St. Louis MLS owners unveil square-roofed stadium (actual contents may differ from images on box)

The wannabe St. Louis MLS team owners have released some renderings of their wannabe stadium:

So, that square roof is cool and all, but I’m not sure it works in terms of geometry, given that soccer pitches are longer than they are wide. It looks from that image like the seats at the ends are more stacked vertically than the ones on the sidelines, which could be one way of getting around that; let’s see another angle:

We’re looking from one end in the above image, so maybe. Still, it’s also possible this is some form of forced perspective, or the designers just decided to fudge the shape of an actual soccer field to get a cooler image, and the actual roof — if there ever is an actual roof — will be more rectangular. Which is actually what appears to be going on in this GIF:

Team co-owner Carolyn Kindle Betz did call the renderings “conceptual,” so I’m going to take that to mean “it won’t actually look like this, we just wanted something to distract you with.”

Which is fine, but can’t we get any renderings with the more usual fantastical stadium elements, like weird lighting effects and people cheering at nothing in particular? Please?

Ahhhh, much better. Judging from the keeper sprawled on the ground, it looks like somebody (the red team?) has just scored, which isn’t too surprising given that the black team has utterly failed to track back to play any defense.

The stadium — which you will recall is set to get something on the order of $60 million in public subsidies — is supposed to seat 22,000, with room to expand (maybe they can put temporary seating in those gaps in the corners, though the landscaping is going to get in the way), which will make MLS commissioner Don “really our stadiums should hold 27,000 people even though the league average attendance is only 20,000 and that’s with teams papering the house” Garber happy. And since making Garber happy enough to give St. Louis owners a franchise — sorry, sell St. Louis owners a franchise, for an expansion fee of at least $200 million and maybe more — really that’s how we should be looking at all of these pretty pictures: They’re profile pics, nothing more, nothing less.

Friday roundup: Jacksonville mayor says “whatever Jaguars want” on stadium renovations, that’s it, I’m done, I can’t even finish this headline

Running late on the roundup this week — I just published two new articles on the wastefulness of film tax credits and New York’s probably fruitless attempts to fight off sea level rise, plus I have another major writing deadline today — so let’s get to it:

MLS is adding St. Louis and Sacramento franchises (maybe), demanding bigger stadiums (possibly)

Eleven months after announcing its expansion to 28 teams, Major League Soccer has decided to expand to 30 teams with new franchises in St. Louis and Sacramento … okay, has decided to invite prospective owners in St. Louis and Sacramento to apply for franchises … okay, let’s let the Associated Press try to explain it:

St. Louis and Sacramento, California, have been invited to submit formal bids for franchises as Major League Soccer’s Board of Governors formally unveiled plans Thursday to expand to 30 teams.

Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement at the board’s meeting in Los Angeles, pointing to expansion as one of the key drivers of the league’s growth in North America in recent years.

“We continue to believe that there are many, many cities across the country that could support an MLS team, with a great stadium and a great fanbase and great local ownership that will invest in the sport in their community,” he told reporters following the meeting.

So that’s really just “St. Louis and Sacramento are front-runners for the next two MLS franchises, which we’re planning to award sometime this year.” Which is exactly what Garber said last month. So this is not actually news at all, just confirmation that those two cities will get teams if all their t’s are crossed — which mostly means having stadium deals in place. Both cities have given preliminary approval for new stadiums, with St. Louis promising about $60 million in subsidies and Sacramento about $33 million; these would not be the worst deals in sports history or even MLS history, but still, you know what Everett Dirksen may or may not have said about money adding up

In completely unrelated news but not really, F.C. Arizona, a team that currently plays at a high school field in Mesa in the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League, has announced plans to build a 10,900-seat stadium at an unspecified location in the Phoenix area, saying they’ll pay for the unspecified costs with their own unspecified private money. That’s an awful lot of seats for a team in what’s essentially a semi-pro league — not all players are paid — so you have to figure this is an attempt to get on the radar of either MLS or the second-and-third-tier USL to get a franchise. U.S. soccer may not have promotion and relegation where teams can move up to higher leagues just by winning games, but it does have a clear path by which owners can buy their way into higher leagues, and it’s clearly leading to a land rush for owners hoping to find an angle by which to enter into the major-sports ownership club without shelling out a billion for a big-four league expansion team.

If you consider MLS a major sports league on par with the big four, that is, which remains an open question. Garber also took time out to say that Minnesota United‘s new stadium is too small, asserting, “I wish the stadium wasn’t 19,000 and that it was 27,000 because I think at some point we are going to be thinking of how do we make the stadium bigger. I think we are going to be dealing with that in a number of different markets.” This is the same week that the New York Red Bulls announced that they’d begin tarping over some seats in the upper deck because they couldn’t sell them; team GM Marc de Grandpre recently remarked, “If we were to build the stadium today…we’d have built the stadium with a flexible capacity system,” meaning a way to reduce capacity from its current 25,000 seats, not increase it. Clearly there are still some bugs to be worked out of the MLS business model — those $150 million expansion fees from St. Louis and Sacramento, or whoever steps in if St. Louis or Sacramento falter, should help buy some time to figure them out.

How rich are the Bucks and Brewers owners getting off public subsidies? Not as much as you’d think

Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee has almost certainly spent more time looking into that city’s subsidies to the Bucks and Brewers than any other person alive, and this week, with the new Forbes MLB team value estimates out, he devoted his column to trying to figure out how much more rich those taxpayer dollars have made the teams’ owners:

Forbes estimates the value of the franchise is now $1.35 billion, up by $900 million since the team was purchased for $450 million in 2014. (The price was technically $550 million but previous owner Herb Kohl promised to pay $100 million of the team’s contribution to a new arena.)

That’s a stunning three-fold increase in the value of the franchise in just five years…

[Brewers] owner Mark Attanasio bought the teamfor $223 million in 2004, and the current value, according to Forbes, is now $1.175 billion. That’s a five-fold growth in value in 15 years. That increase has helped the team, which ranked last in value before Miller Park was built, jump to 25th in value, ahead of six franchises including those in bigger markets like Miami and Cleveland.

I’m sure you’ve already spotted the problem here: Sure, both the Bucks and Brewers are worth a lot more since getting new publicly subsidized homes, but how much of that is due to the buildings, and how much just to the fact that MLB and the NBA are rolling in money from things like cable TV and streaming video revenue?

Here’s Forbes’ estimates for Bucks team value and gross revenue over time:

As you can see, there’s certainly been a jump in both over the four years since the stadium was approved in 2015 — though, interestingly, the jump in value started the year before the arena was approved, and revenues began to take off well before the new arena opened last summer. Annoyingly, Forbes doesn’t offer charts for the average NBA team, but let’s take a look at a couple of other smallish-market NBA teams without new arenas for comparison. First, the Denver Nuggets:

And the Minnesota Timberwolves:

Those are about as close to identical charts as you’re going to see. And while they don’t prove that the new Bucks arena has been worthless to billionaire owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, it’s also pretty good evidence that most of their current basketball riches would have been achieved even if the team had kept playing at the Bradley Center.

Okay, how about the Brewers? The Forbes charts don’t go back to before Miller Park’s opening in 2001, but their archived team valuations at Rod Fort’s sports economics stats site do, so we can do similar value comparisons for small-market baseball teams that did and didn’t get new stadiums in that time period:

Milwaukee Brewers: $1.175b (2019), $167m (2000) (up 604%)

Baltimore Orioles value: $1.28b (2019), $347m (2000) (up 269%)

Colorado Rockies: $1.225b (2019), $305m (2000) (up 302%)

Cleveland Indians value: $1.15b (2019), $364m (2000) (up 216%)

Kansas City Royals value: $1.025b (2019), $122m (2000) (up 740%)

This looks a bit more promising for the Brewers owners (now not-quite-billionaire Mark Attanasio, then a fetid pile of hypocrisy in an ill-fitting suit), though it’s worth noting that the Royals owners did even better playing in a stadium that opened in 1973, though it did get a bunch of taxpayer-financed upgrades in 2009. (It’s also worth noting that the Orioles, Rockies, and Indians were in the midst of new-stadium honeymoon periods in 2000, so probably in a bit of a value bubble.) Mostly it’s an indication that the entirety of MLB is rolling in dough, and while having a new taxpayer-funded stadium can certainly put the cherry on top, it’s not going to make the difference between obscene wealth and merely PG-rated wealth.

So, wait, does this mean that new sports venues aren’t such a scam after all, because they’re not enriching greedy sports team owners? No, actually, it makes them worse: Greedy sports team owners, it turns out, are mostly just getting a slim trickle of new money thanks to the firehose of public spending — which makes sense, since the construction costs of new stadiums and arenas soak up most of that cash. Sports subsidies are not just a massive transfer of cash from public to private; they’re a massive taxpayer expense where much of the benefit just goes to construction companies, while the team owners who pulled off the schemes just collect a few dimes on the public dollar. It would be far more efficient, all things considered, for local governments to just pay team owners money to play in their cities, and skip the whole stadium-building part of it — but then, we’re seeing that now too, so I guess why limit yourself to one grift when you can run two?

Indianapolis is considering upping its Pacers subsidies to a cool billion dollars

If you’ve been following the Twitters, you have probably already heard that Indiana’s Marion County Capital Improvement Board voted unanimously on Friday to approve a new lease and new subsidies for the Pacers. And what subsidies: Between cash for upgrading the Pacers’ arena and cash to cover the team’s year-to-year operating costs, Indianapolis-area taxpayers would be on the hook for an additional $777 million over the next 25 years. Coming on top of $384 million in public money that the Pacers owners have already received since 1999, this would bring the municipal region’s total spending to $1.161 billion — or almost as much as it would take to buy the team outright.

Facts have been flying fast and furious since Friday, so here’s what we know at present:

  • The new public expenditures would include $295 million to upgrade Bankers Life Fieldhouse, $362 million in operating subsidies (paid out in installments over 25 years), and $120 million on “technology upgrades” over the next ten years. Since some of that money won’t be paid out right now, we really should calculate it in terms of present value, which comes to around $600 million — making the total public expense just under $1 billion. A bargain! (And yes, I should really adjust that whole $1 billion into 2019 dollars or something, which would make the total slightly higher, but life is short and division is long.)
  • At $600 million for 25 years, the new subsidy would cost Indianapolis $24 million a year for the privilege of having the Pacers not threaten to leave town for another generation. That would blow the doors off the record for most lucrative lease extension per year, which I currently had scored as the Carolina Panthers‘ $14.6 million per year.
  • The deal isn’t final yet, as the Indiana state legislature hasn’t yet determined how to pay for all this. The state house approved a package of Pacers subsidies on Thursday (and also Indy Eleven subsidies, can’t leave them out), but the state senate still needs to vote on it.
  • The Pacers owners would have to pay a fee of “as much as $750 million,” according to the Indianapolis Star, if they wanted to break the lease and leave early. (That figure, interestingly, does not appear anywhere in either the CIB’s press release or its “fieldhouse agreement” PDF.) Of course, they’d also need to kick themselves in the head for giving up $14.5 million in annual operating subsidy checks, but the way Indiana elected officials like to hand out public dollars, it might not be the worst thing to restrict team owners from coming back for even more cash in a couple of decades — assuming that’s what this agreement would do, which we can’t tell until we’ve actually read it.
  • Local sportswriters are on the case justifying this massive public expense, noting that while “it doesn’t sit right” to give money to billionaires that could be spent on actual public needs, it’s nonetheless justified by the “financial” and “cultural” and “symbolic” and “most of all magnetic” benefits of keeping Pacers owner Herb Simon from moving the team, which he doesn’t want to do, but which he, you know, could.

In exchange for their boodle, the Pacers marketing department provided a whole mess of new vaportecture renderings, which include images of a couple touring the arena site while holding their adorable baby in the exact same position wherever they go, fans walking into mysterious glass walls, and people walking around on an ice skating rink in the snow while wearing street shoes and carrying identical handbags. If that’s not worth $600 million, I don’t know what is. 

Friday roundup: NYCFC turf woes, Quebec’s NHL snub, and why people who live near stadiums can’t have nice things

And in less vaportectury news:

  • NYC F.C. is having turf problems again, as large chunks of the temporary sod covering New Yankee Stadium’s dirt infield were peeling up at their home match last Saturday. There’s still been no announced progress on the latest stadium plan proposed last summer (which wasn’t even proposed by the team, but by a private developer), and I honestly won’t be surprised if there never is, though Yankees president Randy Levine did say recently that he “hopes” to have a soccer stadium announcement this year sometime, so there’s that.
  • Deadspin ran a long article on why Quebec City keeps getting snubbed for an NHL franchise, and the short answer appears to be: It’s a small city, the Canadian dollar is weak, Gary Bettman loves trying to expand hockey into unlikely U.S. markets, and Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson hates prospective Quebec Nordiques owner Pierre Karl Péladeau, for reasons having to do with everything from arena competition to Anglophone-Francophone beef. Say it with me now: Building arenas on spec is a no good, very bad idea.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers arena has an even more terrible new name than the two terrible names that preceded it. “I know that sometimes [with] change, you get a little resistance and people say, ‘Why are they changing it?’ and ‘How’s that name going to work?'” team owner Dan Gilbert told NBA.com. The answers, if you were wondering, are “Dan Gilbert is trying to promote a different one of his allegedly fraudulent loan service programs” and “nobody’s going to even remember the new name, and will probably just call it ‘the arena’ or something.”
  • Inglewood residents are afraid that the new Los Angeles Rams stadium will price them out of their neighborhood; the good news for them is that all economic evidence is that the stadium probably won’t do much to accelerate gentrification, while the bad news is that gentrification is probably coming for them stadium or not. The it-could-be-worse news is that Inglewood residents are still better off than Cincinnati residents who, after F.C. Cincinnati‘s owners promised no one would be displaced for their new stadium, went around buying up buildings around the new stadium and forcing residents to relocate, because that’s not technically “for” the new stadium, right?
  • Worcester still hasn’t gotten around to buying up all the property for the Triple-A Red Sox‘ new stadium set to open in 2021, and with construction set to begin in July, this could be setting the stage for the city to either have to overpay for the land or have to engage in a protracted eminent domain proceeding that could delay the stadium’s opening. It’s probably too soon to be anticipating another minor-league baseball road team, but who am I kidding, it’s never too soon to look forward to that.

This week in vaportecture: Portland baseball, Miami soccer

The renderings for stadiums that may or may not ever be built are coming so fast and furious now that this week they need their own weekly roundup post: Both Inter Miami and Portland’s as-yet-unnamed (and as-yet-nonexistent) MLB team released fresh stadium images the last couple of days, and I am happy to report that they are very much in line with the laws of vaportecture.

Portland first:

This is actually a pretty sedate group of images — not even any daytime fireworks! — and improves on the non-Euclidean geometry of the previous batch. Sure, the shadows in the first image are a bit weird — the sun would appear to be coming directly out of the east, which means it’s sunrise, so you’d think the shadows would be longer, but maybe it’s the summer solstice or something — and the aerial tramway appears to have vanished from the overhead rendering — unless those little specks out past center field are gondolas, suspended in the air by nothing — and for some reason the parking lot has more trees in it than cars. And then there’s this image, which wasn’t included in John Canzano’s above tweet but was in his Oregonian article:

What exactly is that woman doing with her freakishly large hand? Brushing her hair forward to cover where her head has been poorly Photoshopped onto her body? Talking on one of those neck-phones that will be all the rage by the time Portland gets an MLB team? And why are all the fans looking through the glass window ignoring the spectacular play being made by the right fielder, who is contorting his body in impossible ways to make a catch, though probably no more impossible than the ways it will be contorted after he crashes at full speed into the foul pole. At least I’m glad to see that the Portland P’s will offer throwback uniforms hearkening back to the days of no jersey numbers, which is probably why souvenir shirts will just feature an enormous Old English “P” on the back.

On to Miami, where we got our first look at the stadium David Beckham and Jorge Mas’s ownership group may or may not be building at Melreese Park in Miami (not to be confused with the temporary stadium they may or may not be building in Fort Lauderdale). And hey, this one’s a video, which for some reason starts off with an egret? And a drum line?

https://twitter.com/InterMiamiCF/status/1115615132057575424

If I’m interpreting this right, the egret is somehow supposed to relate to the design of the stadium roof, which is vaguely bird-wing shaped, and also pink, unlike the egret, though maybe it’s meant to evoke an egret that pigged out on too many brine shrimp. But at least it shines with an unearthly glow!

And features lots of space for fans (and maybe a wookiee) to mill around bars or conference tables or something, with no pesky railings to keep from the excitement of possibly falling to their deaths:

And as a special bonus, there’s a weirdly cartoonish overhead view that features one goalkeeper fleeing his position because he’s belatedly realized there are one too many players on the pitch (and yes, I’m counting the referee):

I’m honestly not sure what purpose either of these sets of new images is supposed to accomplish, except maybe to get coverage showing that this thing must really be happening, look, here are pictures of what it would look like, no one in human history has ever drawn anything that won’t actually exist. In which case, mission accomplished, I guess. Far be it from me to denigrate the #freedomtodream.

Texas Rangers’ old stadium to be permanently converted for XFL, what could possibly go wrong here

Texas Rangers execs have announced that when their new taxpayer-subsidized stadium opens next year, their 25-year-old prior taxpayer-subsized stadium will be converted to a football stadium for an XFL franchise, reports Forbes — notwithstanding that this was already announced by the XFL last December. But Rangers vice president of business operations Rob Matwick did at least provide a couple more details of how the retrofitting would go:

“It will require us at the end of the season to convert from a baseball configuration to a football configuration.”

Permanently?

“Probably,” Matwick said, “because we’re going to have a state-of-the-art baseball facility across the street.”

Matwick also said the Rangers were engaged in “some preliminary talks” about hosting soccer and high school football, according to Forbes columnist Barry Bloom.

Okay, let’s start with a look at how this will likely work in terms of geometry. Here’s a composite of Google Maps images of the Rangers’ old stadium and a football field, sized to the same scale:

That’s clearly going to require the demolition of some seats in center field, which shouldn’t be a huge undertaking. It would leave fans with pretty terrible sightlines, though — the 50-yard-line seats would be massively far from the field — plus it would be very difficult to fit in a soccer pitch, which needs to be 30% wider than an NFL field. So it would be far more likely to see a configuration like this:

That will require a fair bit more demolition, especially to fit soccer, but at least you’d have decent seats along one side, and I suppose could even add temporary bleachers on the other side to provide more seats.

Anyway, all this would clearly be totally worth it for the Rangers and Arlington to land a permanent … XFL franchise, did you say? The league that only lasted ten games in its first iteration (prompting creator Vince McMahon to call it a “colossal failure”), and which is slated to try again next year, on the heels of another attempt at an NFL alternative that only made it through eight games? This is truly a great idea, and certainly not a pathetic attempt to pretend that having two stadiums designed for baseball sitting right next to each other isn’t a tragic commentary on American subsidy-driven capitalism.

UPDATE: A commenter (thanks, Joe!) shared the schematic below that the Rangers previously issued, which is similar to my bottom image only with the field running third base to right field instead of first base to left field. It also has one corner of the end zone located in the front-row seats, and the overlap would be even worse for a soccer pitch, so clearly this is a work in progress.

Yes, Graceland actually threatened to move to Japan to get $194m in subsidies from Memphis

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on Sunday that began like this:

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—The Memphis City Council will vote this month to complete new tax breaks for Graceland to fund a $100 million expansion, a peace offering in a nearly two-year war that included threats of Elvis’s estate leaving his adopted hometown.

I don’t know precisely what the rest of the article says, because the Journal will only let me read it if I give them either $187.20 for a year’s subscription or $1 plus my credit card number so they can charge me $187.20 when I forget to cancel, neither of which is appealing. Fortunately, though, the uncopyrightable nature of information has led to lots of other news sites reporting on the Journal’s reporting, which means we can learn things like this for significantly less than $187.20:

“We had an offer ten days ago to move Graceland to Japan,” Joel Weinshanker, managing director of Elvis Presley Enterprises, said. “We had two offers to move to the Middle East and one [to move] to China. They offered us more profit than we could ever make in Memphis.”

It should go without saying — oh, I so hope it should go without saying — that Graceland is a place (“the place Elvis called home,” as Graceland’s own website touts it, complete with “the gardens where he found peace”), and you can’t move a place, though obviously you can move all the stuff that’s in the place. Whether people will still go visit the stuff if the stuff isn’t in the place is an open question, but apparently not one that Memphis wanted to consider too hard, because city officials approved giving Graceland several briefcases full of money in order not to go through with moving overseas.

How much money precisely? Slate reports that Graceland would get “a bigger cut of city and county property and sales tax revenues for a new expansion project,” and that the expansion project would cost $100 million, but that the new property tax kickbacks would “add up to between $194 million and $269 million in reduced taxes for Graceland.” And that the local economic development corporation president “stressed the expansion would not have happened without those incentives, and would be a net gain for the city and county on tax revenue alone.”

So to recap: A tourist attraction based around Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis threatened to move to a place that Elvis never lived, until the local government agreed to give them at least $194 million to pay for a $100 million expansion, which the local economic chief claims will leave the city and county turning a profit. 2019, people.

 

Sacramento council votes to approve (but really not approve) MLS stadium that won’t (but really will) cost taxpayer money

Good morning, and let’s all read an article that contradicts itself constantly!

The place: Sacramento, California. The outlet: KCRA, which used to be just a UHF television station but is now also a website because everything is also a website (even books!) and broadcasts on something called “virtual channel 3.” The author: “KCRA Staff,” which either means a whole lot of people worked on it or one person who really doesn’t want to be held responsible.

Here is the first paragraph of the article:

The Sacramento City Council approved a public-private partnership to build a Major League Soccer stadium in the downtown railyards and develop the surrounding area.

Whoa, that was fast! Just Friday we were looking at new stadium renderings, and now the council has already approved a funding plan! How did that happen so quickly?

Here is the second paragraph of the article:

Councilmembers unanimously voted Tuesday night to approve a term sheet, a non-binding document that lays out ways the city, the Sacramento Republic FC and Los Angeles-area developer Ron Burkle plan to work together to fund and build the stadium.

Okay, Mr. or Ms. KCRA Staff, that word “non-binding” you used? It means the entities signing it are not “bound” to it, by which is meant that either side can back out. So the partnership isn’t so much “approved” as “planned,” with the actual vote to approve it still to come.

Anyway, how will the city, Sacramento Republic FC, and Ron Burkle (who is actually majority owner of Republic FC, so it’s not entirely clear why he’s listed twice) work together to fund the stadium? On to paragraph three:

The $252 million stadium would be privately funded by the Republic FC and Burkle. No taxpayer dollars will be used to build the stadium.

Great news! Especially since as of Friday the project was set to receive $33 million in tax breaks and other subsidies. But now there’s nothing at all about that, according to paragraph three, and paragraph four, and what’s this now paragraph five:

The term sheet also includes $33 million in tax refunds, waived fees and administrative costs for the stadium.

Look. I understand the difficulties of doing comprehensive reporting in the modern world when media outlets are mostly staffed by overworked, underpaid interns and grad students and maybe sometimes augmented Roombas. But seriously, Mr. and/or Ms. KCRA Staff, is it so much trouble to read the very thing you just wrote to see if it still makes sense, given what you’re writing now? Even if you’re suffering short-term memory loss — perhaps the stress is getting to you, or your expanded RAM chip has come loose from its socket — the words are right there for you to look at as a reminder. It would definitely make for a better article if all the words worked together to convey a consistent series of facts, as opposed to looking like they were assembled from a series of separate articles about separate things happening in separate universes.

Anyway, MLS still hasn’t approved an expansion franchise for Sacramento, and won’t until later this year at the earliest, and the time when the league approves an infinite number of franchises at the latest (which could also be later this year). And the deal that is really a term sheet doesn’t kick in until Sacramento gets a team, at least — this isn’t Indianapolis, for god’s sakes.