Friday roundup: New Rangers stadium scam movie, Nevada arena petitions rejected over technicality, and many many dumb ideas for getting you (or cardboard cutouts of you) into stadiums this year

Welcome to the end of another crazy week, which seems redundant to say, since that’s all of them lately. I spent a bunch of it working on this article on what science (but not necessarily your local newspaper) can tell us about not just whether reopening after lockdowns is a good idea, but what kinds of reopening are safe enough to consider. And important enough to consider, since as one infectious disease expert told me, “It’s not ‘open’ or ‘shut’—there’s a whole spectrum in between. We need to be thinking about what are the high-priority things that we need to reopen from a functioning point of view, and not an enjoyment point of view.”

And with that cheery thought, on to other cheery thoughts:

  • If you’re a fan of either sports stadium shenanigans or calamitous public-policy train wrecks in general — and I know you are, or why would you be reading this site — you should absolutely check out “Throw A Billion Dollars From The Helicopter,” a new documentary about the Texas Rangers‘ successful campaign to extract half a billion dollars from the city of Arlington so they could play in air-conditioning. It’s a story that has everything: a mayor who was elected as a stadium-subsidy critic then turned around to approve the biggest stadium subsidy in local history, George W. Bush grubbing for public money and failing to do basic math, grassroots anti-red-light camera activists getting dragged into stadium politics, a trip back to the Washington Senators’ final home game before moving to Texas which they had to forfeit because fans ran on the field and walked off with the bases, footage of that 1994 Canadian TV news story I always cite about how video-rental stores comedy clubs in Toronto were so happy with extra business during the baseball strike that they wished hockey would go on strike too, plus interviews with stadium experts like Roger Noll, Rod Fort, Victor Matheson, Allen Sanderson (the man whose line about more effective ways than building a stadium for boosting your city’s economy gave the documentary its title), and me. Rent it here on Vimeo if you want some substitute fireworks this weekend.
  • Opponents of the publicly funded minor-league hockey arena for the Henderson Silver Knights got enough signatures to put a recall on the November ballot, but have had their petitions invalidated for not including a detailed enough description of their objections on every page. This will almost certainly result in lawsuits, which is how pretty much every battle for public oversight of sports subsidy deals ends — that, and “in tears.”
  • The San Diego city council approved the $86.2 million sale of the site of the Chargers‘ former stadium to San Diego State University, which plans to build a new $310 million football stadium there. Whether this is a good deal for the public is especially tricky, because not only do you have to figure the land value of a 135-acre site in the middle of an economic meltdown, but also San Diego State is a public university, so really this is one public agency selling land to another. It’s all more than I can manage this morning, so instead let’s look at this rendering of a proposed park for the site that features bicyclists riding diagonally across a bike path to avoid a woman who stands in their way with arms akimbo, while birds with bizarre forked tails wheel overhead.
  • You know what would be a terrible idea in the middle of a pandemic that has closed stadiums to fans because gathering in one place is a great way to spread virus? An article telling fans what public spaces they can gather in to catch a glimpse of game action in closed stadiums, and Axios has you covered there! And so does the Associated Press!
  • Sure, hundreds of thousands of people have died and there could be hundreds of thousands more to go, but won’t anyone think of the impact on TV network profits if there’s no football to show in the fall?
  • And speaking of keeping an eye strictly on the bottom line, the NFL is considering requiring fans (if there are any) who attend NFL games this fall (if there are any) to sign a waiver promising not to sue if they contract Covid as a result. But can I still sue if someone goes to a football game, contracts Covid, and then infects me? I’m not actually sure how easily one could sue in either case — since you can never be sure where you were infected with the virus, it would be like suing over getting cancer from secondhand smoke — but I always like the idea of suing the NFL, so thanks for the idea, guys!
  • New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says he wants to see fans at Yankee Stadium “in the 20-30 percent range,” a number and prediction he failed to indicate he pulled from anywhere other than his own butt. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are reportedly planning to open rooftops around Wrigley Field at 25% capacity for watching games this year, something that might actually be legal since while would mean about 800 fans in attendance, they wouldn’t all be in attendance in the same place, so it could get around rules about large public gatherings.
  • If you want to spend $49 and up so a cardboard cutout of yourself can watch Oakland A’s games, you can now do that on the team’s website. If that sounds like a terrible deal, know that with each purchase you also get two free tickets to an exhibition game at the Coliseum in 2021 (if there are any), and if you pay $129 then you also get a foul ball mailed to you if it hits your cutout, all of which still sounds like a terrible deal but significantly more hilarious.
  • If you were hoping to make one last trip to Pawtucket’s 74-year-old McCoy Stadium to see Pawtucket Red Sox baseball before the team relocates to Worcester after this season — it was on my now-deleted summer calendar — you’ll have to settle for eating dinner on the field, because the PawSox season, along with the rest of the minor-league baseball season, has been officially called off. Also, the Boston Herald reports that the Lowell Spinners single-A team won’t be offering refunds to those who bought tickets for non-canceled games, only credits toward 2021 tickets — shouldn’t ticketholders be able to sue for not receiving the product they paid for? I want somebody to sue somebody, already! When will America’s true pastime be allowed to reopen?
  • Here’s a New York Times article on how new MLS stadiums are bucking past stadium trends by being “privately financed, with modest public support for modernizing infrastructure,” which is only true if you consider $98 million (Columbus) and $81 million and up (Cincinnati) to be “modest” figures.
  • I apologize for failing to report last week on the Anaheim Ducks‘ proposed development around their hockey arena, less because it’s super interesting or there is amusing vaportecture than because it’s supposed to be called “ocV!BE,” which is the best name ever, so long as you want to live in a freshly built condo in what sounds like either a randomly generated password or an Aughts rock band.
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25 comments on “Friday roundup: New Rangers stadium scam movie, Nevada arena petitions rejected over technicality, and many many dumb ideas for getting you (or cardboard cutouts of you) into stadiums this year

  1. $310m to bring back late-Jurassic avians seems cheap to me. But that’s me.

    I do wonder about the land valuation… I wouldn’t call the site “prime” property, but 135 acres of commercial land for that price does seem pretty cheap to me. Vastly different markets and different sites (the OAC sits in the city and the region is moving upmarket), but this is about half of what Oakland got/will get for their half of the coliseum site.

    1. Isn’t the Chargers site also going to be home to SDSU’s West campus? I think that makes the valuation even more difficult, simply because quantifying additional research buildings or student housing can’t be compared to what a private sector development would bring, but still has value in other ways.

      1. It can’t be compared as a ‘finished’ product, agreed.

        However, I would argue that the value of the land is based largely on the location and zoning (which defines what can be built). The value of the land itself should not change whether you build a 300,000 seat Jai Alai stadium, a water retention pond or a complex of luxury shopping outlets (Bentley, LVMH, and I’ve run out of high end brands already…). The tax assessment for the finished development will change, but the value of the (I assume commercial) land under it alone should not be tied to what is ultimately built on it.

        1. However, it makes sense to sell to a university at a lower price than you would get if you sold it for commercial or residential use. If it makes SDSU a more competitive university nationally than that would be good for San Diego’s economy long-term.

          1. Isn’t an educated workforce generally good for the economy? If you have a higher caliber of graduate coming out of your local universities then your area is more competitive in terms of luring companies. Its one of the reasons Silicon Valley got to where it is (Stanford) and why GE picked Boston for its HQ. Or why Pittsburgh has a tech scene (Carnegie-Mellon) and Cleveland (similar city) doesn’t.

    2. The site has problems that need to be rectified and half of it is off limits for anything but parking lots due to the San Diego river floodplain plus they’re required to do a bunch of stuff on the land like build and maintain a city-owned park, rebuild the transit center, and build a bridge to extend Fenton Parkway over the river.

      The reduced price compared to Oakland reflects those offsets as well as city interest in increasing jobs and students at the new campus. It’s honestly not bad considering how poorly these things are usually negotiated.

  2. RE: the NFL floating the idea of fan waivers…

    What I like to do in these situations is change both the company and the business being transacted to see if or how it impacts the way I feel about the likelihood of success (whatever success means in this context).

    Here goes: “General Motors today announced that rather than stop selling it’s Chevy Cobalts, which are known to have faulty ignition switches and which have caused or contributed to deaths of dozens of drivers and passengers, it will continue to sell the Cobalt model unmodified but will require all owners to sign and acknowledgement and waiver of liability for any injury or harm that may result from operating the motor vehicle”.

    It is not an exact comparison, of course. We know without doubt that the ‘killer’ ignition switch is responsible for (or at least a major contributor to) deaths. It may be impossible to prove that anyone attending an NFL game actually contracted a fatal infection at that game, or that the infection itself was the sole cause of the victim’s death.

    But it does put into perspective what the NFL is considering attempting to do. America has some of the most complex and strongest product liability laws in the world. Make no mistake about the product the NFL is selling. It is a product, and they bear the same responsibilities and obligations as any other manufacturer or vendor.

    If this were a concert series or a brand of bubble gum, would we even be talking about where liability lies in the event of catastrophe?

    1. It’s all about scarcity of product. If Chevy is demanding you sign an insane waiver, you can buy a Ford. If the NFL is doing so, you can … hope the XFL comes off “hiatus,” I guess?

      1. Or just support a different form of entertainment. One of the things I have never understood about sports fans is why they fixate on one sport (or even one team) to the exclusion of all else.

        I like my favourite sports and and teams – I’d like to think as much as anyone – but if they get to the point they are demanding too much money for tickets (already happened), cable/sat packages (ditto) or they split their games across two or three premium networks to try and force me to pay for all of them (pretty much there…), I can walk away.

        That’s the great thing about being the customer. The vendor may set the price, but it is you who decide whether you will pay it.

        I suspect that one of the many reasons leagues are desperate to find a way to ‘have a season’ this year is that they are very worried that fans will find they can access other entertainment options that are cheaper and better if their regular fix is not available.

        It’s mostly about tv money, of course. But not solely.

        1. There are different levels of fandom from casual to hard core. Yes when prices rise or the product deteriorates fans start to switch out. For the casual yes they can easily swap out their sports viewing for movies or travel but its not that way for hard core. You really have to push them

          1. You’re going to have to cough up at least one study claiming to show this, because there are closetsful saying the opposite.

          2. Just look at Cleveland Browns attendance. It took big increases in ticket prices and going 1-31 (not to mention the other teams in town being title contenders at the same time) before you saw attendance that a serious hit. Whereas other cities attendance drops a lot faster when the on-field performance deteriorates

          3. Ah, sorry, I misread your initial statement — I thought you were saying that sports fans won’t switch out their spending to things like movies if they don’t spend on tickets.

            I’m not sure the NFL is the best example of sports ticket purchasing being an inelastic product — there’s a very limited supply of seats there compared to demand (thanks to the short season), and fans are generally afraid to give up season tickets during lean years for fear they’ll be shut out once the team gets good again. So I’m not at all surprised that the NFL is the league considering attempting a strategy of “We’ll sell you tickets, but only if you promise to absolve of us all liability if you get sick, we don’t care, we don’t have to care, we’re the phone company.”

          4. Yeah I was just talking about the movement along the demand curve. Casual fans bail earlier when the costs rise slightly but there is a hard core base that stays no matter what.

          5. They don’t stay no matter what. McCourt’s LA Dodgers, Bill Wirtz’ Chicago Blackhawks and Arsenal in the final Wenger years are proof of that.

            Hardcore fans are harder to keep out, but if you are a really committed owner determined to force your own fans to abandon your team, you can make it happen. It just takes knowhow and good old fashioned hard work.

      2. Frank McCourt’s Dodgers drew over 3 million fans a year until his last year when they drew 2.9 million. Bill Wirtz’s last year before he died they averaged 12.7K per game. The year the Browns went 0-16 they still drew over 60K fans per game (although I am sure the actual turnstyle count tailed off towards the end of that year. Heck even the Coyotes drew approximately 12K fans per year when it looked like they were a lame duck team on its way out of town. My point remains the same. While there are casual fans who bail early but there is a hard core base that every team has base of hard core fans that won’t swap out for other entertainment options as easily.

  3. Rangers built a terrible stadium and those taxpayers are gonna foot the bill. As far as this site thinking what should be open or shut down, every business is essential. It’s essential for people to make a living. What if the givernosaid you had to shut down your business? You’d be posed but it doesn’t seem like you care about others. I do.

    1. In much of Europe, the government simply covered salaries of people in nonessential businesses for the duration of the lockdown, because they realized you can give people money, but you can’t give them their life or health back.

      As for why some businesses need to stay open so that others can be closed, I think Eleanor Murray’s quote above that I cited says it well: We can only allow so much social interaction without killing millions of people, so we need to pick and choose carefully. Would you rather have bars open now, or schools in September? You can’t have both.

  4. So disappointing that the PawSox didn’t have an opportunity to fleece its long standing fans with their nostalgic love of the Pawsox, and milk them for the $$$ they could before high tailing it to Worcester, MA. My heart goes out to the franchise.

    On one of my ballparks trips back in the day (2005?) I had a chance to catch a game at McCoy. Loved it that the fans cheered loudly when the MLB gamie-in-progress scores were announced and the Yankees were losing.

    Thanks for the phrase of the day: ‘arms akimbo’

  5. I just watched your documentary “Throw A Billion Dollars From The Helicopter”, and I was struck by how the Texas Rangers were not threatening to move out of Arlington but rather Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams was driving this deal the whole time. I wonder how much he pocketed from this deal? I’m also completely shocked he won reelection. The majority of citizens of Arlington just don’t care they are throwing away their money to corporate billionaires and corrupt politicians.

    1. It’s not my documentary, it’s by Michael Bertin — I just sat with him for an hour in the Village Voice (RIP) conference room and talked about stadiums.

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