Friday roundup: A’s stadium goes lopsided, another Cali soccer stadium stalls, plus how to skip rent payments and use them to fix up your own home

I’m very busy this morning, busy enough that one entire news item will have to wait till Monday when I can give it its due, but that means an extra post on Monday, so what are you complaining about, really? Anyway, there’s still plenty of stadium and arena news from this week, let’s have at it:

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Falcons solve seat-license conundrum by selling tickets with no guaranteed seats

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, like many NFL owners, decided to require fans to buy personal seat licenses to be eligible to buy tickets for his new stadium when it was opened back in 2017. (He also got about $700 million in public money to help pay his construction bills, but that still left him about $900 million short.) Blank then had trouble getting Falcons fans to keep up with their PSL payments, as also often happens in the NFL, after fans realized that paying twice for the same tickets just to get to see crappy Falcons games was not such a great deal. The obvious solution would be to start offering some tickets for sale without asking fans to buy ticket-purchasing rights first, but how, since team officials had previously gotten fans to cough up for PSLs by saying they were the only way to get seats?

The answer, as revealed yesterday, is to get rid of the seats:

The Falcons plan to convert about 750 seats in Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a “super fan” section that won’t require personal seat licenses.

The seats, located in a lower-level corner, will be the only ones in the stadium to be offered as season tickets without a PSL fee. The section will be sold as general admission, meaning buyers won’t be assigned a specific seat.

A spokesperson for the Falcons’ parent company, AMB Sports & Entertainment, said the area will be “geared toward super avid fans” and “is expected to add to the energy level inside the stadium.”

I have no idea how the team will select for “super avid fans,” but no matter. The idea here is clearly to back away from PSLs while pretending you’re not, by making the section general admission and the ticket price thus technically not for “seats” but for “admission.” In fact, there’s another bonus for the team, though definitely not for fans: Falcons execs plan to sell 900 season plans for the section at $1,000 a pop, though there are only 753 seats; if more than that many people show up, the overflow will have to watch from standing room at an in-stadium restaurant. What super avid fan wouldn’t jump at a deal like that?

On top of this, about 140 PSL holders in the affected section will have to be relocated to other parts of the stadium, which will surely go over well after those fans paid $3,500 each to purchase what was supposed to be the rights to buy tickets to those specific seats in perpetuity. (The PSL contracts allow for to team to do this, but also allow for fans to be hopping mad.) This seems destined to be just one more data point in the sad tale of how PSLs are a way of scamming people for their inability to accurately predict the future value of an asset, and … oh, hey, this post almost ended without me mentioning Megatron’s Butthole, that was a close one!

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Billionaire bails on Sacramento MLS team, league may need a new sucker to pay $200m expansion fee

Way back in 2017, University of Michigan economist and Soccernomics co-author Stefan Szymanski said to me of MLS’s ever-increasing expansion fees, “Why would you buy something for $150 million which is basically giving you a share of losing $100 million a year?” Since then, the fee per team has gone up to $200 million, which does not make the math any better, but still lots of rich people have been lining up to pay the price without balking at the cost.

Until now, that is:

Sacramento’s roller coaster journey to join Major League Soccer has taken a dramatic downward arc, with Mayor Darrell Steinberg announcing Friday that billionaire and lead investor Ron Burkle is no longer part of the bid…

Major League Soccer issued a statement after Steinberg’s confirming Burkle’s withdrawal, stating Burkle said issues with Covid-19 and the project prompted him to withdraw. Several media reports suggested costs involved with expansion, including the price tag for the stadium of $252 million and an expansion fee to MLS of $200 million, were factors in Burkle’s decision.

That always did sound like a terrible deal for Burkle, and apparently uncertainty about how he was going to earn back his money in a post-Covid world was enough to make him bail on the expansion plan, even if the team wasn’t set to take the pitch until 2022, by which time we should actually be back to full stadiums. (Or at least, as full as they get in MLS.) And apparently Burkle is free to do that despite Sacramento Republic F.C. having been formally awarded an expansion slot in November 2019, because Burkle never actually signed a final expansion agreement, whoopsie.

Anyway, with Burkle back to just co-owning the Pittsburgh Penguins and whatever else billionaire investors own, MLS is now going to have to figure out whether to find another moneybags eager to plunk down close to half a billion dollars for a Sacramento team and stadium, or to find a replacement expansion franchise. At last count, there were roughly 10,000 owners in other cities looking to get in on the totally-not-a-Ponzi-scheme, so MLS presumably has options, though you have to wonder if there’s something that spooked Burkle — maybe those 2022 league TV contract renewals weren’t going to be as lucrative as had been hoped? — that could give other owners pause as well.

For now, it’s officially still full speed ahead in Sacramento, but clearly this situation bears watching: Among other things, will the collapse of Burkle’s ownership group lead to fewer big-money stadiums being planned, or just to more demands that the money come from someone other than the new owners saddled with expansion fee expenses? (Three guesses.) If nothing else, it’s likely that whatever strange things the clip-art entourage were going to get up to at a new Sacramento stadium will have to put off for a while.

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Friday roundup: Climate-doomed sports cities, a $500m video-game arena, and tax breaks to allay pirate fears

Happy Friday, everyone! If you’ve been thinking, Gee, what with vaccines rolling out and the end of the pandemic maybe finally imaginable, I could really use some other global catastrophe to experience existential panic about, Defector and I have you covered with an article about which U.S. sports cities are most likely the first to be made uninhabitable by climate change. No spoilers here, but suffice to say that if you’ve been holding out the last 64 years for the return of the Rochester Royals to the NBA, this might be your lucky century.

And in the newsier news:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux were among the slew of developers and landholders who successfully lobbied the Trump administration last year to redraw Census maps to expand Opportunity Zones, earning who the hell knows how much money in tax breaks as a result. This may sound like a blatant cash grab that isn’t available to normal people who don’t have lobbyists on payroll, but just wait until you hear about the St. Croix hemp farmer who says that without tax breaks he would have trouble finding investors in the U.S. Virgin Islands because “people have ideas of pirates and all this sort of thing,” and then think about how little he probably paid for his land there after telling the seller, “I dunno, man, it’s probably infested with pirates,” and then you’ll know for sure.
  • The owner of two separate Toronto esports teams (one an Overwatch team and one a Call of Duty team, if you think I’m going to dignify them with boldface team names you’re nuts) has announced plans for a 7,000-seat venue to host them, at a cost of $500 million. Wut? I mean, it will also be able to host concerts (its designer called it neither “a sports arena nor an opera house” but “a new typology that straddles the two,” which he got “new” right, anyway), but still, half a billion dollars for a 7,000-seat theater with lots of big screens? Also, the developers already announced this last July, just without the $500 million price tag, so good job, guys, if you leaked the large number now just to get attention, as it’s working. No word yet on whether they’d want public money or tax breaks or anything for this, but you have to think they’d be crazy to spend all their own money on this.
  • Add the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to the list of minor-league baseball teams trying to use the downsizing of the minors to shake down cities for stadium improvements. Sure, it’s only $2 million, but it’s also only to secure a ten-year lease extension, which means they can demand more money in 2031 … if Florida is still above sea level by then. (Oop, damn, the spoiler thing again, sorry.)
  • The Oakland A’s owners may have won their lawsuit to fast-track any environmental challenges to their proposed Howard Terminal stadium (which, by the way, is in an area likely to be among the first to be inundated by sea level rise — oops, I said no spoilers), but lawsuits can be appealed! There, I just saved you $52 a year on an Athletic subscription.
  • I’ve been only marginally following Everton F.C.‘s plans for a new £500 million stadium on the Liverpool waterfront — holding 52,000 people, eat that, Overwatch barons — but there are some mostly dull new renderings out. Also the team’s owners are claiming that moving from one part of town to another will add £1 billion to the local economy, which just goes to show that even when all they’re asking for is a city loan that they’ll repay with interest, sports team owners can’t stop going to the “money will rain like manna from heaven” page in the stadium playbook.
  • The Columbus Crew have fresh renderings out of their new stadium, and do they include people throwing their hands in the air and gesturing wildly to things they want to buy at a bar to show how excited they are to be at a soccer match and ignoring the game so they can sit indoors with a bunch of other uniformly young and attractive people? You bet they do!
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Chicago sportswriters suffer outbreak of wanting to build the Bears a $7.5b suburban stadium

So the first article I happened upon this morning had this headline:

Arlington Park, Bears Could Give Chicagoland the Stadium It Needs

The impetus for this is that yesterday the owner of the racetrack in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights announced it was putting the track up for sale, and the writer of the article — NBC Chicago’s Adam Hoge — decided this would be a good opportunity to complain about how the Bears‘ completely-rebuilt-in-2002-at-$660-million-in-public-cost Soldier Field is a dump and needs to be replaced:

For a venue so perfectly placed between downtown and Lake Michigan, Soldier Field offers nothing in terms of convenience. It’s hard to access, with limited public transportation options and a less than ideal tailgating experience depending on where you’re lucky enough to park. God bless the fans who huddle together in the dark North Garage with the sweet smell of urine lingering in the cold air.

The only way to get to Arlington Heights by public transit is a commuter rail line, and it’s hard to see how building a new stadium will stop Bears fans from peeing where they park, but okay, I’ve read enough, it’s just this one sportswriters’ hobby horse. Probably not enough to glorify with an FoS post.

Let’s see, scroll down to the next stadium article in my Google News search, and what the

O’Donnell: It’s time for George S. Halas Stadium at Arlington Park

It is urgently incumbent upon regional politicians and civic planners to begin a campaign to get a global-class Chicago Bears stadium built as a profitable symbol of the rebirth of the 326-acre site…

Probable price: $7.5 billion.

Reasonable target for opening: 2027.

And oh my god here’s another one!

Okay, one article on a pipe-dream Bears stadium in the suburbs is just a single sportswriter stuck for a column idea on a slow news day; three articles on the same day means something is afoot. Unless Hoge, Chicago Daily Herald writer Jim O’Donnell, and the Arlington Cardinal’s unbylined blogger had dinner last night and hatched a conspiracy, clearly this idea is out there somewhere in the zeitgeist, and Chicagoland sportswriters are either picking up on it or agreeing to carry water for someone who wants this to happen. (Given that two of the articles are in suburban papers, I’m guessing either an Arlington-area politician or developer, but that’s purely a guess.) According to the Arlington Cardinal piece, there was some talk of a Bears stadium in Arlington Heights in the 1980s, but surely all the people involved in that would be dead now, right? Or is this some kind of Green Goblin thing where someone is trying to carry on his father’s evil legacy?

Regardless of the reason, there is now enough printed documentation for all future articles about the Bears’ stadium situation — which, let me reiterate, is that the team owners just got more than $600 million in public cash to, by all accounts, ruin a landmarked building — to include a line about a “rumored stadium in Arlington Heights.” Which can only make Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey happy, since it increases her leverage to seek whatever she might want, though given that she’s now 98 years old it’s hard to picture her waging a battle to open a new stadium in the year she turns 104. Until more facts emerge, I’m definitely suspecting the Green Goblin; though he lives in New York, so maybe it’s actually the work of one of these guys?

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St. Pete mayor to hire stadium consultant after telling Rays owner to “pick a partner and get married”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is term-limited out of office this year — man, it seems like only yesterday that Kriseman was supposed to be the new more Tampa Bay Rays–friendly mayor — and he used his final state of the city speech last Friday to, in effect, tell Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to move to Montreal or get off the pot already:

“The Rays,” he said, “have spent more than half their existence trying to figure out where they’d like to play baseball for the long term. They’ve worked with three mayors in St. Pete, two in Tampa and officials in Montreal, yet we are no closer to an answer regarding their future than we were 13 years ago. We love our Rays, but it’s time for them to pick a partner and get married.”

Sternberg, of course, is less being indecisive than waiting for someone to throw money at him for a new stadium, something that is not going all that well either in Montreal, St. Petersburg, or Tampa. (As a reminder, Sternberg’s current plan involves getting both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal to build him new stadiums and then splitting the season between the two, which, uh, good luck with that.) But Kriseman does have a couple of reasons to be impatient: He’s about to leave office, for one thing, but also he’s eager to get moving on redeveloping the current Tropicana Field site, which can’t happen until the Rays move out (unless, you know, it can). And if he’s smart, he would definitely rather negotiate from a position of strength, which would certainly behoove him to move quickly since right now Sternberg’s two best alternatives to cutting a deal with St. Pete appear to be a rock and a hard place.

Kriseman is also looking to hire an independent stadium consultant, one who can “provide substantial evidence of successfully negotiating with a Major League Baseball, or other professional sports [franchise], on behalf of a municipal government.” I’m not sure how he defines “successfully” — is that saved a city big bucks or got a deal signed, any deal? — but it’s certainly a good idea. Let’s recall the sage words of Jim Nagourney, who worked on sports venue deals on behalf of both local governments and teams, and who had this to say about mayors trying to negotiate on their own:

“I went to a meeting in Los Angeles one morning,” recalled Nagourney. “We had a whiteboard, and we’re putting stuff down [to demand from cities]. And some of the stuff, I said, ‘Guys, some of this is crazy.’ And John Shaw, who was president of the Rams at the time — brilliant, brilliant guy — said, ‘They can always say no, let’s ask for it.’”

On the other side of the table, Nagourney explained, the city of St. Louis had to make do with staff attorneys, who weren’t versed in the details of sports finance. “A city attorney is not going to know where the money really is. They’re not going to understand advertising, they’re not going to understand concessions—just a whole range of issues that the team officials intimately understand.”

Plus, Nagourney said, city officials get “stars in their eyes. It’s their first time dealing with celebrities. They’re just so enamored with the fact that ‘I’m dealing with people who get their name on Page Six.’”

If you’re qualified to negotiate on behalf of St. Pete, and/or are Jim Nagourney, you can apply by … you know, I can’t actually find the request for proposals, so just try emailing mayor@stpete.org. But don’t delay, proposals are due March 3, because one week is totally enough time to find the right person to make responsible for negotiating a stadium deal that could involve hundreds of millions of dollars — or at least maybe it is when you’re on a term-limits clock.

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World’s worst MLB exec gripes about Mariners’ minor-league stadium amid rants about foreign players not speaking good English

Seattle Mariners team president Kevin Mather is in all sorts of deserved hot water today after video emerged of a Zoom call with a local Rotary Club in which Mather openly admitted to manipulating players’ service time to keep their salaries down, criticized two foreign-born players for their bad English, and repeatedly called young catcher Luis Torrens “Luis Torres.” I’m sure lots of other people are already preparing to write about Mather — and how the Mariners already had to pay off two employees who’d filed sexual harassment complaints against Mather — I’d like to zero in on something else Mather blurted out when he was saying the quiet parts loud:

We had the choice, they called us and asked if we wanted to stay in Everett. Everett was a short season [club], they started in the middle of June and ended in September. The short season teams are now gone. They asked us if we wanted to stay in Everett, we quite frankly like the owner in Everett. We thought he was a good person, we like the location of Everett, we don’t particularly like the facility called Everett. We talked to the owner, we could’ve gone to Spokane, we could’ve gone to Vancouver, B.C., but the problem with Vancouver is that you run into visa problems, particularly when you bring kids from Venezuela and the Dominican and try to get them across the border for a three-game season.

This is, of course, a reference to MLB’s recent decimation of the minor leagues, something that was clearly in part meant as a way to increase owners’ leverage to shake down cities for new or upgraded stadiums. The Everett AquaSox got a reprieve, moving up from the short-season Northwest League to the freshly titled High-A West. The Spokane Indians (not a Cleveland affiliate, so it remains to be seen if they will get renamed eventually) and Vancouver Canadians survived to join High-A West as well, so it sounds like MLB determined which minor-league teams would survive, then gave the list to its team owners and asked them to pick dance partners. And good news for the AquaSox, because their owner was a “good person” and Vancouver is in another country where they don’t even speak English right, they were allowed to affiliate with the Mariners!

The new minor-league affiliates are all now on ten-year licenses, so presumably the AquaSox are safe through 2030, but that hasn’t stopped lots of other teams from levying threats to upgrade facilities or else, and Mather trash-talking Everett’s “facility” certainly isn’t a good sign. Everett’s stadium dates back to 1947 but got a $5 million renovation and expansion in 1998 courtesy of local taxpayers; it sure sounds like Mariners execs are planning to seek more public cash for an upgrade as the AquaSox’ 2030 license expiration grows nearer — though they’ll probably want to wait until after they have some less embarrassing people to do the asking.

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Passive voice predicts money will be caused to rain from heaven by Des Moines junior hockey arena

One of the commonly asserted principles of Good Writing is that the passive voice is to be avoided at all costs; or, should I say, you should avoid the passive voice at all costs. And while there’s probably some tedious Strunk & Whitey rationale why simple declarative sentences are best — something I hope we can all agree is not always true — there is one excellent reason to beware of the passive voice, and that is that it obscures who it is who’s doing or saying something, seemingly assigning an action to an omniscient deity or the universe itself.

If that was all too oblique, let’s go with an example: this article from We Are Iowa headlined “New Des Moines Buccaneers arena expected to bring in $126M annually once built.”

What does this headline tell us? It seems to be saying that once the city of Des Moines opens a new arena for something called the Buccaneers (they’re a junior hockey team, we covered this a little over a week ago, try to keep up), you can expect it to bring in $126 million a year. What it actually says is that some particular person expects it to bring in $126 million a year. And that person is:

Chief Executive Officer Liz Holland of Merle Hay Investors, the company that owns Merle Hay Mall, said the 3,500-seat arena will bring in around $126 million annually and create around 1,000 new jobs.

In case it’s not clear, maybe because the article never says, Merle Hay Investors is also the company that wants to build the arena (in a failed mall), and get $30 million in state funding to do it. Perhaps readers might take the prediction with a grain of salt if only they knew that.

Perhaps, for that matter, they might like to know what exactly “bring in $126 million” means. In tax revenue? In arena gross revenue? In arena profits? The arena is supposed to hold 3,500 people, so if it’s in operation, say, 150 nights a year (which would be pretty good as arenas go), that’s 525,000 people total, each of whom would have to spend $240 on each trip just to get to $126 million in raw economic activity.

We met We Are Iowa once before a couple of weeks ago, when it reported on a minor-league soccer team in Des Moines looking for subsidies of its own for a new stadium, without ever explaining exactly how much money or what the city council was voting on. It turns out to be the … let’s go with “cleverly” named website of WOI-TV, which is owned by Tegna, the former Gannett TV station umbrella company that was spun off in 2015.

Not having spent much time watching Iowa TV, I can’t say whether WOI has always been especially terrible at reporting, or if printing developers’ bald assertions as fact is some new efficiency measure to break down the filters between PR and web readers’ eyeballs. The article linked above from the Des Moines Register — which is owned by Gannett proper — isn’t much better in terms of providing details or explanation, but at least sort of says who Holland is, which is the bare minimum for a journalism passing grade. Just straight-up printing corporate press releases as reality may be a worsening journalistic trend, but that doesn’t mean it’s something up with which we should put.

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Friday roundup: Miami ripped off again by Loria, Rays roof removal proposed, America’s journalists snookered

I’ll keep this short today, in deference to any Texas readers who may be trying to save battery life thanks to that state’s power outages. Once your bandwidth is back, here’s a good reminder from the New York Times that climate change is expected to cause unseasonable cold snaps and winter storms as well as insane summer heat, so you have lots more of both to look forward to. Or, if you prefer, here’s an article on a similar theme from the Village Voice a few years back that I wrote a much snappier headline for.

Stadiums, right, that’s what you came here to read about! Let’s see what we’ve got:

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Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own a sports team

There are many open questions about the proposed Tennessee Smokies stadium in Knoxville — questions like “How will Knoxville pay for $65 million in construction costs without ‘burdening’ taxpayers?” and “Will team owner Randy Boyd get out of paying property taxes if he ‘donates’ the land to the city while still building his private stadium on top of it?” and “Why are the players in the rendering so huge?” So, sure, it’s definitely time for WBIR-TV to run a news story that consists almost entirely of Boyd saying how great a new stadium would be:

The millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist believes it can be “The People’s Park,” a place for walkers, shoppers, sports fans, craftsmen, music lovers, even couples who want to say, “I do.” …

“The idea of building a baseball park is not something of creating a venue just for baseball, but creating an entire entertainment venue that can have concerts, soccer, all kinds of other tournaments, family reunions, we could have farmers markets.” …

“We’ve got a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve got a lot of plans. But we still got a lot of work left to do,” he said.

Okay, eventually Knoxville Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie shows up to ask some questions — or rather, to say that she has questions and “I’m looking forward to just getting more information” — but then it’s back to Boyd to rave about how people could go to the stadium on their lunch hour or for a walk before work, because those are things that actual humans actually do in the actual world.

WBIR being a TV station, there’s a video report as well, which starts off with the reporter describing how a stadium development would “transform” a “crumbling industrial site” (can a site crumble?) before going on a walk around the site with Boyd, who talks about the “tangible return” the stadium would bring, without presenting anything tangible. This is described as one in a series of reports on the stadium plan by the station, but the last two I can find are another report that is mostly Boyd talking about how great it would be, and one on Boyd launching a new website to promote it.

This is pretty common practice for local news outlets, but, seriously, does anyone think it’s actually journalism? Sure, Boyd is a “newsmaker,” but when certain people get free TV time to expound on their sales pitch while everyone else just has to sit at home and watch, that’s a huge problem. Compare, for example, with this story (recounted in Field of Schemes: The Book, go buy it now if you don’t have it already, there are ebook and Kindle versions too!) told by Tiger Stadium Fan Club activist Frank Rashid of the time he tried to get a local newspaper not even to quote him, but just to run a correction of some stadium propaganda it repeated without checking:

On one occasion, Rashid recalls, he wound up calling the [Detroit] Free Press to complain about an inaccurate story about the Fan Club. He pointed out to a city desk editor that the reporter had printed inaccurate statements by the group’s opponents about the Fan Club, statements that the reporter himself had to have known were untrue.

The editor, according to Rashid, replied with indignation, “What do you expect? [Tigers owner Tom] Monaghan has made money. He’s paid his dues. Who are you guys?”

“I really appreciated the honesty,” says Rashid. “But, damn! None of us is disreputable. We’re all people who are solid citizens, but we don’t have money. Solid citizens without money don’t count as well as somebody who’s got a big corporation.”

If the book, and this website, have a motto, it’s probably that last line. It’s a sentiment that doesn’t seem to have changed at all in the 25 years Joanna Cagan and I have been reporting on this — though I guess it’s only three more years until the Bell Riots, so maybe things will finally improve after that.

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