Cavs owner promises to fix some basketball courts, Cleveland council says, “Okay, here’s $70m”

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert finally blinked yesterday, offering up some long-awaited concessions in exchange for $70 million in public renovation money for his team’s arena. And what, exactly, is the billionaire mortgage tycoon offering?

  • The Cavaliers have pledged that the portion of the admission tax that goes to the city’s general fund will never fall below the portion directed toward debt service on the upgrades. If that happens, the Cavaliers will write the city a check for the difference.
  • The Cavaliers have agreed to refurbish the basketball floors in city recreation centers, more than 20 in total. After the announcement the city confirmed that the Cavs will also refurbish high school basketball courts in Cleveland public high schools, as well.
  • Additionally, the Cavaliers announced it will donate all admissions revenues from its road-game watch parties at The Q during the NBA playoffs to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Over the last two seasons, those watch parties have raised more than $1 million from admissions that was donated to several charities.

That is pretty weak tea, as the Cleveland Scene points out: The admission-tax money is already slated to go to the general fund, so this is just locking in the dollar amounts; and the road-game watch party money was already being donated to charity, so this just directs it to one specific charity. That leaves just the promise to “refurbish” 65 community and high-school basketball courts, which comes with no dollar value or specifics — as the Scene puts it, “It’s unclear if the Cavs will build new courts entirely or just, like, buff them.”

Still, that was enough to get the city council to approve the plan by a 12-5 vote just a couple of hours later. The Greater Cleveland Congregations and the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, which had pushed for more substantial contributions to community programs by Gilbert, could still seek to overturn the vote via a public referendum, but there’s been no announcement of that as of yet.

If the decision stands, one of Cleveland’s richest businessmen just got $70 million in public funds to renovate his basketball team’s home arena, just a few months after he got $57 million in public funds to use for other upgrades, all for an arena built with $100 million in public funds in 1994. Turns out when you’re a rich dude, it’s not just subprime mortgages that are the gift that keeps on giving.

New Calgary report: Lookit, a parking lot, maybe somebody could build a Flames arena there?

The Calgary city council was presented with a new city report on the “Plan B” option for a new Calgary Flames arena just north of the Saddledome yesterday, and, um:

The report doesn’t include renderings, or information about cost or funding, and city administration refused to answer questions about the report ahead of Monday’s meeting.

Also:

The new centre, for which there are no plans yet, would include an NHL-level arena along with other “ancillary services” that are yet to be determined, the report says.

“Preliminary site planning and architectural investigations have determined that there is sufficient site area for an event centre with the same specifications and details as the event centre included as part of the CalgaryNEXT design,” the report said.

So basically, this report says, hey, there’s a big empty parking lot near the Flames’ old arena, bet you could fit an arena there. That’s nice and all, but wake me when somebody actually has some idea what it would cost or who would pay for it. Meanwhile, here are some Flames fans debating the new site. (Don’t click the link for the report, it’s broken.)

Nevada stadium authority chair: Raiders paying no rent in exchange for $750m sounds about right

Hey, remember how Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis proposed paying $1 a year rent to the state of Nevada in exchange for $750 million in stadium subsidies, and we all thought, “Okay, sure he’s going to ask for that, but there’s no reason the state stadium authority needs to take him seriously”? Well, the stadium authority board chair now says $1 a year rent sounds just fine to him:

“It’s based on the fact that the Raiders are going to be investing up to $1.15 billion and certainly taking the risk for any overruns,” board chairman Steve Hill said after the meeting. “So, in order to make that agreement make financial sense, the revenue from the stadium needed to flow to those investors.”

Yes, Davis and his private investors are putting up a lot of money. You know who else is putting up a lot of money? The people of Nevada. And where Davis’s side will have lots of revenue streams like all of the naming rights and ad sales from the stadium to help pay off their share, the state will only have whatever new tax money flows from tourists who weren’t going to go to Las Vegas just because it’s Las Vegas, but now will because it’s Las Vegas with the Raiders, about which sports economist Roger Noll has already said don’t hold your breath. But hey, the main concern of state officials is to cut deals to ensure the profitability of private corporations, right? I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.

It’s up to the stadium authority to determine and sign the lease, with no further input from the state legislature, so Nevada taxpayers are probably doomed. One hopes that at least they’ll manage to get an ironclad non-relocation clause without any “state of the art” loopholes, but with bright lights like Hill in charge, one shouldn’t hope too hard. Too bad Las Vegas doesn’t have anyone living there who has experience negotiating exactly these sorts of clauses and could be brought on to consult on this.

Islanders really definitely considering building new arena at Belmont Park, maybe

Confirming rumors that first emerged last summer and then re-emerged in February, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Friday that the owners of the New York Islanders are definitely going to bid on state-owned land at Belmont Park racetrack, with the goal of building a new arena there:

“Yes, there is an RFP [request for proposal] for Belmont and I know they are going to participate in that,” Bettman said of the Islanders. “I believe that everyone thinks there is a terrific opportunity there, if not at Willets Point, to create a more hockey friendly environment for the Islanders, which is something [Islanders co-owner] Scott [Malkin] is committed to do.”

You’ll note that all this is still pretty hedgy: “Participating” in bids for the land isn’t the same as actually committing to building an arena (the New York Cosmos participated in bidding for years, and that went nowhere), and Bettman still isn’t ruling out building in Willets Point near the Mets‘ stadium, either. He did rule out playing at the renovated Nassau Coliseum as “not a long-term option,” but really all this comes down to is: The Islanders owners want a new arena of their own, and they’re going to try to get one, by gum.

Who would pay for both construction and land costs remains a mystery. Yes, Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group and his partners at Madison Square Garden seem eager to make a splash in the arena business regardless of the cost, but that still doesn’t necessarily make the finances of yet another New York–area arena work out. I’ll close, by repeating what I said back in February:

There are way too many unknowns here to say whether this story could have legs, or is mostly just the Islanders owners trying to leverage Prokhorov into giving them a lease extension in Brooklyn that lets them keep their guaranteed-income deal and/or renovates the Barclays Center to be a less sucky place to watch hockey. I’m in an optimistic mood today, so I’ll say I hope that this is another indicator of a burgeoning arms race within Big Arena that sees billionaires throwing money at new venues without demanding big public subsidies, just because they’re trying to drive each other out of business. It couldn’t end well — anybody remember the Borders-Barnes & Noble war? — but at least the only casualties would be some private corporation’s bottom line.

The new Belmont Park request for proposals is expected to be issued soonish. If nothing else, it will be a very interesting ride.

Cincy arena owner: NCAA wants snazzier locker rooms, might as well tear the whole place down

The NCAA has awarded a round of its 2022 basketball tournament to Cincinnati, for the first time in 30 years. Yay, Cincinnati! But this is conditional on Hamilton County making $200 million in upgrades to its arena. Boo, NCAA! But actually the NCAA’s upgrade demands aren’t that major or costly, it’s just the arena’s owner/operator who’s trying to leverage this into a major upgrade:

U.S. Bank Arena needs to add two locker rooms and greatly expand media space below the seating area if it’s going to host the first- and second-round games, Ray Harris, CEO of Nederlander Entertainment, which operates and is majority owner of the arena, told me on Wednesday…

Harris is shooting to make those changes as part of a planned massive overhaul of U.S. Bank Arena that would likely cost anywhere from $200 million to $350 million, he said.
“We’d certainly advocate the major renovation that addresses what the NCAA needs and provides additional amenities as opposed to losing events,” Harris said. “That’s certainly our hope. We think this is a great time to address all the shortcomings of this facility. It would put Cincinnati on the map to be competitive with all the major cities around us.”

Well, sure, you’d advocate that the city chip in on $200 million to $350 million of upgrades to your arena, rather than just adding two locker rooms and some media space. And what would that greater renovation entail, exactly?

[Harris] said Wednesday that the current plan to prepare for the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball championship includes tearing down the arena and building a new, larger arena in its place.

Okay, then!

Some backstory: Harris has been proposing a major overhaul of the arena for two years now, with the minor snag that he wants the county to help pay for it, and after coughing up big bucks for new stadiums for the Reds and the Bengals, spending nine figures on an arena whose highest-profile tenants is a minor-league hockey team isn’t exactly likely to be a priority. But if it’s about making the NCAA happy, and “putting Cincinnati on the map” — hey, sure, maybe somebody will buy it. Not anyone on the county commission, admittedly — commissioner Todd Portune replied yesterday, “Go do it. It’s your arena. We’ll be happy to help with permits and zoning, but don’t think that the county has a pot of money over here that we’re waiting to make available” — but maybe somebody somewhere.

Falcons stadium delayed again, because newfangled roof doesn’t have all its fangles worked out

The much-delayed opening of the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium, originally set for this past March, has been delayed again, this time to a preseason game on August 26. The stated reason? Building a retractable roof that operates like no other roof before turns out to be hard!

[Falcons CEO Steve] Cannon said the latest delay disclosed Tuesday was driven by “steel work that is taking longer than we anticipated” in the roof and an analysis of the construction timeline from this point forward.

He said AMB Group’s expectation is that the roof will be fully operable when the stadium opens.

But Cannon acknowledged that the eight roof petals have required some extra work to make them fit.

“You install a shim that closes a gap or addresses a gap,” he said. “So yes, there was a shimming process that took place, normal seal work on a project of this size and complexity. We have completed all of that work. … It went very well. And now we’re moving on.”

The latest delay means that three Atlanta United games have had to be moved (one to Georgia Tech’s stadium, two to later dates) and demolition of the Georgia Dome has been delayed just in case the Falcons need to play some games there. Not that they’re going to have to do that, heaven forfend, the stadium will absolutely be open by August 26 — just like before it was absolutely going to be open by March 1, and then June 1, and then July 30. It’s also always possible the stadium might open without a fully functional roof at first — that’s happened before, after all, though the Falcons owners might not like reminding of that particular precedent.

Dan Gilbert may actually manage to blow up his $70m Cavs arena subsidy deal after all

When last we checked in on Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s $70 million big glass wall subsidy, it looked set for passage, with a majority of the city council set to approve it and opponents mostly just demanding some kind of fund for “community benefits” to be added. Now, though, it appears to be … “falling apart” is probably overstating it, but definitely hitting a major speed bump. Detangling this informative yet slightly convoluted article from the Cleveland Scene, we get:

  • After the arena renovations bill passed the Cleveland city council 11-6 in a preliminary vote last week, it was expected to get final approval this week. Instead, city council president Kevin Kelley pulled it at the last minute, saying “some members requested more time to discuss it.”
  • One possibility is that the Cavs are concerned about getting a 12-vote supermajority, which would allow them to avoid a public referendum as well. Except that, according to the Scene, it would only allow them to avoid a referendum if the city were selling the bonds, and it’s the county, so, what the hell?
  • Gilbert is so desperate to turn more votes, for whatever reason, that he personally called Ward 2 councilmember Zack Reed to ask what he could do to win his support. Reed answered that he wanted a community benefits fund, a la what Greater Cleveland Congregations had proposed, and Gilbert presumably wouldn’t give in, because Reed remains opposed (and now publicly gripey about having to spend 40 minutes on the phone with the Cavs owner to no good end).

While it still seems likely that the arena subsidy will be passed by the council eventually, there’s a lot more grumbling from councilmembers than a couple of weeks ago, which isn’t going to help this thing win if it goes to a referendum as now appears it will. Gilbert, meanwhile, is apparently refusing to budge on the one thing that would make his opposition melt, which is to throw a few million dollars at some community groups as the price of getting $70 million in public funds. If so, that’ll be some quality grasping-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory stuff there — though given that this is a guy who responded to federal government charges that his loan company had lied about borrowers’ creditworthiness by countersuing the government and then having his suit immediately dismissed, playing hardball to spite your face does seem to be a bit of a Gilbert character trait.

Baltimore Sun claims Camden Yards pays own way, can’t even keep up pretense for whole article

And hey, look, another major media article that can’t do basic math! Let’s start with the headline:

Orioles payments to stadium authority exceed original cost of Camden Yards

Wow, that would indeed be impressive. Is perhaps Camden Yards one of those rare examples like the Minneapolis Metrodome, of a stadium where the public put up a bunch of money up front but then was repaid in full and more by lease payments over time? Spoiler: no.

Documents show the authority has received an average of $6.4 million in annual rent from the team, plus $4.1 million a year as its share of state admissions taxes. The total, through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, is $255 million.

That compares favorably with the stadium’s original $225 million price tag, including $100 million for land acquisition and $125 million for the stadium.

Yeah, no, that’s not how money works. Even if you count state admissions taxes as new state revenues (the Orioles would have been paying them if they’d stayed at Memorial Stadium, too), $10.5 million a year over 25 years is only worth about $140 million in present value, still far less than the $225 million price tag. Or if it helps, you could flip it around the other way and see if $10.5 million a year is enough to pay off the state’s annual debt payments — oh, look, the Sun actually did that:

The stadium authority said it pays about $15 million a year in debt service — principal plus interest — on the 30-year bonds issued to pay for Camden Yards.

So by the Sun’s own calculations, Maryland is actually losing money on Camden Yards. Anything else?

The debt service, however, is paid with Maryland Lottery proceeds appropriated each year by the General Assembly. The authority uses the team’s rent money for ballpark operations.

Oh, right, ballpark operations costs. So really the Orioles’ rent payments pay nothing towards the public’s debt on Camden Yards. Lovely headline, though — beautiful plumage.

No, USA Today, NFL teams aren’t moving because of revenue disparities, you got snookered

An exec for the Cincinnati Bengals said a thing! A USA Today reporter believed him! Let’s investigate whether any of it makes sense.

First, the thing:

The revenue disparity between teams is “the largest it’s ever been in NFL history,” [Bengals vice president Troy] Blackburn told USA TODAY Sports. Even though teams equally share the revenues of NFL television contracts and a portion of ticket sales, they don’t share other local stadium revenues with each other, leading to the rising gap…

“Right now, you’ve got many of the small markets paying over 60-plus percent of their revenues on players, and many of the large markets are paying 40 percent of revenue on players,” said Blackburn, who previously was the team’s director of stadium development and is the son-in-law of Bengals owner Mike Brown. “Something that could be done that narrowed that gap would be helpful, and it would make it easier for the small-market teams to stay where they are and not have to explore relocation.”

USA Today’s took that and spun it into an article claiming that the reason the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders have all moved in the last year is because of these rising disparities between small- and large-market NFL teams, and more (unspecified, but presumably including the Bengals) teams could relocate if nothing is done about it.

Now, this is an odd premise to begin with, seeing as that it’s well known why these three teams moved now: Rams owner Stan Kroenke finally pulled the trigger on calling dibs on the long-vacant Los Angeles market, then the Chargers and Raiders owners rushed to get in on it too lest their only leverage on their current cities disappear, then the Chargers agreed to move in with the Rams because they couldn’t get a big-ass new stadium subsidy in San Diego while the Raiders got a big-ass stadium subsidy from Las Vegas, the end. But let’s set aside everything that our eyes tell us and see if the notion that NFL revenues are unsustainably unequal is supported by the data.

Here’s the latest Forbes team value and revenue figureshttps://www.forbes.com/nfl-valuations/list/#tab:overall. If you take a look at the “Revenue” column (we want gross revenues, not profits, which is what the “Operating Income” column shows), you’ll see that the Dallas Cowboys are crazy outliers at $700 million a year, while the rest of the league sits between $523 million and $301 million a year, meaning the top non-Dallas team earned 74% more than the lowest-revenue team.

If we go back to, say, 2011, the Cowboys are still outliers at $406 million, and the spread for the rest of the NFL is $352 million to $217 million, for a 62% disparity. So the distance between the haves and have-nots is increasing, yes, but note hugely. (You’ll also notice that every team in the league currently turns at least a $26 million profit, so while small-market team owners may be sad that they don’t own the New England Patriots, they can still be happy that they own an NFL team and not pretty much anything else.)

Now, let’s take a look at other sports. For baseball, lopping off the New York Yankees as the Cowboys analogue, we get a $462 million to $205 million revenue spread — a whopping 125%. For the NBA, taking out the New York Knicks, it’s $333 million to $140 million, 137%. For the NHL, omitting the New York Rangers, it’s $202 million to $99 million, 104%.

So while you can quibble with the Forbes numbers (or my methodology), it’s pretty clear that NFL revenue disparities aren’t any worse than those of other leagues that aren’t seeing massive team defections. Which is as to be expected, since the NFL has the strongest revenue-sharing program of any major sports league in North America, in the form of the national TV contract system put together by Pete Rozelle way back in the 1960s. In the NFL, owners get whopping checks just by virtue of owning a team — the only way to get ahead of your competitors isn’t to be in a bigger city with the chance for big cable contracts (the reason why all those New York teams sit atop the revenue charts for other leagues), but to get a more lucrative stadium deal. Which predicts that you’ll see more city-hopping in search of those, which is precisely what’s been happening.

So now that we’ve established that USA Today doesn’t have any fact-checkers on staff, what’s Blackburn’s angle? Is he just feeling whiny that the Bengals play in Cincinnati in a stadium that was a gift from taxpayers 17 whole years ago? Or does he have a specific play in mind:

“If the league is serious about franchise stability, maybe it should consider a new G-3 styled program that would help keep teams in small markets,” Blackburn said. “If it did it once, it can certainly do it again, if it truly cares about the issue.”

Ah, now we’re talking — the Bengals owners are upset that big-market teams are getting league grant money (or were, since both the G-3 fund and its successor G-4 are now depleted), and they’re not. So this whole exercise turns out to have been one NFL owner using the pages of USA Today to convince his fellow NFL owners to give him some of their money, because c’mon guys, you have so much of it!

Of course, the original G-3 program was actually limited to teams in the six biggest markets, in order to provide a check against teams moving to smaller cities in search of those sweet stadium deals mentioned above — with #6 included specifically because Patriots owner Robert Kraft played in the 6th-biggest market, and was threatening to move to Hartford at the time, and was the chair of the committee that designed G-3. So, pretty much the exact opposite of what Blackburn says it was. Oh, fact-checking.

Top Florida economic advisor lacks econ degree, avoided using real data because it’d look bad

I’ve made fun of Florida’s propensity for giving its sports teams lots of money based on doofy economic impact studies before, such as when Pinellas County moved forward with a plan for giving the Toronto Blue Jays $65 million for a new spring training facility in Dunedin based on an economic report that assumed that every single ticket sold went to a different person who traveled to Florida just for that game. But this, this, from WTSP’s Noah Pransky, takes the damn cake:

10Investigates found the author of so many economic impact reports that support public sports subsidies may not be the expert economist state leaders believe he is.

The resume of Mark Bonn, Ph.D., a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, boasts of dozens of reports compiled for municipalities all across Florida, including some statewide organizations.

Bonn’s side company, Bonn Marketing Inc., recently received $23,000 from just one study, commissioned by the Toronto Blue Jays and city of Dunedin to show the economic impact of spring training…

Nobody on the committee questioned Bonn’s qualifications.

But 10Investigates did, asking if Bonn considered himself an economist.