Anybody want some old boxes of papers? Uh, I mean, valuable historical research? Inquire within!

Joanna Cagan and I wrote the first edition of Field of Schemes so long ago that we actually did research by compiling physical pieces of paper and placing them into cardboard folders. (This should not be seen as a commentary on the current, all-updated edition of Field of Schemes, which was written entirely with nanotechnology while flying around on our jetpacks.) As was the way of things in the late 20th century, we then put the folders in boxes, and the boxes in closets, and forgot all about them.

As it so happens, both Joanna and I are looking to reclaim our closets (Joanna because she’s about to move cross-country, me because I just want more closet space), and these 17-year-old book research files need to go. At the same time, there’s no doubt some useful information in there for future researchers — let’s see, this first box I pulled out has some early article drafts, clippings from now-defunct newspapers (New York Newsday, R.I.P.), Nexis searches, hey, it’s the catalog (and my name tag) from that stadium finance conference where Jay Cross talked about how referendums are a good thing because you can always just buy the outcome if you’re worried. I have a bunch of original cassettes containing recorded interviews as well that I’d love to get out of my house make available to researchers.

If you are a librarian or archivist or know one who might be interested in taking possession of the Field of Schemes papers, please drop me a line here. We’re probably talking about six or seven file boxes total, to be picked up or shipped from New York City. No serious offers turned away, not even if you plan on using this material to craft a papier-maché effigy of Roger Goodell. (Actually, that might get you bonus points.)

Questions welcome in comments or via email. But hurry, because Joanna’s moving van can’t wait forever.

WI pols “confident” Bucks deal will be ready by Friday, just in time for no one to read it before vote

Wisconsin political leaders held what had been announced as their “final” closed-door meeting to negotiate a Milwaukee Bucks arena deal yesterday, and … they didn’t finalize anything. But they’re close! Really they are, because they say so!

“The number of issues is narrowing,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Tuesday.

“There’s still work to be done, so there’s no white smoke. But I feel confident we’ll be able to work out the remaining issues,” he said.

We’ve heard this before, needless to say, but now things are really coming down to the wire: The state legislature’s joint finance committee is set to issue its budget proposal by the end of this week, so if the Bucks want to have their plan considered this legislative session, they really need to get it done tout de suite.

And what do we know about what this eventual plan will look like? The four Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporters (Tom Daykin, Patrick Marley, Crocker Stephenson, and Daniel Bice) who are filling the shoes of the late Don Walker provide some clues:

  • A “source” indicates that the state would sell $93 million worth of bonds to help finance the arena, paying them off with existing surcharges on car rentals, hotel rooms, and restaurant food and beverage sales in Milwaukee County. Those taxes currently go to the Wisconsin Center District, which mostly uses them to pay off construction debt on its convention center, but there’s about $8 million left over for the city’s tourism and convention marketing budget — which would just barely be enough to pay off $93 million in bonds if the city is fine with promoting tourism from now on by holding up a big “COME TO MILWAUKEE WE HAVE CUSTARD” banner at nationally televised Bucks games.
  • Milwaukee would provide $35 million for a new parking garage, and get back some unspecified parking revenue in return. It would also kick in $12 million in future property taxes from new development around the arena via a TIF district.

Assuming that the state would still be putting in something on the order of $150 million to be repaid out of NBA player’s future state income taxes (which is assuming NBA salaries continue to rise at a hyperinflationistic rate), that would be $290 million total in public money, which should be enough to make Bucks owners Wes Edens and Mark Lasry happy.

Whether it will make the state legislature happy, especially in a year when Wisconsin is going to have to be cutting everything else to the bone to fill a budget gap, remains to be seen. The big worry here is that the last-minute nature of the deal could end up working in its favor — if it gets dropped into the budget on, say, Saturday morning, that won’t leave much time for either state legislators or local journalists to read and digest what’s looking to be an extremely complex plan before it has to be voted up or down. The last time we saw one of these two-minute offense sports subsidy pushes, it resulted in Minnesota’s e-pulltabs fiasco. Which isn’t to say that the Bucks plan is necessarily as bad as that one (I mean, nothing could be as bad as that one), but the way things are going, this plan may be law before anyone has figured out what it means, which is never a good way to run a railroad.

Hansen: No NHL teams are so eager to play in Seattle that they’ve gotten out their checkbooks

Chris Hansen, the would-be Seattle NBA arena builder who can’t get an NBA team, says he hasn’t been approached by any NHL teams wanting to move to Seattle and willing to pay him to do so:

“We’ve had a lot of informal discussions with people about this, but us or the city have yet to be presented with any kind of offer. I mean any kind of even basic offer that would be the opening point for negotiating something,” Hansen said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The AP called this “surprising,” but it really isn’t: There aren’t a ton of hockey teams looking to move right now, and while I’m sure any team owner looking to test the waters would do due diligence by putting in a phone call to Hansen (that’s your “informal discussions” right there), actually offering to put in a pile of cash to help get the arena built — something Hansen and the city say would be needed for hockey, which doesn’t bring in as much revenue as basketball — isn’t really how things get done in the arena game.

None of this means that Seattle will never get an NHL team, or Hansen will never get his arena built, though the latter is certainly looking less likely the more time passes from his original approval two years ago. But it’s a reminder that 1) paying for arenas is hard, which we knew already, and 2) “build it and they will come” isn’t a great strategy for landing a pro sports franchise, which we also knew already.

PawSox claim renovating existing stadium would cost $65m, won’t say where they got that number

The mayor of Pawtucket, which is set to lose the Pawtucket Red Sox to nearby Providence if the team owners’ demands for a taxpayer-subsidized new stadium go through, has requested that PawSox management release its study showing that renovations to 73-year-old McCoy Stadium would be prohibitively expensive at $65 million. And how do you think that’s going?

When asked whether the team would release the study, PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle said Lucchino “will most certainly respond” to Grebien’s request for a meeting, but she did not address whether the team would release the study.

This is kind of key, since teams have been, dare I say it, less than truthful about renovation costs in the past. (The most notable example may have been the Detroit Tigers in the 1990s, who declared that it would cost a then-astronomical $100 million to repair Tiger Stadium, only to have it later discovered that this was the projected cost for a massive renovation that would have included installing a dome over the building.) This probably isn’t actionable under freedom of information laws, but it’s still worth journalists inquiring about this as well; I’ll call over to the team offices later today and report back on what, if anything, they say.

Oakland mayor on Raiders stadium: We’ve got better things to do with our money

Add another mayor to the growing list of those speaking out against throwing public money at local sports teams without, like, a good reason:

“That money we’re paying now is general-fund money we could spend on police, parks or libraries,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who has said she cannot support spending a dime of public funds for a new stadium.

This is the strongest statement that Schaaf has made to date against subsidizing a Raiders stadium plan — back when first elected in January she said the Raiders and A’s should be asked to bid for the land they both want — and while it provides plenty of wiggle room (is public land the same as public funds?) it’s certainly a strong indication that she, like Anaheim’s Tom Tait, Minneapolis’s Betsy Hodges, and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, doesn’t see a political downside to standing up to local sports owners’ subsidy demands. Which is probably accurate, at least if you’re going by mayors being punished at the ballot box (being punished at fundraising time is another story), but there does definitely seem to be a mini-trend going on here. Will be very interesting to see if it spreads, not to mention how hard a line the Gang of Four are willing to take if teams start busing in commissioners to threaten that they’ll move — though the Raiders are already there and Schaaf doesn’t seem overly concerned.

Commissioners gotta commissioner: Silver says “upgrades” needed for Cleveland to host NBA All-Star Game

Hey look, everybody, a sports league commissioner has used the promise of a major sporting event as a carrot to demand arena and/or stadium upgrades! That’s surely never happened before!

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the only thing that would prevent the city of Cleveland from hosting an NBA All-Star game is failing to make improvements to Quicken Loans Arena.

“They’ve expressed interest in it and we’re waiting for them to get the additional work done on the building,” Silver told Northeast Ohio Media Group during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals…

“It really comes down to when are the upgrades going to made to the arena,” Silver reiterated.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has been asking for public money to upgrade the team’s 21-year-old arena, because the public money he got last year at this time wasn’t enough, or something. So Silver just did him a favor by delivering a promise, or a threat, or a promise-threat, in the hopes that Cleveland officials will get all exciting about the possibility of an NBA All-Star Game without checking to see whether other host cities have actually benefitted from them one bit. Because that’s what commissioners do.

In totally unrelated news, the NFL has said that it will maybe consider holding the 2020 Super Bowl in Los Angeles, if there’s a stadium and a team in place there by then. Must be nice to be the kid with the new car everyone wants to ride in.

Are NFL stadium subsidies really falling? Here’s a chart that won’t help answer that at all!

The San Diego Union-Tribune (officially re-rebranded as of last week, though its domain name hasn’t caught up yet) has been running lots of lots of news articles about the Chargers stadium plan, too many to take in all at once. Let’s find a promising one: How about Saturday’s “Why the Chargers need cash to stay,” which promises to explain the reasons that San Diego citizens should be putting up between $650 million and $ 1.15 billion when the team is willing to build a stadium in Carson for far less in subsidies? Let’s begin:

When it comes to financing new NFL stadiums, think of the Great Recession as halftime in a one-sided football game poised for a big shift in momentum.

I’m sorry, my brain just broke. Enough with the forced sports metaphors, people!

The upshot of the article appears to be that until 2006, the public spent a lot of money on NFL stadiums, but “since 2010, when the New York Jets and Giants built their own new stadium, the trend has clearly moved toward more hefty private contributions.”

Really? The chart that the U-T includes with its article indeed shows several stadiums with larger private costs in recent years (Dallas, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Santa Clara):

stadiumpriceonline-01_t837But that’s a bit misleading: Atlanta’s public cost is listed at $200 million rather than the $554 million that is more accurate, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is getting around $100 million in public subsidies toward his own stadium work, which isn’t even a new stadium at all, just a renovation. Take that away and the main trend is that NFL stadiums have gotten way more expensive, and team owners have largely covered that additional cost, while public expenses have remained pretty consistent.

And why have costs soared? The U-T notes that “owners now want the biggest and best so they can command even higher premiums from well-heeled fans and corporations,” while economist Victor Matheson credits this to “stadium envy.” It’s unclear whether this means owners are earning their money back on more expensive stadiums (in bigger markets, at least) or just trying to keep up with the Joneses, but that’s okay, because it genuinely is unclear which is the case, especially for stadiums that haven’t opened yet.

The U-T’s conclusion, meanwhile, is that cities aren’t throwing money at NFL teams anymore, but that’s because only big cities are building NFL stadiums, so San Diego still needs to throw money at its team. That’s pretty much wrong on all counts (Atlanta and Minneapolis are big cities?), but it’s right enough in a couple of cases (New York, Santa Clara) that it’s good enough for newspaper work, and ducks asking questions about whether the proposed public expense for a Chargers stadium is either worth it or necessary to keep the team in town, or just a number that a bunch of local CEOs picked out of a hat in hopes it would make the team owners happy. But there are lots more U-T articles out there to be written — why look, here’s one on how a public vote is needed to prevent the “threat” of a referendum drive that could “stall” the stadium campaign — so I’m sure they’ll get around to the actual finances of the financial plan eventually.

Seahawks owner expresses “concerns” about not-anywhere-close Seattle arena, this is news, people

Citizen responses to environmental impact statements are usually among the most academic of exercises — you file them, they go in the back of the final report, and no one ever reads them again. Unless, that is, you’re a citizen who owns the local NFL team:

Paul Allen’s First & Goal Inc., which oversees all operations at CenturyLink Field, expressed serious concerns about the proposed sports arena that could house NBA and NHL franchises in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood…

“It was anticipated that the EIS regarding the arena would resolve many of our questions and concerns,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, after reviewing the FEIS and the most current version of the Arena proposal, we continue to be troubled that the arena has not yet disclosed and the city does not yet know how the proposed arena will fit within the existing stadium district or how it will mitigate many of its potential effects.”

Allen hasn’t previously complained about Chris Hansen’s proposed Sodo arena — unlike the owners of the Mariners, who’ve griped about it causing traffic problems — and the Seahawks owner insists that he’s still supportive of the plan, despite his concerns. But it still has the Puget Sound Business Journal asking what Hansen will do with his downtown land if he doesn’t build an arena on it. (Answer: sell it to somebody for commercial development, say two commercial realtors.) Not that Hansen is ready to break ground on this thing regardless — he still doesn’t have a team to play in it, for starters — but it sounds like now the media is developing an exit strategy for him, whether he wants one or not.

Milwaukee arena reporter Don Walker has passed away

I’ve poked a lot of fun at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker in recent months — most memorably for this — but he’s done a bunch of good reporting as well, all part of his assignment to cover the Bucks arena deal on a daily basis. And even if he hadn’t, it still would have been a shock to see this just now:

No word yet on the cause, though Walker was still tweeting as recently as last night, so presumably something sudden. (From his college graduate date, it looks as if Walker was in his early 60s.) Our condolences to his family and friends, and respect to someone who clearly cared a lot about reporting on the sports-business world, even if we came at it from very different places.

Chargers owner on $650m+ stadium subsidy offer: “Haven’t read it yet, is it good?”

If you’ve read the San Diego Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group’s proposal for a new Chargers stadium, that puts you one up on Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who apparently hasn’t had time to actually read about how much money the task force is offering to throw at him, because it’s 42 pages and he’s busy, guys:

“I have not seen the actual report,” Chargers chairman Dean Spanos said Wednesday before departing the league’s two-day owners meetings here. “I’m going back today, and I’m going to look at it this afternoon.”…

“I think they submitted some sort of framework of a potential financing plan,” Spanos said of CSAG. “That’s what we’re going to take a look at this week … I’ve always said, and I maintain the fact we want to stay in San Diego. We’re committed to keep trying to see if there is a viable solution. It has now come down to a financing plan, so I am anxious to see what the city puts forth.”

Now, there are several possible explanations here. One is that Spanos was just so busy with the NFL owners meetings (new extra point rules, everybody!) that he didn’t have time to read anything. Another is that he’s read it and still has too many questions — about all those details “to be negotiated,” perhaps — that he doesn’t want to comment just yet. Or he’s waiting to talk to financial people who can tell him exactly how much money he’d get out of the deal. Or he’s sick of this whole thing and wants his sons to be the ones to answer questions from now on.

Whichever it is, it’s slightly weird for the owner of an NFL team isn’t responding to an offer of possibly close to a billion dollars in subsidies that he’s been waiting on for months. But not any weirder than an NFL owner not picking up the phone to listen to stadium subsidy offers. This whole L.A. move threat game is all a complex stew of gamesmanship and personal idiosyncrasies, so it’s probably best not to read too much into anything, at least not until Spanos has decided whether the in-flight movie is more interesting than the stadium proposal that could determine the fate of his team and his bank balance.