Friday roundup: Neo-Expos seek public land for stadium, Hawaii mulls new stadium to host nothing, D-Backs spend bupkis fixing supposedly crumbling stadium

So very, very much news:

  • Would-be Montreal Expos reviver Stephen Bronfman has reportedly settled on federally owned land in Peel Basin near downtown as a prospective stadium site once a franchise is obtained, through expansion or relocation. Mayor Valérie Plante called the idea “interesting”; other than that, there’s been no word of what Bronfman would pay for the land or how the stadium would be paid for or really anything involving money, so sure, “interesting” is a fine evaluation of this news.
  • Charles Allen, the D.C. councilmember whose district includes RFK Stadium, calls the site “a very wrong choice for an NFL stadium,” and instead would like to see housing and parks there. Mayor Muriel Bowser disagrees, so this is going to come down to a good old council fight. Too bad Marion Barry isn’t around anymore to make things interesting.
  • Hawaii is considering spending $350 million in public money on a new football stadium to replace Aloha Stadium because, according to state senator Glenn Wakai, “It’s kind of like driving a Datsun pickup truck that is just being run into the ground. At a certain point, time to get a new pickup truck.” Given that Aloha Stadium currently hosts nothing much at all other than University of Hawaii football, it’s more like spending $350 million to replace your pickup truck that just sits in the driveway with a new pickup truck, but far be it from me to interfere with Sen. Wakai’s attempts to bash Datsun for some reason.
  • Halifax is still considering whether to spend $120-140 million on a stadium for an expansion CFL team, maybe via the magic of tax increment financing; University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe points out that a TIF isn’t magic but just “makes the subsidy less transparent, less obvious that it indeed even is a subsidy” — but then, pulling the wool over the public’s eyes is a kind of magic, no?
  • The Oakland Raiders have a “very real” chance of playing 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum, according to … this Bleacher Report headline, but nothing in the actual story? What the hell, Bleacher Report?
  • Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has claimed that the team’s stadium would need $8 million in upgrades over the winter, but has only spent $150,000. Which isn’t totally a gotcha — team execs say they’re conserving the stadium maintenance fund to spend on future repairs — but it does poke a bit of a hole in their argument that the stadium is in such bad shape that MLB could order the Diamondbacks to leave Arizona.
  • Austin residents will get to vote in November on whether the city can give public land to a pro sports team owner without a public vote, but it’ll probably be too late to affect the deal to do that for Austin F.C. owner Anthony Precourt. It’ll come in handy next time Austin is in the market for a pro sports team, I guess, though then the owner will probably just figure out a different way to ask for subsidies. “Better late than never” doesn’t work that well when it comes to democracy.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s “not sure that there’s much space for public consultation” on a redevelopment project to include a Flames arena, though he added that “it would be very interesting to hear from the public on what they think the right amount of public participation in this should be, and certainly there will be an opportunity for the public to have their voices heard but it might not happen until there’s something on the table.” It’s hard to tell whether that’s a justification or an apology — and keep in mind that Nenshi was deliberately shut out of the committee negotiating any deal — but there you are.
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber just got a five-year extension, and — quelle coincidence! — the league is now talking about expanding to 32 teams by 2026. Whether this is really a Ponzi-esque attempt to paper over weak financials with a constant influx of expansion fees won’t be entirely clear until the expansion finally stops and we see how the money looks then, but one thing is increasingly clear: It’s kind of crazy to throw stadium money around in hopes of landing an MLS franchise when it’s increasingly clear every reasonably large city in the U.S. is going to get one sooner or later.
  • And finally, Amazon pulled out of its $3 billion tax break deal with New York yesterday, and it sounds like it’s because its execs were tired of taking a PR beating around the company’s anti-union stance and contracting for ICE. Some New Yorkers are celebrating victory, others are retreating into the Casino Night Fallacy, and as always, The Onion has the final word.

Maryland governor says he doesn’t want to build NFL stadium for Dan Snyder after all

Daniel Snyder’s plan to play off the three local governments in the D.C. area to extract land and money for a new stadium for his NFL team took another blow last night, as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he was stopping his pursuit of building a stadium on federal land south of D.C., at least “at this time”:

“We are not continuing discussions with the Redskins regarding this site at this time, however we are moving full steam ahead with acquiring state control of the Maryland Gateway in Prince George’s County from the federal government,” [Hogan’s communications director Amelia] Chasse wrote in response to an email from The Washington Post asking whether Hogan had withdrawn support of a new Redskins stadium in Maryland. “We believe this site holds significant potential benefits for the region and the state, as does the proposal to expand protected federal parkland in Western Maryland. We are working closely with our federal partners to finalize the transfer.”

Deadspin reported this as “Dan Snyder’s Sleazy Stadium Scheme Is Crumbling Around Him,” which is probably overly optimistic: Hogan can always resume negotiations with Snyder later, after he’s gotten control of the land, after all. But it is undeniably true that Snyder’s machinations haven’t gotten off to a whiz-bang start, what with his main backer on the D.C. council facing possible ethics charges and local officials in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia working on an interstate pact not to bid against each other, and now this. It only takes one win for a sports team owner to go home with a shiny new stadium, and this can take anywhere from months to a decade or more, but if you’re placing wagers on when Snyder’s team will be playing in a new home, I’d bet the over.

Report: Maybe Raiders can play 2019 in (rolls dice, looks at chart) Birmingham and Tucson?

Oh, man, do I want to believe this latest rumor about where the Oakland Raiders will play in 2019:

And that’s it! Burger is a “3x Emmy-nominated Sports Anchor/Reporter at (NBC),” Parker is a Birmingham city councilmember, and “an effort” just means that somebody is proposing it, so really, there is neither smoke nor fire here, at least not yet. Playing in college stadiums in two smallish non-NFL cities separated by 1600 miles while turning up your nose at similar options either in your current home or your future one makes zero sense, but it does make sense for Mark Davis to be shaking as many trees as possible as the date to set an NFL schedule looms, so why not? Though personally my money’s on (fires up GeoGuessr) … a dirt road just outside Chistopol, Tatarstan? Don’t say it couldn’t happen!

Rays’ attendance woes may not be solvable by anyone of woman born

I had a new article published at Deadspin yesterday, exploring the question of just why the Tampa Bay Rays punch so far below their weight in attendance despite playing in the United States’ 11th largest media market. Possible theories: People hate their stadium, people hate traveling across the bay to St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay region has too much competition for sports spending and too little mass transit, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has alienated fans, Florida overall has too many transplants who are fans of other teams and too many beaches to compete with sports tickets, and all of the above:

“It’s like a secret sauce—there’s a dash of bad ownership, there’s a dash of previous cities’ allegiances because it’s Florida and everyone moves here from somewhere else, there’s a dash of hard to get to,” says [St. Pete urban designer and Rays fan Josh] Frank.

The problem then becomes: How do you solve a problem that is really five problems at once? Building a new stadium in St. Pete is only a solution if what’s keeping fans away is the Tropicana Dome; moving the team to the Tampa side of the bay is only a solution if the problem is that nobody wants to drive to St. Pete; Sternberg selling the team is only a solution if personal antipathy to the way he’s run the team is turning fans off; and so on. And if it’s everything, that’s going to be hard to solve in one fell swoop, or maybe at all.

None of which is the Tampa Bay area’s problem, obviously: It’s Sternberg who has to figure out how to sell tickets (or, you know, not and live off his TV revenues, which should remain decent since Rays fans do watch games, they just don’t go to them). He could move otherwise, yes — in 2027 when his lease is up, anyway — but even then, unless one argues that the presence of an MLB team is worth enough to pave over the bay and build a new stadium in the middle of it, this still is a problem for the guy who bought the team, not for the city that he bought it in.

It is going to make for a very interesting runup to 2027, though, as Sternberg likely continues — possibly rightly — to turn up his nose at spending a lot of money on a new stadium because he doesn’t think it’ll pay off for him, while local governments — definitely rightly — say they don’t wanna pay for one neither, because where the Rays play, even if it’s Montreal, isn’t much skin off the region’s economic nose. The Rays stadium situation might just be a lose-lose scenario, then, where no option, including moving out of town, will vault the franchise into the middle range of MLB attendance, and revenues; that’s not the worst thing — somebody has to be at the bottom, after all — but it does mean that Rob Manfred could have a long wait before the Rays situation is “resolved” and he can start collecting those sweet, sweet expansion fees without fear of closing off potential Sternberg relocation threats.

Florida man proposes eliminating world’s most confusing sports subsidy slush fund

The history of Florida’s state-level sports subsidy program is a weird one: Back in 2014, the state legislature, tired of dealing with constant competing asks from all of the state’s sports owners, set up a ranking system for teams to request a cut of $12 million a year in sales tax money. The next year, the panel doing the ranking approved all of the applicants, which totally defeated the purpose because there wasn’t enough money in the sales tax pool to fund all of them; the year after that, the state was asked to fund three projects that were already underway regardless of whether they got the money. It’s such a mess that no money has ever actually been approved, which while kind of a silver lining if you believe the numbers showing that the state massively loses money on these subsidies.

Anyway, that all brings us to today, with some Florida legislators trying to just eliminate the sports subsidy program once and for all, and presumably reclaim the money for other uses:

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, with little comment Monday, backed the latest proposal (SB 414) by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, to repeal a controversial 2014 program that — despite never being used — lays out steps for the stadium money to become available.

“Should the Legislature decide at some point it did want to fund a particular facility for a particular purpose, the Legislature could always go back and do it the way they’ve always done it, and that is through a direct appropriation,” Lee said. “But to use this process as cover for an appropriation from this Legislature for a facility that can’t prove economic benefit, to me is just kind of a ruse.”

Lee noted that the first four applicants way back in 2015 — the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Orlando S.C, and the Daytona International Speedway — all continued with their stadium projects even after the state rejected approving funding, which has “done the best job of anybody to make the point that these aren’t really economic development incentives,” since any economic development happened exactly the same even without the subsidies.

Of course, as Lee also noted, Florida can always approve stadium funds on a case-by-case basis, as it has done in the past. It’s hard to know what to think of this: Eliminating a stadium slush fund normally sounds positive, but if the sheer stupidity of the state funding process has dissuaded team owners from even asking for money … it’s a tough call. If I were a Florida state legislator, I’d probably call Stu Sternberg and ask what he thinks of the bill, and then vote the opposite.

MLB commissioner says Rays’ future is a new stadium in St. Pete, Rays owner says “meh”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred declared Friday that “the focus is on St. Petersburg” for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium, indicating that team owner Stuart Sternberg will begin negotiating for a new home on the Pinellas County side of the bay. Which, you know, of course he will: Following the collapse of talks for a new stadium across the bay in Tampa when it turned out he didn’t wanna pay for one and nobody else did either, Sternberg is locked into a lease that won’t even let him think about a stadium elsewhere until 2027.

For the next eight years, then, we’re destined to hear talk, and lots of it, of where a new stadium could go in St. Pete. The Tampa Bay Times, which up till now has been a reliable channeler of Sternberg’s raw desires, says that the owner is still uncertain about whether he can sell enough tickets in St. Pete, even adding that if he presented other MLB owners with plans for a new stadium there, “It’s possible they would say no.” If he’s trying to drive a hard bargain with local elected officials by playing hard to get, it didn’t work immediately: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is reportedly open to a new stadium elsewhere on the Tropicana Field property, but told the Times, “I’m not going to negotiate against myself. I’ve made it clear if they want to talk about it, they have to tell me they’re interested.”

The problem here, as always, is money: Pinellas County has more uncommitted tax revenue available to offer for a Rays stadium, but that doesn’t mean it makes any sense for the west side of the bay to throw money at Sternberg, especially when right now he has zero other options. And Sternberg isn’t wrong that being on the more-isolated St. Pete side of the bay limits the number of fans who can easily get to games — the drive from Tampa is difficult, from Orlando damn near impossible — so if he didn’t want to chip in more than $150 million (plus maybe naming rights money) for a Tampa stadium, it’s tough to imagine him wanting to dig much deeper in St. Pete, though he could raise a bit more either by cashing in his shared rights to develop the rest of the Trop site, or selling them back to the city.

Still, it’s going to be tough to get to the nearly $1 billion expected cost of a new stadium without somebody taking a bath on the deal, which is why we’re in the spot we’re in now: This is a giant game of chicken between Sternberg and everybody else, and nobody’s ready to give up now. Not even Manfred, who as is his wont tried to sound threatening and placating all at the same time, and ended up just sounding like a man who can’t make up his mind from sentence to sentence:

“We are still committed to the region and would like to see a solution,” Manfred said. “Certainly St. Petersburg is an alternative. It may be that there’s another opportunity on the Tampa side at some point in the process.

“We think the Tampa Bay region is a major-league market. And Mr. Sternberg continues to devote a lot of time and effort to getting a positive result for the region.”

The one thing that’s clear is that the rest of baseball’s owners would really really like the Rays (and the Oakland A’s) to decide what if anything they’re going to do about new stadiums, and soon, both to boost their revenues (hopefully, though if new-stadium smell comes with new-stadium debt it might not make a huge difference) and to clear the path to talk about raking in some sweet, sweet expansion fees from cities like Montreal that would no longer be needed to hold out as threats against Tampa Bay and Oakland. But as Manfred should know, you can’t hurry extortion — you just have to wait.

Friday roundup: Suns referendum campaign fails, Panthers owner floats roof, Inter Miami and Raiders both still need temporary homes

The stadium news does not care if I am having a busy week, it just keeps happening! And I am, as always, here to catch it in a bucket and dump it out for you:

Hurricanes exec says sweetheart lease must be sweetened more to make team “sustainable”

Remember last year around this time, when a new rich guy bought the Carolina Hurricanes and didn’t immediately demand a new or renovated arena and I was all “he has a sweetheart lease through 2024 so maybe he won’t complain for a few more years”? Well, forget all that:

“If you look around the league, for public buildings, we’re at the bottom of the league,” Hurricanes president Don Waddell said. “It’s nothing that anyone did wrong. Those were the times back in the ‘90s. But if we’re going to be a sustainable franchise in this marketplace for a long time, the lease plays an important role. The economics of the deal have to change in our favor.”

Well, that’s a tidy bundle of threat bombs! Without changing the “economics” of the lease — read: giving Hurricanes ownership more and the public Centennial Authority less — the franchise won’t be “sustainable” for “a long time.” (I will skip including here my usual link to the Army Protection Racket sketch. Oh, paralipsis!)

The irony is that, as mentioned above, Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon has an exceptionally team-friendly lease now, where he gets all the revenues from the arena while paying nothing in operating or capital upgrade costs, just a $3 million a year rent that he can deduct a bunch of expenses from before paying. (He’s still probably losing money on the team, but them’s the breaks when you own a hockey team in a small city in basketball country.) But leases can always get sweeter — hell, the Arizona Coyotes used to get paid to play in their arena! — and you can’t get if you don’t ask, right?

There’s also the issue of upgrades to the Hurricanes’ arena, which “is in need of massive renovations that could exceed $150 million,” according to the News & Observer, citing no sources at all. The paper goes on to report: “While the building’s behind-the-scenes infrastructure has been maintained at a high level by the arena authority, public-facing areas from the arena bowl to the entrances have an understandably dated look compared to state-of-the-art arenas elsewhere.” So it really just needs a more modern paint job? A $150 million paint job? I’d think Dundon would do better asking for $150 million to subsidize his annual operating losses, but I guess if you can ask for both, all the better!

Flames arena backer calls public debate “a poison pill”

Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, the main public official advocating for a new Flames arena, has provided his latest thoughts on the process he hopes to see for getting one approved, and man, does he have feels aplenty:

“I wouldn’t see public debate as necessary in terms of this deal,” says the councillor.

“We’ve done our homework to do engagement up front. Engagement shouldn’t be used as a poison pill.

“And frankly, a lot of the people who want to engage after the fact want to shut projects down. They just want their vote to say: No, I still oppose this.”

That is definitely a bold policy position to take, telling your constituents that you don’t want to hear from them, because they might disagree with you! Did Davison temper his statements at all to admit that the public might have some role in democratic decision-making? Let’s find out!

“At the end of the day, through the channels that are already available to us, rather than just public debate people can call their councillor and they do.

“People can talk about it in the community and they do. People can engage where engagement has been available to them and they have.”

There we go: You can call your elected officials, and you can complain on Facebook. It’s 2019, people, what do you want, the right to make public decision by casting votes on broken pottery?

Davison’s view that democracy is about having your say on election day and then shutting up is actually a somewhat common one, at least among people who were voted in on election day and would now like everyone to shut up. Most memorably, then–New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected proposals for a public referendum on building the Yankees a new stadium as representing “the absence of leadership”; though Giuliani also once said that “freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do,” so maybe he’s not exactly the go-to guy for dictionary definitions here.

Anyway, Davison also hinted that any Flames arena deal would include “a couple hundred million dollars being put into a public facility the city owns,” which if “a couple” means “two” would be a hell of a lot less than the Flames owners’ last proposal, but it’s probably best for Calgarians to believe it when they see it. And then if they don’t like it, call their councillors! That Jeff Davison seems like an open-minded fellow, I bet his staff will be happy to give their messages all the attention they deserve.

F.C. Cincinnati says stadium will no longer glow, demands free land in exchange for parking rights

F.C. Cincinnati has released new renderings of its planned $250 million MLS stadium, and as tends to happen, now that the public money is secured and it’s more important to figure out how to cut costs, the designers are taking steps to drab it up. Here, as a reminder, is the original plan:

And here’s what the team is proposing now:

Note any differences? It’s subtle, but I bet you can spot it.

The orange glow, said team officials according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, was eliminated “to accommodate neighborhood residents who were concerned and to cut costs.” Instead, the entire stadium will now be in black and white, as well as the entire surrounding neighborhood. Sounds like somebody needs a magic basketball!

In other news, F.C. Cincinnati’s owners were seeking to get a city-owned parking lot on the stadium site for $1, while the city council was holding out for the site’s $1,632,384 appraised value. The solution reached yesterday: The team will give the city use of a whole bunch of parking spaces plus a $300,000 police investigative unit facility, but no actual money. Mayor John Cranley said that the proposed deal “in my opinion gets us more than double the city’s appraised value,” and is “frankly a no-brainer”; Cranley didn’t show his math, but clearly he puts a lot of value on free parking.