Friday roundup: Flames arena questions, Braves funny math, and more vaportecture renderings and videos of suite chairs than you can shake a stick at

I swear they keep making these Fridays closer and closer together:

  • Canadian economists have lots of questions about who’s going to pay for a new Calgary Flames arena, which is as should be because the city council won’t say yet how it will be paid for. And we apparently won’t know more for a while, because first the council needs to figure out who’ll be on the negotiating committee with the Flames, and it’s not even scheduled to meet until next month. I can’t be the only one thinking, “Excellent, lots of time for somebody to leak the details to the press before everything gets negotiated,” can I? Deadspin has a tips line, just saying!
  • The Atlanta Braves brought in $442 million in revenue last year, for a profit of $92 million, but blamed the team’s debt payments on their new stadium in Cobb County for not leaving enough left over to spend big on free agents. After public subsidies, the Braves owners are on the hook for less than $20 million a year in construction debt payments, plus $6 million a year in rent, so, um, yeah.
  • The latest Texas Rangers stadium renderings make the seats in the top decks look just as crappy as in the previous renderings, there are still clip-art fans with translucent heads, and the roof is open in all of them even though the whole point of the new stadium is to have air-conditioning, which won’t work if the roof is open. At least we finally get to see how fans will get to that deck suspended in midair in left field — via a brick-colonnaded walkway, of course — so we no longer have to worry about Rangers fans having to purchase jetpacks to get to their terrible seats.
  • And still more renderings, these of a USL stadium a would-be team owner wants to build in Fort Lauderdale on the site of Lockhart Stadium, the same site David Beckham has targeted as a training site for his Inter Miami MLS team. Are there spotlights pointing pointlessly into the sky? You bet! Is this, regardless of whether the USL stadium stands a chance of getting built, yet another reason to laugh at Beckham over how he can’t catch a break? Don’t you know it!
  • Here’s a video of what the chairs and shelving will look like at the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium. And here’s a picture of what the place settings will look like in the luxury suites at the new Golden State Warriors arena, but it’s just a still photo — come on, Ben Golliver, it’s 2019, don’t you know people want to see furniture in video form?
  • New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky insists that the team’s proposed Belmont Park arena is still “on track for the 2021-22 season,” but what else is he gonna say?
  • Winnipeg will provide a total of $16.6 million in tax breaks and other operating subsidies this year to the Jets, Blue Bombers, Goldeyes, and Manitoba Moose, and bonus points to any non-Canadian who can name what sport each of those teams play. Economic Development Winnipeg CEO Dayna Spiring claimed that the public will make its money back — no, not through the taxes the teams won’t get breaks on, that’s a Wichita thing to say. Rather, Spiring said the public will earn its money back on exposure, via the value of Winnipeg’s name appearing on hockey broadcasts. Somebody please alert this Twitter account.
  • Tottenham Hotspur stadium opening update: still maybe early April! Also, it may be called Nike Stadium, or maybe not.
  • Wichita announced it planned to double down on its $75 million expense for a new minor-league baseball stadium for the relocated New Orleans Baby Cakes Triple-A franchise by also selling land around the stadium to the team owners for $1 an acre, with the mayor saying the city would make money on the $38.5 million in taxes the new development would pay over the next 20 years. This is still not how taxes work, but Wichita has since said it was putting off the land sale after Wichitans griped about the stealth subsidy, so I won’t belabor the point. For now.
  • And finally, NBA commissioner Adam Silver want to make watching basketball at home more like being at the game, via “technology.” Wait, isn’t one main problem pro sports is facing that fewer and fewer people want to go to games because it’s just as pleasant and cheaper to watch games at home on their giant hi-def TVs? I mean, no complaints here if Silver really wants to replicate the smell of Madison Square Garden in my living room, but it seems a bit, I dunno, against their business model? Unless maybe this will be some kind of premium feature you only get by subscribing to their streaming service that will be described as “Netflix for basketball,” yeah, that’s probably it.

Friday roundup: Bad MLB attendance, bad CFL loans, bad temporary Raiders relocation ideas

And in other news:

Houston could get an NHL team, or could just be used to extort other NHL cities for cash

If you’ve always wondered why Houston, the United States’ 10th largest media market, didn’t have an NHL franchise, this is your week. Starting last Thursday, when The Athletic (citing the ever-popular “multiple sources”) reported that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and new Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta had met to talk about putting a team in the city, there’s been increased blind speculation about the possibility, to the point where the Houston Chronicle ran an entire article about what the phantom team would be called.

Most recently, the Houston Press, a newspaper that recently canceled its print edition and laid off its entire staff except for its editor-in-chief, who now works solely with freelancers, reported that now that Fertitta owns the Rockets and their arena, bringing hockey to Houston is “just a matter of when.” And lawyer-by-day-sports-journalist-by-night John Royal, citing the less-popular “it’s become my understanding,” says that the NHL isn’t considering expansion for the moment, but instead would prefer to “stabilize” one of its existing franchises by moving it to a new city:

There are numerous candidates for relocation to Houston. No. 1 on the list is the Arizona Coyotes which is begging the Phoenix-metro area to build it a new arena after failing to attract fans to the taxpayer-funded arena built for the Coyotes in Glendale and which is currently playing on a year-to-year lease. Then there are the Carolina Hurricane which have been struggling at the gate. The New York Islanders are unhappy in a new arena in Brooklyn and are seeking to move, and the Calgary Flames are threatening to move if a new arena is not built by Calgary taxpayers.

(Yes, “the Arizona Coyotes which is.” Clearly they laid off all the copy editors, too.)

All of this makes sense, sort of, though for the Islanders and Flames in particular you have to wonder whether giving up strong media markets that are hockey hotbeds in exchange for a city in the South would work as well as … well, as the Coyotes and the Hurricanes, which let’s not forget are in this predicament because they used to be the Winnipeg Jets and the Hartford Whalers. The Coyotes, in particular, couldn’t really do worse than in Arizona, where they are about to have no arena lease and have never drawn well in any case.

On the other hand, when you see all the unnamed sources involved, you have to at least ask the question: Is all this sudden Houston talk in part an NHL whisper campaign to rattle move-threat sabers in other cities? So far nobody appears to be freaking out — Fansided’s Flames blog briefly mentioned and dismissed the possibility of Calgary’s team heading south, for example, despite Sportsnet’s John Shannon insisting that “Calgary’s name has been added to the list of teams facing possible relocation” — which is good, but nobody has yet hopped on a plane to Houston or anything.

And really, even if Fertitta’s interest in a team is real — and there’s no reason to think it isn’t, though it is a bit puzzling that former owner Les Alexander figured he made more money on concerts and the like than hockey, but Fertitta calculates otherwise — it’d be dumb for the NHL not to use this as an opportunity to shake down other cities for arena cash or other concessions. Houston as an NHL city would be somewhat valuable, if only for its market size, though again, it’s only slightly larger than Phoenix and that worked out spectacularly poorly; Houston as a bogeyman to frighten other cities (along with Seattle once that city’s arena deal is finalized) could potentially be the gift that keeps on giving. Watch the blogs and sports talk radio, I guess, to see how this will all play out.

The Coyotes arena-subsidy saga is even more pathetic when you lay it all out in one place

Here’s a fun headline to start your week with:

Arizona’s Terrible Hockey Team Wants a Third Taxpayer Funded Stadium Since 1996

The article, in the libertarian magazine Reason, doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it is a great overview of the Arizona Coyotes situation, in which the team relocated from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996, then across town to Glendale in 2002, and now is trying to move to Tempe or anyplace else in the Phoenix area that will build them a new arena. The team owners are not just looking to play off cities against each other, though, but get state funding, which is extra-stupid because:

Since the team is already in the area, building a new stadium would not create a new source of tax revenue for Arizona, says Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross. Moving from Glendale to Tempe, Matheson says, merely would shift the economic benefits from one municipality to another.

And also:

Building more stadiums in a single metropolitan area will only create more competition for a limited number of major events.

“Lady Gaga isn’t going to play both Phoenix and Glendale,” is how Matheson puts it.

And then there’s:

The Coyotes are unlikely to leave for greener pastures, though, because NHL executives care much more about having a team in the Phoenix area than anyone in the Phoenix area cares about having a hockey team. The Phoenix metropolitan area is the sixth largest media market in the United States, which means an NHL benefits from having a presence there—even if the team is terrible and the fans are apathetic—for marketing purposes and television advertising revenue.

That’s more debatable: The NHL’s national U.S. TV revenue is pretty piddly as these things go, and I really doubt NBC said during negotiations, “Well, since you have that all-important Phoenix hockey viewership market, we’ll tack on an extra $25 million a year.” More likely is that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is fixated on his “Sunbelt strategy” to to seed NHL franchises across the U.S. South and West, and doesn’t want to back down — though since that’s a strategy predicated on filling U.S. markets to get bigger U.S. TV deals, I suppose Reason is at least half-right. You’d kind of think by now that some of the other NHL owners would be saying, “Gary, this whole Arizona thing isn’t working out, let the team move somewhere that it can actually sell a ticket or two,” but I suppose where there’s arena-subsidy life, there’s hope.

NHL seriously putting expansion team in Vegas, sports world just shakes its head sadly

Las Vegas Black Knights? Las Vegas Black Knights:

A person with direct knowledge of the NHL’s decision says the league has settled on Las Vegas as its choice for expansion, provided organizers can come up with a $500 million US fee.

The person spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because details have not been released by the league ahead of its Board of Governors meeting on June 22 in Las Vegas. Quebec City was also considered for expansion.

A second person who had been briefed on the decision said Las Vegas was a “done deal” following the recommendation of the NHL’s executive committee.

This has been in the works for a while now, though no one could actually believe that the NHL would go ahead with adding just a single team (resulting in continued unbalanced divisions), and that it would be in Las Vegas, of all places. I mean, nothing against Las Vegas, but it’s a very small city, and anything but a hockey hotbed, and — you know what, let’s let Nate Silver tell it, as he did in April 2015 and reprinted yesterday at Fivethirtyeight:

The city has had several professional sports franchises (albeit none from the four or five largest North American sports leagues), and it hasn’t supported them very well.

Consider that the city’s Triple-A baseball franchise, the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League, had the lowest attendance in the PCL last year.

Or that the city’s professional hockey franchise, the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, disbanded earlier this year after years of middling attendance and an inability to find a suitable home arena.

The Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League were relocated to Cleveland in 2007 after five seasons of attendance well below AFL averages. Las Vegas has a new AFL team this season, the Las Vegas Outlaws, but their attendance was poor in their first two games…

If the city has some positives, it also has some negatives, like irregular working hours, middling public transit and abundant competition for the entertainment dollar, which may depress sports attendance.

To their credit, the backers of the Las Vegas NHL franchise, after a monthslong campaign, have gotten commitments from about 11,000 would-be season ticket holders. That sounds impressive until you consider that the Winnipeg Jets sold out their entire allotment of 13,000 season tickets in 17 minutes after the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated there in 2011. Hockey’s a bit more popular on the frozen tundra than in the middle of the desert.

Gary Bettman has spent his entire career as NHL commissioner devoted to the idea that he can increase the value of the league by expanding to areas where people traditionally don’t like hockey, and despite all signs that this was a terrible idea, he’s doubling down on it with this move. At least the other 30 NHL owners will get to pocket half a billion dollars in expansion fees, I guess, but running a league as a Ponzi scheme is … actually, a long NHL tradition, so forget I said anything.

Glendale council calls meeting to discuss canceling Coyotes’ sweetheart lease, team owner flips out

All that bickering about just how raw a deal Glendale is getting from its lease with the Arizona Coyotes turns out to be about more than just PR. The Glendale city council has scheduled a special meeting today to vote on whether to cancel the city’s lease agreement with the Coyotes, under which Glendale pays the team’s owners $15 million a year, and gets back about $6.6 million a year in revenue, so long as you count things like sales taxes on arena spending as “getting back.”

The out clause that the council plans on using, according to the meeting agenda, is a state statute that allows cities to cancel contracts if one of the city’s negotiators jumps to working for the other side in the deal. Which is exactly what happened in Glendale, where city attorney Craig Tindall, after being fired by the city in early 2013, immediately took a similar position with the Coyotes.

The city council’s obvious goal here is to get the Coyotes owners to renegotiate the arena lease — you can tell by the way they asked them if they’d renegotiate the arena lease. “That’s not going to happen,” Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc replied, while issuing a press release calling the city’s actions “completely ludicrous” and threatening legal action if the city tries to nullify the lease. (UPDATE: The Coyotes Twitter account also changed its location in the last day or so to read “Still in Glendale, Arizona.” Everybody’s a comedian.)

It’s certainly a bit of a weird gambit — it sounds like the council pretty much blindsided LeBlanc on this one — but not an entirely unreasonable way to play hardball with the team over a lease that’s widely considered to be one of the worst in sports. After all, the Coyotes owners — all 206 of them over the past few years — haven’t been shy about using their ability to threaten to break things off with Glendale as leverage to extract more favorable terms in their arena deal. Exploring whether the city can call the whole thing off on it own would be a logical step on the council’s part; next up would be a study to evaluate whether the city would be better off getting someone else to run the arena, even if it meant the Coyotes leaving town. It would have been nice to have some of this due diligence before everyone sat down and signed the deal, but better late than never, right?

New Winnipeg stadium leaky, city sues builder to pay for fixes

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on the new $208 million football stadium that Manitoba is building for the municipally owned Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team. How’s that going, guys?

Triple B Stadium Inc., the consortium that owns IGF and funded the construction of the 33,500-seat facility at the University of Manitoba, has filed a lawsuit against construction company Stuart Olson and architect Ray Wan.

The lawsuit argues the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is riddled with problems that will take millions of dollars to fix.

Oh, dear.

The minister said part of the reason the province chose not to put money into the old Canad Inns Stadium near Polo Park was because putting the required $50 million into it would have been “pouring that money down the toilet.”…

“Do I think that this is still a great stadium? Yeh, I do. But we want it here for 50 or 60 or 70 years. And the problems that have been identified and what Triple B is looking at is that the construction, we may not get that 50 years out of it and it’ll just start to crumble a lot earlier and so these problems need to be taken care of.”

Oh, dear oh dear.

Basically, the new stadium will be safe, but the charges are that the builders mucked up the waterproofing, which will cause the building to sustain more damage over time. One hopes that the suit will be settled in a way that will allow for repairs to be made that will keep this building around for 50 years or more — wow, people talking about a stadium lasting 50 years, that takes me back — but in the meantime, I guess at least Manitobans can be glad that they can play football in it at all.

Yet another guy fails to buy the Coyotes, killing Glendale subsidy deal (and maybe team)

We’ll get to last night’s Superdome Super Bowl blackout fiasco in a bit, but first, the two major stadium-related bombshells that dropped this weekend. Numero uno:

It’s been fun to joke about the long, tortured Phoenix Coyotes sale saga, and how prospective owner Greg Jamison was clearly never going to be able to buy the team because it’s cursed — so cursed that he couldn’t even find $170 million for a team that comes with $200 million in subsidies. But, seriously, eventually the Coyotes would have to be sold, right?

No, not never ever ever:

Greg Jamison confirmed last night that he was going to miss the city of Glendale’s midnight deadline to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and receive a $308 million arena deal from the municipality.

Fox Sports Arizona first reported official confirmation from Jamison that he could not close the sale. That came after confidence in the bid coming to fruition faded Wednesday and Thursday.

Jamison’s official statement included a promise that “our journey to purchase the Coyotes will continue,” but it’s hard to see where the hell else it will take him, given that he was given nine months to find the cash to buy the team — which, and this can’t be repeated enough, was going to be getting a city subsidy worth more than the entire purchase price — and all he could come up with was to ask for more time.

He’s almost certainly not going to get additional help from the city of Glendale: Four of the seven city councilmembers who voted for last year’s deal to prop up the team with massive operating subsidies have since left office, and new mayor Jerry Weiers made a point of telling the Coyotes in his acceptance speech that “Glendale is not your cash register.” It’s always possible another bidder will emerge — another one always does, though half the time it seems to be just Jerry Reinsdorf kicking the tires yet again — but at the moment it looks like the current deal has blowed up real good.

That’s probably a good thing for Glendale, which will save itself $13 million a year in operating losses on the Coyotes, and might even be able to stop laying off so many city workers. For the dwindling number of Coyotes fans, though, it’s less good news, since this pretty much confirms that there’s no subsidy deal lucrative enough to make it affordable to keep the Coyotes in Arizona, short of turning over the keys to the Phoenix mint. (Wait, the Phoenix Mint doesn’t actually mint money? Scratch that one, too, then.) There’s already speculation that the Coyotes could become the new Quebec Nordiques; Seattle is another possibility, though that likely wouldn’t happen until Chris Hansen secured an NBA franchise first, which isn’t exactly moving swiftly right now. Markham — described excellently in the Seattle Times article linked above as “Toronto’s version of Bellevue” — would have to be considered a major longshot, given that the city’s arena deal still isn’t finalized, and that the NHL would have to either sell the Coyotes for next to nothing or agree to pay off the Maple Leafs for impinging on their territory, neither of which is likely to happen anytime soon.

If this is the ending for the Coyotes, it’s not a happy one for anyone: not for Winnipeg Jets fans who saw their team trucked south and had to wait 15 years for a new one; or for Phoenix area hockey fans who’ve been put through years of uncertainty and now face the likely loss of their team; or for Glendale taxpayers, who’ve been throwing good money after bad to support the team after building it an arena that will never pay off its costs; and above all not for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who has vowed never to give up on his plan to make hockey bloom in the Arizona desert, but may finally be forced to acknowledge that it was a failure from the start. I’d call it the biggest ownership disaster in NHL history, but that’s a pretty high bar to clear.

Islanders announce 25-year “ironclad” lease in Brooklyn, starting in 2015

The New York Islanders press conference at Barclays Center about their impending move to Brooklyn just wrapped up — you can read my liveblog here. The important highlights:

  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said maybe a few hundred to a thousand seats can be added to the arena’s 14,500 hockey capacity, but in any case, given that Winnipeg’s arena is only 15,000 and Nassau Coliseum only 16,000, “it’s not an issue.”
  • The lease will run from 2015 through 2040, and according to Islanders owner Charles Wang, “The lease that is signed is ironclad. We have 25 years with the Barclays Center.”
  • The decision was only officially made last night, though obviously it’s been under discussion for a while.
  • Wang wouldn’t talk specifics about how much rent he’ll be paying to Bruce Ratner, or other financial details of his lease. “It’s obviously very skewed toward attendance and how we do,” he said. “We believe that if we move to a facility like this, we will do better.”

So, obviously I was dead wrong when I said that an Islanders-to-Brooklyn move was unlikely, and any concerns over capacity and the Islanders being tenants in someone else’s building paled in comparison to being able to tap into what’s looking like a lucrative Brooklyn market. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that while most stadiums and arenas aren’t cash cows once you take construction costs into account, and most team owners’ goal is to be the primary tenant in their own arena, not all buildings — and markets — are created equal, and things can work very differently when a market the size of New York City is involved.

Which, of course, raises the question of whether New York City and state should have driven a harder bargain about getting the Barclays Center built in the first place, now that it turns out that teams need Brooklyn more than Brooklyn needs teams. I’d ask Mayor Bloomberg, but he’s already left the building…

Thrashers-to-Winnipeg move to be greased with public loonies?

According to the Sporting News, Winnipeg arena owners True North Sports and Entertainment have scheduled a noon press conference to announce the purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers and relocation to the Great White North. This is has been rumored to be in the works for weeks now, but it sounds as if it’s now official.

True North was previously briefly in the running in the Phoenix Coyotes sweepstakes, but has apparently found a less complicated sale partner in the Thrashers, who have almost matched the Coyotes empty seat for empty seat since arriving as an expansion team in 1999. So far, Thrashers fans seem to have responded to their city’s second loss of an NHL team to Western Canada with grudging resignation (and hating on Canadian media).

The interesting bit for FoS purposes is that while the Manitoba provincial government says it won’t “support the operations” of a relocated Thrashers, it could help pay for renovations to the seven-year-old MTS Centre to help out the team. This would be on top of more than $40 million in public subsidies that the private arena received back when it was built.

Still, it looks like Winnipeg is set to get a new team for a total expenditure of less than $100 million in taxpayer dollars, which isn’t bad as sports subsidies go. It just goes to show that if you have a good market for your sport — and the league is desperate enough for relocation sites and your mayor isn’t the world’s worst negotiator — you can still get a team without breaking your piggy bank. Just denting it severely.