Nashville mulls 30,000-seat MLS stadium, council warns that Deadspin writer thinks it’s dumb

The investor group seeking an MLS expansion team for Nashville — one of the 12 cities actually being considered for four new franchises being awarded this year and next year, according to the league — revealed its new stadium plans on Monday: The stadium would be built on the city-county owned fairgrounds site, would hold 30,000 people (that’s a lot for MLS, which typically sticks closer to the neighborhood of 20,000 seats), and would be paid for by … let’s see … “the project still lacks a cost figure and financing plan” … keep scrolling … the mayor’s chief operating office “told council members the mayor’s office hopes to finalize stadium financing negotiations with Ingram in 45 to 60 days and file legislation for a stadium deal by October” … scroll, scroll … “The Metro Nashville Sports Authority and Metro Board of Fair Commissioners would also need to approve any financing plan, which would likely involve issuing revenue bonds” … wait, what?

Council members, getting their first crack at the looming soccer stadium debate Monday, said they plan to fully vet the project. Three council members raised a recent story from the online sports publication Deadspin that, citing work of an MLS critic, questions the business model and rapid expansion of MLS.

That would be this article by me. If anyone reading this knows more about who exactly said what, and how my article entered into it, please let me know in comments; and if anyone from the Nashville Metro council has any questions about my research, I guess drop me an email. In the meantime, beyond noting that 1) the renderings look pretty enough, though the upper deck seems unnecessarily high, especially on the side with no luxury boxes/club seats, 2) revenue bonds are fine enough if there’s some dedicated revenue to base them on, not so much if the “revenue” is tax money that may or may not be cannibalized from public tax receipts elsewhere, and 3) 30,000 seats really does seem like a lot for a small-market MLS team, guys, I’m afraid to say much about this proposal, because apparently it’s from my mouth to the council’s ear.

Blues’ $67m arena subsidy hit with lawsuit as city comptroller refuses to issue bonds

Speaking of arena upgrade lawsuits, St. Louis’s plan to provide $67 million in public subsidies toward a redo of the Blues‘ arena, which was passed back in February, is facing a court challenge of its own:

Opponents of the publicly funded $64 million renovation to Scottrade Center filed suit Friday to keep the city from paying for the project, alleging the plan is unconstitutional in Missouri.

And on the same day, a spokesman for St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green said she had no intention of signing the financial agreement that would fund the city’s commitment to the arena.

“The Comptroller has not approved the transaction to issue bonds for the renovation of Scottrade Center, as it would incur debt to the city’s general fund for nonessential services and negatively impact the city’s credit,” Green spokesman Tyson Pruitt said.

The Blues owners insist that Green, who was one of the prime critics of the Rams‘ stadium subsidy plan, doesn’t have the jurisdiction to refuse to issue the bonds, any more than La Liga did to refuse to accept Neymar’s transfer fee from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. (Note: This is not meant to suggest a legal precedent between FIFA rules and St. Louis city regulations, just an excuse to mention my favorite part of the recent Neymar madness.) As for the suit, filed by currently alderman Cara Spencer, former state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford — who has long been a prominent critic of sports subsidies in St. Louis, dating back to the Cardinals stadium deal —and former city counselor James Wilson, it’s based on a Missouri constitutional provision that public money can’t be granted to for-profit corporations for the purposes of boosting their profits. A bunch of states have these provisions on the books, and pretty much none of them are ever enforced — courts generally rule that the real purpose of the subsidies is “creating public economic benefits” or somesuch. It’ll be interesting to watch, though, not least because the arena renovations have already begun, so if the lawsuit prevails presumably the Blues owners would be on the hook for all the costs themselves; or, you know, would have to find some other public body to try to hit up for money, which is always possible too.

Court gives go-ahead to Cleveland arena referendum, will now take place sometime or other

The lawsuit over whether the city of Cleveland could reject legally gathered petition signatures to overturn its $70 million Cavaliers arena upgrade subsidy deal — on the basis that the deal was “an already executed and binding contract” — was resolved on Thursday by the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled “Ha ha ha, yeah, that’s a good one.” Cleveland now has to put the issue up for a public vote, which is problematic since the city has now stalled so long with this legal battle that it may have missed the deadline for a November vote:

The deadline for filing issues with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections for the Nov. 7 ballot passed on Wednesday, according to the board’s election calendar.

But a lawyer for the Cleveland taxpayers who sued to force the city to move on the issue said it’s now up to the city to make it happen.

“This is now administrative details. They should be able to do this quickly,” attorney Subodh Chandra said. If the city drags its feet, he may take them back to court, Chandra said.

And in the best quote of this whole sad saga:

“Someone just needs to call the Board of Elections and say, ‘How quickly can we restore the rule of law in Cleveland?’,” Chandra said.

What happens once the vote is scheduled remains unclear — Greater Cleveland Congregations, the coalition that is behind the petition effort, seems mostly out for a “community benefits agreement” to add some sweeteners for local community groups, not to scuttle the entire subsidy deal. But even if Cavs owner Dan Gilbert negotiates and a CBA comes to pass, if GCC switches sides to endorse the deal, does that mean Cleveland voters will follow suit? This is all shaping up to be a big-ass mess, but I guess you can’t get $70 million in public money to build a giant glass wall without a few bumps along the way.

Seattle study showing SoDo arena fiscal winner actually doesn’t show that, says study author

I’ve had this study of the projected economic impact of the two competing Seattle arena proposals bookmarked for a couple of weeks now, waiting for a chance to dig into it to see what it actually says. Since I’m on the road now, I’m especially glad that the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker has gone and done it for me, with the upshot of: Even the economists who conducted the study say it doesn’t really declare either plan the winner.

Chris Hansen and his Sodo arena group paid $16,000 for the “Seattle Arena Public Finance Analysis” study by UW Evans School of Public Policy and Governance professor Justin Marlowe and three graduate students. Sodo arena backers trumpeted the 3-to-1 advantage.

But a review by The Seattle Times found a high potential for fluctuation in the study — including use of raw property and sales-tax data without deeper “opportunity cost” context, an approach two sports economists say favors the Sodo group’s proposal

Up to now, though, the study’s claimed 3-to-1 advantage for the Sodo site — a gap Marlowe pegs at $68 million — has garnered the most attention.

“I get why everyone is focused on that number,” Marlowe said. “But again, the second part is the really important part. What if what’s on the table changes? Then you get different numbers.”

In short: The “opportunity cost” bit is that the study assumes nothing else would be built on the Sodo site without an arena, and if something were, that would generate tax revenue that would make redoing KeyArena look better by comparison. Also, the study didn’t account for payments in lieu of property taxes that the Key developers would be responsible for on the value of their improvements to the property — which could be as much as $657,000 a year (present value in the neighborhood of $10 million), or could be less, nobody really knows.

In short: Who the hell knows? This is one problem with economic projections: They’re inherently guesswork, and sometimes the error bars overlap to such a point that there’s no clear winner. This is actually kind of a good sign — it means that having a bidding process for a new/renovated arena has both developers upping their packages to be in the same range — but it also doesn’t make the decision any easier. It may come down to which site city officials decide is the best location from a planning standpoint for an arena, since the cost will be roughly the same; or to which site has the most politically connected people pulling for it, which would be disappointing but typical, and really not the worst thing since at least neither plan is much worse than the other. (Though it’s still entirely possible they’d both be mild money losers for the city — which would also be disappointing but typical.)

A’s stadium plan wins friend, Vegas mulls Raiders transit, and other news of the (short) week

I’m going to be on a plane tomorrow to a faraway land, so let’s do the week’s news roundup a day early:

  • Peralta Community College District chancellor Jowel Laguerre now says he’s into the Oakland A’s tearing down his administrative offices in order to build a stadium, so long as they hire his students to work there: “The A’s are in the business of hiring people, and we’re in the business of developing people, so it makes sense to have these conversations.” I can see it now: Laney College, Your Gateway to a Career in Hot Dog Marketing and Sales! (Also the A’s still need to figure out how to squeeze a stadium onto a tiny site, but one battle at a time, I suppose.)
  • Clark County is smarter than Cobb County, it turns out: The Nevada county’s planning director, Nancy Amundsen, said this week regarding the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium: “If it’s determined that they need a pedestrian bridge at this location, or they need wider sidewalks on these streets, or they need streetlights here or there — any upgrade of the infrastructure based on the development on the site — we can request that in the development agreement.” The county commission still needs to do it, mind you, but at least thinking of it ahead of time puts them ahead of the folks who negotiated with the Atlanta Braves around their new stadium and its pedestrian bridges.
  • That El Paso court case over whether the city’s new arena can host sporting events or just concerts and such turns out to be due to the city’s project consultant, according to one neighborhood group opposed to the arena: “David Romo says sports consultant Rick Horrow is to blame for the city stripping the arena ordinance of the word ‘sports’ in favor of ‘multi-purpose performing arts facility.'” If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Horrow has been selling small cities on his “raise the sales tax and build an arena plus a whole of other stuff” model for decades now — he’s the man who talked Oklahoma City into building a new arena with public money (which worked out okay in that the Thunder eventually moved there) and tried to push the same model for such things as an NFL stadium in Birmingham, Alabama (which would not have worked out okay at all). Romo cites Horrow’s own book, which advises, “De-emphasize, even in triumphant cities, the sports model,” and “Each individual project, on its own, will have little chance of passage. together, bundled, is the most enticing way to present the idea to voters.” Except when you write yourself into a corner with bond paperwork that says your new building isn’t for sports; but then, Horrow will probably have collected his fee by then and moved on to the next town.
  • St. Louis’s MLS expansion bid, which pretty much disappeared after voters rejected spending $60 million on a soccer stadium this spring, may not be dead after all! According to alderman Joe Vaccaro, “I have been hearing rumblings and I have certainly no facts.” Or, you know, it might still be dead.
  • Pictures of D.C. United‘s new stadium set to open next year! Spoiler: They don’t look like much. Also spoiler: They don’t really look like the stadium will be ready by midseason 2018 as the plan is (United will start the year on a lengthy road trip to accommodate the construction schedule), but soccer stadiums are a bit simpler to build than those for other sports, so maybe?
  • “Colorful, glossy flyers urging residents to ‘Stop the Stadium!’ and ‘Take Action Now’ were left on doorsteps around the [proposed Miami MLS stadium] area late last week, paid for by a new group called the Overtown Spring Garden Community Collective.” David Beckham really can’t catch a break.

I’ll be back here … Monday? Later than that? It all depends on how well I can navigate whatever weird metric internet they have where I’m going. In the meantime, use the comments on this post as your open thread on any breaking news, and buy David Beckham a muffin or something, he’s probably needs some cheering up.

Worcester mayor: Do whatever it takes to land PawSox (but this doesn’t mean, like, subsidies)

The sports move-threat game requires two elements, or really three: 1) a league with monopoly control over franchises, so that losing a team means it’d be tough to recruit a replacement; 2) a semi-viable city to threaten to move to; and 3) city officials there willing to start a bidding war for your team. The first is easily met by most North American sports leagues, the second for most minor leagues (since the bar for “semi-viable” is so much lower), and the last, in the case of the Pawtucker Red Sox, has a willing volunteer in Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, because man, just listen to this guy:

“The City Council does hereby support in principle the relocation of the Red Sox Triple A baseball team to Worcester including building a stadium to accommodate this team and further, request the City Manager do all that is reasonably in his power to facilitate this move,” Mr. Petty wrote in a proposed resolution the council will take up Aug. 15.

In an interview Monday night, Mr. Petty said the resolution is meant to show the Red Sox Triple A affiliate that the city and its people are enthusiastic about professional baseball returning to the city.

“We have a chance to get them here, and we just want to convince them Worcester is the place to be,” Mr. Petty said.

“All that is reasonably in his power”! Does that include “fire and fury“?

The mayor said the statement is not meant to imply financial backing for a stadium from the city. He said any discussion of funding or stadium location would be premature since the two sides have not even commenced negotiations.

Of course not! “Including building a stadium” would never imply spending public money to build a stadium, because that would just be silly! Besides, the mayor was directly asked about public money and responded with this firm statement:

“We’re not going to negotiate in the press,” Mr. Petty said when asked whether he supported the idea of public dollars going toward a deal.

It’s unclear whether the city council will go along with Mayor Petty’s proposal — one councilor, Konstantina B. Lukes, told the Worcester Telegram she was worried not only by the blank-check nature of the resolution but that “we may be the bride left at the altar after we’ve been courted,” which is a perfectly cromulent fear. But man, is Petty ever going for Cartoon Blowhard Mayor of the Year. I don’t know when Joe Quimby is up for reelection, but he could face a tough challenger here.

Here’s a video of quick glimpses of new Rams, Chargers stadium renderings, excited yet?

Awright, new stadium rendering porn from the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers! And like all the cool media kids today, they’re pivoting to video:

That’s not all that different from the last renderings we saw, but has the advantage of zipping by really quickly and being set to music that sounds like a 1980s video game developer trying to emulate Grandmaster Flash. From this we can tell that the new Inglewood stadium will definitely contain people. and a latticework roof, and some kind of weirdly shaped scoreboard ring suspended over the field. You can get a better (sort of?) look at that last element in this tweeted still image:

And finally, here’s what the site looks like now, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Stay tuned for more exciting images! We have three years of this left to go, people, before anyone can see this with their own eyes, hopefully set to their own hip-hop-lite soundtrack.

Bridgeport Bluefish will fold so city can host more Doobie Brothers concerts

The Bridgeport Bluefish, one of the founding members of the independent minor-league baseball Atlantic League, will cease operations after this season after 20 years. That in itself isn’t all that unusual: Indy-league baseball teams don’t have much of a shelf life, and only one other original Atlantic League franchise survives. (Bonus points to whoever can name them in comments.) The weird part here is the reason: The Bluefish are being evicted from their home stadium by the same mayor who built it for them in the first place, so that he can convert it into an outdoor concert amphitheater.

Yeah, you read that right:

Developer Howard Saffan on Monday night revealed — and the mayor’s office later confirmed — that his and concert promoter Live Nation’s competing proposal to turn the 20-year-old Harbor Yard ballpark into a warm-weather amphitheater was selected by City Hall over a new contract with the Bluefish…

He promised 29 concerts annually in a season running from May to October, and eventually hoped to include other events, from beer festivals to graduations. The amphitheater will open in spring 2019, Saffan said…

Saffan said he and Live Nation will pay for $15 million worth of renovations to the 5,000-seat ballpark, but added he does anticipate a public/private financial arrangement with the city.

This is crazy in many, many ways: The Atlantic League plays a 140-game season, so even if the amphitheater sells better than minor-league baseball, it’s going to be a tough push to bring more people to Bridgeport with 29 concerts than 70 ballgames; Harbor Yard is only 20 years old, and is a generally well-liked stadium, and furthermore is shaped like a baseball stadium so will be a weird fit for concerts; Bridgeport already has an indoor concert arena right next door to the ballpark; and then there’s that “public/private financial arrangement,” which means Bridgeport will be hit with an as-yet-undetermined bill.

The only way this makes sense is if Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who had the city pay to build Harbor Yard during his first term as mayor and has now returned to the office [EDIT: after spending more than six years in prison for corruption (thanks, commenters)], got a sweet offer from Live Nation, which is entirely possible — the concert promoter is currently engaged in a war with rival AEG to dominate the summer-outdoor-concert market, so they could easily be throwing some money around to ensure their share of the lucrative Deep Purple/Alice Cooper concert market. Though not so much money that they’ll actually pay for the whole amphitheater conversion, goodness me, no.

And then there’s this:

Ultimately the City Council must approve the amphitheater deal, which comes as Ganim explores running for governor in 2018. The returned mayor wants splashy development news to grow the city’s tax base and impress Democratic primary voters.

And there you have it: A city mayor is trying to curry favor with voters by kicking out the local baseball team so he can bring in outdoor summer concerts for “development.” There’s a first time for everything.

Consultant says $90m Brewers spring-training park would lose money, new consultant sought [UPDATED]

The Milwaukee Brewers are seeking a new $90 million spring-training facility in Gilbert, Arizona, and are generously offering to pay a whole $20 million of the cost:

According to emails among Gilbert staffers, [developer David] Sellers and financial consultants from April to June, the Brewers are willing to put $20 million toward the construction of the new facility.

The town would be on the hook for the other $70 million, which could be funded through bonds, development fees or a special taxing district…

LGE Design Build also proposed a 13-acre village next to the facility that would include 220 hotel rooms, 85,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail. It would cost an estimated $70 million to build, although it’s unclear who would front that cost.

We’ve been over the dismal economics of spring-training facilities before, so how do Gilbert officials justify this rather whopping expense? First by dodgy math — Sellers said annual tax receipts from baseball would only be $880,000, but there would also be added money spent at local restaurants and hotels (people are really going to stay at hotels in Gilbert rather than drive there from a more happening place?), writing that “the Brewers coming into Gilbert is Gilbert tapping into a $850 million … Valley economic impact. Just 10 percent of that would be $85 million being spent in Gilbert that isn’t happening right now.” If the Brewers played, say, 15 home spring-training games at a 7,500-seat ballpark, that would only require each and every fan to spend $755 per game to make those numbers work out.

And second, by ignoring the city’s own economic consultants, who, going against the grain in an industry where you generally tell your client whatever they want to hear, noted that the short spring-training season would limit any economic benefits. The accompanying hotel/office/retail village might bring in some money, Applied Economics concluded in an analysis obtained by the Arizona Republic, but it still likely wouldn’t be enough to make up for spending $70 million on a stadium: “the cost of investing in the stadium versus the value of the mixed-use development may not be justifiable.”

Only one thing left to do: Find some different economists who’ll provide a different answer!

Kathy Tilque, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, said the Applied Economics study was fairly limited in its scope and did not take into account the indirect economic benefits of a potential stadium.

The chamber is working with a different economic consulting firm to provide a broader economic analysis. That report should be completed soon and will be turned over to town officials for review, Tilque said.

“It would be a great thing not only for the East Valley but for Gilbert. We just need to make sure the numbers work,” she said.

Surely she meant “check that the numbers work,” not “make sure that the numbers work, by cooking them,” right? Right? Sigh.

IMPORTANT UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: The mayor of Gilbert, Jenn Daniels, just emailed me to indicate that my original headline (“Consultant says $90m Brewers spring-training park would lose money, town seeks new consultant”) was incorrect in one important aspect: The Gilbert Chamber of Commerce went and sought a new consultant without consulting or notifying town officials. “We had no knowledge that the Brewers and their development partner paid the Chamber to conduct a second study,” writes Daniels. “I found out that information with the rest of the public last Friday with the Chamber’s press release.” Since the Brewers were unable to show significant direct revenues from the stadium project, she concludes, “this deal is behind us.”

My apologies to Mayor Daniels, the people of Gilbert, and anyone else who may have been unfairly depicted by my original report. Not the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, though, because those guys are apparently weasels.

MLS’s eternal expansion plan: Crazy like a fox, or just crazy?

Slow stadium news weekend, so I’ll take the opportunity to note my debut article for Deadspin that ran Friday, on Major League Soccer’s ongoing expand-o-rama and whether this is likely to end well for the league. (Consensus of myself and the sports economists I spoke with: Maybe there’s a chance if you squint, but don’t bet the farm on it.)

And since this became an issue in Deadspin’s comments section: Yes, I know about Soccer United Marketing, the MLS-owned marketing company that handles such North American events as the Gold Cup; no, just because MLS according to one report paid $450 million to buy back a 25% share of SUM to regain full ownership doesn’t necessarily mean the league is “worth” an extra $1.8 billion, any more than the fact that people are paying $150 million for expansion franchises means those are worth that much; and no, nobody really knows how much SUM is worth since it won’t release any revenue figures. It’s almost certainly worth something, but as University of Michigan economist and Soccernomics co-author Stefan Szymanski estimates, probably not enough to make a huge difference in the league’s profitability once it stops cashing $150 million expansion checks. I’m going to keep digging into this in the future, but for now that’s the best verdict available.

And if you’d like to hear me talk even more about MLS and its future, I was interviewed on 700 WLW in Cincinnati yesterday, which you can hear here starting at the 67:29 mark. And coming up tonight, I’ll be on 590 KFNS in St. Louis at 6:20 pm Central time, and then KXTG-102.9/750 The Game in Portland, Oregon at 5 pm Pacific time, which is right afterwards because I am apparently a time traveler. Or the earth is round, definitely one of those two.