Jeffrey Loria sues own fans, because it was only space remaining on his supervillain bingo card

You know, it’s tough to be an internationally known supervillain. Take Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria: He’s already gotten the city of Miami to give him around $800 million because he said he needed it to build a better team and stop holding fire sales of all his best players, immediately thereafter held a fire sale of most of his best players, and let his team’s minuscule number of fans experience the world’s first rain delay at a stadium with a roof. What, oh what can he do for an encore? How about, oh, I don’t know, suing one of your most dedicated fans for declining to renew his season tickets?

During numerous sales pitches, [Mickey] Axelband says, the Marlins promised first-floor parking in the stadium garage and a private entrance. There would also be a lounge with pre- and postgame buffets so season ticket­holders could arrive early or hang out late. Axelband happily paid $24,000 for the two-seat package (that’s $148 per seat for each game) — nearly double the $13,000 he’d ponied up for the final year at Dolphin Stadium. He agreed to a two-year deal. Although only the private lounge was actually written into the contract, Axelband says he had no reason to believe the team wouldn’t follow through.

But Marlins Park wasn’t the success the team had hoped for. By midseason, crowds had dwindled to near Dolphin Stadium levels, and the team began slashing expenses. Those nearby parking spaces? Gone. The private entrance? Closed to save money on the extra usher manning the door. The buffet was stocked with the same bland panini for every game. Soon the team shut it down in the sixth inning.

These all might seem like small details, but “that’s exactly what we paid all the extra money for,” he says. Worst of all, Axelband says when he wrote the team to complain, the Fish weren’t sympathetic. “I didn’t want my money back or anything, but I said, ‘Please give me back the stuff you promised.’ The answer I got back was basically, ‘Yeah, we know we took it all away, but tough shit.’ “

Axelband responded by telling the Marlins he wanted to cancel his season tickets, at which point Loria’s minions responded in the one way guaranteed to maintain their villainous reputation: They sued him, along with eight other season ticket and suite-holders, for breach of contract. The Marlins owners are also suing two concessionaires who bailed out of deals to be vendors at the stadium, one of whom filed for bankruptcy after he says stadium sales were less than half what team representatives had promised.

As Fort Lauderdale sports law attorney Darren Heitner told the Miami New Times, which uncovered the story, “I’m not sure the Marlins thought this through. If you’re contemplating getting season tickets, now you’re worried you won’t get everything you bargained for and you even might end up in litigation.” That might be true in normal logic, but supervillains operate by spreading fear: Jeffrey Loria isn’t about selling tickets by making Marlins fans think they’ll get something for their money. He’s about selling tickets by building a death ray.

NFL gives three Super Bowls to cities with new stadiums, implies, “Keep ’em coming”

The NFL awarded the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles yesterday, continuing its policy of using the big game as a reward to cities and teams with new or significantly renovated stadiums. Or as Rams owner Stan Kroenke said following the decision, “I think they are telling the communities and the owners who stick their necks out that it’s worthwhile.”

The most important target of the announcement, then, isn’t the three cities that will now get the questionable benefit of hosting the NFL’s annual week-long road show, but those that are being wooed with that dubious carrot. Right now most of the reporting is on how New Orleans and Tampa Bay were snubbed because their stadiums aren’t as shiny as the cities that got the nod, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays into future coverage of stadium campaigns — already, San Diego Union Tribune chief Chargers stadium cheerleader Kevin Acee has written that the possibility of getting a Super Bowl shouldn’t be the reason to vote for a new stadium, but really he means that you should vote for a new stadium regardless, so all remains right with the world.

Interestingly, there’s no reporting yet that I can see out of Las Vegas on the Super Bowl decision, but that may be because they’re too busy covering yesterday’s conflicting comments on a potential Oakland Raiders move from owner Mark Davis (“This is the real deal. If Las Vegas can come through, we’re going to be there”) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (“It’s very premature at this point. Until we have more information, it’s pure speculation”). This could be just everyone playing their role — in terms of using Vegas as leverage in hopes of drumming up stadium subsidies from Oakland, Davis is bad cop, Goodell is good cop — or it could be a sign of deeper rifts among league owners over whether Davis should get to bolt from a bigger market to a smaller one in exchange for a lucrative (to him) stadium deal, and on what terms. We won’t know for sure until the next ESPN postmortem, I expect.

Arlington council unanimously okays Rangers stadium vote, unveils worst. FAQ. Ever.

The Arlington city council unanimously approved the Texas Rangers‘ $1 billion stadium plan yesterday, sending it to a November referendum of city voters, just four days after it was first made public, which has to be some kind of record. (Even Cobb County commissioners took two whole weeks before approving the new Atlanta Braves stadium, and they had to hide in hallways to evade open meetings laws — guess Texas doesn’t believe in those?)

And the deal, it turns out, could be even worse than last report: In addition to the city providing $500 million in construction cash, it would buy 49 acres of land and lease them back to the team in a deal where “no significant money would change hands,” according to the Dallas Morning News’s Jeff Mosier, but which would allow the Rangers to get out of paying property taxes on their parking lots. The city would also pay to build a new 2,000-space parking lot to make up for the parking that would be lost to the new stadium. Taken together, the public cost would now be well over half a billion dollars.

How much over, there’s no way of knowing, because the Arlington city website doesn’t provide any details of the deal or of what was voted on last night. It does, however, provide a “Frequently Asked Questions” document on the Rangers stadium plan that is a hilarious masterpiece of obfuscation. Let us count the ways:

  • If your personal frequently asked question is “How much will this cost taxpayers?” then you won’t find the answer here. The FAQ says construction and infrastructure cost is “estimated at $1 billion” and the deal “calls for a 50-50 split between the Texas Rangers and the City of Arlington,” but there’s nothing at all on the cost of property tax breaks or new parking lots, so the actual public price tag is anybody’s guess.
  • It does, however, answer (as its very first question!) the pressing query “When did the Texas Rangers move to Arlington?” Also “Will Arlington’s name be placed on the new ballpark?”, to which the FAQ mumbles a definitive “Yeah, in some way.”
  • “Why do the Rangers need a new ballpark?” is actually a good question, and no doubt a frequently asked one. “The team has indicated a desire to have a new ballpark with a retractable roof, which will provide protection from the Texas weather, as well as state-of-the-art amenities to provide a premiere baseball experience” does not actually answer it, any more than a valid answer from a teenager to the question “Why should I buy you a new video game system?” is “Because I really want one!”
  • The FAQ cites a study by consultants HR&A Advisors as showing that “the annual economic impact of the Rangers with a new ballpark is estimated to be $77.5 million for Arlington and $137.6 million for Tarrant County,” which it translates as “the net present value of the Rangers continued presence between 2016-2054 with a new ballpark would be $2.53 billion for Arlington and $4.49 billion for Tarrant County.” There’s no link provided to an actual study to show how HR&A came up with these numbers (best guess would be just adding up all the local spending by Rangers fans and applying some multiplier provided by an off-the-shelf statistical model, since that’s what their website says they do) — but more to the point, the description confuses economic activity (all spending taking place in a locality) with fiscal impact (actual tax revenue that results), making it sound like Arlington will see $2.53 billion in cash in exchange for its $500-million-plus expense, when it would actually be a small fraction of that. The share of sales tax that goes to city coffers, for example, is 1.25%, which even if all the economic activity were new and taxable would result in only about $31 million in new sales tax receipts over the next 40 years.

This is a PR document, pure and simple, and a damaging one — none more so than that last item, which makes it sound like this is a reasonable investment for Arlington taxpayers by massively bait-and-switching the actual monetary returns. John Hibb, a board member of the Arlington Independent School District, told yesterday’s hearing that “the loss of the Rangers means the loss of $77 million [annually],” and while it’s not immediately clear whether he was duped by the Rangers or is one of the dupers, the point is that this is what the public is hearing, and it’s somewhere between a massive misrepresentation of the truth and an outright lie.

Under normal circumstances, these kinds of funny numbers would get vetted in a public debate in the media and in public hearings, where critics could introduce other information from more disinterested sources. Instead, any actual discussion will now take place during a six-month referendum campaign, one where the Rangers owners, if they have a brain in their heads, will be pouring millions of dollars into advertising to push their message in hopes of landing more than half a billion dollars in exchange. This is a textbook case of “How to game a stadium vote,” and kudos to Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson for pulling it off — though the Arlington council really deserves an assist for making it as easy as possible for them to do so. Next time you’re wondering if the real cause of the sports subsidy scam is greedy owners or craven politicians, the answer is: yes.

MN governor to United: Here’s some tax breaks, if you want more later, just ask

Turns out there indeed wasn’t much suspense around the Minnesota legislature’s vote on a full property tax exemption for Minnesota United‘s new stadium in St. Paul: The tax break was rolled into the annual tax bill and easily passed on Sunday. At least the exemption only applies to the stadium itself, not any surrounding development, but even then a Minnesota Public Radio investigation came up with numbers that imply that United’s owners will save $54 million worth of future tax payments via this stroke of the legislative pen.

The new MLS club also got a liquor license approved on the last day of the legislative session, but, interestingly, did not get an exemption from construction sales tax, a common subsidy for many development projects, sports-related and otherwise. (The MPR report gave an estimated value for this of around $3 million.) Gov. Mark Dayton, however, said that just because United isn’t getting the sales tax break now doesn’t mean that it can’t get it later:

As Dayton considers a possible special session, he said in a Monday afternoon news conference that he hoped United officials could see they received most of what they wanted at the Capitol…

While the tax break on construction materials was unapproved, Dayton said United can apply for a sales tax refund under existing state law, an avenue used to build the Saints’ year-old stadium in Lowertown. The law, shared by Coleman’s office Monday, relates to building materials for capital projects of regional significance.

“While the city sought an up-front exemption at the Legislature this session, which is easier from an administrative perspective, the lack of action simply means that contractors can move forward and a refund will be granted on the back end,” Coleman said in a statement.

Okay, sure, the state can just cut United a $3 million check after the stadium is built. But — and I can’t stress this enough — why on earth would it want to? The whole reason for considering the tax breaks in the first place was that United principal owner Bill McGuire claimed that he wouldn’t move ahead with building the stadium without them. (Whether that was true or gamesmanship, we’ll never know at this point, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.) If United starts construction now, it’s not like they can give up halfway if they don’t get their retroactive construction sales tax rebate check — they need to decide if they’re going to move forward under the current law, and if they do, giving them an extra $3 million is just a gift, not a negotiated agreement in order to get a soccer team.

Taken along with Florida’s crazy new stadium-subsidy system, this is an extremely worrisome trend: Suddenly, not only are sports team owners getting public cash because they’re driving a hard bargain, but just because, you know, they asked, and they’re nice guys who built something, so don’t they deserve not to pay taxes on it like normal people? Taken to its logical extreme, it’s probably only a matter of time before Tom Ricketts demands retroactive tax rebates on all the economic activity that Wrigley Field has brought to Chicago over the last century — oh crap, I just gave him an idea, didn’t I? Quick, somebody go distract him with pictures of baby pandas or something until this post has expired from his Twitter feed.

Yard Goats road trip has no foreseeable ending, as Hartford fines developer for unfinished stadium

I know you want to know what’s up with the Hartford Yard Goats‘ road trip from hell, so here’s the latest: The team will keep playing home games in Norwich through June 6, then move a planned home series vs. the Reading Fightin’ Phils in mid-June to Reading, then cross their fingers and hope real hard that their Hartford stadium is ready by their next scheduled home game on June 21, because the Connecticut Tigers of the NY-Penn League will need the Norwich stadium by then.

Whether there’s any chance of that happening is still very much an open question. As an added incentive to the developers to get the damn thing built already, the city has started fining them $15,000 a day, as allowed in their contract. City officials also have the option of asking their insurer to cover the entire $2 million cost of finishing the stadium — much of which has already been spent — which would undoubtedly be better for the public’s bottom line, but worse for the Yard Goats, since waiting on the insurance claim could eat up the rest of the season.

It is pretty much the worst-case scenario to end all worst-case scenarios, with everybody losing out: Taxpayers who shelled out to build this thing, the team’s owners and fans, and even New Britain fans who lost their team to a city that wasn’t even ready to host it. (I guess fans in Norwich are getting to watch some extra Double-A baseball, so that’s a plus for them?) At this rate, the only baseball being played in Hartford for the foreseeable future could be these guys, and they got arrested so they probably won’t be playing much more this year anyway. Maybe Hartford should just skip the baseball team and keep the mascots?

Rangers stadium to cost Arlington taxpayers at least $500m, many questions remain unanswered

The Texas Rangers owners and the city of Arlington unveiled their proposal for a new retractable-roofed stadium on Friday, sketching in some more of the details that had been left out of that morning’s leak:

  • The stadium would now cost $1 billion, with Arlington taxpayers’ share at $500 million. No idea why the price tag is $100 million higher than it was on Friday morning, though the conspiracy-minded will note that even if the actual cost estimate is the same, upping the target price means the Rangers owners’ responsibility to pay for all cost overruns won’t kick in as soon now.
  • For the Rangers owners’ share, they would get to use personal seat license fees plus parking and ticket tax money, which would pay off bonds sold by the city — meaning if PSL sales fell short, say, the city could end up on the hook for more than $500 million. This, you’ll recall, was the initial concern with the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, and though that worked out okay in the end when the PSLs sold out, it’s still an added risk for Arlington.
  • The public’s base $500 million will come from the 0.5% sales tax surcharge, 2% hotel tax surcharge, and 5% car rental tax surcharge currently being used to pay off the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, which the Dallas Star-Telegram calls “no new taxes.” Except that the Cowboys stadium was set to be paid off in 2021, at which point those taxes could either have been eliminated or redirected toward something else — so really this is a new extension of existing taxes for as much as an additional 30 years.
  • The Rangers will continue to pay the same $2 million a year rent to the city that they pay on their current stadium.
  • The city council will vote on a stadium agreement tomorrow — apparently Texas doesn’t believe in things like public hearings — and if approved, the project will then go before voters in November, something that the Dallas Morning News entirely left out of its ten-point rundown of the proposal, which stated the stadium plans entirely in the simple future tense (“It will be open by April 2021”). Way to go, writers on the fait accompli beat.
  • While most of the existing Globe Life Park would be torn down to make way for parking lots (the new stadium would be built on existing parking lots), there could be attempts to save “parts of the facade and other historic features” at the ballpark, which is younger than all but one player on the Rangers’ current roster.

That tells us a lot more than we knew Friday morning, but there are still a bunch of unanswered questions:

  • Nobody knows how the first few years of construction bond payments will be paid off, since the taxes involved still need to keep being used for Cowboys stadium debt through 2021.
  • Will the Rangers owners pay any property taxes on the place? Who will pay maintenance and operations costs? Will Arlington get any share at all of stadium revenues like naming rights, or will the public have to pay off its share entirely from tax revenue while the Rangers get to use actual stadium income for theirs?
  • What do Arlington residents think of the deal? (The Star-Telegram ran an article headlined “What fans, Arlington officials are saying” but then apparently forgot to interview any actual fans, since the only quotes (aside from one local sports bar owner) were from current and former elected officials who supported the deal.)

But hey, there’s still time to work all that out in the next 24 hours before the council vote, right?

Here, just look at some renderings of what the final stadium design almost certainly won’t look like, instead of worrying about all that. It’s what the Rangers owners surely want you to do:

Rangers renderingRangers3

Arlington proposes giving Rangers $450m for new stadium because the old one isn’t air-conditioned

The city of Arlington has scheduled a press conference for 1:30 pm today to announce plans for a new $900 million stadium for the Texas Rangers, with the cost to be split evenly between the team owners and city taxpayers. The public money would come from extending an existing sales-tax surcharge that’s currently being used to pay off the Dallas Cowboys‘ stadium, and the stadium would reportedly open before the Rangers’ lease on their old stadium expires in 2024.

There had been some talk last fall about the Rangers wanting a new stadium, but still, this is pretty stunning for a couple of reasons. First off, the existing Arlington stadium is only 22 years old, and features almost all the bells and whistles that team owners typically want — yes, it’s “the 11th oldest facility in Major League Baseball” (tied with Cleveland), as WFAA notes, but that’s more a function of the flood of new stadiums that opened in the ’90s and ’00s than a sign of impending decrepitude. The truly amazing thing, though, is that the stated reason for the Rangers wanting a new stadium is that the old one isn’t air-conditioned:

The lack of a roof and accompanying air conditioning is considered one factor that can keep fans away from Globe Life Park, especially during the dog days of summer, when the temperature can stay in the mid-90s even during night games.

Okay, so it’s hot in Texas, yes. For the record, though, the Rangers currently rank 11th in the majors in attendance, ahead of every other team with a retractable roof other than Toronto. And last year they finished 16th, not terrible for a team coming off a season in which they lost 95 games (attendance invariably correlates better with record the previous year than the current year), and still better than three of the other five teams with retractable roofs. For $900 million, the Rangers could buy personal air conditioning hats for every man, woman, and child in the metro Dallas area, but instead they’re going to build a new stadium, because that’s what you do when you can.

Of course, the Rangers owners — a couple of rich guys you’ve probably never heard of named Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, plus a passel of minority partners — will undoubtedly get some other benefits from a new stadium, if they can pack it with steakhouses and get a honeymoon boost from curiosity seekers and lord knows what else. (We also don’t know yet, and probably won’t for a while, who’ll pay operating costs on the new place, property taxes, etc.) As for Arlington, meanwhile, what on earth is the city getting for its $450 million?

“We need to show love for the Rangers right now, y’all, ” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams told the Rotary Club of Fort Worth last week, speaking generally about the city’s desire to keep its team. “The Rangers don’t want to leave, but there are other cities, and we know one that starts with a D that wants to take it. … Right now is a key time for us.”

So there you have it: Arlington taxpayers, assuming this is approved, would be shelling out $450 million to not to have to drive 20 miles to Dallas to see Rangers games. Plus to get air conditioning. I told you that fragmented metropolitan areas where team owners can play different localities off against each other (see: Atlanta) are the worst, but I didn’t even imagine.

In any event, coming on top of the Braves leaving their old stadium after just 20 years, the Rangers’ plan is almost certainly going to lead to a renewed flood of stadium demands by teams struggling by with stadiums that opened during the first Clinton Administration. The Arizona Diamondbacks have already started rattling their new-stadium saber, and the Cleveland Indians are last in the league in attendance with a stadium that opened the same year as Arlington’s, and hey, wouldn’t this be a great time for the Colorado Rockies to finally build that argon-filled pressurized dome they’ve always wanted? The sky’s the limit, and the same is true, apparently, for the numbers on local governments’ checkbooks. Keep this site bookmarked, because we’re going to be here a while.

Hartford Yard Goats stadium opening delayed until July, now officially complete disaster

Surprise, surprise, the Hartford Yard Goats‘ new stadium was deemed not “substantially complete” on Tuesday, meaning it won’t be ready to host the team’s much-delayed home opener on May 31. In fact, it now won’t be open until at least July, which likely means more home games in Norwich — at this point, Hartford fans would have had an easier time seeing their new home team if it had stayed put in New Britain.

With the designation of the stadium as falling short, Hartford can now levy fines of $15,000 a day on developer DoNo Hartford, which is nice but unless this drags out all year isn’t going to do much to cover the $2 million that team owner Josh Solomon can now pull out of providing toward finishing the stadium, plus $500,000 in this year’s rent. (Solomon said yesterday, “I will continue to honor my agreement with the city and I will be flexible to help,” which sure sounds like “Our deal says I don’t have to pay you that $2.5 million now, but you have my sympathies.”) The city apparently has some insurance coverage it can avail itself of, but if it fires DoNo now and goes to seek a new developer the stadium may not open all year, and oh man, is this a juicy mess. Let’s go, Bees!

Orlando soccer stadium has raised $15m via the old green-card-for-investment scam

The interwebs are freaking out about this article in the New York Times by our old friend Ken Belson, which talks about how Orlando City F.C. owner Flávio Augusto da Silva is seeking overseas stadium investors in exchange for a shot at green cards, “in what may be the first deal of its kind.”

As with so much that Belson writes: No, not exactly. The federal EB-5 program offering to let foreign investors in U.S. development projects jump the line for visas has been around for 25 years (which Belson notes), and was in fact a key part of then-Brooklyn Nets owner Bruce Ratner’s finance plan for his arena project back in 2010 (which he doesn’t). The money there went to pay for infrastructure for the larger site, not the arena per se, but still it means the Orlando deal isn’t exactly a first. (EB-5 loans were also proposed for one of Las Vegas’s many arenas that never got built, at least not yet.)

EB-5 has been criticized for being ripe for abuse, with some developers allegedly using it as a scam to rake in cash without ever building anything, while others have complained that if the U.S. is really going to sell green cards to people will to pay for the privilege, it should at least get the money directly instead of giving it to private developers in the hopes that it will somehow create jobs. (The provision of the EB-5 program that da Silva is using is only available for projects in high-unemployment areas, which is certainly true for the area around the Orlando soccer stadium, though how a handful of temporary construction jobs and less temporary hot dog vendor jobs is going to do much to mitigate this is less clear.)

Anyway, this is indeed a scam, though it’s one that is by no means limited to Orlando’s soccer stadium (which is otherwise being funded entirely out of da Silva’s pocket), and one that’s more about how developers have sweet-talked the federal government into getting them access to cheap capital by bumping certain foreigners with money to the front of the immigration line. Team officials haven’t said how much they’re expecting to raise by this method (they say they have $15 million so far), but keep in mind it’s just a no-interest loan, not a grant, so while da Silva would be saving money, he’s still be on the hook for the principal. It’s worth getting upset about, in other words, but less because da Silva is applying for it than because it still exists at all.

K.C. mulls plan to redo Kemper Arena with private money, plus free land and tax breaks and (mumble mumble)

Ever since Kansas City opened the Sprint Center in 2007, it didn’t need a second arena with no sports team that was failing to pay back its construction costs. But now the city seems to have found a potential reuse for Kemper Arena, former home of the Kansas City Kings and Kansas City Scouts:

The repurposing plan Kansas City officials have chosen to pursue would span the original arena floor with a second level, adding enough new floor space for seven high school-sized athletic courts. Those would be in addition to four courts that could be positioned on the existing arena floor…

If all the needed financing details fall into place, developer Steve Foutch said, the facility could be redeveloped by the end of 2017 at an estimated cost of $25 million to $30 million.

Hey, first-class youth sports facility paid for by a private developer, and getting the city out from paying $1 million in maintenance on the place? What’s not to like? Building a second arena floor in mid-air is a bit weird and bound to present engineering challenges, but at least the taxpayer cost is limited—

None of this is a done deal unless state and federal authorities agree that Kemper Arena is worthy of placement on the National Register of Historic Places. That step is necessary to apply for historic tax credits that could cover more than one-third of the redevelopment costs.

Okay, so federal taxpayers would have to put up about $10 million to preserve a 42-year-old arena that’s “historic” mostly because its roof caved in once, but that’s still not so bad—

Foutch said Monday that he is in the middle of negotiations with the city but expects to acquire the property for a “nominal” amount, given that reusing Kemper would save the city the cost of demolition.

Give the developers the arena for nothing? And presumably let them keep all the proceeds from running it? That’s a bit more dubious, but at least then the city would collect property—

Another part of the needed financing plan involves Foutch getting approval for property tax abatement. Foutch said he will seek 100 percent abatement for 10 years through the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

You are trying to make me hate this deal, Kansas City! Knock it off! Sigh.