- A plot of private land that Portland baseball backers were eyeing for a stadium has been sold to another developer, but they could still sell or lease it for baseball. Portland is definitely at the forefront of not just handing land to the local sports team for whatever price it wants, though of course it doesn’t hurt that there isn’t an actual local sports team in question right now, just the idle thought of one someday.
- Tampa Bay Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz says the team will decide in six to nine months whether an Ybor City stadium will work; I’d think they’d want to know who’s going to pay for it first, but maybe that’s what they need the six to nine months for: bribery. (I typed “lobbying,” right? Pretty sure I did, note to self to go back and check.)
- D.C. United is about to open its new stadium with the help of $183 million in public money, and has belatedly noticed that its TV camera angles will be all screwed up because the sun sets in the west. Who could have known something like that?
- A group of Inglewood residents is suing to block the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena project, which is not surprising; more surprising is that they attempted to serve Mayor James Butts with lawsuit papers during Tuesday’s city council meeting, causing the council to abruptly call a halt to the meeting and run away.
- The Cincinnati Reds are asking for $88,000 in state tax breaks on bobbleheads, on the grounds that they’re included in the price of ticket packages and not being sold separately, even though the ticket package costs more specifically because it includes a bobblehead. I shoulda been a tax lawyer.
- The Philadelphia Phillies are asking for $40 million in hotel tax money from Pinellas County for a new renovations to their spring-training stadium in Clearwater, but the county has run out of hotel tax money because it already spent it on other projects, including the Rays’ Tropicana Field and a spring-training facility for the Toronto Blue Jays, along with a bunch of museums and the like. Opportunity cost!
- A Spectrum News Charlotte headline asks the question: “Does Charlotte need a domed stadium? City leaders are trying to figure it out.” I got an answer for you, Spectrum News Charlotte! (Also, Spectrum News Charlotte, the Atlanta Falcons‘ stadium didn’t really involve a “public investment” of only $200 million. Your friends across town the state at Fox 8 got it right, you might wanna talk to them.)
When the Calgary city council announced a new Flames arena negotiating committee without Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was the guy on the old committee who clearly knew the most about negotiating arena deals, it was a worrisome sign. But hey, maybe the new committee was going to be smart, too, and they just wanted Nenshi out of the way because the Flames owners hated him and this way they could bargain without him being a lightning rod for criticism?
Turns out, not so much:
Reporters were told that on May 31, Coun. Jeff Davison sent a letter to Flames’ CEO Ken King, asking for a new round of talks.
King responded with a letter which started with: “While we would never decline your formal request for a meeting, we do have some concerns based on past practice.”
King requested a preliminary discussion so the Flames can see what’s changed in the city’s position, and then the team could decide if it’s worth returning to the table…
King’s letter also came with a caveat.
“If we are to proceed, a simple and preemptive imperative is media silence. Public and/or media involvement must only be rendered in the event of an agreement,” wrote King.
So the Flames owners’ official position is: Tell us your offer, and we won’t tell you our offer, and then maybe we’ll consider discussing things with you. But nobody is to talk to the media about anything, because we will only negotiate — by which we mean listen to you negotiating against yourself — behind closed doors, with any open democratic debate to take place after the deal is already done.
That is … what’s Canadian for “batshit”? Surely Davison could see that, right?
Turns out, not so much:
He said the letter is a good sign.
“We haven’t heard officially from the Flames in months and getting moving on a conversation quickly was important,” said Davison.
Also, the CBC reports that Davison says he “understands the condition” of not revealing anything to the media.
If you want to bend over backwards to give Davison the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he’s just trying to nod and smile to get King and the Flames execs back to the table, and at that point he’ll start playing hardball. (And he did release the letter to the media, which shows he’s not going to negotiate totally in secret, though he also noted that the letter was going to be subject to freedom of information requests anyway.)
But still, why is he so eager to get the Flames execs back to the table, when it’s the team, not the city, that is desperate for a new arena? Nenshi’s approach — show me why we should build you an arena, and we’ll happily listen — may not have led to progress toward construction, but that’s largely because building an arena that the Flames would profit from would be a terrible deal for the city, while building an arena that wouldn’t cost the city much would be a terrible deal for the Flames. So yeah, there’s an impasse, but that’s only because $1 billion–plus arenas in medium-sized cities that already have perfectly okay if lacking new-car-smell arenas are terrible investments, something that no amount of smiling and nodding and negotiating is going to change. It’s still early, but “Please let us negotiate with you for this thing that you are demanding from us” seems like a very, very, very bad sign.
The Rhode Island House Finance Committee met yesterday to discuss House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s bill to make the city instead of the state cover any funding shortfalls for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, so what did they resolve about the undecided aspects of the bill? How much higher interest the state would have to pay on bonds without a state guarantee of repayment? Nope. How big a tax increment financing district would be needed to siphon off tax revenues to pay the public’s $38 million in costs? Nuh-uh. But we did get lots of Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien threatening that if Rhode Island didn’t approve the bill — whatever the bill is — the team would move to Worcester:
“They are still committed to listening and hearing what the bills are, but Worcester is on the table,” Grebien told reporters before the hearing on where the team stands. “We need to send them a clear signal … My instincts are: absolutely they want to be here.”
“I am trying to make sure we have a bill so we can have that conversation,” Grebien said. “I can tell you, if we don’t have a bill, they are gone.”
The PawSox owners have been very careful not to openly threaten to move to Worcester, though they did have one of their lobbyists declare sadly that without a new stadium in Pawtucket, Worcester might just make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Worcester officials have not made any specific public offers at all so far, and PawSox officials didn’t show up at the hearing — they’ve been careful not to say anything at all about Mattiello’s plan, because playing hard to get is always just adorable — so it was left to Grebien to speculate wildly about what exactly was being threatened:
Rep. Antonio Giarrusso, R-East Greenwich, asked Grebien about reports that Worcester was asking the team to only pay $18 million of the stadium costs.
Grebien said the team was not trying to pit one city against the other and had not told him what Worcester’s offer was.
Ah, mayors willing and ready to blackmail themselves. Where would we be without them?
FIFA not actually demanding every 2026 World Cup host city have two extra stadiums on hand for watching on TV, phew
So several readers wondered if the line in the Las Vegas Review-Journal article cited in my previous post about FIFA demanding “two outdoor venues — each capable of seating 20,000 people to watch every tournament game on a big screen at no cost” really meant outdoor venues, as I assumed, or just public plazas for fan zones, as has been done for past World Cups. I reached out to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, whose COO Steve Hill was quoted (well, paraphrased) as saying the thing about 20,000-seat venues, and didn’t hear back immediately — their press people are still trying to track Hill down for clarification.
But the Review-Journal’s reporter Rick Velotta did get back to me, and wrote this:
I specifically asked Steve Hill about this because I asked, “What about just opening up T-Mobile and Thomas & Mack?” He said they had to be strictly outdoor venues (which makes little sense to me, considering the tournament is in June/July).
So I asked, “What about Sam Boyd Stadium and maybe the Las Vegas Motor Speedway?” He said FIFA is looking for a new place to set up so that a big screen could be set up at one end. So it’s more like what you suggested … public space where a big screen and seating could be built.
So you’d be talking about not only a lot of space but a place where people could also park their cars.
My apologies, then, for getting anyone in a panic about having to build tons of new outdoor stadiums (or at least rent tons of old ones), as it appears that all FIFA really wants is two big-ass fields and 20,000 folding chairs and big video boards and a few thousand parking spaces. For around 100 games over the course of several weeks. And security for all that, of course. For free. Really, I don’t see what Las Vegas (and Chicago and Minneapolis and Vancouver) was even griping about — that’s nothing more than you’d offer to any multi-billion-dollar company visiting for a few weeks, right?
FIFA is reportedly demanding every 2026 World Cup host city have two extra stadiums on hand for watching on TV
So it turns out Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vancouver weren’t the only cities to bow out of bidding to be host cities for the 2026 World Cup because the FIFA demands were too rich for their blood; Las Vegas did so as well. And the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has revealed one previously unannounced FIFA demand that is, frankly, jaw-dropping:
The requirements included providing two outdoor venues — each capable of seating 20,000 people to watch every tournament game on a big screen at no cost, [Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and Chief Operating Officer Steve] Hill said.
So if we’re taking this at its word*, every host city needs to have three stadiums — one to play in, and two to watch TV in. And they need to be outdoors, because what kind of crazy person watches games on a screen indoors?
In a lot of the prospective host cities — Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Miami, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, if you needed a reminder — this won’t be too difficult, as there will be MLB and MLS facilities in place that can be used as well. (Or college football stadiums, as in Seattle, where the MLS team already plays in the stadium that would be used for the World Cup.) The bigger problem will be getting them for free: In most cases the local sports teams control the use of the venues, not the cities, which raises the possibility that cities may have to fork over big bucks to rent back the stadiums they themselves helped build in order to hand them over to FIFA to use for rent-free watch parties.
And then, there’s also the problem that the World Cup takes place in the middle of the baseball season, so will the Houston Astros — to pick a team at random — be asked to go on a month-long road trip so that their stadium can be used as a giant open-air movie theater for soccer fans?
The Las Vegas Review-Journal also reports that FIFA is requiring each city to put in place “world-class practice facilities shielded from the public” for teams playing in each host city, which, again, most cities probably have somewhere (depending on what you mean by “world-class”), but may not be able to access for free.
If the “two free bonus stadiums” thing is accurate — it’s not in the FIFA bid book, though really, not much is (the practice facilities are, though) — this is clearly going to be a large issue for many, if not most, of the prospective North American host cities. We have several years of ugly, ugly haggling ahead of us, so it’s important to figure out what the key sticking points are going to be sooner than later, before a whole lot of cities get stuck with some unexpected bills.
Austin council split going into June 28 vote on whether to open up bids on proposed Crew soccer stadium land
It looks like the soccer stadium vote at the final Austin city council meeting of the session on June 28 will come down to whether to open negotiations exclusively with Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt’s group or to put the McKalla Place land up for open bid:
Item 64 on the agenda is to approve a resolution that would direct the city manager to begin negotiating with Precourt Sports Ventures for a Major League Soccer stadium at McKalla Place in North Austin.
Item 60 is for a resolution that would direct the city manager to solicit development plans, including those for mixed-use developments, for McKalla Place.
The soccer-only plan is backed by Mayor Steve Adler and councilmembers Kathie Tovo, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, and Delia Garza; the open-bid plan is backed by councilmembers Leslie Pool, Alison Alter, Ora Houston, and Ellen Troxclair. That leaves three swing votes: Greg Casar, Ann Kitchen, and Jimmy Flannigan.
If you’re trying to handicap those swing votes, here’s their record so far on the Crew stadium debate:
- Casar has said he’s in favor of the Crew moving to Austin, but has asked of the McKalla site, “if we put a stadium there, what are we giving up?”
- Kitchen previously introduced a bill to bar city parkland (like McKalla Place*) from being used for a soccer stadium, but ultimately withdrew it.
- Flannigan has said that he’s in favor of the McKalla site, “if there is an appropriate agreement and contract.”
So if we count Kitchen as leaning against the soccer-only deal, and Flannigan as leaning for, it looks like we could be headed for a very, very busy week of lobbying calls to Greg Casar. He might want to put in a call to Miami to talk to Michelle Spence-Jones for tips on haggling.
*CORRECTION: McKalla Place is indeed city-owned, but Kitchen was reportedly (see comments) opposed only to using city owned parkland for a stadium, not any city-owned land. So if Kitchen is indeed okay with the MLS-only plan, then maybe Casar’s phone won’t be ringing quite so much off the hook this week.
Friday roundup: Kraft tries to use World Cup to get new stadium, Roger Noll says Austin MLS subsidies are indeed subsidies, NC mulls new tax breaks for Panthers
Posting this while watching the first World Cup match at the crazy stadium with the seats outside the stadium. (I haven’t honestly even noticed who the teams are yet, I’m just watching the architecture.) Anyhoo:
- Las Vegas is reconsidering building a new highway ramp just for the Raiders stadium, not because it’ll cost too much (which it will) but because the Raiders stadium developers have decided they don’t actually want it. This is really all you need to know about the relationship between sports teams and elected officials in this country right now.
- Minneapolis’s tourism nonprofit overstated its economic impact figures by $200 million over the last three years, a city audit has found, figures that are used to determine things such as public stadium and arena spending. That’s bad, though given that “economic impact” is pretty much a bogus concept to begin with, the audit’s figures probably aren’t much more meaningful.
- The headline “Gondola From Union Station to Dodger Stadium Moves Forward” cracked me up, but maybe just because I spend so much time sitting on subway trains that don’t go anywhere.
- The Milwaukee Bucks have finally sold their last luxury suite, so hope you didn’t have your heart set on that suite butler.
- The Los Angeles Clippers owners want one of those get-out-of-environmental-review-free cards from the state legislature, because who doesn’t?
- Two out of 12 stadiums built by the Brazil for the 2014 World Cup are no longer undergoing corruption probes! If you’ve calculated that that means ten of the 12 are still under investigation, you get an A+ in math.
- If you’ve been waiting for the first MLS owner to use the 2026 World Cup as an excuse to try to get a new stadium, New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft has got you covered.
- Hey, lookit, somebody actually called Roger Noll after he was name-checked by the Austin city council, and asked him what he thinks of Anthony Precourt’s stadium proposal for that city. His answer: “It’s not accurate to say it’s going to be completely privately financed. It’s in fact going to have a significant subsidy built into it. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.” That’s fair! Adds Temple economist Michael Leeds: “If Austin feels that having a soccer team would give the city an identity, give the people of the city something they enjoy, that’s fine. … That’s different from saying this is going to boost the city’s economy.” Also fair! Short answer from economists: If you wanna help build a stadium because you think having a stadium would be cool, go for it, but don’t do it for the economic impact because bwahaha “economic impact.”
- The North Carolina legislature is considering a bill to give about half a million dollars a year in property tax breaks to the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Knights owners, apparently in exchange for nothing at all from the teams, not even a lease extension. Whether this bill goes anywhere or not, it continues to bode poorly for the upcoming stadium negotiations with the Panthers’ new owner.
- The Colorado Rockies owners have released renderings of the ugly building they want to build on a Coors Field parking lot they’re leasing from the state for $1.25 million a year. The renderings don’t even show any fireworks or searchlights. Sad!
The Austin city council held its first official discussion of a proposed MLS soccer stadium to host the relocated Columbus Crew yesterday, and apparently Leslie Pool isn’t the only councilmember who went into it having done her reading. Just check this out:
Council Member Alison Alter, who has aligned with Pool in the debate, cited an economic study by Stanford professor Roger Noll critical of most stadium deals cities strike with major league sports owners.
“Austin is wonderful, but we don’t defy the laws of economics,” Alter said. “According to this proposal, we’re giving away our land for free. I have an issue with that.”
Elected officials namechecking Roger Noll without prompting! Maybe we really are in the brave new world predicted by, uh, Roger Noll!
The council is set to meet again on Thursday, but soccer isn’t on the agenda, meaning the decision on whether to give Crew owner Anthony Precourt free land and a bunch of infrastructure money is likely to come down to one final winner-take-all debate on June 28 — though the opposition proposal is likely to be less “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” and more “open up the site for competitive bidding so we can see if we get any better offers.” Aside from Pool and Alter being opposed, and both Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem (vice-mayor, basically) Kathie Tovo being in favor, most councilfolk didn’t have much definitive to say yesterday other than this thing is 189 pages, we need to read it more carefully. Good thing they’re going to have two whole meetings to discuss it, because that sure is democracy!
It’s official: The 2026 World Cup has been awarded to a joint bid by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The North American bid won out over one by Morocco by a 134-65 vote of FIFA member nations, if FIFA vote numbers can really be said to mean anything at all.
Anyway, aside from a whole lot of people now making June 2026 travel plans — I personally am torn between wanting to watch top international soccer and wanting to rent out my apartment to a bunch of Icelanders eager to watch their team — the obvious big question is: What will this mean in terms of building and upgrading stadiums? Obviously, the North American nations have a lot more World Cup–ready stadiums than Morocco, which was going to have to spend $15.8 billion on new or renovated stadiums if it had won. But still, FIFA has high expectations — Russia had lots of stadiums already before this year’s World Cup, but still ended up spending $11 billion (not only on stadiums, but mostly) — and even relatively new venues could be deemed in need of upgrades after another eight years has passed, given the way “aging” keeps getting defined down.
The North American bid included 23 cities (deep breath): Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Miami, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle; not all of those will ultimately end up hosting games, even with an expanded 48-team field, but all will be in the running. Several other cities, such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vancouver, bowed out of the running after deciding that they didn’t want to be subject to FIFA’s demands, which can include stadium upgrades, security costs, and tax breaks.
One big issue is bound to be grass vs. turf fields, since a lot of the proposed U.S. stadiums are home to NFL teams and so use fake turf, while FIFA insists that the World Cup — the men’s World Cup, anyway — be played on grass. Obvious candidates for a World Cup final, for example, would be either MetLife Stadium in New York (really New Jersey) or the new Inglewood stadium in Los Angeles (really Inglewood), given the size of the media markets and hotel capacity; however, both have artificial turf, and it’s tough to see the biggest game in international soccer being played on a bunch of grass trays that look like it.
I’ll no doubt be researching this more over the next eight years, so stay tuned. But given that FIFA is involved, as well as U.S. sports team owners who will use pretty much anything at all as a pretext to demand a new or renovated stadium, and this has bad news written all over it for North American taxpayers. Even if the prospect of seeing these guys suit up within driving distance of your home is kind of cool.
Austin councilmember says Crew stadium “massive giveaway,” team owner acting like “used-car salesman”
With the official debate over an Austin MLS stadium to lure the relocated Columbus Crew about to kick off, it’s only one city council member who has publicly come out to say it would be a bad deal — but that one has done so in no uncertain terms:
After a detailed review with her staff, [Leslie Pool] said, the plan “doesn’t pencil out.”
“It looks like a massive giveaway,” Pool said. “Precourt Sports Ventures, they don’t want to pay property taxes but they want the city to cover most of the cost for them without any revenue to pay for it, which we could get from the property taxes.”
That’s not exactly how I’d put it — the city wouldn’t be covering “most of the cost,” though it would definitely be forgoing both property taxes and any share of stadium revenue, both of which are things the people of Austin really think the city should be getting. But Pool did go on to say that the Crew owners “want all the benefit from it — the gate fees, the merchandise, concessions, advertising, you name it — and they don’t want to pay property taxes and [want to] keep all the revenue,” which is dead on, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for misspeaking in the “most of the cost thing.
Team president Dave Greeley immediately responded with a backhanded-placating statement that said while the owners “respect all of the process” and would understand if Pool wants to put the proposed stadium property up for open bidding, “the reality is that there is time sensitivity attached to this,” and maybe there could at least be a memorandum of understanding by the end of June to, you know, create some momentum that would be too hard to undo even if another bidder came in with a better offer? (Greeley didn’t directly say the “creating momentum” thing, but you know he was thinking it.) To which Pool responded:
“That’s a time-honored approach for a used-car salesman. ‘This car isn’t going to be here at this price tomorrow.’ I’m constitutionally reluctant to be pushed like that. … That’s not how a governmental entity should be making policy or decisions for the taxpayers.”
I’d offer to send Councilmember Pool a copy of Field of Schemes, but I feel like she’s already read it.