new MLS stadium in Minneapolis really meant: MLS is now going to … look for other cities in Minnesota more amenable to giving a stadium piles of tax breaks!

Mark Abbott, the MLS deputy commissioner, said in comments to a local radio audience that a July 1 deadline for a stadium plan to emerge in Minneapolis had passed and he would now meet with St. Paul officials — who recently expressed interest — before the league decides whether to abandon Minnesota…

While Abbott insisted that MLS was not extending its deadline, he left the door open for Minneapolis to put together an 11th-hour bid to save the proposed downtown soccer stadium that would be near Target Field.

Yeeeeeah, that’d actually be more of a 13th-hour bid, seeing that the deadline was July 1, and it’s now July 2. But we get the picture: MLS wants a bidding war between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and wants everyone to know that the clock is ticking, but not to actually say when it will hit zero because that might limit their chances of getting the best offer. So it’s still “send money or we’ll shoot this soccer team” for now, meaning the league has to hope that Twin Cities residents (or at least politicians) are afraid of losing out on the joy that comes from watching soccer, like … okay, they should probably hope that no one was watching last night’s game.

Obama administration won’t allow Washington NFL stadium on RFK site unless team changes name

We all pretty much knew that the Washington NFL team wasn’t going to get a new stadium in D.C. unless it changed its racist nickname, but now it’s official:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser this spring that the National Park Service, which owns the land beneath Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, was unlikely to accommodate construction of a new stadium for the Redskins unless the team changes its name.

Of course, President Obama is only going to be in office another year and a half, so it’s entirely possible that a new interior secretary would change the NPS policy on this come 2017. And D.C. officials were unlikely to approve a stadium without a name change anyway. But as far as sending a “Mr. Snyder, tear down that nickname!” message, it’s about as strong as they come.

Seattle lets bank keep naming rights to arena despite not paying for them for last four years

This is just incredible:

Shortly after the Sonics left Seattle, the contract between KeyBank and Seattle Center for naming rights for the sports arena came up for renewal. The price for the rights at that point was $1.3 million a year, but the city-owned Seattle Center offered a new price to reflect the fact that the arena would no longer host an NBA team: about $400,000 a year. But the bank still walked.

The consequence of KeyBank’s miserly ways? So far, nothing. For four years, the Cleveland-based bank’s logo has kept glowing red atop the arena, and its name is still invoked anytime a concert, Storm game, or roller derby takes place within its confines…

“If you take it down, what do you use instead?” asks Deborah Daoust, spokeswoman for Seattle Center. “It’s continuity for us, which is important from a branding aspect.”

Let’s see, you could maybe call it the Seattle Center Coliseum, which is what it was called before KeyBank bought the naming rights in the 1990s. Or the Storm Arena, if they wanted to follow the precedent set by the Miami Dolphins after naming rights sponsor Pro Player went bankrupt and stopped paying its bills. Or just the Arena, following the Philadelphia 76ers‘ lead.

Instead, the city of Seattle seems content to giving a local bank free advertising, just because “Meh, people are going to call it that anyway.” I guess maybe this might help them in marketing the naming rights to another company — you’ll get to keep your name on it even if you stop paying us! — but probably not in the way they’d hope.

Final Milwaukee Bucks arena plan still leaves a lot to be finalized

More news filtering out about the final Milwaukee Bucks arena plan: In exchange for $457 million in public cash and tax breaks, the team owners would buy the Bradley Center (that’s good!) for an undisclosed sum (that’s probably bad!) and pay to demolish it (good!) then get the land that it’s on to develop as they so choose and collect all revenues from the arena and the adjacent entertainment space and have all the property taxes from the nearby development kicked back to help pay for arena costs (bad).

Owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry would also agree to keep the team in Milwaukee for 30 years, though as that’s yet to be negotiated, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be any out clauses snuck in there.

This whole mess with its many TKs is set to go up for a vote next week sometime, with the assembly likely to pass it, and the senate … well, the bill’s Chamber of Commerce backers felt the need to proclaim that it wasn’t necessarily doomed, so that’s probably not a good sign of its chances. You never know how the horse trading will work out, though, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Bucks arena removed from state budget, film at 11

I’m on WiFi made of tin cans and string this morning, but wanted to update you briefly on today’s news:

  • There’s a Wisconsin state budget plan, and the Milwaukee Bucks arena proposal isn’t in it. That doesn’t kill the deal, but it does make passage even dicier, especially in the state senate.
  • The New York Post says there’s a deal to move the Arizona Coyotes to Las Vegas, which the NHL has denied in especially strong language, calling it “garbage.” (Unless they mean the Post itself is garbage, which, well, point.)
  • Minnesota United‘s owners are expected to ask MLS for an extension on their July 1 stadium deadline. Not that anyone ever said what would happen when the deadline was reached, so who knows what an extension would mean, but anyway.

And that’s it for now. Will try to provide further updates later, interweb connectivity willing.