Oakland drops suit against county on Coliseum land sale to A’s, who does this mean won exactly?

After months of wrangling over the city of Oakland’s lawsuit against Alameda County over the county’s sale of Oakland Coliseum land to A’s owner John Fisher without offering it to the county first, mostly between council president Rebecca Kaplan (who filed the suit) and Mayor Libby Schaaf (who thought it was dumb), Schaaf and Kaplan abruptly announced yesterday that they’d agreed to drop the suit:

The Surplus Land Act is part of what was at issue in the lawsuit in the first place: The California state law requires that any agency selling public land must give first dibs to plans that promise to build affordable housing. While city officials are no longer trying to pressure the county to go through the Surplus Land Act bidding process on its sale, the city will still require it for sale of its half-share of the Coliseum property — and since Fisher or anyone else can’t build anything without full ownership of the land, this should pretty much amount to the same thing.

How much of a stumbling block this will mean for Fisher’s plans to redevelop both the Coliseum site and a new stadium and other development at the Howard Terminal site isn’t entirely clear: Newballpark.org notes that “As affordable housing is not a huge moneymaker without some sort of subsidization effort, I wouldn’t expect a ton of better offers than what the A’s can provide,” but adds that a lot still needs to be fleshed out about the team’s plans for each site. At least negotiations can now begin, though, and there’s a framework for making sure Oakland gets a fair deal for its property and some control over what happens to it, which isn’t a terrible thing at all.

What shook loose the dropping of the lawsuit appears to have been the one-two carrot-and-stick punch of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s threat to move the team to Las Vegas and Fisher’s offer of an $85 million purchase price plus a community benefits agreement if the lawsuit were dropped. So either Oakland caved to threats, or agreed to drop its suit once it had used it for leverage to get concessions, or, really, both. Which is how negotiations work, and while it’s no doubt annoying that MLB with its antitrust exemption gets to threaten to blacklist cities that won’t play ball on stadiums, it seems like Oakland haggled as well as possible under the circumstances. Now all they need to do is to negotiate a stadium deal that is actually fair to taxpayers, and … well, let’s take one small victory at a time.

 

Every city in U.S. now building a soccer stadium, or at least it seems like it

Some days it seems like this site is turning into Soccer Pitch of Schemes. I mean, seriously, check this out:

  • The Sacramento city council unanimously approved a $27 million “loan” to the new Sacramento Republic F.C. MLS team for stadium roads and traffic and transit infrastructure, which isn’t really a loan because team owner Ron Burkle will be paying it back with taxes he’d normally pay anyway.
  • The Colorado Springs city council approved $13 million in public funding for a $35 million, 8,000-seat stadium for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks USL team.
  • The long-rumored Queensboro F.C. has been awarded a USL franchise to begin play in 2021; this time, instead of a new soccer stadium next door to the New York Mets‘ stadium, they’ll allegedly play in a “new, modular stadium at York College in Queens that will have a capacity of around 7,500” and also “select home matches at Citi Field, home of MLB’s New York Mets.” Here is York College; I suppose you could set up a whole bunch of temporary bleachers on the track, but having enough room for seating and concessions and parking seems like a non-trivial issue, and also York College is a city university, so shouldn’t the city council really be voting on this?
  • The New Mexico state legislature is set to consider spending $30 million on a $100 million stadium for New Mexico United, which is currently in the USL but could maybe be in MLS someday, if you squint just right.
  • The Miami city commission put off a vote on Inter Miami‘s stadium plans, but by the time it does vote next month one vocal opponent will have been term-limited off the commission.

The reason for this flood of soccer stadium building has less to do with soccer being the sport of millennials or whatever, and more to do with there being umpteen gazillion soccer teams in the U.S. now, and more on the way, and lots of them not having brand-new stadiums of their own because sometimes there just isn’t time to do that before you have to collect some more expansion fees, you know? Which should cut both ways — if MLS and the USL alike are going to expand to every city with its own post office, you’d think that cities wouldn’t need to spend big bucks on stadium funding in order to have a shot at a franchise — but here we have Switchbacks president Nick Ragain saying of the Colorado Springs vote that “what it means is we have a long-term professional soccer team in Colorado Springs,” and nobody in the media rolling their eyes, so I guess these are questions that are not asked in polite society.

And speaking of soccer and the media not rolling their eyes, yes, an Argentine football team celebrated the reopening of its stadium with a giant holographic flaming lion as many of you have emailed and tweeted at me, but also it’s not really a hologram and fans in the stadium couldn’t even see it except on TV screens. Number of news articles pointing this out: one; number of news articles going “Oooooh, fiery lion!”: more than I can count.

Could Jeff Bezos buy Dan Snyder’s football team, and should we care?

I’ve got to admit, despite following along as it happened, I’m pretty confused as to exactly how or why the sports media is all het up about the possibility of Amazon kingpin Jeff Bezos buying Washington’s NFL team from Dan Snyder, based on pretty much nothing. So let’s piece together what led to this state of affairs:

  • Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who loves him some anonymously sourced rumors, wrote on Sunday about how Bezos is moving to D.C., and pals around with NFL owners including, and it’s all “creating a stir in that area.”
  • Everybody hates Snyder.
  • Other outlets took La Canfora’s four-paragraph story and spun it out into way more speculation, mostly comparing the size of the two billionaires’ bankbooks and theorizing that NFL owners would love to have Bezos in their club because it’d make them look cool. Also, everybody hates Snyder.
  • A Snyder spokesperson pointed out that the team is not for sale, and added that “Mr. Snyder hasn’t seen Jeff Bezos in nearly a decade,” which would seem to contradict La Canfora’s intel.

And … that’s pretty much it. Somebody somewhere told a reporter off the record something along the lines of man, that Jeff Bezos sure is a hoopy frood, he’d make a way less embarrassing owner than Dan Snyder, and next thing you know everyone, including me, is forced to write about it because it’s in the news media, so it must be news.

La Canfora also made mention of Snyder’s so-far stalled new-stadium dreams, opining that “some believe [Bezos] could aid Snyder’s pursuit of a new stadium, perhaps even with an Amazon sponsorship.” I mean, he could, sure — though if by “sponsorship” La Canfora means buying naming rights, Snyder presumably wouldn’t have trouble selling those, and Bezos presumably isn’t going to overpay to put Amazon’s name on a stadium just because he wants an excuse to hang out with NFL owners. (Does Amazon even need the name recognition that comes from a stadium naming rights deal? That’s really more for airlines who are afraid you’ve never heard of them.) The bigger problems for Snyder regarding a stadium have to do with getting permission to use land in D.C. and getting cash to build a stadium with and … you know, this is way more response than this rumor-of-a-rumor story of which hated billionaire might own a hated sports franchise deserves. Go read Mark Trail instead, he’s hitting an alligator with a big stick!

Sacramento council to vote on turning Burkle’s stadium subsidy into a “loan,” which isn’t better, but also probably isn’t worse

The Sacramento city council is set to vote tomorrow on a plan to loan $27 million to Ron Burkle, owner of the new Sacramento Republic F.C. MLS franchise, for roads and other traffic and transit upgrades around his new stadium, and “repay” it using Burkle’s own property taxes on development surrounding the stadium. Said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is proposing the loan:

“For me as mayor, there is one overriding question: Is an infrastructure loan that clinched the deal to get Major League Soccer and help reverse decades of little progress in the railyards good for the city? I have no doubt the answer is yes.”

That seems to imply that any size public loan to a private entity would be good enough for Steinberg — who can put a price on reversing decades of little progress? — but whatever, it’s best not to think to hard about what politicians say when politicianing.

This is, of course, tax increment financing, which we’ve covered to death here previously. (Tl;dr version: No, it’s not “new money.”) On the bright side, sort of, the tax increment cash was already set to go to Burkle under his previous agreement to get $33 million in city funding for his stadium; now instead of having to wait to get it year by year, the city would loan him the money up front and he’d pay it back by letting the city have the taxes they would normally collect anyway. The only added risk, really, is that Burkle defaults on the loan, which seems unlikely, since presumably he’ll put up as collateral—

The investor group will be required to put up a yet-to-be determined collateral.

Sigh. Well, it’s not too much worse than the original deal. Probably. Feel free to read the amendment being voted on tomorrow yourself and see if you can find any more potential pitfalls.

Garber says Charlotte next MLS expansion frontrunner, fee to be part of money-losing league now up to $300m

MLS commissioner Don Garber was back on the expansion-franchise hustings this weekend in advance of the MLS Cup final, and had a bunch of newish stuff to let slip:

  • In the race for the 30th and final announced MLS franchise, Garber said, “It’s fair to say that Charlotte has done a lot of work to move their bid really to the front of the line.”
  • He also mentioned Las Vegas and Phoenix as cities that “our expansion committee has been engaging,” which certainly seems to hint that those cities will be first in line for franchises 31 and 32, once those are inevitably announced.
  • According to the minimum-wage-paying content farm currently bearing the name Sports Illustrated (the article is actually by one of SI’s remaining actual staff journalists, Grant Wahl), “The 30th team is expected to pay a $300 million expansion fee.”
  • An official announcement for the 30th team will be made in the “next number of months,” which definitely narrows it down to sometime in, um, the future.

The key number there is clearly “$300 million,” which is crazy in that Forbes estimates most of the existing teams in bigger markets aren’t even worth that much, but less crazy if you see this as MLS trying to take advantage of too many billionaires with too much money burning holes in their pockets and a bad case of tulipomania. If people are willing to keep paying increasing amounts of money for smaller and smaller slices of the MLS pie — which is mostly a whole lot of money-losing MLS teams plus a money-making Soccer United Marketing enterprise, and SUM doesn’t get any more lucrative just because you add more owners — then of course he should be grabbing their cash with both hands.

What happens when and if the world runs out of soccer-loving billionaires, of course, is another story, but MLS will happily cross that bridge when they come to it. Or runs out of cities willing to help underwrite stadium costs so that owners can better afford those crazy expansion fees — Charlotte’s jump to the front of the line almost certainly has less to do with its charms as a city or a soccer hotbed and more to do with the fact it just re-elected a city council eager to give Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper $100-200 million for stadium upgrades so he can host an MLS team at his NFL stadium. The endgame is likely going to be ugly unless MLS can increase its popularity in a hurry, but success in the grifting economy is less about a happy endgame than cashing out before the chickens come home to roost.

Friday roundup: Oakland opens A’s land sale talks, Clippers arena down to two lawsuits, plus video vaportecture!

I know it’s not Deadspin — nothing is, or ever will be again, though we can dream — or even sports, but I have an article up at City Limits this week about another big-money public construction project that seems to be proceeding despite no one quite knowing how it will work or how it will be paid for. It’s probably only a matter of time before sports team owners figure out a way to do promote new stadiums as worthy of climate resilience funding, especially since local governments are already showing themselves willing to spend climate money poorly to benefit rich people.

Anyway, oodles of bonus news this week, plus more vaportecture, so let’s get to it:

  • The city of Oakland is starting talks with the A’s owners about selling the city’s half of the Oakland Coliseum property to the team for development — with the proceeds to be used to build a new stadium on the Oakland waterfront — but still hasn’t dropped its lawsuit against Alameda County for agreeing to sell its share to the A’s without consulting the city. Meanwhile, here’s an article by the mayor of Oakland about how baseball and port operations are both good things, let’s find a way to make them both work together!
  • The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena in Inglewood poses no danger to aviation at nearby Los Angeles International Airport, and a judge has dismissed claims that the city was required to seek affordable housing uses for the site first. But the project still faces two more lawsuits over how Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was granted the land and whether the city illegally evaded open-meetings laws, so we could yet be here a while.
  • Paterson, New Jersey is asking the state Economic Development Authority for $50 million in tax credits to use on a $76 million project redevelopment of Hinchliffe Stadium, a crumbling (this term is way overused, but it’s actually crumbling) former Negro League stadium, into “a 7,800-seat athletic facility, with a 314-space parking garage, restaurant with museum exhibits dedicated to Negro League baseball, 75-unit apartment building for senior citizens and a 5,800-square-foot childcare facility.” The rest of the article doesn’t explain much about what the renovation will look like or how the money will be spent or who will collect revenues from the new facility or anything, but it does include Mayor André Sayegh opining that you could “have a big concert there. Boxing. Wrestling. It could all happen there,” and Councilmember Michael Jackson countering that “to spend money on this project is senseless” since it will only create maybe 50 jobs. Feel free to take sides!
  • The Arena Football League has suspended operationsagain — after getting sued for nonpayment by its former insurance company, but “may become a traveling league, similar to the Premier Lacrosse League, whereby all players practice in a centralized location and fly to a different city each weekend to play games.”
  • Nashville S.C.‘s MLS stadium is now on hold, with Mayor John Cooper suspending demolition to clear the site, amid a lawsuit charging that the project and its $75 million in public cash were approved improperly and will interfere with the annual Tennessee state fair. The Tennessee Tribune writes that “it’s only a matter of time before the MLS soccer stadium contracts will be voided and put out to bid again”; I am not a lawyer, but then, neither are the Tribune’s journalists, so we’ll see.
  • If you want to rent office space in the Texas Rangers‘ old stadium for some reason, you now can! Just realize that it won’t be air-conditioned when you go outside.
  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ stadium is killing more than a hundred birds a year, but other buildings kill even more birds, which means the Vikings clearly need a more state-of-the-art bird-killing building, that’s how this works, right?
  • Here’s a photo of how the new Los Angeles Rams (and Chargers) stadium looks in its current state of construction, and if you think that the “vertical design” will make it feel “intimate.” then you agree with one Rams fan! Another fan, who was sitting in the fourth row of seats behind the end zone, remarked, “I kind of expected the field (area) to be much larger, to take you away from the experience. But you’re going to be right in the game.” Two takeaways: There are reasons why teams never invite fans to sit in the cheap seats to see what the view will be like from there, and American sports fans really aren’t great with geometry.
  • Calgary is looking at cutting wages for city employees to balance its budget, and one local economist thinks maybe not building the Flames a new arena would be a better idea.
  • The five-county sales tax surcharge that paid for the Milwaukee Brewers‘ Miller Park is finally set to phase out in January, after 23 years and $577 million. This is not so good news if you’re upset about Wisconsin taxpayers spending $577 million to pay for a private sports owner’s baseball stadium, but good news if you were worried that the Brewers or some other sports team might see the sales tax money sitting around and want to propose a new project to spend it on, which is always a worry.
  • The Montreal Canadiens have gotten a reduction in their property tax bill for the fourth time since 2013, even while property valuations elsewhere in the city are soaring. No reason was given, but “they’re major players in the local business community and whined about it a lot” seems like a reasonable theory.
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist John Steigerwald asks about public funding for the Pirates‘ now 18-year-old stadium, “If the Pirates were faced with paying for their ballpark, do you think they might have had more incentive to insist on real revenue sharing and a salary cap before they built it?” Answer: No, rich people have incentive to demand money everywhere they can find it, regardless if they already have money, which Pirates owner Bob Nutting totally does. Next question!
  • I promised you vaportecture, so here’s some vaportecture: a ten-second video of the entryway to the Phoenix Suns arena morphing into a somewhat snazzier entryway now that the city of Phoenix agreed to spend $168 million in renovations in exchange for a few tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. (Actual quid pro quo not included, but you can picture it easily enough.) Yes, it’s mostly just a bunch of new video boards and some new escalators being enjoyed by a handful of beefy white people, but isn’t that what pro basketball is all about?

Rendering of Pawtucket soccer stadium ends up revealing USL scheme to exploit Trump opportunity zones for federal tax breaks

Journalism takes all forms in these days of vanishing budgets and vanishing newsrooms, and sometimes it’s somebody spotting something on a website and going whuh?

That is, as the Valley Breeze notes, an image of a new soccer stadium and accompanying development on the Seekonk River in downtown Pawtucket. True, as the paper notes, this version of Pawtucket is “missing some downtown features and shows mountains in the background,” but clearly somebody at least went through the trouble of Photoshopping a soccer stadium onto some alternate-reality Pawtucket, which has to mean something.

And the Valley Breeze reporting staff (actually Valley Breeze managing editor Ethan Shorey, who in the absence of a masthead I’m guessing is the entire Valley Breeze reporting staff) went to the trouble of calling developers Fortuitous Partners and asking about the picture, and got confirmation that they’re “pursuing a $400 million project” in Pawtucket. Fortuitous — whose founder Brett Johnson also owns the Phoenix Rising F.C. USL team — was previously reported to be interested in building a USL soccer stadium on the site previously rejected by the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new baseball stadium. And Johnson had more to say about the project:

He described United Soccer as the fastest-growing sports league in the world, saying the company is exploring more than 60 markets that all have the potential to bring soccer, and leveraging the opportunity zones in every case.

Now that’s some news. Not the “exploring more than 60 markets” part — that doesn’t mean we’ll actually get 60 USL teams, though we’re already getting close. No, the interesting bit is that USL apparently plans to pick its stadium sites by locating teams in “opportunity zones,” the new Trump-created districts that allow developers to defer or evade entirely paying capital gains taxes on projected in “undercapitalized” areas.

As Billionaire Boondoggle author Pat Garofalo has reported, 52 existing major-league stadiums and arenas are already in opportunity zones. But because the main benefit to an opportunity zone is placing assets in an “opportunity fund” and then letting them gain in value tax-free — the language is hideously complex and even the forms are incredibly confusing, but that’s the best I’ve been able to figure out based on reading up on OZs and talking to tax experts — it seems like it would hold special appeal to investors looking to create a whole new entity, say a USL team, and then holding it within an opportunity fund so that the inevitable gains when USL teams turn out to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars despite everybody and their sister having one would be tax-free.

If you’re hoping for a dollar figure or even a guesstimate on how much this would cost the federal treasury, we are way too early in the game for that, sorry. But it is an indicator of how obscure changes in tax policy can shift an entire industry’s approach to its business model; sort of the way the 1986 Tax Reform Act’s okaying of using tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities helped spark the torrent of new publicly funded sports venues that followed. Capitalist free markets obey rules, yes, but those rules are set down by government policy, and tweaking one or two can make a huge difference in who gets to earn money how — which is no doubt why billionaires stayed up all night phoning Congressional legislators to get OZs passed into law.

Angels owner waiting till last minute to bring stadium proposal to council for vote, this can only go well

After opting out of his lease last December and then un-opting-out and then spending all year on such matters as pretending he could move to Long Beach and waiting on a city appraisal of stadium land that was completed but never released, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno is finally ready to make a proposal to the city of Anaheim for stadium renovations! And with a whole six weeks to go before the next opt-out deadline, much of which will be taken up by negotiations!

Anaheim City Manager Chris Zapata told the council about the Nov. 15 sit down during Tuesday’s, Nov. 5, council meeting.

But officials declined to say whether the Angels might come with a concrete, formal proposal or a collection of potential deal points…

[City spokesperson Mike] Lyster said negotiators for the city, including Mayor Harry Sidhu, and the team would likely meet a few times behind closed doors before a possible deal is brought to the full council.

So that means council debate likely won’t begin until December, with a vote having to be taken by the end of that month. No wonder the council didn’t want to promise 30 days of public debate on an Angels stadium plan!

Now, under sane circumstances, that deadline would be hanging over Moreno’s head just as much as the city’s, if not more so: If no new deal is in place by December 31, the Angels owner faces a choice between 1) opting out of his lease again and leaving himself nowhere to play in 2021 (or at least without such perks as super-low rent on his current stadium) and 2) not opting out and being stuck with no leverage to demand a new stadium until 2029. In the world we live in, though, where the council already responded to Moreno’s last opt-out with Oh, please, sir, here is a fresh gun to hold to our heads next year, it’s likely that the council will treat Moreno’s deadline as a council deadline, and rush to approve the deal regardless of whether the city would be getting fair market value for its parking lot development rights.

That’s if we even know by then what fair market value is, as the city still won’t make its appraisal of the site public. It’s promised to do so “at the right time,” which hopefully means before the actual vote; also hopefully it means that the full appraisal and methodology will be revealed then, not just a napkin with “whatev team wants to pay, ‘s cool” scrawled on it.

And speaking of the appraisal of land for the New York Islanders arena that was approved back in August, I just got notice today of the second delay in my Freedom of Information Law request for the full documents; I’m now projected to get a response (or notice of another delay) by December 19. Anyone wishing to lay odds on whether the appraisal is released before the arena’s scheduled opening date in fall 2021 is welcome to place wagers in comments.

Boise votes to require vote on soccer stadium funding, Charlotte votes for council set to okay soccer stadium funding

It was an oddly slow Election Day for sports-related votes — the big Oklahoma City vote on the latest MAPS sales-tax surcharge that would provide public money for a USL soccer stadium isn’t until December 10 — but there were a couple of notable items:

  • Boise, Idaho residents, facing a demand for a $50 million soccer stadium to lure a USL franchise, voted to require a public vote before the city can participate in any sports stadium project that costs more than $5 million in public or private money. (They also voted for a similar requirement for any library project costing more than $25 million.) That sounds like it should be airtight enough to avoid the legal pitfalls that befell Seattle’s similar Initiative 91 when it turned out to be unclear what a public “investment” meant — tax breaks? only direct cash? — but then again, since I-91 did its job fine in terms of preventing major sports giveaways, maybe it’s the spirit of the thing that counts.
  • The mayor of Charlotte and all the city council incumbents up for re-election got re-elected, and since the current city council has been largely willing to listen to Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper’s ask for $100-200 million in stadium improvement to bring an MLS team to town, that’s probably good news for that project. Or bad news for anyone who thinks that $200 million (or more!) to upgrade an existing football stadium for soccer is kinda crazy.

 

NFL officials leak word that league could move Chargers to London, or at least threaten to

Man, no sooner do I go and post about rumors that the Jacksonville Jaguars could move to London than The Athletic (paywalled) goes and reports rumors that the Los Angeles Chargers could move to London:

The Athletic has learned through NFL sources that the possibility of the Chargers moving to London has been broached among league personnel. The Athletic also has learned that, while the team is fully committed to Los Angeles where it will move into the new $4.5 billion stadium with the Rams next year, the Chargers would at least listen if the NFL approached them about London as a possible option.

Finally, The Athletic has learned that NFL owners are concerned enough about the Chargers’ situation in L.A., where a crowded sports market and the presence of the more established Rams has resulted in a tepid embracement of the Chargers, that they would provide the necessary support for a relocation to London if the Chargers pursue it.

That’s a whole lot of completely anonymously sourced reporting, coming down to: People around the NFL are talking about what if the Chargers moved to London, and the Chargers owners would consider it, as would other NFL owners, given that the Chargers’ situation in L.A. is such a flagrant dumpster fire.

Of course, the problem with anonymously sourced reporting is that you never know what the motivation is of the people hiding behind anonymity — or to put it more bluntly, these people could be lying thanks to an ulterior motive. What could that be? Pretty much anything: Trying to scare Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke into modifying how much cash he wants from Chargers owner Dean Spanos to play in his stadium or into allowing them out of their deal to share digs entirely, trying to scare Chargers fans into buying more tickets to avoid having their team leave the continent entirely, trying to keep alive the London threat even though a full-time NFL team there still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. (It makes sense if you’re the NFL maybe and want some sucker to take a travel hit in order to expand the league’s market, but less so if you’re that sucker.)

Regardless, if some within the NFL are openly (if not so open as to actually give their names) advocating for a London move to be considered, that’s a pretty blunt admission that approving the Chargers’ move from San Diego to L.A. was a complete catastrophe, and at least some league officials are looking for an exit strategy. London might or might not be it, but it certainly seems like somebody is ready to shake something up about the Chargers’ future plans, which can only mean one thing: More future ESPN articles where Jerry Jones talks about people’s balls.