Qatar 2022 World Cup stadiums still being built by slave labor, can’t wait to see how Fox Sports covers this

Just your daily reminder that the 2022 World Cup stadiums are being built by workers who aren’t getting paid, or as it’s better known historically, slave labor. From Amnesty International, via the Associated Press:

Mercury MENA worked on several projects in Qatar, including the stadium, the new Qatar National Library and a workers’ hospital and modern accommodation for labourers, Amnesty said. Workers told the human rights-focused non-governmental organisation that the firm owed them on average between $1,370 to $2,470, a huge sum for their families back home. It said one worker was owed nearly $25,000 after over a decade of work.

That’s right, math fans: One poor migrant worker spent more than ten years building stadiums and such, despite his employer stiffing him on $25,000 in pay, yet couldn’t leave because Qatari law requires an employer-signed “exit permit” before they can go home. This is the year 2018.

You can read the full Amnesty report here. Or just crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head, both are acceptable responses.

New Yorkers about to pay more than $1m a year for Mets Triple-A team to stay in Syracuse

You want some shittier news? How about the New York Mets being on the verge of agreeing to an 18-year lease extension for their Syracuse Chiefs Triple-A team, just as soon as the city and state agree to $22.4 million in renovation subsidies?

[Onondaga County deputy executive Bill] Fisher said $8.5 million of the funding would come through bonding. At least another $3.6 million would be kicked in from the county and the Mets from stadium naming rights revenue (the current deal expires after 2025).

Fisher believes once the county locks in its approval, the state will toss in a dollar-for-dollar match of that $12.1 million foundation. That would bring the total pot to at least $24.2 million.

That’s a public expense of $1.24 million a year for each year the soon-to-be-remonikered Chiefs stay in town, which is between 8% and 33% of what some major-league franchises have extracted in terms of lease extensions — so you can either look at it that Syracuse cut a better deal than St. Petersburg did for the Tampa Bay Lightning, or that Syracuse spent a third as much as St. Pete did per year and only got a minor-league baseball team, not the NHL Atlantic Division champions.

Either way, I look forward to hearing how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will explain how keeping the Chiefs in Syracuse will totally be worth $12.1 million to the people of New York state, because of all the tourists the team draws in from, I guess, Vermont and Pennsylvania? Or maybe he’ll just raise his hands in victory over his head and declare, “Hey, at least we’re still better off than Worcester! Excelsior!”

Seattle arena finally finalized, NHL team could be next, and nobody had to get screwed to make it happen

The Seattle city council finally cast its final vote to approve the privately funded reconstruction of KeyArena yesterday — notwithstanding that it had already voted to approve the plan last December — which means we can all rejoice in an arena deal that doesn’t suck too badly, thanks to a combination of citizen activism and relatively forward-thinking elected officials. (Those are the city officials; county officials are still wackadoodle, as the recent Mariners lease extension made clear.)

And it also means that now we can freely speculate about an NHL expansion team in Seattle, since part of the deal is that renovations won’t start until a franchise is in place:

Local investors will present to the NHL’s executive committee on October 2. Then, the full NHL Board of Governors will vote in December on whether to approve an expansion franchise for Seattle for the 2020-2021 season. A Seattle NHL team would be owned by billionaire David Bonderman, movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer and a handful of local owners.

Sports leagues are in a weird place right now with regard to expansion, with some looking to cash as many expansion fee checks as possible (MLS), while others are sitting on their hands and figuring that a one-time windfall isn’t worth the tradeoff of having to share the revenue pie with more owners (the NBA and NFL, pretty much). Baseball has been kicking the tires on expansion without making much of a commitment — my gut sense is that they’ll only do so if bowled over by expansion fees of around $1 billion per team, which may not be feasible for the size of the cities involved, something that I told Matthew Kory of the Athletic for this article (paywalled), though Twitter somehow turned it into me hating Montreal.

The NHL has been somewhere in between MLS and MLB, eager to expand if someone wants to throw money at them, but not so eager as to approve more than one team at a time. Seattle seems like as sure a bet for the league as possible — moderately big media market, more of an existing hockey fan base than some of the cities from Gary Bettman’s famed Sunbelt Strategy that didn’t work out so well — so if Bruckheimer and friends are willing to pay $650 million for a team in league where only 10 out of 31 existing teams are worth that much, hell yeah, grab the cash.

The calculus of expansion really comes down to whether you think the future revenues you’re giving up (by slicing the pie into smaller pieces) are worth more or less than the expansion fee check, and that’s going to vary based on everything from what you expect the future holds in terms of league revenues (is the cable bubble bursting yet?) to how your league’s revenue-sharing determines the size of your existing slice. None of which has much to do with whether a city “deserves” a team, whether in terms of Nielsen demographics or of how rabid their fan base is, so it’s nice when they all line up and a city like Seattle lands a team that should fit in well with existing NHL cities. And not having to put in public arena subsidies is the cherry on the top. Wow, I really have nothing overly cynical or pessimistic to say about this news item — mark this day down, because you shan’t see its like again.

Diamondbacks made a stadium-related proposal to Phoenix, city officials won’t say what it was

This is a very weird story: The Arizona Republic reports that in June, Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall sent an email to Phoenix city manager Ed Zuercher, offering to discuss an “opportunity” for a partnership involving a stadium. And that’s all the Arizona Republic reports, as Zuercher won’t reveal what the proposal was, citing a nondisclosure agreement that Hall demanded he sign before being allowed to view the partnership proposal.

Cities refusing to release otherwise public documents because they’re involved in ongoing negotiations over them is common, but from the sound of things, these talks went nowhere, so it’s not an open issue. Normally this would make the documents in question fair game for journalists and the public via the Arizona Public Records Law — but a city spokesperson said the NDA required the document to only be “loaned” to the city to examine, then be returned to the team owners, making it not a public document.

This is, plainly, worrying as hell: If business owners of any kind can hold talks with public officials under a shroud of an NDA without it being subject to freedom of information laws, it will be a major loophole in requirements that records of governmental operations be made available to the public. This particular proposal could have been nothing important, or it could have been something that will affect the future of the Diamondbacks and public money in significant ways — the whole point is we don’t know, and have no way of knowing, thanks to this legal dodge. It’s the paperwork equivalent of hiding in hallways to evade open meetings laws, and I sincerely hope somebody challenges it.

Friday roundup: More MLS expansion drum beating, more wasteful non-sports subsidies, more bonkers Tottenham stadium delay stories

Getting a late start this morning after being out last night seeing Neko Case, so let’s get to this:

Terrible Worcester stadium deal gets appropriately terrible renderings

We have new renderings of the Worcester Red Sox stadium set to open in 2021! Let’s see what one of the largest minor-league baseball stadium subsidies in history will get for the Paris of the 80s:

I’ve always assumed that people in architectural renderings come from some sort of clip art, but if so, the ones here appear to have been imported from the Wacky Poses collection. We have the kids in oversized t-shirts putting on shower caps, the woman hailing a cab on an empty street, the woman intently staring down a tree, the man with a beard down to his navel, the two guys not at all suspiciously wearing long overcoats when everyone else is dressed in shorts, and so, so much more! Really, you could make a good “Find the X things wrong with this picture” puzzle out of this image, except the answer would be “everything.” (Why are so many of the people subtly translucent, anyway?)

The stadium will have a diner! This is, I guess, one of those touches that’s supposed to show it will be a year-round economic catalyst, and not just a giant building that’s closed almost 300 days a year. I especially like how the renderers chose to add a big dorky pointer labeling the diner, rather than the way easier solution of making the diner signage say “Diner” instead of “Signage.”

They really want you to see that diner. It will, apparently, be filled with a toxic gas that will repel all potential customers and keep them at a safe distance, which is probably a good idea seeing that the customers will all be gray, featureless ghosts. (But not translucent! Only living, breathing people are translucent in WooSox world!)

WE GET IT THERE’S A DINER OKAY

Finally, the first image where we can see the inside of the stadium. Aside from being weirdly asymmetrical — is it modeled after Fenway Park, maybe, with its short porch in left and terrible right-field corner seats? — it has a rather large upper deck for a 10,000-seat Triple-A stadium. That’s not at all a bad thing, not is the fact that the upper deck appears to be cantilevered well over the lower-deck seats, but I am puzzled by what’s holding it up, since there are no columns underneath it and nothing behind it to serve as a counterweight.This image makes it ever more clear: That upper deck is just suspended off of the front of the concourse behind it by some mysterious force. Hey everybody, we may have found the location of the universe’s missing dark energy! And who can put a price on unlocking one of the fundamental puzzles of the universe?

The Mariners have now scored more than half a billion dollars in public subsidies for one stadium

And the Seattle Mariners owners have gotten their $135 million in tax money, as the King County council voted 5-4 to give final approval to the same stadium renovation fund plan as it approved two weeks ago. The same councilmembers who objected and proposed amendments last time — including that the Mariners be required to open their books or share future naming-rights revenue with the public — did so again yesterday with the same result, albeit with some added absurdist comedy:

One notable moment was when Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer accidentally gave an affirmative vote to one such amendment. His colleague, Councilmember Reagan Dunn looked down the line at him.

“Pete,” Dunn said. “You meant to vote no.”

Von Reichbauer, flustered, quickly changed his vote.

If you’re scoring at home, the $135 million in hotel taxes that will now be handed over the Mariners owners for upgrades plus the $380 million taxpayers spent on building Safeco Field in the first place brings the total public cost for construction and upkeep to $515 million. (And significantly more if you include the discounted rent the M’s are paying on the building that they operate and control all revenues from but don’t own because who wants all the headaches of home ownership?) Or, if you prefer to look at this deal on its own, King County is paying the Mariners $5.4 million a year for a 25-year lease extension, and while there have been worse deals in recent sports lease history, those teams also had more options for relocating than the Mariners ever did, so King County had a hammer here that it never even unwrapped from its packaging.

As part of the deal approved yesterday, some hotel tax money will also go to the arts, affordable housing, and tourism. But that will be less than critics of the deal had hoped for — in particular, tourism projects will now get a piddly $8 million, which councilmember Rod Dembowski took particular umbrage to:

“$8 million scrap thrown at you, while 94-plus percent is given to one entity? That’s not right, that’s not the intent of the legislation, that is not a compromise. It is a heist. It is a fleecing. And it is not good policy.”

But anyway, at least Seattle’s wildly lucrative pro baseball team will now get some really nice toasters. And isn’t that what public spending priorities are supposed to be all about?

Friday update: Bad D.C. arena math, bad Bucks arena math, bad Columbus ticket tax math

It must be September, because my TV is filled with Jim Cantore and Anderson Cooper standing ankle-deep in water. But anyway:

  • Washington, D.C., is about to open its new Mystics home arena and Wizards practice facility, and Mayor Muriel Bowser says it’s a model of how the city would build a new NFL stadium as well. “We know [sports] can help our bottom line by attracting people to our city, but it also has a big impact when we’re winning on our collective psyche,” says Bowser of an arena that got $50 million in public subsidies for two teams that were already playing in D.C. anyway. Maybe she should go back to using her terrible soccer stadium deal as a model instead.
  • People in Calgary are starting to ask whether, if the city is looking to spend $3 billion on hosting the 2026 Olympics, maybe it should build a new Flames arena as part of the deal? Camels, man.
  • Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula says she’s going to wait until after the gubernatorial elections this November to start negotiating a new stadium with whoever ends up in charge of the state. It won’t be the lox-and-raisin-bagel lady.
  • Speaking of the Pegulas and New York’s current governor, they’re planning an $18 million upgrade of Rochester’s arena that hosts the Rochester Americans minor-league hockey team (which the Pegulas also own), with costs to be split among the owners and city and state taxpayers. Split how? Sorry, no room in the Associated Press article, ask again later!
  • The AP did find time to fact-check Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s claim that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena would return three dollars in new taxes for each one spent, and found that “Walker omits some of the state money spent on the 20-year arena deal and relies on income tax estimates that experts call unreliable.” I could’ve told them that — in fact, I did, three years ago.
  • “‘Ticket tax’ proposal could lead to higher prices on movies, theater, sports in Columbus” reads a headline on ‘s website, something that the station’s reporter asserts in the accompanying video without saying where he got it from. He’s at least partly wrong: Ticket prices are already set as high as the market will bear, so unless the ticket tax changes the market — in other words, unless people in Columbus are forced to spend more on movies and theater and such because the other options (staying at home and watching TV, going out to eat) aren’t good enough, mostly this will just mean prices will stay roughly the same but a bigger share will go to theater/team owner’s tax bills. (I could try to find an economist to estimate exactly how big a share, but isn’t that really WSYX’s job?)
  • Former Oakland A’s exec Andy Dolich says the team owners may be looking at buying both the Howard Terminal site and the Oakland Coliseum site, and using the revenues from one to pay the costs of prepping the other for baseball, which, if the Coliseum site is such a cash cow and Howard Terminal such a money pit, wouldn’t they be better off just buying the Coliseum site and developing that? Or is the idea that Oakland would somehow give up the Coliseum site at a discounted price in order to get a new A’s stadium done? I have a lot of math questions here.
  • With nobody wanting to spend $250 million on a major renovation of Hartford’s arena, the agency that manages the XL Center is now looking for a $100 million state-funded upgrade instead. Still waiting to hear whether this would actually generate $100 million worth of new revenues for the arena; if not, the state would be better off just giving the arena a pile of cash to subsidize its bottom line, no?
  • Cobb County is only letting the Atlanta Braves owners out of part of the $1.5 million they owed on water and sewer costs for their new stadium. Yay?

Tampa’s tax surcharge plan for the Rays doesn’t seem entirely thought out

Check it out, there’s an actual plan afoot to help pay for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Tampa!

“[We will be] working with the landowners to create a CDD type of environment for an entertainment district. Every hot dog, beer purchased in that district will go toward the stadium so it’s not taxpayer money, it’s a fee-based structure,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the county’s chief negotiator with the Rays.

A CDD, for those unfamiliar with this particular facet of Florida law, is a Community Development District, which effectively places a tax surcharge on a certain area in order to pay for new amenities. (CDDs for a Rays stadium were previously floated as a possibility back in the spring.) If done correctly, it shouldn’t cost taxpayers extra, since this is genuinely money the local government wouldn’t be collecting without the new tax — it should just come out of any windfall profits that property owners would otherwise make as a result of the new project.

There are, however, a couple of problems here. One is that it’s not entirely clear whether a new stadium is the kind of amenity that actually makes nearby land more valuable — and if it doesn’t, you could end up seeing property values plunging as nobody wants to buy land that comes with a whopping surcharge, or even see the CDD go into default, as has happened from time to time. So if this does end up part of a Rays stadium funding plan, it’s going to be hugely important who’s on the hook for those payments if the CDD money falls short.

Then there’s that puzzling statement by Hagan that “every hot dog, beer purchased in that district will go toward the stadium.” He also said “we are not going to raise sales taxes,” so presumably there won’t be an actual surcharge on sales of stadium-district beer, just on property taxes for stadium-district beer gardens. Which is a pretty indirect and hand-wavy way of ensuring that the stadium will in some way pay for itself, probably because without the hand waving, it’d be immediately clear that there aren’t enough windfall hot dog profits to build a near-billion-dollar stadium.

In short: There’s a still a mammoth hole in any Rays stadium budget, one that local business owners pledging to buy season tickets is not going to fill. The haggling over a site for a potential Rays stadium may have seemed like the hard part, but now that actual money has to be put on the table, this is when the game really begins.

 

Mariners aren’t even paying fair market rent for their office space, let alone a whole stadium

The Stranger newspaper in Seattle did a clever thing in its coverage of the Mariners‘ new lease extension on Safeco Field: Instead of just looking at the $135 million in public money for renovations the team will be getting, the paper calculated whether the M’s $1.5 million-a-year rent is what they should be expected to pay for office space in the city. The result:

Between club level administrative offices and suite level administrative offices, the Mariners have 35,135 square feet of office space….

Most recently, Class A office space is going for $47.06 per square foot in the downtown Seattle region. … Some pretty simple math (it’s multiplication, okay) applying that figure to the Mariners’ square-footage of office space shows that the Mariners’ rent is $153,453 below market value.

And as the Stranger’s Nathalie Graham notes, that’s just for the actual office space at the stadium — it’s “not even taking into account THE ENTIRE BASEBALL STADIUM that they occupy.” (Scare boldface all-caps in original.)

It’s nearly impossible to calculate fair market rent on a baseball stadium since the “market” consists almost entirely of sweetheart deals, but suffice to say that what looked like a bad deal for Seattle taxpayers just got even worse.