Buffalo News runs actual article saying Bills stadium possibly not needed right now, maybe

Well, lo and behold, I might actually owe the Buffalo News an apology for all the time I’ve spent poking fun at their atrocious coverage of the Bills stadium demands. The day after Terry Pegula won the bidding to purchase the Bills, here’s what the News ran today:

Pegulas’ winning bid makes stadium decision less urgent

ALBANY – The decision about whether the Buffalo Bills will get a new stadium, renovate their existing home or keep things as they are for now has become less urgent, now that Terry and Kim Pegula have been announced as the winning bidders for the team.

Okay, so it’s just recounting what some state leaders say, and is more “We don’t have to build a stadium just yet” than “Do we need to build a stadium at all?” (Sen. Charles Schumer says Pegula’s purchase provides a chance to “take a look at how we can collectively surmount the challenges to a new stadium that would strengthen the franchise for decades to come.”) But still, at least Buffalo residents are getting a break from the constant drumbeat of how a new stadium needs to be discussed immedi — sorry, what’s that, WGRZ-TV?

Pegula Purchase Re-ignites Stadium Talk

Never mind.

Cuomo now says Bills are fine in old stadium, but check back tomorrow

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo won his primary re-election battle on Tuesday, and was immediately asked to chime in again on the Buffalo Bills stadium debate. This time, the Pop-o-Matic landed on … not enthused!

“You know, uh, maybe I have a vested interest because I have kind of tight pockets, I’ve been accused of, but I think the stadium with the renovations is doing very well.”

Yeah, who do those people think they are, insisting that the Bills need a new stadium. Like that guy who said in August, “If we need a new stadium to keep the Bills here long term, that’s something that I’m interested in talking about.” What ever happened to him?

Milwaukee paper now just writing about every possible place Bucks could put an arena

The Buffalo News may be trying to be your news leader in focusing obsessively on where to put the new sports venue that nobody knows how to pay for yet, but Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel isn’t going to take that lying down. Walker’s gone this route before, but today he doubles down on head-down where-will-it-go reporting, with the headline:

Is UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena a possible new arena site?

Well, that sounds like news, anyway? What’s the answer?

Franklyn Gimbel of the Wisconsin Center District says he has been assured by someone at City Hall that a new arena in Milwaukee will not be built on land now occupied by the 64-year-old UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena…

But Mayor Tom Barrett says that’s not true. Every potential site downtown is still on the table, he says.

So either “no” or “yes, the same as every other site in Milwaukee,” depending on who you believe. This could be a great way for Walker to fill column inches (or screens, I guess, since this is a web article): All he needs is a map of Milwaukee and a dart, and he can keep writing this same column for years.

Sabres owner to buy Bills, Buffalo News still can only focus on where a new stadium would go

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula has will be the new owner of the Buffalo Bills, winning the bidding with a $1.4 billion offer. This raises all kinds of interesting questions, like: Will Pegula continue to push for a new stadium, or will he be satisfied with the renovations just completed to Ralph Wilson Stadium? If the former, will he be willing (or able) to cover most of the costs via some of his $3.3 billion in fracking riches? When he said that the Bills and Sabres are “both here to stay,” does that mean he doesn’t plan on using NFL threats to move to the team to leverage a new stadium? As Sabres owner, could he get away with moving the Bills without being burned in effigy?

All interesting questions, that is, unless you’re the Buffalo News, which is dead-set on covering one and only one thing about the Bills stadium situation, which is where are we gonna build it already?

Pegula has not spoken publicly about his preferences for either a new or renovated stadium for the Bills.

But Pegula’s pending purchase of the team likely gives a leg up to potential stadium sites downtown, near First Niagara Center, where Pegula’s Buffalo Sabres play, and close to the HarborCenter hotel and hockey complex that now is under construction, sources said.

And in case that lengthy article (which does include one paragraph — number 14, if you’re counting — about the possibility of remaining in Ralph Wilson Stadium, with still more renovations) isn’t enough, there’s also a sidebar on six different sites that a stadium could be built.

It’s almost like the Buffalo News editors don’t read either me or the Columbia Journalism Review. Either that, or they’re covertly trying to wrest the satirical-journalism-site crown from ClickHole.

[UPDATE: I just realized I missed this article from yesterday, in which the News observes that Pegula's purchase of the Bills will give "clarity" to "the search for a new stadium site." Gotta give them points for consistency, anyway.]

Vegas stadium consultant: That $4m a year in MLS revenue was a typo, we’ll fix it

AECOM, the architecture and engineering firm that presented that disputed Las Vegas MLS stadium economic projection, has spoken! Not to the press, but to city officials, and their explanation for why their report appears to have double-counted $4 million a year in rent payments is a doozy:

AECOM explained the problem that [city councilmember Bob] Beers raised by sending a letter to City Manager Betsy Fretwell saying the company mistakenly forwarded portions of a previous draft of the feasibility study to city officials, according to Las Vegas spokesman David Riggleman. Fretwell then informed City Council members of the mistake, he said.

“They blended tables and data from earlier in the process. They will send us the corrected version,” Riggleman said. The city expects the correct feasibility study from AECOM later this week, Riggleman said.

This is pretty incredible: Apparently AECOM is saying that when it included $4 million in annual rent payments as part of the stadium’s benefits, even though it was already committed to pay off the city’s bond payments, that was something copied from the wrong version of the file. You know, the kind of error that anyone could make — the kind that represents almost half of the entire revenue projected from the stadium, and which when corrected would turn a $2 million a year city profit into a $2 million a year city loss. A little oopsie.

(The other possibility, of course, is that AECOM isn’t saying that the $4 million a year is in error, which means they still haven’t explained what it’s doing in there. I can’t wait to do a Compare Documents on the original and corrected versions of this report.)

No word, meanwhile, from the would-be stadium developers, Cordish Cos. and Findlay Sports, that hired AECOM (and in Findlay’s case, that gave a completely different explanation for the mystery of the $4 million yesterday that turned out, apparently, to be complete gibberish). If you’re in Vegas, though, you’re in luck, because starting next Tuesday, Cordish and Findlay representatives will be at a series of town hall meetings to take your questions, which may or may not include “What were you smoking when you decided to hire an engineering firm to draw up an economic impact study?”

  • Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Centennial Hills Community Center, 6601 N. Buffalo Drive

  • Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Doolitle Community Center, 1950 N. J. Street

  • Thursday, Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Rogich Middle School, 235 Pavilion Center Drive

  • Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Durango Hills Community Center, 3521 N. Durango Drive

  • Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers, 495 S. Main Street

  • Thursday, Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Development Services Center, 333. N. Rancho Drive

For those not in Vegas, there are a bunch of online options, but it doesn’t look like Cordish or Findlay reps will be there:

  • From Sept. 11 through Oct. 1, residents can share their thoughts in an online town hall called Crowd Hall. It will be available at https://crowdhall.com/h/303/

  • Las Vegas City Manager Betsy Fretwell will hold a Twitter chat on Sept. 18, beginning at 4 p.m. Use #stadiumchat to share feedback. Follow Betsy Fretwell on Twitter @BetsyFretwell

  • Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman will hold a Twitter chat on Sept. 22 at 8 a.m. Use #stadiumchat to share feedback and follow the mayor on Twitter @MayorofLasVegas

  • The city will host a Google Hangout on Sept. 30 at 11 a.m. Use #stadiumhangout to ask questions. Follow the city of Las Vegas on Google+ at google.com/+cityoflasvegas

Vegas MLS developer: We’re not double-counting rent, we’re single-counting imaginary non-soccer revenues

One of the would-be soccer stadium developers in Las Vegas has responded to Las Vegas councilmember Bob Beers’ claim that a report on the proposed stadium double-counted rent payments from the team. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Justin Findlay, managing partner of Findlay Sports & Entertainment, addressed Beers’ concerns this way: The stadium’s expenses do not include the required $3.5 million in annual rent because it’s the team and not the stadium that will pay the rent.

And the stadium’s annual “rent” revenues of $4.4 million listed in the feasibility study do not include the $3.5 million rent payment to the city because that line item refers to the rent revenue generated from non-soccer games like football games and other events staged at the stadium.

So the roughly $4 million rent in the report isn’t the actual roughly $4 million rent that the team would pay towards construction bonds; it’s the $4 million in “rent” that the city would earn from non-MLS events at the stadium.

Which all makes sense, except that the Review-Journal previously spelled out that $4 million is the total of team rent payments plus non-MLS revenues:

The term sheet said the bonds issued by the city will be repaid from three sources — the private partners paying $3.5 million annually in team rent; the partners contributing annual non-soccer revenue of $500,000 in year one through year 10, and then $1.5 million annually in years 11-30; and the city contributing $3 million a year in room tax revenue distributed to the city from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Maybe Findlay means that the first $500,000 in non-soccer profits will go to pay off the bonds, and the next $4 million will go toward the city’s operating budget? Except that there’s no reason to believe that non-soccer events will generate $4.5 million a year in profits (or even $500,000, really). Plus the term sheet doesn’t say anything about the team paying anything extra in rent over the first $500,000 a year.

The latest Review-Journal article notes: “This is a developing story. Check back for updates.” I hope answering this question can be one of them.

[UPDATE: At 12:21 pm Vegas time, Alan Snel's Review-Journal article was edited to remove Findlay's quote, presumably because it doesn't make a damn bit of sense. The article now notes that "it’s unclear why the stadium revenues would include the $3.5 million in rent when the proposed stadium deal calls for the $3.5 million in rent to be paid to the city to help pay off the bond debt" and says "the Las Vegas Review-Journal has contacted representatives from the city, Cordish and Findlay for an explanation Tuesday and is waiting for a response."]

Vegas MLS stadium study shows city will do fine if it just double-counts $4m in rent payments

Would-be Las Vegas soccer stadium developers Cordish Cos. and Findlay Sports & Entertainment have released a feasibility study on the proposed $200 million project … several days after the Las Vegas council was set to vote on the plan. (The council ended up putting it off until October.) Also, the study was dated August 20, which raised some eyebrows on the already eyebrow-raised council:

“Cordish didn’t turn it over to us. The question is why didn’t they?” a frustrated [councilmember Bob] Coffin said of the delay…

City spokesman David Riggleman said the feasibility report was dated Aug. 20, but was received by Mayor Carolyn Goodman and the other six council members on Sunday because Cordish spent all that time scrubbing proprietary information.

Port Telles, development director of The Cordish Cos., said he could not comment because of company policy.

I cannot tell you how much I really really hope this becomes a thing: “I’m sorry, officer, I can’t comment on whether I’ve been drinking. Company policy.” “I wish I could tell you whether I saw that video, but I can’t. Company policy.” Quick, somebody start a cat meme.

Anyway, here’s the study itself, and if you don’t feel like reading all 103 pages, here’s councilmember Bob Beers’ analysis of it, which is pretty long itself. The most damning piece of Beers’ analysis is that the report includes $4 million or so in annual rent payments by the team as part of the stadium’s operating budget (resulting in a roughly $2 million a year projected profit) — though those same rent payments are also being earmarked for repaying part of the city’s stadium construction bonds.

The pro-forma proposes to spend the same $4-million per year two times, once (shown on the pro-forma) for operating expense and profit, and a second time (not shown on the pro-forma) for debt repayment.

I’ve emailed Cordish asking what’s what, but I’m guessing I won’t hear back, what with the company policy and all.

Astros, Nats: We’ll pay rent on Palm Beach spring training site if we get it right back in hotel tax kickbacks

Palm Beach County is still trying to build a new $140 million spring-training complex to lure the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, with the slight holdup that the county doesn’t actually have $140 million. So the teams have proposed a solution: They’ll pay $2.1 million a year rent (combined), if the county agrees to give them $3 million a year in hotel taxes, rising by 3.5% a year for 30 years wait what? How does that help?

The Palm Beach Post, which apparently first reported this, is behind a paywall, and the subsequent reports in the Houston Chronicle and Washington Post aren’t helping much. (The Chronicle says that $2.1 million a year would pay off $56 million in bonds, which it wouldn’t, and the Post links to a month-old Palm Beach Post article about something else, which is also behind the paywall anyway.) The two teams are making a formal presentation to the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council on Thursday; hopefully we’ll get some actual information then.


Charlotte to pay for $34m in Hornets arena upgrades, Michael Jordan kept at bay a few more years

The Charlotte city council voted 9-2 last night to spend $34 million on renovations to the Hornets‘ Time Warner Cable Arena, which opened in 2005 and is the third-newest building in the NBA. Of course they did, because they (or their predecessors nine years ago) included a “state-of-the-art” clause in the Hornets’ (then Bobcats) lease, which means the city must go on spending indefinitely to keep the arena as up-to-date as the newest NBA arenas:

“It is a contractual obligation,” said council member Claire Fallon, a Democrat. “If we break the contract, who will believe our word anymore?”

At this point it’s worth asking — not that any of the media outlets who were actually at the council vote seem to have asked it, but I’ll ask it to the winds, anyway — how much Charlotte will likely have to put up for renovations over the life of the arena, whatever that may turn out to be. You have to expect that the Hornets will come back for more upgrades in another nine years or so — it’s in their contract, why wouldn’t they? — and that those will be more expensive, since by then there will be even more new arenas to keep up with. And nine years after that … well, by then the arena will be 27 years old, so you have to expect the Hornets will be looking to tear it down and build a new one.

As a reminder, the Hornets are owned by the billionaire most famous former athlete on earth, and got the arena scot-free when Charlotte covered all $260 million in construction costs. Add in the gift-that-keeps-on-giving state-of-the-art clause, and this is a serious contender for “worst arena deal ever,” though at least Michael Jordan isn’t getting negative rent. Yet.

Milwaukee paper: Bucks will leave town without new arena, according to someone we won’t tell you who it is

The inimitable Don Walker had an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel over the weekend that is ostensibly about how if the Bucks don’t have a new arena in place by October 2017, the NBA can buy back the team and move it elsewhere. We’ve known about that buyback clause since April, though — Walker’s story moves up the deadline by a month, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s insignificant.

No, the real news here is the introduction of one of the first new sports venue strategies in the last 20 years: the ghost threat.

Some quick backstory: Sports team owners go into stadium and arena battles with a quandary, which is that their best leverage is to threaten that the team will move without subsidies for a new building, but at the same time outright threatening to move the team is not the best way to win friends among the politicians and voters who you’re asking for money. One way around this is to proclaim something along the lines of, “The last thing we want is for this team to leave town.” (In the book Field of Schemes, we dubbed this the non-threat threat, though if we’d had hotlinks available we might have gone with the paratrooper gambit.) Another is to have league officials make the threat on your behalf, because that’s what league officials are for.

Walker’s story, though, breaks new ground by having the threat levied not by a mock-hesitant owner or the NBA commissioner, but by someone who won’t even give their name:

“The date is in the provision as part of the sale agreement,” [a source familiar with the Bucks lease deal] said. “It’s written as such. When you get to the point where (a new arena) is not going to happen, (moving) will have to be discussed at that point.”

There is no shortage of cities waiting to become one of 30 with an NBA franchise: Las Vegas, Kansas City, Louisville and Seattle have been mentioned as suitors, even new markets in Canada. And there seems to be no shortage of wealthy people willing to secure a franchise; Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers.

“[Bucks owners] Marc [Lasry] and Wes [Edens] have no intention of moving the team whatsoever,” said the source. “But they understand that a new arena is a significant necessity for the ongoing success of the franchise, which is to have a state-of-the-art facility that rivals their counterparts.”

This is precisely the kind of use of unnamed sources — to allow the source to put across his or her message in the media without actually having to be accountable for it — that has led to widespread criticism of the overuse of anonymity in the U.S. media. In fact, Walker’s article arguably violates the Journal-Sentinel’s own ethics policy, which states:

Except in unusual circumstances, we should allow anonymity only when the source has a legitimate fear of suffering harm or reprisals if identified. We should not allow anonymous sources to make personal attacks; criticisms of character should be stated on the record. We will characterize anonymous sources as completely as possible so that readers can make judgments about their authority, expertise or bias.

Clearly someone putting forth the NBA company line doesn’t have a “legitimate fear” of reprisal if it’s a league source, though “unusual circumstances” is a pretty big loophole. Likewise, saying “a source close to the deal” isn’t much of a complete characterization, since there’s no way for readers to tell whether this is someone with the Bucks, the league, the city of Milwaukee, or what.

Walker’s article, sadly, isn’t that unusual — the use of unnamed sources is widespread, even in places where it’s not necessary. But allowing an unnamed source to levy a move threat, without having to put on the record who’s making the threat, is new to the sports venue game.

Meanwhile, neither Walker nor anyone else in the Milwaukee media has investigated the question that’s been hanging out there since spring: Did Lasry and Edens (and former Bucks owner Herb Kohl) conspire with the NBA to insert that buyback clause into the lease, to give them better leverage in gaining subsidies for a new arena? It would take more actual investigation than making a phone call and saying, “Sure, I’ll print what you say without putting your name in the paper,” but it’s kind of what we have newspapers for, you know?