Friday roundup: Potential Raiders homes for 2019, ranked (okay, actually not ranked)

Man, who opened the stadium news floodgates this week? Here it is almost noon on Friday and I still haven’t gotten to the news roundup — okay, know what, less whining, let’s just get right to it:

  • The city of Oakland filed its antitrust suit against the Raiders as promised this week, which means it’s time for a list of places the Raiders could play next year if they are forced to leave Oakland in a huff. “Do a multi-week residency in London and play the rest of the season on the road” is one I hadn’t heard before, anyway.
  • New York’s Empire State Development Corporation approved its draft environmental report on a new New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park, and it basically comes down to “yeah, traffic is already bad and it’s going to get worse, we’ll try to figure something out but don’t hold your breath.” The state will also provide a whole two Long Island Rail Road trains to take fans to and from games, which will require new switches to deal with the massive mess that is that train interchange, for which “it is also expected that [the arena developers] will contribute to LIRR and MTA funding,” which isn’t exactly the same as saying the developers will pay for it.
  • Tottenham Hotspur‘s long-delayed stadium is still delayed, but at least now fans can enjoy drone footage of the place they’re not being allowed to set foot in.
  • The National Parks Conservation Association was “shocked” to learn that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to take 300 acres of federal parkland to use for a new Washington NFL team stadium. “I have talked to lower-level Park Service employees who are just as shocked as I am about this,” said the organization’s Chesapeake and Virginia programs director, Pam Goddard. “We are vehemently opposed.” Hogan has said that no public money would be used for the stadium plan, but public land and building out sewer and power lines into federal parkland, now that’s another story.
  • Residents of South Boston want the New England Revolution to stay offa their lawns with any stadium plans.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants more NBA-ready arenas in Latin America so the NBA can play occasional regular season games there, but didn’t offer to help pay for any, that’d be crazy, and does he look crazy?

 

Suns owner says team “not leaving Phoenix,” pay no attention to all the times he said it might leave Phoenix

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has issued a video statement on Twitter in response to reports that he threatened to move the team to Seattle of Las Vegas:

If you hate to turn on audio on your computer like I do, here’s a transcript of the good bits:

“First and foremost, the Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix. I am 100 percent committed, and have been for the last four years, to find a solution keep them in downtown Phoenix where they belong.”

That would seem to contradict reports that Sarver told city councilmembers that he’d considering moving the team out of town without publicly funded arena renovations, not to mention a news conference last year where he said, “First priority is downtown Phoenix, but if that is not something the city wants to do, then, you know, I’ve got to look somewhere else.” Unless you parse the Twitter statement carefully to mean “We’re not leaving Phoenix because Phoenix is going to give us $168 million for arena renovations so we’ll stay, won’t you, Phoenix?” In which case all this is just a classic non-threat threat, and neither the threats to leave nor the promises to stay should be taken as anything more than empty PR.

In the meantime, pushback has begun on how to eliminate the Suns arena subsidy, or at least make it marginally less onerous. Phoenix councilmember Sal DiCiccio says “at the very least it’s got to be a fifty-fifty deal,” while Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts suggests five ways to improve the arena plan:

  1. Cut the public’s share from two-thirds to one-third (better, yes, though as with DiCiccio’s halfsies plan, still arbitary)
  2. Make the Suns promise to stay put more than 15 more years in exchange (an excellent thought, since you don’t want Sarver or his successor coming back in a decade or so saying “Those 2019 renovations are looking a little out of date…)
  3. Don’t fall for idle threats when we don’t even know if the NBA would approve a move out of Phoenix (not really a specific way to improve the deal, but sure, always good advice)
  4. Don’t give Sarver money until the team starts winning games (tempting, but implies that a winning team suddenly is worthy of public subsidies, whereas if the Suns were winning games, arguably fans would be showing up and Sarver wouldn’t have to whine about his creaky old arena)
  5. Wait till a new mayor is elected in March before negotiating anything (democracy, what a concept!)

Finally, Suns president Jason Rowley complains that the arena money isn’t really going to benefit the Suns, since Phoenix owns the arena, and traditionally it’s the landlord who pays for upgrades, not the tenant. Sure, but also traditionally the tenant doesn’t get to keep all the money from putting a giant billboard on the outside of the building, and also traditionally when a landlord does upgrades, it gets to hike the tenant’s rent to help pay for them. Does Rowley’s analogy extend as far as offering to increase the Suns’ lease payments to the city? There’s another suggestion Roberts could add to her list.

 

Nobody’s actually sure how much public would pay for new Columbus Crew stadium

A funding plan for a new $230 million downtown stadium for the Columbus Crew began to come into focus this week, though admittedly not very much focus. The plan as constituted involves cash from new team owner (and Cleveland Browns) owner Jimmy Haslam, money from the city, money from the county, and money from the state, which Columbus Business First helpfully lays out as follows:

  • $50 million from the city, for “land acquisition, infrastructure and public improvements,” plus turning the old stadium into a “community sports park” (which would also serve as a training ground for the Crew).
  • $45 million from the county, paid out over 30 years, for “infrastructure and public improvements” around the new stadium.
  • $15 million from the state, also for infrastructure and public improvements.

This is hazy enough, given that “infrastructure” traditionally can mean lots of things, from stuff that the government does for pretty much anyone (say, extending sewer lines) to things that more normally would be on the developer’s tab (say, building parking garages).

But it gets even more confusing from there, because Haslam and his partners would only put up $150 million of the $230 million cost, with the rest coming from a new state authority (in Ohio amusingly dubbed an NCA, for “New Community Authority”) that would collect the county and state money. Which doesn’t add up to $80 million, you will notice. Plus, the NCA would have to backfill any property taxes due from the surrounding private development, which is in a Community Revitalization Area and so eligible for 100% tax abatements.

That is an opaque fiscal soup, one that makes it nearly impossible to come up with a dollar figure for how much of a subsidy the Crew owners would be getting from taxpayers. Which is to the Crew owners’ benefit, no doubt, but it’s the kind of thing that hopefully we’ll get more clarity on before any governmental votes on — whoops, looks like the Columbus city council and Ohio state house already voted to approve their share of the money. Well, maybe we’ll learn more about where the money will be coming from and what it will be spent on before the Ohio state senate [UPDATE: too late!] and Franklin County board of commissioners vote, anyway. Or they can always vote first and ask questions later, that always works out great!

No, Rays owner can’t pay a “penalty” to move out of Tampa Bay before 2027

I don’t usually like to respond here to things that were only raised on Twitter, but this seems like an important one: Boosters of baseball in Montreal have seized on this week’s announcement that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has given up on a new stadium in Tampa for now as a sign that the team could be headed for relocation. And sure, their lease says that the Rays can’t move before 2027, but either Sternberg or a new owner can just get out of that by paying a lease penalty and then skedaddling.

Except that’s not what the Rays’ lease says at all. Here’s the MOU signed by the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg in 2016 to amend the team’s lease, and here’s the relevant sections:

And then a whole bunch of dollar figures, which comes down to $3 million a year if the team leaves before 2023, and $2 million a year if it leaves before 2027.

That wouldn’t be much of an obstacle if Sternberg wanted to move the team — but note that this only applies if the team wants to move to “another location in Pinellas or in Hillsborough” counties. There is no provision in the MOU that will allow Sternberg to move anywhere else in the world other than those two counties. Sure, he could try to negotiate one with St. Pete officials, and might even be able to do so once 2027 is getting closer and it’s a matter of “I’m gonna leave anyway, let me pay you some cash to let me do it a year or two early,” but there is no mechanism currently in place for him to demand to be allowed to do so.

St. Petersburg got a lot of things wrong when it built its dome back in the 1980s — building a stadium without first securing a team was the worst move, since it allowed the city to be used as a stalking horse by MLB owners seeking to extract stadium cash from their home cities for a decade before the Rays finally arrived in 1998 — but it did a hell of a job negotiating one of the most stringent stadium leases in the world. Let’s all remember that as we hold our fun debates over whether the best relocated team name would be the MonterRays or the Charlotte Raes.

Tom Boswell hates stadium subsidies, but only for team owners he hates

I will freely admit, I got kind of excited when I saw that the Washington Post had run an article titled “The Real Winner of Redskins Stadium Derby Will Be Whoever Doesn’t Get It.” (The headline has since been changed, but the original is preserved in the URL.) The idea that the best-case scenario for residents of a municipality or state — especially in a region where many of them butt up against each other, like in the D.C. area — is for a team to build a stadium just across the state or city line, allowing you to still attend games but not have the pay the construction bills, is one that’s been discussed here at length, so I was eager to read what the essay said.

Then I saw that the author was Thomas Boswell, the longtime Post sports columnist who memorably wrote of the Nationals stadium deal not to worry about more than $700 million in public costs because “Santa says we win,” and I downgraded my expectations. Which was a good thing, because man is this article all over the place:

  • Boswell really doesn’t like team owner Daniel Snyder: I mean, nobody does, but Boswell is especially ticked that Snyder is negotiating with both Maryland and D.C. officials at the same time for stadium deals, which means the Post columnist must really hate his boss.
  • The team is bad: Let’s check out the NFL standings … okay, 6-7 isn’t that terrible, but it is bad, and they haven’t been that good in recent memory, so fair enough for fans to be gripey. But the corollary would be that if the team were winning Super Bowls it would deserve public money, which isn’t a road one really wants to go down.
  • Snyder is asking for more than other D.C. sports team owners: “D.C. has been fortunate. Abe Pollin built his own arena. D.C. found a way to get suburbanites to pay for a big chunk of its new park by slapping stiff taxes on all Nationals tickets and food to help pay off ballpark bonds.” Um, no: Less than a third of the public cost of the Nats stadium was paid for by stadium taxes, and less than half of that was via new taxes “slapped on” on top of existing ones, and where I come from one-sixth is not “a big chunk.” Also, don’t forget that D.C. just supplied the biggest MLS stadium subsidy in history, so “fortunate” is pretty much the wrong word as well.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t be cranky about any article that points up the stupidity of throwing cash at a pro sports team owner, regardless of how badly the argument is made. But arguments matter, too, especially when they put forward the notion that the problem with allowing rich guys to dump their stadium costs on taxpayers while raking in all the revenues is that we’re allowing the wrong rich guys to take advantage of this. Where are those vaunted Washington Post opinion fact-checkers when you need them?

Unnamed official says Suns owner threatened to move team to Seattle or Vegas, now that’s all we can talk about

The Phoenix city council indeed put off a vote on spending $168 million on arena renovations for the Suns yesterday, and it was indeed because they didn’t have the votes to pass it, after swing-vote councilmember Michael Nowakowski issued a statement that “I must hold true to the value I place on making sure people are informed and heard.”

Then an unnamed councilmember told Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts that Suns owner Robert Sarver had said a thing, and this was the thing he said:

“Sarver’s talking about moving,” the council member told me. “He basically told me the team will go (if they don’t get a renovated arena). Vegas and Seattle were the two he talked about.”

Sports team owners seldom make threats like this explicitly in public, because they are the nuclear option: Once you’ve set off a move threat, you may have encouraged fans to panic about the possibility of losing their team, but you have also encouraged them to want to run you out of town on a rail, so there’s no going back. So it’s not surprising that Sarver made this threat in private to a councilmember, and wouldn’t even be surprising to hear that the councilmember leaked it with Sarver’s approval (though given Roberts’ opposition to the arena deal, it’s also possible this was an arena subsidy opponent leaking her the news, in a can you believe this guy? way).

Regardless, the unspecific threat relayed by an unnamed source — which arguably runs afoul of the Society of Professional Journalists’ rule to always question anonymous sources’ motives, but anyway — had the expected reaction, especially since it went as far as to mention actual cities the Suns might depart for. News outlets in Seattle and Las Vegas immediately sprang into action to report on the potential arrival of an NBA team, and then the aggregators got involved, and soon it was all anybody could talk about: I was already interviewed for one article about it, and I’m going on Orlando’s 740AM The Game’s “The Beat of Sports” at 10:15 Eastern this morning to talk about the Suns’ potential move (among other things).

The two city names that Sarver allegedly dropped are understandable enough: Seattle is jonesing for an NBA team to replace the Sonics now that they have an arena renovation underway, and Las Vegas has recently acquired NHL and NFL teams and is only 300 miles away from Phoenix, which is close in Southwestern terms. Beyond that, though, they’re pretty different: Seattle is almost exactly the same size TV market as Phoenix, whereas Vegas is less than half as big, so Sarver would be crazy to leave Phoenix for Nevada. With Seattle, it all depends on whether he’d earn more in revenue at KeyArena than he does at Talking Stick Arena — which is unlikely given that he’d be the second pro sports tenant at a venue run by an arena operator that’s going to need to keep revenues to pay off its $850 million renovation cost, but not outright impossible.

Mostly, though, this is clearly a threat intended to throw a scare into city councilmembers that they better cough up the dough or else this could be the last they’ll ever see of their NBA team, see? It’s not clear yet how effective that threat will be, given the overwhelming public opposition to the deal and the fact that the Suns’ 4-24 record means fans might welcome sending the team as far away as possible. But it’s shifted the debate from “Why should the public spend $168 million to profit a rich sports owner?” to “Where could the team move if we don’t?”, and in that, it’s certainly done its job.

Phoenix residents’ hate is so strong that council delays Suns arena vote to let them express it

Okay, I didn’t see this coming:

The Phoenix City Council is expected to delay a vote on a $230 million Talking Stick Resort Arena renovation following backlash from the community.

The council was slated to vote on the deal, which could keep the Phoenix Suns in downtown until 2042, Wednesday afternoon. But the council will now likely vote to delay the final vote until Jan. 23, allowing Mayor Thelda Williams to host two additional community meetings to solicit feedback before the council decision, according to city sources.

I mean, why do you even plan to rush through a vote to avoid public scrutiny, if you’re then going to turn around and delay the vote so there can be more public scrutiny?

The Arizona Republic report doesn’t say, but it sure sounds like Mayor Williams was having a hard time getting the needed six votes on the nine-member council, especially after news broke that Phoenix residents hate the arena funding plan with a fiery, all-consuming passion. More on this in the coming days, I’m sure.

Rays owner throws in towel on Tampa stadium, now stuck at Tropicana Field through 2027

We finally have an answer to the question of what Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s plan is for finding someone other than him to pay for most of the cost of a new $900 million in Tampa before a December 31 lease opt-out deadline and it is: He doesn’t have one. Yesterday Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman announced that the team was giving up on its Ybor City stadium plans for now, and would not seek an extension of its option to seek a stadium elsewhere in the region, meaning the Rays will be locked into Tropicana Field through 2027:

“As much as we want this to move efficiently, three years wasn’t enough time,” Rays President Matt Silverman said. “Now it’s time to regroup and all options are on the table in Tampa Bay.”

While the timeline as reported is a bit unclear, it looks like the Rays’ announcement was at least partly prompted by a letter sent yesterday from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to stadium negotiation Irwin Raij, in which Manfred pointed out that as Sternberg didn’t have any details on how either the public or private portion of the stadium tab would be paid for, he couldn’t take a position on it. Not that Sternberg wasn’t aware of this, but it would have been difficult to keep on plugging away for a last-minute stadium financing deal what with your own league commissioner saying, I’m not seeing this, guys.

That “all options are on the table” comment from Silverman presumably means that the team owners will now consider St. Petersburg sites as well; St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman issued a statement saying, “I stand ready, if asked, to continue the conversation related to the organization’s future in St. Pete,” which coyly didn’t specify whether this would mean a new stadium or an extension of the team’s lease at Tropicana Field. Either way, Sternberg has nine years to make a decision now — okay, more like six or seven years, since it’ll take a while to build a new stadium if that’s what he wants — so he has plenty of time to regroup and try to find someone to stick with the bill.

Resetting the clock for 2027 also changes one other thing, of course: While his current opt-out clause only allowed him to move elsewhere in the Tampa Bay region, in 2027 he’ll be free to move anywhere else in the world. There are plenty of reasons why a Rays relocation is unlikely — it’s still a larger market than most other alternatives, and other cities like Montreal and Portland aren’t promising to throw any more money at him than Tampa is — but you know he’ll be rattling that saber, anyway.

Finally, this announcement almost certainly slams the brakes on any thought of MLB expansion anytime soon, since Manfred has said he wants to get the Rays and Oakland A’s stadium situations resolved — which translated means “get them new stadiums without their owners paying more than they want to” — before considering adding new teams. You can stop holding your breath, Monterrey.

D.C., Snyder working on secret deal to secure RFK site for an NFL stadium

D.C. officials are reportedly working on a secret plan with Republican Congressional leaders to insert a measure into the federal spending bill that would … do something for Washington’s NFL team owner Daniel Snyder in its efforts to build a new football stadium on the site of RFK Stadium, though it’s not entirely clear what, because “secret,” remember?

Developing the RFK site, which is on federally owned land along the Anacostia River, is politically fraught. The city controls the land only through 2038 under a National Park Service lease that states the land must be used for “stadium purposes” or “recreational facilities, open space, or public outdoor recreation opportunities” only, precluding commercial development.

According to one congressional official and a D.C. official, the language under consideration would extend the existing lease for 99 years and remove the recreation-only language, thus opening the site to other, commercial development.

On the face of it, that doesn’t sound like a huge concession from the feds — just giving D.C. more time and leeway over what to do with the land. But it also doesn’t seem to have much to do with a federal spending bill, and the whole behind-closed-doors aspect is suspicious as well, which is probably why the local advocacy group Greater Greater Washington is sounding the alarm about it.

As a reminder, the stadium Snyder wants to build would look like this:

Yup.

In totally related news, it was revealed that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the Department of the Interior to obtain federal land near National Harbor south of D.C. with the intent of possibly using it for an NFL stadium. This is certainly starting to look like it has the makings of a bidding war, and one where both sides’ bids are being helped along by the federal government to boot. But I guess who can put a price tag on snowball fights?

Poll shows Phoenix residents hate Suns arena deal even more than having to watch Suns try to play basketball

The first poll is in on the proposed Phoenix Suns arena deal, and, well, let’s let the pollster sum it up, because he has a way with words:

“The only thing that’s worse than the Suns’ record is the support for spending $185 million in public money to improve the arena,” Barrett Marson, whose company commissioned the poll, said Monday on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

Ouch! But no, seriously, what do people in Phoenix think of the plan?

“It’s abysmal,” Marson, a political consultant, said. “It’s losing with old people, young people, men, women. People in Phoenix don’t like this idea.”

The actual numbers are 66% opposed and only 20% in favor, which is indeed a pretty wide margin:

One could argue that the phrasing of the poll is slightly skewed against the arena deal — I have $168 million as the present value of the public contribution, and the question doesn’t mention that the Suns will be extending their lease for 15 years in exchange for the cash. Still, it’s pretty much inconceivable that changing the wording would close a 35 percentage point gap, so it’s pretty fair to say that Phoenix residents hate this deal with a fiery passion.

Of course, none of this directly matters, as the Phoenix city council plans to vote on the arena renovation deal tomorrow, before waiting for the results of the upcoming mayoral runoff. Still, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts reports that there are already three “no” votes on the council and it only takes four to block the deal, so maybe councilmembers are actually paying attention to the polls? Or maybe they’re just afraid that someone will shoot them.