Goodell on new St. Louis stadium for Rams: Sounds good, now hurry up about it already

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken on the subject of a new Rams stadium in St. Louis! He has said nice things:

“They have a great site. They have a site that I think is important for St. Louis to redevelop. I think it’s a perfect stadium site, as the governor told me. And I think they’re working towards making it a reality.

“And that’s a positive. The efforts that are going on there are very positive.”

And he has said vaguely threatening things:

Goodell said Wednesday that the league has had discussions on the committee level about moving up the timetable for relocation following the 2015 season.

“We’ve had some discussions within our (Los Angeles opportunity) committee,” Goodell said. “Whether that time frame — if there was a relocation — whether that’s the appropriate time frame to do so. There’s a lot to do when you relocate a franchise.”

All of this, of course, is part of the job description of a commissioner, who is expected to play both good cop and bad cop for team owners’ stadium demands. The only real news here, such as it is, seems to be that the NFL might consider moving up the decision time for announcing that a team or teams will or won’t move to L.A. for 2016. Also, that the league is apparently calling the group of owners in charge of this the “Los Angeles opportunity committee,” which you have to hope at least makes them feel better about their job.

Pro-Chargers stadium newspaper lashes out at Chargers for not being pro-stadium enough

Well, this is interesting. U-T San Diego, the newspaper run by a crazed millionaire who thinks journalists should be “cheerleaders” for stadiums, published an editorial yesterday afternoon that tears into the Chargers ownership for its position on a stadium. It tears into them for not being eager enough to commit to one in San Diego, mind you, but still, that’s definitely breaking with the program:

Mark Fabiani, the team’s special counsel for stadium issues … has continued to undermine the task force effort by pushing for a downtown stadium that would be more costly, would require two-thirds voter approval of a tax increase, would take much longer to develop and which includes a bus company yard that would definitely require significant environmental cleanup. And meanwhile, of course, the team has continued to push forward with a fly-by-night joint proposal with the Oakland Raiders to win approval for a new stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson.

Clearly, something has shifted here, whether it’s Fabiani pissing off the U-T editorial board somehow, or the board being tighter with San Diego city officials than with Chargers execs, or just annoyance that they’ve carried water for a San Diego stadium for this long and now Chargers owner Dean Spanos seems more interested in playing footsie with Carson. But this stuff matters, and it’s certainly significant that for whatever reason, the Chargers ownership seems to have alienated one of its most powerful friends. It’s a reminder that in playing cities off against each other, sports team owners risk burning bridges — though I guarantee that if the Chargers do choose to remain in San Diego, all will be forgiven, and the U-T editorial page will be full of talk about how Spanos needs to be rewarded for his loyalty.

MLS grants expansion franchise to Minneapolis, if stadium demands are met

Minnesota United FC was officially announced as the next MLS expansion franchise yesterday, to start play in 2018 — assuming a plan for a soccer-only stadium is in place by then.

And if not? MLS commissioner Don Garber made sure not to address that yesterday, saying only that “we believe our league is going to be built, and ultimately be more successful, if we can play in stadiums that are our own.” But it’s certainly a possibility that, if a stadium doesn’t happen promptly, the franchise could be held up, a la David Beckham’s Miami morass.

United owner Bill McGuire is still hedging about what he’ll ask for in terms of public subsidies for a stadium, telling Minnesota Public Radio that “we haven’t asked anybody or laid anything out yet and it’s premature to talk about any of that stuff.” Gov. Mark Dayton, for his part, said, “They need to fully realize that it is something they are going to have to pay for out of their own private resources,” but also said he might be willing to help build roads and infrastructure to support a stadium. It certainly smells like a “team pays for construction, state pays for everything else” scenario, which especially if you get into things like tax breaks can start to add up to some real money, but with a formal stadium proposal not expected until July 1, it could be a while yet before we know exactly what he United owners are asking for, and what MLS is willing to do to ensure that they get it.

Minnesota legislators want to give more tax breaks to Super Bowl, because NFL asked nicely

Minneapolis was awarded the 2018 Super Bowl last May, after agreeing to a completely crazy list of NFL demands that includes everything from league exemption from local taxes to putting up more cellphone towers if the NFL isn’t happy with reception. But that apparently isn’t enough:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Tuesday that he and House Speaker Kurt Daudt will push for $2.8 million in additional tax relief sought by Super Bowl organizers for the 2018 game in Minneapolis…

Minnesota already exempts sales tax on tickets to the game itself, a law dating from the 1992 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. That’s worth about $9.5 million in forgone revenue, state officials have said.

The new request would extend that exemption to cover events related to the game at the new Vikings stadium, such as an interactive zone for fans or certain tailgating events.

Apparently the NFL thought it was getting this tax break, but nobody in state government ever signed off on it, and Gov. Mark Dayton is now invoking the “no backsies” rule to tell the league that if they wanted it that bad, they should have made it part of the agreement. Daudt, though, has no problem with handing over an additional $2.8 million after the fact:

“I wish that they didn’t ask for all of these sorts of tax breaks, but it is an economic benefit to the community. It’s kind of a ‘but for’ — it doesn’t happen if we don’t have the Super Bowl here,” Daudt said.

We could argue that “economic benefit” notion all day, but more to the point: Dude, you already got the Super Bowl! The NFL is capable of a lot of things, but even it wouldn’t threaten to change the location of a Super Bowl that’s already been announced over a matter of a couple million dollars. At worst, the league might grumble about not approving future Minneapolis Super Bowl bids (though by the time Minneapolis comes around again on the Super Bowl rotation, none of these people are likely to still be in office), or leave Minneapolis a scathing Yelp review or something.

Anyway, it sounds like legislative leaders want to try to push this through, but Dayton has no intention of signing it, so maybe it’s just a way for the top legislators to tell the NFL, “Hey, we tried. Can we still sit in your luxury box?” And hey, look, at least Bakk and Daudt draw the line somewhere:

State leaders made it clear their largesse wouldn’t extend to waiving player income taxes for the time they’re in Minnesota. Those costs will be covered by private fund-raising, officials with the host committee said.

I really, really want to see the fundraising letter for that one. For 70 cents a day, you can free an NFL player from the tyranny of state income taxes! Though come to think of it, that might be a decent selling point with some funders.

Bucks arena finance cost grows, supporters turn pockets inside-out to see who has $250m in loose change

Oh, yeah, we’ve definitely reached the racino phase of Milwaukee Bucks arena funding plans, where everybody notices how big the funding gap is and scrambles for ways to fill it, crazy or not. As the first sign, we have another negativish arena article from the usually upbeat Don Walker, this one reporting that the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau has determined that Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to sell $220 million in bonds for an arena would result in between $323 million and $488 million in state costs.

This is just an updated version of the state report that Rich Kirchen of the Milwaukee Business Journal reported on last month, and just like then it’s still not entirely clear whether this is nominal state costs (i.e., adding up all the bond payments over time) or present value (how much money you’d need to have on hand now to make all the future payments). (Hey, Don and Rich, can you start indicating the difference, please? Bloggers everywhere without a budget to make calls to the LFB thank you in advance.) Usually inflated figures like this result from taking the nominal value, which isn’t the best way of looking at things — but given that the repayment plan would involve backloading payments until NBA salaries rose enough for enough of players’ state income taxes to be kicked back to pay off the bonds, we could be looking at a Miami Marlins-like scenario.

Meanwhile, the local commercial realtors group gathered last night to come up with ways to help support an arena plan, by … okay, let’s watch the video … “Where the rest of the money comes, that is still a matter of discussion — some say it will come from the city, some from the county, some from the state. Stay tuned.” Hey, that’s not “Realtors group makes pitch to support, fund new arena for Milwaukee Bucks”! I call headline fraud!

Indiana senate committee rejects new Indy Eleven stadium, okays $20m in renovation cash

The Indiana state senate means business with this Indy Eleven stadium renovation thing: The senate tax and fiscal policy committee headed by Brandt Hershman voted 13-0 yesterday first to reject spending $82 million on a new stadium, then voted unanimously as well to put $20 million in renovations of IUPUI’s stadium, where the NASL team currently plays, instead.

So how would this work, exactly? The state’s money would come mostly from a 10% ticket tax on events at the stadium, which according to projections for a new stadium could maybe just about barely be enough to pay off $20 million in state costs. Not that Hershman came up with that $20 million figure by seeing what the team could generate, either — he indicated that the number came from “rough estimate from IU for improvements,” so it’s more about the university’s wish list than what new tax revenue could actually pay off. Also, the city of Indianapolis could be asked to kick in some renovation money, as would Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir, if he wants more extensive upgrades.

In exchange … you know, I can’t find anything in the Indiana house bill that the state senate just amended to indicate what, if anything, Indy Eleven would be committing to. Presumably they’d have to sign some lease on the place, but it seems like the number of years they’d be signing up for, and whether they could demand further subsidies by threatening to leave town, would be key. Not that Indiana would ever sign a lease letting a team get away with anything like that.

So, in short: Much smaller public cost? Good! Reusing existing buildings when possible? Good! Throwing more than $20 million at your local one-year-old minor league soccer team just because they asked for four times that amount, without knowing what if anything they’re promising in return? Still not so good even at that price, so state legislators have some work to do to make sure this is actually worthwhile, not just less wasteful — but I’m sure we can trust Indiana elected officials to do the right thing, right? (Stop giggling.)

NFL finally officially admits that, yes, some teams are threatening to move to L.A.

Don’t look now, but NFL VP for Stadium Extortion Eric Grubman has actually said the R-word with regard to the St. Louis Rams:

A National Football League executive briefed team owners Monday, for the first time as a group, on competing stadium proposals that could send the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles, including key steps “between now and any eventual relocation.”…

“This is the first time with membership that we’ve been able to be relatively open and transparent as to what was going on,” Grubman said after he presented at the NFL’s annual owners meeting at the historic Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix.

Outstanding! So now for NFL owners who are unable to read the papers, Grubman has spelled out that it’s Rams owner Stan Kroenke who’s threatening to go to Inglewood, and San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis who are threatening to go to Carson.

What the rest of us would no doubt hope the NFL would be more “open and transparent” about is whether these planned L.A.-area stadiums are serious or just bluffs, or serious bluffs intended to shake loose stadium deals from their hometowns but which they’re willing to go through with, maybe, if left with no better alternatives. And Grubman at least hinted at number three, sorta kinda maybe in part:

Grubman emphasized that home markets would have a chance to pitch their own proposals before a decision is made to move any team to Los Angeles.

“The last thing I’d want is for a relocation proposal to come forward, and a home market to say, ‘Wait. You told us we had another few months,’” Grubman said. “I don’t want to do that.”

For all of these owners, there are two major hurdles to clear if they really want to move: finding the money to build new stadiums in L.A. without losing their shirts, and getting approval from the NFL’s other owners to do so. Both are going to be difficult, in different ways: Even in a big market like L.A., coming up with enough revenue to pay off close to $2 billion in stadium debt is a tough nut, and getting 24 of 32 NFL owners to agree on anything, especially when you know that the teams you’d be shutting out of moving to L.A. in your stead will vote no, takes a lot of tricky campaigning. With the next window for relocations coming up next winter, expect most of this year to be taken up with behind-the-scenes work lobbying for support among NFL owners, while waiting to see what San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis propose as alternatives. There is much, much haggling yet to be done, in other words, so it’s pointless even to read tea leaves now.

Indy Eleven exec doesn’t dismiss renovated IUPUI stadium out of hand, pigs seen airborne

Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt has responded to Indiana state senator Brandt Hershman’s proposal to renovate IUPUI’s stadium for $20 million instead of building a new one for $82 million, and … he doesn’t hate it!

“Our partnership with Indiana University and IUPUI has been a critical part of our initial success, and having the campus option as a possibility for the stadium is one that we support,” Wilt’s statement said…

“We understand that the legislative process is a long journey and we look forward to continuing this dialogue … on Tuesday,” Wilt’s statement said.

Okay, that’s not exactly jumping for joy, and may well be nothing more than an acknowledgment that they know they have to work with the state senate on any stadium deal, not dismiss its proposals out of hand. Still, it does open up the possibility of renovation as an alternative, which is both 1) a possible way to save the state a ton of money and 2) the kind of thing that sports team owners typically dismiss out of hand with some statement about needing a “state of the art” facility. (Or, as a New York City development official once said of the Yankees‘ demands for a new stadium, renovations couldn’t provide “an adequate number of ladies’ rooms.”)

So, would $20 million for stadium upgrades for a minor-league soccer stadium be a good deal? That all depends on what the state would be getting back: If it’s some actual rent payments or revenue sharing, or a long-term lease for the team (as much as any NASL team’s signature on a lease can ever be said to be “long-term”), or something that IUPUI will actually be able to get some use of, then sure, maybe. In any case, $20 million would be a lot less of a heavy lift to make work than $82 million, and not building a whole new stadium when you have an old one that is already drawing well is always a good idea for everyone’s budget and carbon footprint. It’s bad for construction workers, I guess, but they can work on the renovations, and that extra $62 million will end up being spent on something. You see why I’m not generally a fan of new stadiums at all when it can be avoided? It’s really not just that I don’t like cupholders.

Everybody in Milwaukee finally admits they have no idea how to pay for a Bucks arena

How much of a mess are the funding plans for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena? So much that even Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arena-buildin’ reporter Don Walker is willing to say so:

Now, everything has become murky.

The owners have drawn a line in the sand with their current financial commitment.

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a $220 million bonding plan, but spent most of his time on the presidential campaign trail.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has said the governor’s bonding number is too high; Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said Walker’s plan was nearly dead, and he was working on an alternative.

Locally, one of the major tenants at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Marquette University, says it won’t put any money in the pot. The school says it prefers to be a tenant.

Mayor Tom Barrett has committed help, but says he doesn’t have money and won’t raise property taxes. County Executive Chris Abele says he doesn’t want to do anything that will “burden local taxpayers or result in cuts in services.”

Yes, it turns out that when you put up a $250 million Kickstarter for a new private basketball arena and the only rewards are NBA players continuing to pay their state income taxes, people don’t rush to throw coins in your jar.

Not that this means the Bucks arena plans are dead — rather, just that figuring out how to pay for buildings that almost never generate enough revenue to pay off their own construction bills is real hard. We now enter what could be thought of as the “flailing” phase of arena talks — though maybe the “racino phase” has a better ring to it — as marked by Gov. Walker already saying he’s open to any funding ideas that anybody has. Hey, there’s an idea: Crowdsource coming up with a way to pay for it! People are way more free with their ideas than they are with their $250 million.

Indiana senator proposes ditching $82m Indy Eleven stadium plan, renovating IUPUI stadium instead

As predicted, Indiana state senator Brandt Hershman waited until the Friday media dead zone to announce his plan to fund a new $82 million stadium for the Indy Eleven NASL minor-league soccer team — which is a shame because everyone missed the surprise twist, which is that Hershman doesn’t plan to fund one at all:

Indiana University would issue up to $20 million in bonds to renovate IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium in an amendment being introduced by Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, chair of the committee that’s handling the stadium bill.

The team would have to pay for expenses beyond the $20 million and whatever the city of Indianapolis contributes. The team would also have to sign at least a 20-year lease. A senate committee vote on the plan is scheduled for Tuesday.

Well, sure, that makes plenty of sense to look at: $20 million is a lot less than $82 million, and if the team isn’t a long-term success at least the local public university would have a shinier stadium to play in. (Not that that’s probably what it needs the most, but that’s another story.) And Indy Eleven is already drawing well there, so if any economic benefits you’d get from the team playing in a new stadium would probably accrue from them playing in an upgraded old stadium as well.

We’ll see tomorrow what the exact details of the plan are and how it would all be paid for, but for now, nice thinking outside the box, Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek! Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir will no doubt not be pleased, but $20 million in free renovations would still be nothing to sneeze at.