Friday roundup: D.C.’s ballpark boom, Rays’ stadium “ingenuity,” and other logical fallacies

You know how the New York Times now offers The Week in Good News, to remind you that not absolutely everything is awful? This is not that, not at all, though it does include a nice oblique shoutout to this site:

  • I think at this point just about every reader out there has emailed or tweeted me about this Washington Post article on development around the new Nationals stadium, variously headed “Ballpark Boomtown” or “The promise: Nationals Park would transform the city. Did it?” or “Nationals Park brings growth, worries to Southeast Washington.” The hook is that construction is booming around the new stadium — one former local opponent is even quoted as saying “Nats Park has been a tremendous boon to the region and the city and even to our neighborhood” — so doesn’t this disprove the idea that sports venues don’t create economic growth? The short answer: It’s hard to say from the anecdotal stories in this article, as it could be that the stadium sparked development that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, or it could be that it redirected development that otherwise would have taken place elsewhere in crane-happy D.C. (a point made in the article by economist Dennis Coates, who says, “This is not income growth; it’s redistribution”), or it could be that the Navy Yard would have gotten developed with or without the stadium. I’ve been poring over the big lists of logical fallacies and cognitive biases and haven’t yet found one that exactly describes the tendency to only look at what did happen thanks to a decision and not what would have happened without it; if this doesn’t have a name yet, the Stadium Catalyst Fallacy has a nice ring to it.
  • The city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky are projected to end up spending more than $1 billion in up-front costs and interest payments on the University of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, and while that’s not the best way to determine public costs — really you want to translate future payments into present value, and include not just arena debt service but operating costs and what have you as well, a calculation that this Louisville Courier-Journal article doesn’t attempt — holy crap, one billion dollars is still an acceptable response. (Sports marketer Jim Host, who helped devise the arena plan, has his own response — “If you allowed yourself to be deterred by the negative aspects, nothing would ever get done” — which probably belongs somewhere on that logical fallacy list as well.)
  • Andrew Barroway, who bought half of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015 for $152.5 million and the other half in 2017 for $120 million, and who has complained that his team “cannot survive” without a new arena because of annual losses that are “not sustainable,” now wants to sell half the team for $250 million. Just think on that one for a while.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred thinks Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will get a new stadium built, despite not having any idea how to pay for one, thanks to his “creative ability and persuasive ability in terms of getting something done,” while Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper says “with ingenuity, solutions can be found” — like how about building school offices into a stadium and selling off school administrative buildings, huh, didja think of that one, smartypants? “There always will be naysayers who dismiss every idea and every project with cynicism,” writes Hooper — hey, it’s the Jim Host Fallacy!
  • Another Tampa Bay Times columnist, Daniel Ruth, had a far more acerbic take on the Rays’ stadium plans, boggling at the $892 million price tag for what would be MLB’s smallest stadium at a time when “public transportation is barely above the level of rickshaws.” Then he closed with the suggestion that Tampa could build “a museum dedicated to the history of architectural renderings of all the stuff that’s never happened,” called “the Field of Schemes Institute of Higher Chutzpah.” Which is a lovely thought and much appreciated, but shouldn’t it really be the Field of Schemes Center for the Study of Vaportecture?
  • Finally, huge thanks to everyone who kicked in toward the summer FoS Supporter drive — your generosity toward a site that delivers a daily dose of reminders of the world’s injustice remains a wonder to me. In appreciation, here is a video of my own cat leaping headlong into a seltzer box. Don’t ever say I don’t provide any good news here:

Beckham wins vote to hold vote on holding talks on Miami soccer stadium

Well, lookie there, a David Beckham stadium project has actually taken a step forward:

On Wednesday, Miami commissioners voted to hold a November referendum to ask voters if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to build a $1 billion commercial and soccer stadium complex on the city’s only municipal golf course, Melreese Country Club. Voters will decide if the city should make an exception to its competitive bidding law to allow the administration to negotiate the no-bid deal with the Beckham group, a for-profit private entity, to develop 131 acres of public land.

In other words, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell switched his vote to “yes,” after Beckham’s partner Jorge Mas agreed to phase in a minimum $15 an hour wage requirement for commercial tenants at the stadium complex. So score one for being the squeaky wheel.

The stadium plan will now be up to voters, which, you know, it’s tough to complain about — if Miami residents think giving up a golf course for a reasonable price is a fair swap for getting a soccer stadium, then more power to them. (One still has to hope that Mas and Beckham won’t sway them with campaign ads making phony economic claims as the Heat did 22 years ago, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross this fall.) Technically, the commission still has to negotiate an actual deal if the vote passes, but since Beckham and Mas already got three votes to hold the vote, it’s unlikely those votes will flip back against them if a referendum passes.

So congrats to Beckham for finally, after so many long years, taking an actual step forward toward the MLS expansion franchise he was promised in exchange for signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and — sorry, what’s that?

A lawsuit has been filed against the city of Miami claiming that it broke its charter when it entered into a no-bid deal to put a Major League Soccer stadium on city-owned property.

Well, it was an unreservedly good day for Becks for an hour or so, anyway.

Beckham kicks in sweeteners for proposed Miami MLS stadium, swing vote still holding out for more

David Beckham and Jorge Mas’s Miami MLS ownership group issued a revised set of proposed stadium terms last night in hopes of winning over balky city commissioners, in particular offering to pay any cleanup costs for the toxic waste that sits under the golf course he wants to use as a site. He’s tweaked his offer in other ways, too, though, as the Miami Herald reports:

  • The rent the team pays to the city would now be the greater of either what was determined by two independent appraisers or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants at the site.
  • The team owners would provide an additional $5 million toward funding the city’s Baywalk and Riverwalk.
  • Team employees would be guaranteed a minimum wage of $15 an hour if they didn’t get health insurance, or $13.19 an hour if they did.
  • The city would get 1% of any sale price for the team or other team interests on the site.
  • Any lost parkland would be replaced by the team owners.
  • First Tee Miami, a golf youth empowerment program, which is apparently actually a thing, would be guaranteed access to a new driving range at the former golf course site.

The Beckham/Mas plan already looked pretty reasonable for the Miami public, and this sweetens the pot slightly more. And it appears to resolve questions 1 and 3 of the five questions the Miami New Times asked about the deal on Sunday; the biggest remaining one is “How much money is this thing going to make, really?“, but if the owners really are covering all the costs and kicking in for some extra parks and such on top of that, it shouldn’t really matter too much whether the tax benefits to the public aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

According to the Herald, swing vote Ken Russell was still undecided when he left a meeting with Mas after midnight last night, and still holding out to make sure the living-wage provision applied to all employees on the stadium site. Which is his right: This is the only chance the city commissionhas to leverage the no-bid land sale to get concessions from Beckham and Mas, so by all means, haggle over the fine print. And while you can quibble over the details — “Is a golf course or a soccer stadium or something else the best use of land?” is an inherently subjective question depending on what you mean by “best” — we can at least applaud the city of Miami for recognizing that they have Beckham over a barrel, and insisting that he provide something to local residents in exchange for their approval. If every set of local officials would do even just that, we’d have a lot saner world in terms of city development policy — hey, maybe we have something to thank Jeffrey Loria for after all!

Please become an FoS Supporter to help this website, here is a video of a cat climbing a stadium wall

I usually try to make my semi-annual call for FoS Supporters — that’s my special term for you folks who help keep this site running by kicking in a few bucks in exchange for some cheap trinkets, ad space, and a warm feeling of helping make the world a better or at least more informed place — in June when readers aren’t all off on vacation, but I missed that target this year, so instead I’m going to have to SHOUT EXTRA LOUD to get your attention!!! And, because I’m feeling in an extra-generous mood, show you a video of a cat climbing up the outfield wall at the Miami Marlins‘ stadium:

For those who are new to the world of FoS Supporters, there are three membership levels, each with different rewards:

  • For $25 a year, Mini-Supporters get a Field of Schemes pin, a set of Field of Schemes trading cards, and an electronic copy of my 2016 book The Brooklyn Wars.
  • For $50, Six-Month Supporters get everything above plus the ability to place an ad in the top-right banner space, which will be viewed on a rotating basis with other member ads. (I’ll help design the ad if you have an idea but no graphic design skills.)
  • For $100, One-Year Supporters get everything above, but the ad banner stays in place for one year.

Mostly, though, your support is what enables me to take the time to keep reporting on stadium and arena shenanigans on a daily basis, as well as pursuing extra projects like the FoS 20 interview series (I just recorded the fourth installment yesterday, and it’s a good one) and moving this site to a more robust server, something that’s been on my agenda for a while now but has been awaiting a free weekend or two to arrange all the logistics. I continue to be amazed and moved by the fact that you all are willing and seemingly eager to chip in to help with this project that shows no signs of winding down as it enters its third decade.

So whether or not you choose to become a member or renew your membership this time around, seriously, thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, for commenting, and for sending me the latest jaw-dropping stadium news items. Money is great — it literally pays the bills! — but a community of people eager to debate the modern sports stadium game is priceless. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


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Lions owners, Dan Gilbert discuss adding retractable roof to make Ford Field somewhat less crappy for soccer

Dan Gilbert’s pitch for a Detroit MLS expansion team was declared dead as soon as he gave up on his $300 million–subsidy land swap plan and switched to wanting to have the soccer team play at the Lions‘ stadium instead, but he never exactly gave up on it. So it’s not surprising that he now has a Plan C to get back on the future expansion list — but as for what that plan is, well:

Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said on WJR-AM (760) Monday morning that he and other Lions executives are looking into a retractable roof to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.

This is not the first time the idea of a roof for soccer has been raised — Gilbert himself mentioned it to Sports Business Daily last month, saying, “If we get that worked out, I think we have a pretty good chance” of getting an MLS team. Wood provided some more details yesterday, though, kind of:

Wood also explained adding a retractable roof is something that would be easy, saying the cost could be “With a ‘M’ and an ‘S’ and maybe three digits in front of the ‘M.'”

“We’ll figure out who’s going to pay for it after we figure out the cost,” Wood said.

For those who aren’t fans of cryptic crosswords, that first sentence translates as “it’ll cost at least $100 million,” which given that the U.S. Open’s new retractable roof cost $150 million and the Tampa Bay Rays owners are talking about a fixed roof that would cost $245 million seems like an underestimate at best. (Of course Wood didn’t say what those three digits would be.) Whereas the second sentence is either one of the most hilariously inept things a sports executive has said, or else code for “we don’t know who’s gonna pay for it, but it sure won’t be us.”

The idea behind adding a retractable roof is that it would enable the Lions to add a grass field, which would make MLS happy. That’s not an outright requirement, though — Atlanta United, for example, was okayed as a new franchise despite an artificial turf field — and it wouldn’t really address other reasons why MLS prefers soccer-specific stadiums, which is that having maybe 10,000 fans rattling around inside a 65,000-seat soccer stadium feels kind of crappy and looks even worse on TV. (The Falcons modified their stadium for soccer by building in moving sections of seats and retractable curtains to cover the upper deck.)

And while I’m always happy to see sports team owners looking to adapt existing stadiums rather than build entire new ones, at anything other than the very low end of this price point, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense — other cities are building whole new soccer stadiums for only about $200 million, so if a roof would end up costing something similar, that seems like kind of a waste, though I suppose it does save on land acquisition costs, and let you get twice the bang for your buck on maintenance and operations on your building.

MLS hasn’t even set its next deadline for expansion bids, so there’s plenty of time for the Lions owners and Gilbert to work this out. But for the moment, I’m categorizing this plan of action as “screwy.”

D.C. United already holding one-day-old stadium together with duct tape

D.C. United opened their new $400 million stadium, which received $183 million in public subsidies, yesterday, and I know what your first question is: Was anyone injured when part of the brand-new facility fell off and hit them? Oh, were they ever:

The director of communications and sideline reporter for D.C. United was hit by a falling railing at Audi Field ahead of the brand new stadium’s inaugural match.

ABC7’s Kevin Lewis reported that the railing hit the team’s reporter Lindsay Simpson not long before D.C. United took on the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday at 8 p.m. in their first game in their new stadium.

That’s embarrassing, but you know, one fluke accident can happen anywhere, so—

Pablo Maurer of MLSSoccer.com says there were multiple incidents of railings falling during the game. Lewis says staffers were later seen around the stadium securing railings with duct tape.

Oh, man.

The railings will undoubtedly be fixed, and the duct tape will be retired, and soccer will go on as normal for the team. But next time there’s some mishap at an older stadium, before buying the claims that “it’s falling apart, we need a new one,” remember that new ones can fall apart sometimes too.

Friday roundup: More renderings, more on the LeBron effect myth, and more bad Raiders PSL decisions

Wow, it’s Friday already? How did that happen? Anyway, let’s see what’s left in the ol’ news hopper:

  • Whoops, forgot to include the stadium renderings that David Beckham’s group released this week in my last post, probably because they’re really boring and have no fireworks or spotlights or lens flare or anything. Also not pictured: the fleet of trucks carrying off the toxic waste that sits under the site.
  • Somebody has finally studied the actual economic impact of LeBron James on the Cleveland area, and far from the urban legend, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that overall GDP growth in the metro area has actually slowed since James returned from Miami. Now, that doesn’t mean that James is bad for the Cleveland economy — there are way bigger factors at work that affect GDP — but it does mean that at best, he didn’t really move the needle much on local earning. Can somebody please tell Drake now?
  • The Las Vegas Raiders announced their PSL pricing, and it’s a whopping $20,000 to $75,000, more in line with what the San Francisco 49ers are charging than, say, the Atlanta Falcons or Minnesota Vikings. And there will be other seats with no PSLs attached, so if fans want to go to games, they can always opt for the no-down-payment option and just sit in the nosebleeds. I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before and it didn’t go well — oh, right.
  • The Arizona Coyotes have a new CEO, Ahron Cohen, so what does he have to say when asked about the team’s arena plans? “Really, the most important thing for us right now and what we’re focusing on is achieving our core goals. Those are building hockey fandom in Arizona, building a competitive team on the ice, and positively impacting our community. Ultimately, we have to figure out our long-term arena solution. But that problem is solved by achieving those three goals I laid out.” Put that into Google translate, select Corporate Bureaucrat to English, and we get, let’s see: “Hell if I know.” Glad to see some things are consistent with the Coyotes!

Miami puts off David Beckham stadium vote after learning he wants to build it on a toxic waste dump

David Beckham’s latest Miami stadium plan is, shockingly, already not off to a good start: The five-member city of Miami commission voted yesterday to put off a vote on approving a land lease for Beckham’s stadium, with two members (Willy Gort and Manolo Reyes) outright opposed and a third, Ken Russell, worried about wages on the stadium project and cleanup costs, according to WPLG-TV. And even if the commission eventually approves it, that just allows a public vote in November, and after the Marlins stadium fiasco anything with “stadium” in it automatically gets half of south Florida reflexively hating it.

So what’s that about cleanup costs, anyway? What, did Beckham and his partners manage to find a plot of land that’s a toxic waste dump or something oh my god:

Virtually everyone seems to have missed a huge problem with the site: Melreese sits atop a giant pile of toxic waste.

A New Times review of more than a decade of tests at Melreese by the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management and interviews with DERM officials as well as environmentalists make it clear that any developer building on the golf course would have to undertake a massive cleanup that could add millions in costs and lengthy delays…

“The cost to clean this up is going to be astronomical,” says David Villano, a journalist and activist who has written extensively for New Times about the toxicincineratorashunder Miami parks. “Before they put this decision to voters, and before the city commission considers leasing that property, the conversation about incinerator ash needs to be front and center. This is a toxic landfill.”

Beckham, keep on Beckhaming.

NYCFC returns to old Bronx stadium site with new Rube Goldberg funding plan

NYC F.C. is back with another Bronx stadium plan, but this time it’s not the one alongside the Gentrification Death Star that was proposed and then pretty much shot down earlier this year. Instead, according to the New York Times’ Charles Bagli, the team’s owners (Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahayan of Abu Dhabi and the Steinbrenner royal family of New York) are working on a new stadium plan at another Bronx site just south of Yankee Stadium that was previously proposed and then dropped almost five years ago. And whereas that earlier plan would have involved a panoply of tax and land breaks — $60 million of foregone property taxes, $21.5 million in other city tax breaks, $25 million in free rent, and $100 million in foregone parking revenues — the new one involves so many moving parts that it would make Rube Goldberg’s head spin:

  • The Yankees owners, who got an agreement out of the city to provide 9,500 parking spaces for the baseball stadium they built in 2009, would reduce that requirement to 6,500 parking spaces, freeing up the old “triangle garage” and adjacent surface lots south of the old Yankee Stadium site.
  • Developers Jorge Madruga of Maddd Equities and Eli Weiss of Joy Construction would buy or lease the garage and the lots from the city, and buy the adjacent GAL Manufacturing factory from its private owners, all for undisclosed prices.
  • Madruga and Weiss would lease the GAL site to NYC F.C. for another undisclosed price, while building a hotel and conference center, retail and office space, a school, and “as many as 3,000” affordable apartments on the garage and parking lot parcels.
  • NYC F.C. would construct a stadium on the GAL site, reportedly for $400 million, which would be by far the most expensive MLS stadium yet built.

This, you will notice, cleverly manages to arrange that no subsidies go directly to NYC F.C. — the team’s owners would be leasing private land, which would continue to pay property taxes. This enables Bagli to note that the soccer stadium is “not asking for the avalanche of free land, tax breaks and public funding” that went into other New York–area sports venues.

However, until we know who would pay what for which land, and whether the developers would pay fair market rent and property taxes on the garage land, it’s still entirely possible that the developers would be getting significant subsidies, which they could then pass along to NYC F.C. via cheap stadium land rent in appreciation for the Yankees allowing the entire deal to be done in the first place. (Needing the Yankees to approve the reduction in parking spaces is the only way it makes sense for the developers to be involving NYC F.C. at all, since you’d think otherwise it would be easier just to buy the parking parcels and forget about the GAL land.) And there there’s still the estimated $100 million in parking garage payments that the city is still owed, which it would never get if it handed over the land for private development, but which it also might never get if it kept the parking garages because nobody wants to pay to park in them, so you tell me how to calculate the value of that.

That, needless to say, is a lot of ifs — and as Bagli is just going by what NYC F.C. told him (plus what the city told him, which appears to have been mostly “nothing is final yet”), there’s no way to put a number on how much if anything this would end costing taxpayers … yet. If nothing else, it appears that the Steinbrenners and Sheik Mansour are taking a page from the Brooklyn Nets playbook, and creating a financing plan that’s so complicated that even I can’t fully understand it.

It’s also worth noting that there have been a lot of NYC F.C. stadium sites floated over the years, and I mean a lot. By my count, we have had: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, Pier 40 in Manhattan, the GAL factory site, someplace in the city, someplace not in the city, Aqueduct race track in Queens, someplace in Brooklyn, the site of Columbia University’s football stadium in northern Manhattan, Belmont Park in Nassau County, that Harlem River site in the Bronx, and now back to the GAL site. So while it’s certainly worth taking this report seriously, it was also worth taking all of those other ones seriously and they never happened, so for now consider this yet another medium-percentage shot on goal that might go in if it sneaks into a corner of the net, but still has to make it past the wall and the keeper. Who would be, I guess, local elected officials and the city council? I think I may have gone and made this metaphor even more complicated than the financing plan, sorry about that.

Rays owner proposes new $892m domed stadium, says he “hasn’t looked at” who’d pay for it

After what seems like a lifetime of false starts and saber-rattling and playing footsie with every locality in the Tampa Bay region, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg finally unveiled actual plans for a new stadium in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa yesterday, complete with renderings. And oh, what renderingsYep, Sternberg is proposing to build a giant glass trilobite, with the best seats right behind the plate removed to make way for some kind of triumphal entryway, and Tropicana Field’s much-hated fixed roof replaced by a different fixed roof, only this time translucent, because we know how well that worked at the Astrodome. (For those who don’t want to click through: Outfielders couldn’t see flyballs, the dome’s skylights were all painted over, the grass all died, and Monsanto had to invent Astroturf.) Also some gratuitous lens flare even though the shadows indicate the sun should be way off to the left, because nothing says “ooh, shiny” like lens flare. It may not be a Brancusi sculpture, but it’s certainly something.

And from there, the stadium details just get more … audacious? unexpected? wackadoodle? … let’s go with one of those:

  • The stadium would be by far the smallest in MLB, holding only 28,216 seats, while another 2,600 people could stand or sit in folding chairs or something. That sort of makes sense when you consider Rays attendance, which hasn’t topped 23,148 per game since their inaugural season, though less so when you consider that the whole point of this new-stadium exercise is to attract more fans in a better location.
  • In place of a retractable roof — or no roof at all — the stadium would expose fans to the elements with a retractable wall, which I guess would remind them that the outside world still exists by letting the occasional breeze in, without actually making them vulnerable to rain or sun or the sky or any nuisances like that. It’s still likely to sound like you’re inside an airport hangar, which in my experience is the worst part of domes, but maybe that next-generation translucent roof material will be permeable to sound, too, who knows?
  • A smaller capacity and a non-retracting roof could both be ways to keep costs down, but if so, they weren’t kept down very far: The price tag on this arthropod of dreams is an estimated $892 million.

And, all renderings that will invariably change later aside, here’s the part we’ve really all been waiting for: How does Sternberg expect to pay for this thing? Let’s listen in:

I mean … I mean … I mean … seriously? Rays execs had, depending on how you count, somewhere between five months and ten years to come up with some ideas, any ideas at all for how to pay for a stadium, Sternberg and friends came up with, well, this:

Reactions from the rest of the world were similarly nonplussed, as a trip down Noah Pransky’s Twitter feed shows:

https://twitter.com/noahpransky/status/1017015178079166466

Okay, so the Tampa Bay Times was enthralled, at least.

If you want tough questions from the Tampa press corps, here’s Pransky himself asking Sternberg himself about how on earth he actually plans to build this thing that he’s been dreaming and talking about for years upon years:

Pransky: 892 million. Can you afford it?

Sternberg: Well, potentially.

Pransky: What do you need from the public sector?

Sternberg: I haven’t even looked at it at this point really.

Pransky: You guys haven’t looked at it all?!?

Sternberg: Not to the point that’s necessary. We’ve been focused on what you saw today, which is in itself a huge, huge undertaking.

So we are supposed to believe that the owner of a pro sports team, who for years has been demanding a new stadium as a way of improving his bottom line, went into designing and pricing out a new stadium with no thoughts at all of how it would be paid for or whether it would make money. Or the other possibility is that he thought, Hey, asking for hundreds of millions of dollars is a bad look — let’s just give the public lots of pretty pictures and hope they’ll be distracted enough not to worry about where the money will come from. I bet it’ll work on those stenographers at the Tampa Bay Times, anyway!

This, needless to say, is only the beginning of what is sure to be a long, painful battle. I’ll be on The Beat of Sports with Marc Daniels at 10 am ET today to talk about the Rays’ announcement, and more if we have time — tune in here. I’ll try to have more to say than just leaving my jaw hanging open in flabbergastment for the entire segment.