Friday roundup: Sacramento soccer subsidies, Fire could return to Chicago, and a giant mirrored basketball

Did I actually write a couple of days ago that this was looking like a slow news week? The stadium news gods clearly heard me, and when they make it rain news, they make it pour:

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Cobb County spending $14m on traffic cops because they forgot to ask Braves to pay for them

My sincere apologies for neglecting to inform you last week of this excellent article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which reporter Dan Klepal revealed that Cobb County is going to be on the hook for $900,000 a year for traffic police around the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium. And before you say, “But isn’t free policing one of the services that government typically provides to sports teams and others alike?”, nuh-uh:

The Braves paid for traffic control during the team’s last eight seasons at Turner Field. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons will reimburse the Georgia World Congress Center an estimated $2.5 million a year for traffic management during football games, soccer matches and other events…

An AJC survey of 11 cities with professional sports stadiums found only two other instances where taxpayers funded all or a portion of traffic control…

“The Falcons outcome is the norm. The Braves outcome is a throwback to the 1990s” when those kinds of subsidies were more common, [Stanford economist Roger Noll] said.

This free-traffic-cops clause apparently wasn’t part of the original Braves deal with Cobb County — traffic control costs weren’t addressed at the time, along with a lot else having to do with transportation — which left the county stuck with the costs by default. (Though it would be kind of fun to think of what would happen if the county said to the Braves, “Go get your players to direct traffic, it’s clear they’re not occupied by actually playing baseball.”) If we figure that the free patrolling is worth around $14 million in present value, adding that to the $355 million in existing public costs gets us to $369 million in subsidies to move the Braves from downtown Atlanta to the suburbs, totally not because any Braves fans think all urban black people are violent criminals. But hey, who can put a price on burgerizzas?

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Braves fans over shiny new stadium after just 13 home games, would like good baseball now

If there’s one sure truism in the sports stadium world, it’s that the honeymoon effect drawing fans to a new building varies depending on the quality of the product on the field: Put together a winning team and you can get something like the Cleveland Indians‘ six-year sellout streak; a losing one, and you’re more likely to be the Miami Marlins.

The Atlanta Braves have a brand-new stadium, and are in last place with an 11-19 record. Fans aren’t exactly turning out in droves:

After a couple initial sellouts, the Braves have settled into 12th in major league attendance. They were averaging a bit more than 30,000 (tickets sold), a good number considering that the team hasn’t averaged that high for a season since 2013. But not exactly the eye-popping boost you’d expect from the lure of a new ballpark.

Okay, maybe it’s just that it’s early in the season, and more fans turn up once it’s summertime? We can check that by looking at Baseball Reference’s year-over-year attendance chart, which shows how teams are doing in attendance compared to the same number of games the previous year. The numbers show that Braves attendance is up an average of 4,980 a game from 2016 at Turner Field — the third-largest jump in baseball, but still nothing to write home about. It looks like any honeymoon effect from the Braves move from downtown to suburban Cobb County will be marginal at best, at least unless the team gets good in a hurry, in which case it’s less “build it and they will come” and more “build Dansby Swanson and they will come.”

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If Braves’ new stadium is the future of baseball, we’re in for a weird ride

The Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium in Cobb County opened for its first exhibition game on Friday, and from what was shown on TV, it’s somewhat … odd. First off, for a stadium whose architect promised “intimacy” and which team owners promised would feature cantilevering of the middle and upper decks to bring fans closer to the action, holy crap is that a lot of not-especially-cantilevered decks:

You’ll notice no one is sitting in the top deck, which is probably a good move as you’d need bottled oxygen to ascend that high. (The Braves actually limited attendance to season-ticket holders and people who worked on the stadium project, so only 21,392 showed up.) Not to mention that, judging from on-field photos, fans up there may have a hard time seeing the field over their fellow fans heads, thanks to some curious decisions about the rake of the upper deck:

Then there’s — holy crap, what is that?

No, not Bartolo Colon, I’m used to seeing him on a ballfield. But what are those seats in right field, where fans appear to be sitting behind desks or flat-panel TV screens or something? According to the Braves seating chart, those are the “Chophouse Terrace” seats — because in the year 2017, it’s never a bad time to employ a play on words combining a term for a steakhouse with a reference to your team’s embarrassingly racist chant — so maybe those are just tables to help you better wolf down your $26 burgerizza? (Though actually, starting at $36 a person and coming with $15 in concessions credits, the prices on those seats aren’t too hideous, though it does seem a shame to eliminate several rows of not-bad seating so that fans don’t have to put their beers in cupholders.)

What else? There were some problems with the scoreboard and the LED outfield lights that the team promised to fix, and one New Jersey sportswriter said it was missing a “wow factor” and reminded him of Turner Field, which isn’t especially damning except that the Braves and Cobb County taxpayers just spent more than $600 million to replace Turner Field just 20 years after it opened, so “hey, this looks just like the old place” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. And the team has relented and allowed fans to bring in outside food, which is good, so long as it fits inside a one-gallon plastic baggie, which is less good. (The most sensible outside food policy to me remains the New York Mets‘, which a team rep memorably explained to me when their new stadium opened back in 2009 as “you can bring a turkey sandwich, but you can’t bring a whole turkey.”)

Oh, and the pedestrian bridge to get fans from their cars to their seats still isn’t open, but is promised to be by opening day in two weeks. Though “open” doesn’t mean “finished,” which apparently means you’ll be able to walk across it and it won’t fall down or anything, but it may still resemble a construction site.

Any Braves season ticket holders out there who actually attended this game? Very curious to hear your impressions, so please chime in in comments. (As should anyone who watched the game on TV and has thoughts.)

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Atlanta mayor proposes giving Hawks $142.5m for arena renovations, because they asked nicely

Nine months after saying he wanted to offer up to $150 million to the owners of the Atlanta Hawks for arena renovations to get them to sign a lease extension, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has offered $142.5 million to the owners of the Atlanta Hawks for arena renovations:

The city will put $142.5 million into the renovation, with the Hawks contributing $50 million.

About $110 million will come from extension of car-rental tax and the city will contribute $12.5 million from the sale of Turner Field, which is expected to close by year end. The remaining $20 million from the city will come from a series of expected future land sales, Reed said…

Hawks officials have previously said they are looking to, among a number of upgrades, replace the bank of suites that dominate one side of the arena, install a variety of different-size suites, improve the connectivity so fans can navigate around the arena on one level and create better floor seating by changing the layout which originally had oval ends to accommodate hockey.

So how bad would this deal — which still requires approval by the Atlanta city council and the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority — be for city residents? Let’s come at it from a variety of different angles:

  • Having the public put up 74% of the renovation costs for a privately run sports facility sounds pretty bad, unless the Hawks are agreeing to share more arena revenues with the city in exchange. The deal is just being described as a “lease extension,” though, so presumably they’re not.
  • On the bright side, $142.5 milllion is a lot less than the almost $700 million in public funds that the Falcons are getting for their new stadium. On the less bright side, they’re getting a whole new stadium out of the deal, whereas this is just rejiggering the suites and concourses.
  • Philips Arena only cost $213.5 million to build in the first place, so this is almost paying for its construction cost all over again.
  • The Hawks’ lease already runs through 2028; this would extend it through 2046. That makes this a public tithe of a little less than $8 million per each added year, which is cheaper than the $14.6 million per year that Charlotte is paying the Carolina Panthers for their lease extension, so, um, good negotiating?
  • Now Hawks fans don’t have to worry about the team moving out of town in 2029! Which will be a real worry following the economic upheaval in the first year of the Farkas Administration.

In short, then, the owners of the Hawks complained that their 17-year-old arena was designed wrong and needed a $200 million upgrade 12 years before their lease was to run out, and the mayor of Atlanta said, “Sure, we’ll pay for three-quarters of that, if you extend your lease some.” It’s not the worst deal in the world — it’s not even the worst deal that Reed himself has brokered — but it’s not an especially good one either, especially if anyone in Atlanta was hoping to use that future tax money for something that would benefit more than one group of local rich guys. Atlanta city council, ball’s in your court.

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Atlanta mayor “comfortable” giving $150m he doesn’t have yet to Hawks owner for arena remodel

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed still really wants to throw money at the Hawks for an upgrade to their 17-year-old arena:

“We have not settled on the number, but what we have looked at is our own capacity of what we can comfortably finance,” he said in an hour-long meeting with AJC reporters and the newspaper’s editorial board. “We think that number is between 100 million and 150 million (dollars).

“The total project would be anywhere from 200 million to 300 million (dollars),” he said.

Reed said the sources of funding haven’t been determined, but rental car taxes are likely to be part and he did not rule out funding from the Westside Tax Allocation District.

So… wait, what? The city can comfortably finance $100-150 million, but doesn’t know where the money would come from? I thought that $150 million figure was supposed to be from money available after the city sells Turner Field? Now it’s just a big ol’ number that Reed is offering Hawks owner Tony Ressler because that’s just what Atlanta does, even though the team can’t move anywhere without paying massive penalties? Come on, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I’m counting on you to raise your eyebrows at least a little more at this.

 

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Turner Field to be converted into college football stadium, add housing and retail

The has announced that it’s selling Turner Field, soon-to-be-former home of the Braves, to a consortium made up of

Which, sure, fine enough, though there’s no actual development agreement yet, so it’s tough to say what this all would actually look like. And given that local residents are in the middle of a community planning process and complaining that they want things to hold off until that’s complete anyway, that’s arguably a good thing. But anyway, if you were concerned that your cherished memories of, um, something good that happened at Turner Field (involving Chipper Jones, maybe?) were going to be bulldozed, it looks like that’ll only partly be the case.

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New Braves stadium to hike ticket prices 45%, Braves say this is because seats will be 45% better

The Atlanta Braves have released ticket prices for their new stadium in Cobb County, and fans can expect to absorb a whopping 45% price increase over Turner Field. Also, only a 4.7% price increase over Turner Field. Whaaa?

Turner Field features the third-cheapest price among Major League Baseball teams for non-premium season tickets at $19.14 per game, according to Team Marketing Report of Chicago, which uses data from all 30 MLB teams. The league average is about $29.

The Braves, however, say their average non-premium price is actually higher — $26.48. The Team Marketing Report survey excludes seats near the field and in other prime areas that wouldn’t be considered premium in a modern stadium. That effectively depresses Turner Field’s average.

The average non-premium seat cost at the new Cobb County ballpark is expected to be $27.73, according to a Braves spokeswoman. That would be a 45 percent increase over the Team Marketing Report average for Turner Field, but only a 4.7 percent increase over what the Braves consider their average price.

All of this mostly goes to show how hard it is to define “ticket price” in a 21st-century landscape of amenity-filled club seats and dynamic pricing. (The prices released by the Braves yesterday are just for season tickets; no one knows how individual games will be priced.) TMR divides up its pricing data into “general” and “premium” seating — the latter for “club seats or any section that has special features,” which is clear as mud — which allows teams to claim that a share of a price increase is due to added amenities, kind of the way that poverty isn’t a problem because poor people now have refrigerators.

The Braves, meanwhile, claim that you can’t compare seats at the old and new stadiums at all, because the new one will offer (in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s paraphrase) “

 

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Atlanta mayor offers Hawks $150m not to move, not that they were threatening to

Man, did everything in the stadium and arena world happen yesterday, or what? Well, let’s get started and see how far we get:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he’s getting involved in negotiations over who will buy the Hawks now that majority owner Bruce Levenson stepped down over revelations that he ordered staffers to fire black cheerleaders and play less hip-hop music in order to placate racist white fans. And by “involved” he means “offering them public money to insure they stay in town“:

Reed said the city will likely be willing to offer concessions to any new owner to ensure the Hawks commit to remaining in Atlanta for another 30 years. He said there could be as much as $150 million available after the city sells Turner Field, the current home of the Braves, though the mayor said that process has been held up by the baseball team’s refusal to set a definite date for its departure.

Now, nobody involved with the Hawks has said boo about moving the team, but apparently Reed is concerned enough to throw $150 million on the table without even being asked. It’s especially dubious given that the Hawks’ lease requires them to pay off the remaining bonds on their arena (around $100 million at this point) before they could leave, plus another $75 million in an early termination fee if they left before the 2018-19 season. Plus, of course, they’d have to have somewhere to move to that would be more lucrative than Atlanta.

Reed is talking about asking any new owner to commit to staying in town for another 30 years, which, given that the arena bonds will currently be paid off in 2028, really amounts to a 16-year extension on their lease. $150 million in exchange for staying put for 16 years … I guess it could be worse, but it still amounts to paying the Hawks almost $10 million a year just to keep on doing what they’re doing already. This negative rent trend is really starting to get out of hand, though I guess in a world where the NFL expects musicians to pay to play at the Super Bowl halftime show, it’s not entirely unexpected.

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Georgia State floats turning Turner Field into football stadium, has no idea how to pay for it

When the Atlanta Braves announced plans to move out of Turner Field for a new stadium in Cobb County last fall, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed immediately said he’d seek bids to redevelop the old (if you can call a 17-year-old stadium “old”) stadium site. And now he has at least four in hand, including one from Georgia State University to redo the Olympics-turned-baseball stadium into a college football stadium:

Georgia State is proposing repurposing Turner Field into a 30,000-seat football stadium and building another baseball stadium that will include Hank Aaron’s wall as part of the structure.

University President Dr. Mark Becker and Atlanta real estate development firm Carter provided the Atlanta Journal-Constitution an exclusive look at the proposal on Wednesday. The idea is more than just stadiums. They want to be partners in building an estimated $300 million development that will include retail, residential and student housing and will be paid for through a mix of public and private funds.

On the bright side, a retail and housing complex with two college stadiums is arguably a better use of the land than a Braves stadium and a bunch of parking lots. On the less bright side, nobody knows how much all this would cost or how it would be paid for, though given that Georgia State is a public university, ultimately the state seems likely to be on the hook for the bulk of it. So, good money after bad, or making lemons into lemonade? Too soon to tell.

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