Milwaukee arena reporter Don Walker has passed away

I’ve poked a lot of fun at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker in recent months — most memorably for this — but he’s done a bunch of good reporting as well, all part of his assignment to cover the Bucks arena deal on a daily basis. And even if he hadn’t, it still would have been a shock to see this just now:

No word yet on the cause, though Walker was still tweeting as recently as last night, so presumably something sudden. (From his college graduate date, it looks as if Walker was in his early 60s.) Our condolences to his family and friends, and respect to someone who clearly cared a lot about reporting on the sports-business world, even if we came at it from very different places.

Chargers owner on $650m+ stadium subsidy offer: “Haven’t read it yet, is it good?”

If you’ve read the San Diego Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group’s proposal for a new Chargers stadium, that puts you one up on Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who apparently hasn’t had time to actually read about how much money the task force is offering to throw at him, because it’s 42 pages and he’s busy, guys:

“I have not seen the actual report,” Chargers chairman Dean Spanos said Wednesday before departing the league’s two-day owners meetings here. “I’m going back today, and I’m going to look at it this afternoon.”…

“I think they submitted some sort of framework of a potential financing plan,” Spanos said of CSAG. “That’s what we’re going to take a look at this week … I’ve always said, and I maintain the fact we want to stay in San Diego. We’re committed to keep trying to see if there is a viable solution. It has now come down to a financing plan, so I am anxious to see what the city puts forth.”

Now, there are several possible explanations here. One is that Spanos was just so busy with the NFL owners meetings (new extra point rules, everybody!) that he didn’t have time to read anything. Another is that he’s read it and still has too many questions — about all those details “to be negotiated,” perhaps — that he doesn’t want to comment just yet. Or he’s waiting to talk to financial people who can tell him exactly how much money he’d get out of the deal. Or he’s sick of this whole thing and wants his sons to be the ones to answer questions from now on.

Whichever it is, it’s slightly weird for the owner of an NFL team isn’t responding to an offer of possibly close to a billion dollars in subsidies that he’s been waiting on for months. But not any weirder than an NFL owner not picking up the phone to listen to stadium subsidy offers. This whole L.A. move threat game is all a complex stew of gamesmanship and personal idiosyncrasies, so it’s probably best not to read too much into anything, at least not until Spanos has decided whether the in-flight movie is more interesting than the stadium proposal that could determine the fate of his team and his bank balance.

Cubs owner buys three more rooftops, has brief respite from “Wrigley Field is health hazard” news

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is continuing to solve his ongoing disputes with neighboring rooftop owners over his video board spite fence by just buying them out: Ricketts picked up another three buildings with rooftop views of Cubs games this month, bringing the total he’s bought to six. (Three holdouts are still suing him over their obstructed views.) As expected, this whole rooftop lawsuit kerfuffle is mostly coming down to how much Ricketts will have to pay to buy everyone out, and as sale terms haven’t been disclosed, we can’t even keep score at home.

Meanwhile, in more Cubsy news, the Cubs’ concession stands have been hit with health code violations, including “MEN’S RESTROOM ON THE LEFT FIELD SIDE IN THE UPPER DECK HAS NO HOT WATER” and “FOUND COLESLAW AT 45F INSIDE THE 1-DOOR REFRIGERATOR.” Which is probably par for the course with these inspections, but Ricketts still must cringe these days whenever he sees a news story with “Wrigley” and “restrooms” in the same sentence.

Garber, Beckham, to meet with soon-to-be-retired person to discuss joint soccer-football stadium

MLS commissioner Don Garber, former soccer star David Beckham, and University of Miami president Donna Shalala are scheduled to walk into a bar meet later today to discuss a possible joint project to build a stadium for Beckham’s MLS expansion team and UM’s football team. Here’s how it would work, per the Miami Herald:

[Shalala] said she would favor a 40,000- to 44,000-seat venue, which would be larger than the 25,000- to 30,000-seat stadium MLS officials prefer but probably a size the league could live with. Shalala also happens to be a huge soccer fan. She is a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation board of directors…

UM would be willing to consider contributing toward construction costs, [a] source said.

That’s somewhat promising — if UM and Beckham’s team were both getting use out of the same stadium, they might actually be able to cobble together enough money to build the thing. Not that anyone knows how much money it would take to build the thing. Or where it would go — the leading site is the spot next to Marlins Park that is currently the site of public ballfields, that may not have enough room for a soccer stadium let alone a larger football stadium, and that could require tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and discounted land. Also, Shalala is retiring as UM president next month, so while it would no doubt be nice for Beckham and Garber to get her blessing, it’s not like she’s going to be around for negotiations. But hey, sometimes you gotta take your momentum where you can find it.

Bucks arena talks prove fruitful at finding new, vaguer ways of expressing optimism

Another week, another set of closed-door meetings about the Milwaukee Bucks arena funding plan, another batch of news articles filled with nothing but quotes from participants expressing vague optimism:

WISN 12 News reporter Kent Wainscott was told that some funding questions still need to be resolved, but a couple of the participants told him after the meeting that they believe a deal may be closer than it has been to this point.


“I’m confident we will get to a solution,” [Bucks President Peter] Feigin said. “We are happy the Bucks are involved in that solution.”

This is barely news on the best of days — “People Trying to Negotiate Thing Express Confidence That Negotiations Will Be Successful: Film at 11″ — but even less so given that everybody at these meetings just expressed the exact same platitudes three weeks ago. A better headline might have been “Chris Abele, Bucks express same optimism on arena deal as they’ve expressed through last month of so-far fruitless meetings.” (It’s wordy, I know, but think how it’d do on social media!)

Come on, Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, didn’t anybody say anything about where the money would actually come from?

Asked about the substance of the talks to date, Feigin said negotiators were trying to figure out the revenue streams a new arena would produce, what revenue would result from ancillary development and how that would be allocated.

“That is the crux of what we are trying to figure out,” he said.

So, city, state, and team negotiators trying to figure out how to pay for a Bucks arena are focused on whether it would make any money, and who would get it. Film at 11.

San Diego stadium plan could include half billion dollars in hidden subsidies, depending on fine print

Yesterday I got a lot of questions from newspaper and radio reporters (including one who introduced himself as from the “San Diego Union-Tribune” — I congratulated him profusely on the restoration of their rightful name) about the new $647 million Chargers stadium subsidy plan and whether there were any hidden risks for the city. I mostly replied that $647 million is a plenty big risk in itself, but now the Voice of San Diego thinks it’s found as much as another $352 million in additional subsidies:

  • $217 million to $327 million in future operations and maintenance costs, based on estimates that running Qualcomm Stadium costs the city between $7.2 million and $10.9 million a year. “It’s a significant issue,” Erik Bruvold of the National University System Institute for Policy Research told VoSD. “That’s another general fund subsidy.”
  • $20 million to $25 million for a new park on the stadium site, which would be paid for with “potentially state and federal funding,” according to Citizens Stadium Advisory Group member Mary Lydon.

Now, there’s no doubt that maintenance and operations costs are a huge hidden cost of stadiums — and new ones, with more moving parts that can break, typically run even more to maintain. The question now is, is this something the city would really be on the hook for, on top of that initial $647 million in cash and land? Let’s look at the proposal itself:

To pay for the proposed stadium, parking, stadium-related infrastructure and operations and maintenance, CSAG’s financing plan includes 60 acres of land from the City of San Diego valued at $180 million, and more than a dozen funding sources that exceed $1.4 billion

So the implication there is that future operations and maintenance costs would be covered by the initial $1.4 billion, which includes the $647 million from the city and the rest from the team (assuming you count things like NFL funding and naming-rights revenue as “from the team”).

Anything else?

The City, County and Chargers should share the costs of operations and maintenance. These costs will rise over time so payments should be indexed to inflation.

Now, “share” is an incredibly nebulous word — 90% team and 10% city is a share, and so is 10% team and 90% city. What appears to be going on is that the task force has estimated $1.154 billion as the cost of a stadium plus related infrastructure, coming up with $1.4 billion in revenues, and hoping that the difference will be enough to fund future operations and maintenance costs. (Here “share” would mean “paid for out of the big pot of money that both the Chargers and the city are throwing cash into.”) That’s certainly conceivable — the remainder would be $246 million, which is toward the low end of VoSD’s estimates — but it’s more than a bit worrisome that the task force report never actually spells out how much it’s actually budgeting for maintenance and operations, not to mention that elsewhere it proposes using a chunk of this excess money to pay off Qualcomm’s remaining $52 million in debt.

Plus, under the heading of “creating revenue streams to help the City and County recoup capital costs and pay for operations and maintenance,” there are additional subsidies not mentioned in the first $657 million, including $116 million for an “Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (a TIF by any other name) and $40 million in hotel taxes from a potential new hotel. And again, the task force appears to be double-dipping here, as elsewhere this money is designated for infrastructure for the hotel and other development, not for stadium operations.

So depending on what exactly the plan means — and it’s worth noting that the whole maintenance and operations piece is listed under “Recommended terms for negotiations with the Chargers,” which makes it even less set in stone than the rest of the proposal — we could be looking at anywhere from $647 million to $1.155 billion in public subsidies for this deal. That’s an awfully wide range, and no doubt one reason why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded with a “let me get back to you on that” when asked what he thought of the proposal. Though he could also have realistically gone with “Somewhere between $600 million and over a billion dollars in free taxpayer money? Mmm, yeah, that’s why I got into this business.”

WI realtors buy ads claiming Bucks arena job creation, win free space in Milwaukee Business Journal

I honestly don’t get why Milwaukee’s commercial realtors are so hot for a new Bucks arena — the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin previously announced plans to come up with its own arena funding proposal, though I don’t believe they followed through — but they’ve stepped it up a notch by announcing they’ll be buying billboard space to tout the project. One such ad reprinted in the Milwaukee Business Journal reads “New ARENA jobs = 10,000,” which, well, I guess they’re not the Commercial Association of Copywriters Wisconsin.

Other things I don’t honestly get: Why the Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen wrote an entire article repeating the realtor ads’ claims without, you know, doing some checking to see whether ARENA jobs really = 10,000. (SPOILER: Almost certainly not, especially when even arena proponents only say that “many” of these jobs would be permanent.) There’s a fine line between reporting on a PR campaign and giving it free publicity — as many people may end up seeing these ads from this article as will in the flesh — and I’d say this piece crosses it. Though come to think of it, maybe the way the Business Journal portrayed the billboard thumbnail was a clever commentary on the arena’s actual likely impact:


Cubs took commemorative Wrigley bricks and dumped them in a landfill

Say whatever else you will about the Chicago Cubs‘ Wrigley Field renovations, but they sure are providing some just terrible Internet fodder. Playing Opening Night with the bleachers covered by a giant tarp and not enough working restrooms was bad enough, but now there’s this:

Personalized pavers that once lined Clark and Addison streets near Wrigley Field, home of Chicago Cubs, have been found around Pontiac, purportedly coming from the nearby landfill. The bricks had been billed as “permanent fixtures” by the Cubs organization when they began selling them in 2006.

Yes, the Cubs took several commemorative bricks that fans had bought and paid for, bearing such messages as “NICK BODELL  LOVE FOREVER  GRANDMA 2007,” and threw them in a landfill. And here you thought throwing Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday cake in a dumpster was bad form.

Cubs execs said that they warned purchasers back in March that they’d have to remove some bricks and replace damaged ones as part of the renovation process, which is all reasonable enough. But still, as the kids today say, bad optics, guys.

Chargers and Raiders buy Carson land, NFL presses San Diego to hurry up with its stadium offer

NFL VP for stadium extortion Eric Grubman hasn’t read the whole Citizens Stadium Advisory Group proposal for a San Diego Chargers stadium yet — it’s 42 pages! and there’s good stuff on TV on Tuesdays! — but he knows what he doesn’t like about it:

“I don’t think they made a specific proposal that includes all the key elements of how they get entitled and so forth and so on. So first of all, I haven’t dug into it. And second of all, I don’t know what the timing of that proposal could be.”

What Grubman seems to be saying is “Nice $647 million in land and cash you’re offering, but hurry up and tell us that you can get it all done by next January, or else we could let the team move to Carson, you know.” Not that the NFL would necessarily do that, but threatening to do that they would totally do.

And speaking of Carson, the Chargers and Oakland Raiders owners and the city’s joint powers authority closed on buying the land for a proposed stadium there yesterday, for an undisclosed sum, setting off a round of “Omigod they’re really building a stadium in Carson!” Which this doesn’t necessarily indicate — the city of Carson gets most of the land, and would keep it for some other development if the stadium doesn’t happen — but it does indicate the teams are serious enough to spend a few million dollars in hopes of advancing the three-city stadium game of chicken a bit further.

San Diego stadium task force proposes throwing $647m at Chargers to see if that’ll make them stay

Saving the best, or at least the most complex, for last this morning: The San Diego Citizens Stadium Advisory Group, which is accurately named so long as your definition of “citizens” is “CEOs,” announced its Chargers stadium funding plan yesterday. And it looks like this:

CFT2Dn7VEAAyI4DOh, sorry, that’s not the financial plan — that’s the rendering of what the stadium would look like, as lit by an unearthly glow and permanent fireworks. What you wanted to see was this:

CFUHu8OUkAAZP7xThat’s slightly less misleading than the stadium rendering, but it still has some problems. First off, the math-inclined will note that the numbers on the left only add up to $1.24 billion, while the bar on the right claims $1.4 billion in funding. Let’s look at the actual plan, shall we, and try to figure this out?

The actual breakdown, according to the chart on page 12:

  • Cash from Chargers owners: $300m
  • NFL G-4 fund: $200m
  • Present value of $7m in annual payments from city: $121m
  • Present value of $7m in annual payments from county: $121m
  • Half of proceeds from personal seat licenses (the Chargers would get the other half): $60m
  • Present value of $10m in annual rent payments from Chargers: $173m
  • Present value of $1.25m in annual rent payments from SDSU: $21.6m
  • Present value of $1.25m in annual rent payments from bowl games: $21.6m
  • Proceeds from sale of 75 acres of city land: $225m
  • Present value of $4.75m in annual ticket taxes: $84.7m
  • Present value of $1.5m in annual parking fees: $26m
  • “Additional funding sources stadium is expected to generate”: $50m

In addition, the city of San Diego would kick in $180 million worth of free city-owned land for the stadium itself.

So what does this add up to in actual public cost? The $242 million in cash from the city’s and county’s general funds, obviously, which no one is saying how they’d be repaid. (The group’s report oddly states that the plan “does not include any new City general fund dollars,” but I think that just means “it does not require any new taxes to feed the general fund, since those would require a public vote, so we’ll just find $7 million a year of something else to cut.”) Plus the $405 million worth of public land that would be thrown into the pot, part of it sold off with all the proceeds given to the Chargers, part of just handed over for free for the stadium.

That puts us at a whopping $647 million worth of subsidies that San Diego’s business leaders are proposing to keep Chargers owner Dean Spanos from heading up the road to Carson — and that’s before we even get into the question of whether the new San Diego stadium would be exempt from property taxes, something that isn’t discussed in the report. (No, the city-owned land doesn’t pay property taxes now, but if the city sold it to a private developer, it very well could in the future.) That’s an awful lot of money to spend when you don’t even know if the other option on the table is a bluff, and makes one wonder if San Diego might do better by letting the Chargers leave, developing the current stadium land and keeping the proceeds for its general fund, and maybe even setting aside a hundred million dollars or so for gas vouchers so Chargers fans don’t mind driving a couple of hours each way on Sundays to see their team play.

U-T San Diego, naturally, says the CSAG report “scores” because a stadium “appears doable now.” And all it took was $647 million. See, some problems can be solved by throwing money at them!