NYCFC are terrible at home, terrible home to blame

As many of you are probably aware, I’m a strong proponent of finding ways to get use out of existing sports venues instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build new ones, mostly because they’re almost never worth it and so somebody (i.e., Mr. and Mrs. Q. Taxpayer) usually ends up having to foot the bill. I’m willing to admit, though, that NYCFC squeezing an MLS field into a baseball stadium may not have been the best idea of all time:

Unlike the NFL, where every field conforms to precise dimensions, a soccer pitch can vary within FIFA (and in this case, MLS) regulations. In the case of Yankee Stadium, that means a smaller field, which robs teams of their space to create — and the Stadium offers the smallest playing surface in the league. For a finesse club like NYCFC, that is the equivalent of the Yankees sending out a lineup devoid of lefty power to take advantage of the short right-field porch…

And at 110 yards by an MLS-minimum 70 yards, or a Hobbit-sized 7,700 square yards, the small field makes NYCFC easier to press and close down. The next-smallest fields are 8,250 square yards and eight are at least 9,000 square yards.

While all this is sad if you’re an NYCFC supporter and fairly entertaining if you’re not — they lost a game last year when an opposing player practically threw the ball into the goal from the sideline, which is hilarious — it’s important to note that this is no one’s fault but NYCFC’s own: They chose to place a team in New York with nowhere to play but New Yankee Stadium, and then chose to sign a bunch of finesse players with famous names who would be at a huge disadvantage playing on a small pitch. Talks about a new stadium in upper Manhattan have gone approximately nowhere, and there’s really no reason for the city to put itself out to solve a problem of the team’s own making, so NYCFC will likely just need to suck it up and rebuild its roster to play in cramped surroundings for the foreseeable future. To do otherwise would be like the Colorado Rockies demanding a pressurized dome to make up for the fact that they unexpectedly found the air thin in Denver — oh, crap, I’m giving people ideas again, aren’t I?

Minneapolis developer claims Super Bowl will fund its affordable housing project, is this for real?

Could it be? An actual benefit that a city is getting from hosting the Super Bowl? That’s what the Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting about that city’s hosting of the 2018 game, which has supposedly helped local developers create a new subsidized housing project for middle-income earners:

[For-profit developer] Ryan [Cos.], First Covenant Church, and Community Housing Development Corp. (CHDC) a year ago outlined a rough vision for a six-story apartment building across S. 6th Street from the new Vikings stadium. This week, they submitted to the city a near-final plan for the $38 million project, which was designed by UrbanWorks Architecture…

Ryan, First Covenant and CHDC found a way to make the math work for their project, one that takes the Olympics for inspiration. They have an unnamed private partner with a nice budget for housing and operational space during the Super Bowl festivities that is close to committing to the project.

Since the building’s site is within the Super Bowl’s required security perimeter, 500 feet from the stadium, the group plans to first rent the building to this private entity at a rate that would make the project financially possible — and without subsidy.

So, great, right? The “unnamed private partner” gets space to use during the Super Bowl, people earning $20,000 to $55,000 a year get some new affordable apartments, and it’s a win-win all around!

Well, maybe. The developers say their model is Olympic Villages, which after the games are over are often repurposed for other uses, but those are usually built with Olympics money, not paid for by a particular private entity looking to rent short-term space. Not only is the CHDC’s private partner unnamed, but so is the amount they’re willing to pay to rent the buildings for Super Bowl week — you can get a one-bedroom in downtown Minneapolis during the Super Bowl on Airbnb for a whopping $8,000 a night, so if you double that for the prime location and multiply by a full week and for 160 apartments, that’s: $20 million, maybe? And that’s the retail price, so I’d be very surprised if the private partner is paying more than $10 million for the Super Bowl rental, which comes to about $60,000 an apartment, which is about one-quarter the typical cost of building affordable housing in Minneapolis, though if they just need it to span the gap between their costs and what renters can afford to pay … maybe. Or it’s possible this project would be happening anyway, but they’re getting a little extra cash and some added publicity via the Super Bowl angle.

I would love to see a way to fund affordable housing on the backs of rich people who are willing to pay whatever it takes to live next to the Super Bowl for a week, but I’d need to see more numbers (and names) attached to this before I’m willing to give it the full three cheers. In housing as in stadiums, please hold your applause until all the financial details are in.

Adelson exec: We don’t know site or cost for Vegas Raiders stadium, also tax money isn’t tax money

The Associated Press has a report out today that indicates that there are a few things about that $1.4 billion Las Vegas stadium for the Oakland Raiders that proponents Sheldon Adelson and Mark Davis might not have gotten precisely correct. Like, for starters, it may now cost $1.6 billion, because nobody remembered to include land costs. And about that land: They’re not actually sure where it will be:

[Las Vegas Sands executive Robert] Goldstein, who presented the stadium plan, made it clear that if a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus site is deemed to be too close to McCarran International Airport, project planners will need to quickly find another 40 acres.

Somebody unknown being on the hook to pay an unknown price for an unknown 40 acres of land in an unknown location is pretty alarming for a stadium deal that Adelson’s Sands Corp. is trying to get approved this year (“come January, if we’re not real, this has all been fun, but a waste of time,” said Goldstein). But, incredibly, that’s not the most alarming thing that Goldstein said yesterday:

As proposed, $750 million in public funding would come from a slice of hotel room tax revenues, or about $50 million per year. Commissioners were told that would add a little more than $1 per night to the average tourist’s hotel room bill.

Goldstein insisted it wasn’t taxpayer money.

The AP doesn’t provide an actual quote from Goldstein, so I don’t know whether he’s arguing that hotel taxes don’t affect Vegas residents because they’re only paid by out-of-towners (in which case he’s wrong) or that they’re not really taxes because they come out of hotel owners’ revenues (in which case he’s also wrong). But “insisting that tax money isn’t taxpayer money” is a great first step in any candidacy for the Chutzpah Hall of Fame.

Also, if anybody at the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee hearing asked about the TIF district that would kick back property (and sales?) taxes from inside (and around?) the stadium, wherever it ends up going, that didn’t make it into the AP article. So the total public cost still needs to be described as “at least $750 million, and possibly a heck of a lot more.” This is totally something the Nevada legislature should vote on as soon as possible, without asking more questions, because that always works out just great.

Cobb County Commission chair could be ousted over Braves stadium subsidies

So far the list of politicians booted out of office for throwing money at stadium subsidies has been a relatively short one, consisting of Wisconsin state senator George Petak, who was recalled by voters in 1996 for casting the deciding vote for public money for a new Milwaukee Brewers stadium, plus arguably Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was recalled by voters in 2011 after he fought for public money for a new Miami Marlins stadium, though he was recalled for other reasons as well. (The list of mayors booted for not throwing money at stadiums is even shorter, namely zero.) They may need to make room soon, however, for Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who is now facing a July runoff against an opponent who has been using Lee’s support of public funding for a new Atlanta Braves stadium as a key campaign push:

Chairman Tim Lee barely made it into a runoff against Mike Boyce, a retired Marine colonel who outpolled Lee by clobbering the county’s stadium deal with the Atlanta Braves…

“I simply asked the question: If I can vote on a $40 million park bond, why can’t I vote on a $350 million stadium bond?” said Boyce in an interview Tuesday night as the runoff scenario was emerging.

Lee, you will remember, didn’t only approve $355 million or more in county spending on that Braves stadium without a public vote, he also got brought up on ethics charges for hiring a lawyer for the project with county money without even telling his fellow commissioners about it. (He got out of that one by saying he was sorry and would never do it again. No, really.) So if anyone deserves to have his political future be a referendum on stadium subsidies, it’s Lee. Vote early and vote often, Cobb County!

MSG to build concerts-only arena in Vegas, because three arenas with no pro team wasn’t enough

Las Vegas just opened its third arena without a pro sports team to play in any of them, plus it’s considering building a pro football stadium, plus it has yet another arena (with a retractable roof!) that broke ground in 2014 and then has never been heard from again. So you know what that city really needs? Another arena:

[Madison Square Garden] announced Wednesday that it will build a 17,500-seat arena just off the Las Vegas Strip…

The new venue is a partnership among Madison Square Garden Co., Sands Corp., Azoff MSG Entertainment, concert promoter Live Nation and Oak View Group, an entertainment advisory firm.

“This will be a state-of-the-art venue of the future, an entertainment-only venue,” O’Connor told The Times.

On the one hand, this is not entirely crazy, because MSG successfully remodeled the L.A. Forum as a concert-only venue, and certainly they and Live Nation know something about the concert business. (The plan is for this new as-yet-un-price-tagged arena to have all its seats in front of the stage, so really “arena-sized theater” might be a better description.) On the other hand, it is completely crazy, because even if Las Vegas is a huge tourist destination, how many arena concerts can one city reasonably host? Even New York City only has three arenas (four if you count the Nassau Coliseum), and New York has like five times as many people living there as Vegas would have even if you double-booked all its hotel rooms.

This can only end with at least one of the Vegas arenas eventually going out of business. The good news, at least if you believe MSG officials, is that this will involve no public money, so it’s just the sort of crazy land rush that corporations would occasionally engage in even if subsidies didn’t exist. At least in Vegas, because that place apparently makes even corporate bean counters lose their minds.

Jeffrey Loria sues own fans, because it was only space remaining on his supervillain bingo card

You know, it’s tough to be an internationally known supervillain. Take Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria: He’s already gotten the city of Miami to give him around $800 million because he said he needed it to build a better team and stop holding fire sales of all his best players, immediately thereafter held a fire sale of most of his best players, and let his team’s minuscule number of fans experience the world’s first rain delay at a stadium with a roof. What, oh what can he do for an encore? How about, oh, I don’t know, suing one of your most dedicated fans for declining to renew his season tickets?

During numerous sales pitches, [Mickey] Axelband says, the Marlins promised first-floor parking in the stadium garage and a private entrance. There would also be a lounge with pre- and postgame buffets so season ticket­holders could arrive early or hang out late. Axelband happily paid $24,000 for the two-seat package (that’s $148 per seat for each game) — nearly double the $13,000 he’d ponied up for the final year at Dolphin Stadium. He agreed to a two-year deal. Although only the private lounge was actually written into the contract, Axelband says he had no reason to believe the team wouldn’t follow through.

But Marlins Park wasn’t the success the team had hoped for. By midseason, crowds had dwindled to near Dolphin Stadium levels, and the team began slashing expenses. Those nearby parking spaces? Gone. The private entrance? Closed to save money on the extra usher manning the door. The buffet was stocked with the same bland panini for every game. Soon the team shut it down in the sixth inning.

These all might seem like small details, but “that’s exactly what we paid all the extra money for,” he says. Worst of all, Axelband says when he wrote the team to complain, the Fish weren’t sympathetic. “I didn’t want my money back or anything, but I said, ‘Please give me back the stuff you promised.’ The answer I got back was basically, ‘Yeah, we know we took it all away, but tough shit.’ “

Axelband responded by telling the Marlins he wanted to cancel his season tickets, at which point Loria’s minions responded in the one way guaranteed to maintain their villainous reputation: They sued him, along with eight other season ticket and suite-holders, for breach of contract. The Marlins owners are also suing two concessionaires who bailed out of deals to be vendors at the stadium, one of whom filed for bankruptcy after he says stadium sales were less than half what team representatives had promised.

As Fort Lauderdale sports law attorney Darren Heitner told the Miami New Times, which uncovered the story, “I’m not sure the Marlins thought this through. If you’re contemplating getting season tickets, now you’re worried you won’t get everything you bargained for and you even might end up in litigation.” That might be true in normal logic, but supervillains operate by spreading fear: Jeffrey Loria isn’t about selling tickets by making Marlins fans think they’ll get something for their money. He’s about selling tickets by building a death ray.

NFL gives three Super Bowls to cities with new stadiums, implies, “Keep ’em coming”

The NFL awarded the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles yesterday, continuing its policy of using the big game as a reward to cities and teams with new or significantly renovated stadiums. Or as Rams owner Stan Kroenke said following the decision, “I think they are telling the communities and the owners who stick their necks out that it’s worthwhile.”

The most important target of the announcement, then, isn’t the three cities that will now get the questionable benefit of hosting the NFL’s annual week-long road show, but those that are being wooed with that dubious carrot. Right now most of the reporting is on how New Orleans and Tampa Bay were snubbed because their stadiums aren’t as shiny as the cities that got the nod, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays into future coverage of stadium campaigns — already, San Diego Union Tribune chief Chargers stadium cheerleader Kevin Acee has written that the possibility of getting a Super Bowl shouldn’t be the reason to vote for a new stadium, but really he means that you should vote for a new stadium regardless, so all remains right with the world.

Interestingly, there’s no reporting yet that I can see out of Las Vegas on the Super Bowl decision, but that may be because they’re too busy covering yesterday’s conflicting comments on a potential Oakland Raiders move from owner Mark Davis (“This is the real deal. If Las Vegas can come through, we’re going to be there”) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (“It’s very premature at this point. Until we have more information, it’s pure speculation”). This could be just everyone playing their role — in terms of using Vegas as leverage in hopes of drumming up stadium subsidies from Oakland, Davis is bad cop, Goodell is good cop — or it could be a sign of deeper rifts among league owners over whether Davis should get to bolt from a bigger market to a smaller one in exchange for a lucrative (to him) stadium deal, and on what terms. We won’t know for sure until the next ESPN postmortem, I expect.

Arlington council unanimously okays Rangers stadium vote, unveils worst. FAQ. Ever.

The Arlington city council unanimously approved the Texas Rangers‘ $1 billion stadium plan yesterday, sending it to a November referendum of city voters, just four days after it was first made public, which has to be some kind of record. (Even Cobb County commissioners took two whole weeks before approving the new Atlanta Braves stadium, and they had to hide in hallways to evade open meetings laws — guess Texas doesn’t believe in those?)

And the deal, it turns out, could be even worse than last report: In addition to the city providing $500 million in construction cash, it would buy 49 acres of land and lease them back to the team in a deal where “no significant money would change hands,” according to the Dallas Morning News’s Jeff Mosier, but which would allow the Rangers to get out of paying property taxes on their parking lots. The city would also pay to build a new 2,000-space parking lot to make up for the parking that would be lost to the new stadium. Taken together, the public cost would now be well over half a billion dollars.

How much over, there’s no way of knowing, because the Arlington city website doesn’t provide any details of the deal or of what was voted on last night. It does, however, provide a “Frequently Asked Questions” document on the Rangers stadium plan that is a hilarious masterpiece of obfuscation. Let us count the ways:

  • If your personal frequently asked question is “How much will this cost taxpayers?” then you won’t find the answer here. The FAQ says construction and infrastructure cost is “estimated at $1 billion” and the deal “calls for a 50-50 split between the Texas Rangers and the City of Arlington,” but there’s nothing at all on the cost of property tax breaks or new parking lots, so the actual public price tag is anybody’s guess.
  • It does, however, answer (as its very first question!) the pressing query “When did the Texas Rangers move to Arlington?” Also “Will Arlington’s name be placed on the new ballpark?”, to which the FAQ mumbles a definitive “Yeah, in some way.”
  • “Why do the Rangers need a new ballpark?” is actually a good question, and no doubt a frequently asked one. “The team has indicated a desire to have a new ballpark with a retractable roof, which will provide protection from the Texas weather, as well as state-of-the-art amenities to provide a premiere baseball experience” does not actually answer it, any more than a valid answer from a teenager to the question “Why should I buy you a new video game system?” is “Because I really want one!”
  • The FAQ cites a study by consultants HR&A Advisors as showing that “the annual economic impact of the Rangers with a new ballpark is estimated to be $77.5 million for Arlington and $137.6 million for Tarrant County,” which it translates as “the net present value of the Rangers continued presence between 2016-2054 with a new ballpark would be $2.53 billion for Arlington and $4.49 billion for Tarrant County.” There’s no link provided to an actual study to show how HR&A came up with these numbers (best guess would be just adding up all the local spending by Rangers fans and applying some multiplier provided by an off-the-shelf statistical model, since that’s what their website says they do) — but more to the point, the description confuses economic activity (all spending taking place in a locality) with fiscal impact (actual tax revenue that results), making it sound like Arlington will see $2.53 billion in cash in exchange for its $500-million-plus expense, when it would actually be a small fraction of that. The share of sales tax that goes to city coffers, for example, is 1.25%, which even if all the economic activity were new and taxable would result in only about $31 million in new sales tax receipts over the next 40 years.

This is a PR document, pure and simple, and a damaging one — none more so than that last item, which makes it sound like this is a reasonable investment for Arlington taxpayers by massively bait-and-switching the actual monetary returns. John Hibb, a board member of the Arlington Independent School District, told yesterday’s hearing that “the loss of the Rangers means the loss of $77 million [annually],” and while it’s not immediately clear whether he was duped by the Rangers or is one of the dupers, the point is that this is what the public is hearing, and it’s somewhere between a massive misrepresentation of the truth and an outright lie.

Under normal circumstances, these kinds of funny numbers would get vetted in a public debate in the media and in public hearings, where critics could introduce other information from more disinterested sources. Instead, any actual discussion will now take place during a six-month referendum campaign, one where the Rangers owners, if they have a brain in their heads, will be pouring millions of dollars into advertising to push their message in hopes of landing more than half a billion dollars in exchange. This is a textbook case of “How to game a stadium vote,” and kudos to Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson for pulling it off — though the Arlington council really deserves an assist for making it as easy as possible for them to do so. Next time you’re wondering if the real cause of the sports subsidy scam is greedy owners or craven politicians, the answer is: yes.

MN governor to United: Here’s some tax breaks, if you want more later, just ask

Turns out there indeed wasn’t much suspense around the Minnesota legislature’s vote on a full property tax exemption for Minnesota United‘s new stadium in St. Paul: The tax break was rolled into the annual tax bill and easily passed on Sunday. At least the exemption only applies to the stadium itself, not any surrounding development, but even then a Minnesota Public Radio investigation came up with numbers that imply that United’s owners will save $54 million worth of future tax payments via this stroke of the legislative pen.

The new MLS club also got a liquor license approved on the last day of the legislative session, but, interestingly, did not get an exemption from construction sales tax, a common subsidy for many development projects, sports-related and otherwise. (The MPR report gave an estimated value for this of around $3 million.) Gov. Mark Dayton, however, said that just because United isn’t getting the sales tax break now doesn’t mean that it can’t get it later:

As Dayton considers a possible special session, he said in a Monday afternoon news conference that he hoped United officials could see they received most of what they wanted at the Capitol…

While the tax break on construction materials was unapproved, Dayton said United can apply for a sales tax refund under existing state law, an avenue used to build the Saints’ year-old stadium in Lowertown. The law, shared by Coleman’s office Monday, relates to building materials for capital projects of regional significance.

“While the city sought an up-front exemption at the Legislature this session, which is easier from an administrative perspective, the lack of action simply means that contractors can move forward and a refund will be granted on the back end,” Coleman said in a statement.

Okay, sure, the state can just cut United a $3 million check after the stadium is built. But — and I can’t stress this enough — why on earth would it want to? The whole reason for considering the tax breaks in the first place was that United principal owner Bill McGuire claimed that he wouldn’t move ahead with building the stadium without them. (Whether that was true or gamesmanship, we’ll never know at this point, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.) If United starts construction now, it’s not like they can give up halfway if they don’t get their retroactive construction sales tax rebate check — they need to decide if they’re going to move forward under the current law, and if they do, giving them an extra $3 million is just a gift, not a negotiated agreement in order to get a soccer team.

Taken along with Florida’s crazy new stadium-subsidy system, this is an extremely worrisome trend: Suddenly, not only are sports team owners getting public cash because they’re driving a hard bargain, but just because, you know, they asked, and they’re nice guys who built something, so don’t they deserve not to pay taxes on it like normal people? Taken to its logical extreme, it’s probably only a matter of time before Tom Ricketts demands retroactive tax rebates on all the economic activity that Wrigley Field has brought to Chicago over the last century — oh crap, I just gave him an idea, didn’t I? Quick, somebody go distract him with pictures of baby pandas or something until this post has expired from his Twitter feed.

Yard Goats road trip has no foreseeable ending, as Hartford fines developer for unfinished stadium

I know you want to know what’s up with the Hartford Yard Goats‘ road trip from hell, so here’s the latest: The team will keep playing home games in Norwich through June 6, then move a planned home series vs. the Reading Fightin’ Phils in mid-June to Reading, then cross their fingers and hope real hard that their Hartford stadium is ready by their next scheduled home game on June 21, because the Connecticut Tigers of the NY-Penn League will need the Norwich stadium by then.

Whether there’s any chance of that happening is still very much an open question. As an added incentive to the developers to get the damn thing built already, the city has started fining them $15,000 a day, as allowed in their contract. City officials also have the option of asking their insurer to cover the entire $2 million cost of finishing the stadium — much of which has already been spent — which would undoubtedly be better for the public’s bottom line, but worse for the Yard Goats, since waiting on the insurance claim could eat up the rest of the season.

It is pretty much the worst-case scenario to end all worst-case scenarios, with everybody losing out: Taxpayers who shelled out to build this thing, the team’s owners and fans, and even New Britain fans who lost their team to a city that wasn’t even ready to host it. (I guess fans in Norwich are getting to watch some extra Double-A baseball, so that’s a plus for them?) At this rate, the only baseball being played in Hartford for the foreseeable future could be these guys, and they got arrested so they probably won’t be playing much more this year anyway. Maybe Hartford should just skip the baseball team and keep the mascots?