Is a Taiwanese baseball team really going to install robot fans? An investigation

So somebody just alerted me to this tweet by Axios sports editor Kendall Baker:

Sure, that’s a baseball stadium — Baker later corrected himself to note that the Rakuten Monkeys play in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, which is in Taiwan — but still, WTF is going on here? A pro sports team is playing behind closed doors, and somehow thinks that a collection of creepy mask-wearing robots and faceless mannequins is going to make this seem less unnerving?

Baker helpfully didn’t include a link to any actual reporting on the Monkey-robots (robot-Monkeys?), but Google soon turned up this USA Today article, which cited this article from “the CPBL official website,” which turns out to be an English-language Taiwanese baseball fan site run by a guy named “Rob.” Rob at least quoted a Monkeys official on the alleged robot plan:

On April 7, the Rakuten Monkeys announced they are going to set up robot mannequins in the stands dressed up as fans.

According to the Monkeys’ general manager, they will put 500 “new fans” at the stadium. Among those 500 “fans”, a few of them will be robots.

“Since we are not allowed to have any fans in attendance, we might as well have some fun with it,” said the Monkeys’ general manager Justin Liu. “We went with 500 robot mannequins to comply with the current CDC guideline.”

That sounds like a joke, possibly? Given that the Taiwanese CDC hasn’t actually provided any guidelines for how many robots can safely attend baseball games?

Rob’s post also helpfully included a source for that bonkers photograph, which is “Rakuten Monkeys Facebook.” And sure enough, here’s the Facebook post in question, along with lots of comments from fans along the lines of “so scary” and “a little chilling,” plus a whole lot of laugh-emoji responses that cast at least some doubts on whether this is serious.

As for that photo, it’s almost certainly a CGI/Photoshop job, given that the scale of the “robot” fans is wildly inconsistent and some of them (the guy with the drum in the center foreground, for instance), seem to be occupying space in ways that defy the laws of physics. (Though a couple of the accompanying images, with just a few mask-wearing team employees plus a handful of sign-holding mannequins, appear to be for real.) So I’m going to tentatively categorize this as “joke that got out of hand and somehow ended up in USA Today” — which is a good thing, because robot Monkeys are a terrible idea given that as we all should know, they will fight eternally.

Coronavirus shutdowns will cost pro teams mumblety-something, say sports finance experts

Forbes is starting to focus on the all-important question of whether the coronavirus, in addition to killing tens of thousands of people, will harm the bank balances of some of your favorite multibillion-dollar sports franchises. Let’s give them a read and see if they make any damn sense and/or are affronts against humanity!

First up, because it beat the other one by a few hours, is “senior contributor” Patrick Murray’s essay on the Golden State Warriors, who had the misfortune to open their new San Francisco arena the same year as sports came to a grinding halt (and before that, the same year as its vaunted starting lineup suffered a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure). Take it away, Patrick:

The Athletic’s Anthony Slater has reported that cancelling the remaining seven home games would cost the Warriors in the region of $25m. That’s on top of the money they might have expected back in the fall from a potential playoff run, before Stephen Curry got injured. They might not have been hotly tipped to make a deep run with Klay Thompson out, but most people were expecting a team led by Curry to at least make the postseason. And that would have meant more revenue flowing in. Tim Kawakami previously reported that at Oracle Arena in recent years the Warriors received $4-5m gross per home game in the early playoff rounds. At Chase Center that figure would have been even higher.

Oh noes, the Warriors are missing out on all the playoff money they would have earned … if they’d been in the playoffs, which they weren’t going to be? So maybe it’s just that $25 million for seven home games that is at risk — Forbes has the Warriors’ gate receipts at $178 million per year, so the per-game figure pencils out.

And, of course, the Chase Center isn’t just about basketball, it’s about concerts and other arena events, so how will that work out?

It’s unknown just how much that will cost the Warriors, but in Forbes’ latest franchise valuations just under a quarter of their $4.3bn valuation was attributed to their arena.

Thanks for the math, Mr. Senior Contributor! You’re totally worth every penny of that $250 a month you’re being paid!

The second article is by Mike Ozanian, who is an actual Forbes staffer and the magazine’s longtime sports valuation guru, even if he’s had his own occasional problems with basic math. Ozanian takes on the finances of the Atlanta Braves, and discovers (according to “John Tinker of G.research LLC,” which is apparently a thing that a financial analysis firm has actually decided to call and punctuate itself) that playing only half a season of baseball will, amazingly, cause fewer people to go to baseball games:

Tinker reckons the Braves’ revenue would drop to $174 million, from $438 million in 2019, with attendance dropping to 630,000, from last year’s 2.65 million. The drop in attendance would cut revenue from the gate and concessions to about $55 million in 2020, from $202 million the prior year, and halve the broadcast and sponsor revenue to $118 million, from $236 million.

Player expenses, meanwhile, were lowered by only 50%, to $86 million, and operating expenses and SG&A costs by 40%, to $146 million. Bottom line: Tinker estimates the team will post an operating loss of $59 million, versus an operating profit of $24 million in 2019.

There’s some weirdness here: Why would attendance drop by three-quarters if the number of games is cut in half? (Not that playing games in front of fans is even that likely, but if it does happen wouldn’t you expect there to be some pent-up demand? Especially since games would be played in the summer, when ticket sales are normally the highest? Unless the G.research study assumes that by summer fans will be too afraid to leave the house, which is certainly possible.) And how would broadcast and sponsor revenue fall by $118 million when the Braves’ TV deals with Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast only gets them $83 million a year in the first place? And does Ozanian know for sure that the Braves’ TV and sponsorship contracts would be canceled (or scaled down) if a full schedule isn’t played? Who can say!

If there’s a takeaway here, it’s that while the sports stoppage will almost certainly cost sports team owners big time, the actual bottom-line numbers are going to depend on myriad picayune contractual details that probably can’t be figured out just by looking at profit and loss summaries. And also, in case anyone might think otherwise, that whether a team is paying for their own building (the Warriors are, the Braves mostly aren’t) shouldn’t play at all into financial impact assessments, because stadium and arena expenses are sunk costs that don’t change the calculus of how much added red ink teams will see.

(This is true for local governments that are paying for sports venues, too, incidentally: If your state was counting on hotel-tax revenues to pay off a stadium and hotel-tax revenues are in the toilet because no one is leaving their houses anytime soon, that’s bad, but no worse than if hotel-tax revenues were being counted on to pay for other public expenses. Maybe if you were counting on hotel-tax revenues to soar as the result of people coming to see your new team, but that probably wasn’t a safe bet anyway.)

And, of course, that owning a major pro sports team is so fabulously lucrative that even skipping most or all of a season isn’t likely to bring anyone to their knees. The Warriors turned an estimate $109 million profit in 2019, according to Forbes figures, while the Braves’ Liberty Media ownership group made $54 million. So while losing a season could wipe out an entire year’s worth of profits — that’s not good! — the other way of looking at this is that teams could regain their losses in just the first season of resumed play, whenever that might be. Starting to get why sports leagues are so willing to shut down over labor contract disputes? If you’re a team owner doing this right, you’re playing the long game, or at least the medium-term game, and if COVID-19 is still affecting things like sports attendance in the medium term, we’re going to have way bigger things to worry about than the Braves’ bottom line.

It’s really not looking promising for sports anytime in 2020

If you’re sick of reading “When and how will sports return?” posts, well, you and me both: There is something soothing about the idea of not looking any farther ahead than how to get through today, and leaving the uncertainties of the distant future (i.e., anything past this week) unconsidered. But there are some interesting disjunctions afoot, so once more into the breach:

The last few days has been full of speculation about ways to restart the sports seasons, and oh what speculative ways they are. An NBA tournament entirely in Las Vegas! Stanley Cup games in North Dakota! MLB games at spring training facilities! Only the NFL seems to be talking about playing a regular schedule in front of fans, though California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared Saturday, “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post skipped asking league officials or political leaders what they’re wishcasting for a sports restart, and instead went to infectious disease experts to see what their best predictions were. And the results weren’t pretty:

  • “From my point of view based on data — and I’m huge sports fan, so this is really hard — I can’t really predict or truly speculate,” said Jared Evans, a senior researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “We need as a population to be prepared for anything. And also be prepared for that disappointment.”
  • The best-case scenario, [Stanford infectious-disease doctor Dean] Winslow said, is that social distancing and other restrictive measures combined with higher temperatures lead to a dramatic decrease in cases by late May. “That would potentially give public-health people the incentive to at least consider starting to relax these restrictions,” Winslow said. “That would mean allowing potentially sporting events and concerts and that sort of thing to happen by the early fall.”

The problem with resuming sports even in quarantined spaces without fans, as several experts have pointed out, is that a quarantine only works if you can be sure that nobody within the cordon sanitaire is infected. “There are going to have to be considerations in place as far as making sure the participants are tested,” Evans told the Post. “You have to have an understanding where they were, who they were in contact with.” And if even a single player, or player’s family member, or league official, or camera operator tests positive, then you face the possibility of having to halt play entirely and quarantine everyone for another two weeks before starting up again.

The Post further notes that neither China nor Japan has been able to set a solid date for resuming sports leagues, which would be the best test of what a return to normalcy (or even semi-normalcy) might look like for the rest of the world. Meanwhile, in a worst- or even moderate-case scenario (this remains the best overview of the range of futures we could be facing), we could easily see organized sports entirely suspended until a vaccine can be developed, hopefully in 2021 — though I suppose in the interim you could see smaller groups of negative-testing (or better yet, already recovered from coronavirus) players competing in H-O-R-S-E tournaments or ad hoc War Cup–style competitions.

This, needless to say, would not only make 2020 suck even worse for sports fans, it would wreak havoc on every corner of the baseball economy, as leagues would be left battling with media partners over TV contracts, and teams with fans over ticket sales money, and TV carriers with fans over cable bills. It could also be devastating to leagues without much financial cushion; while global soccer teams might be helped out by FIFA’s huge cash reserves — who knew that one day we’d actually be glad for FIFA’s propensity for stockpiling gold and jewels? — that’s not going to help leagues like the WNBA or minor-league baseball that run on shoestring budgets and have either no parent leagues or ones that actively want them dead, though hopefully they’re at least getting to suspend rent payments during the pandemic, which should cut down on their costs. (Whether public stadium owners absolving teams from rent or at least letting them defer payments counts as subsidies is a question that normally I’d be all over, but under the circumstances we probably have bigger fish to fry.)

In other words, we probably have a lot of Marbula One in our futures. I wonder if the O’raceway was built with public funds…

Friday roundup: Stadium construction continues despite sick workers, drained city budgets may not slow subsidy demands, and other news from our continuing hellscape

How did everyone do during Week Whatever (depending on where you live) of the new weirdness? I finished another jigsaw puzzle, spent way more time than I thought possible trying to understand the new unemployment insurance rules, had the best idea ever, and wrote another article about how the media should stop feeding the troll. (Here’s the previous one, if I neglected to post a link to it before, which I probably did.) And, of course, continued to write this site, even if the subject matter, like all subject matter everywhere, has taken a decided turn for the microbial. Hopefully it’s helping to inform or at least distract you, because it looks like we may be here a while.

Anyway, it’s Friday again, so let’s celebrate getting another week closer to the end of this unknowably long tunnel with some stadium and arena news:

  • Construction is now shut down on the Worcester Red Sox stadium, but continues on the in-progress stadiums for the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Texas Rangers, even after workers on the latter two projects tested positive for COVID-19, and despite it being pretty much impossible to do construction while maintaining a six-foot distance from your fellow workers. The USA Today article reporting all this cites continued construction as a “boost to the economy,” which is slightly weird in that 1) pretty much all economic activity is a boost to the economy, but everyone has kind of decided now that keeping millions of people from dying is more important (okay, almost everyone), and 2) given that these stadiums will all have to be finished eventually regardless, shutting down construction would only push the economic activity a few weeks into the future, to a time when construction workers would actually have stores and restaurants open where they could spend their salary. It really would be nice if journalists writing about economics talked to an economist every once in a while.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin says she’s preparing for a “recession budget” that could require cutting back on planned projects including “a planned renovation of the PNC Arena, an expansion of the Raleigh Convention Center, an addition to the Marbles Kids Museum, a proposed soccer stadium in south Raleigh and a recreational complex at Brier Creek,” reports the News & Observer. Since every local government in the U.S. if not the world is about to see its tax revenues plummet, could this mean a temporary lull in stadium and arena demands while teams have to wait for treasuries to refill? Or will team owners just do like during the Great Recession and pivot from “times are good, now is when you should spend your surplus on giving us new sports venues” to “times are tough, now is when you should be spending to promote any development jobs you can get”? Hawaii officials say the latter, and they don’t even have a team owner lobbying them, so I think you know where I’d be laying my bets.
  • A new poll shows that sports fans believe they’ll be less likely to go to live sporting events once they’ve been “deemed safe,” mostly over fears that they won’t actually be safe. (Nearly two-thirds said they’d be concerned about “health safety,” and more said they’d avoid indoor events than outdoor ones.) There’s presumably some push-poll effect here — if someone asks you if you’re going to be concerned about your health at large events, that’s going to get you thinking about how you maybe should be concerned — but still it’s at least one data point suggesting that game attendance could suffer for a while despite pent-up hunger for live sports.
  • Meanwhile, ratings have plummeted for pro wrestling events before empty venues, which could be a sign that a big part of watching televised sports is enjoying the roar of the crowd, or that pro wrestling isn’t really a sport, take your pick. Where are those New Jersey Nets sound operators when you need them?
  • Don’t count on getting back your “sports fee” on your cable bill even if there’s no sports to watch, though maybe if your TV provider can recoup some fees they’re paying to sports leagues, they’ll consider sharing some of the savings with you.
  • A study by an “advertising intelligence and sales enablement platform” that is no doubt really annoyed right now that this press release didn’t get me to use their name and promote their brand projects that ad spending on sporting events will drop by $1 billion this year. And will that cost sports teams, or the cable and broadcast networks that are contracted to carry them? Sorry, didn’t study that part, we figured Forbes would report on this even without that info, and we were right!
  • Speaking of dumb Forbes articles, here’s one about how baseball should make up for lost revenue by expanding, which overlooks both that this is undoubtedly the worst time imaginable to get the highest expansion fee possible, and that MLB teams are all owned by billionaires so really the issue isn’t having cash on hand, it’s getting yearly income back up, and diluting your share of national revenues by one-fifteenth (if two new teams were added) is no way to do that.
  • But hey, at least stadiums come in handy for herding homeless people into en masse to keep them from getting sick, that’s neither disturbingly dystopian nor terrible social distancing policy, right? What’s that you say? You’re right, let’s instead spend some time revisiting cab-hailing purse woman, that’s a much more soothing start to the weekend.

Sports leagues’ plans for resuming play, and why probably none of them make sense

At the risk or either extrapolating from insufficient evidence or depressing ourselves or both, let’s play another round of “When will this all end, and what will sports even look like when it’s over?”

All of this makes it really hard to predict what the end game looks like. Given the shape of the curves from Asia and Europe, restarting some kind of pro sports by June or July seems possible, but there’s no way of knowing yet when fans could return, or if play might have to be suspended again after just a few weeks. (Also: What to do about filling in for the numerous players who would presumably have to be under quarantine at any given time, after they or a family member came down with COVID symptoms?) And once that happens, will fans desperately rush to re-fill stadiums, or steer clear for fear of being in large crowds? Will sports ratings return to pre-pandemic levels, or will everyone be too caught up in binge-watching European police procedurals? Will people be afraid to buy tickets now that both sports leagues and StubHub are refusing to issue refunds yet for games canceled by pandemics, even while ticket brokers consider asking for a government bailout?

Only one thing’s for sure: No one knows. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go try to figure out how unemployment claims work now, if anyone really knows that either.

Angels owner who got $175m subsidy is stiffing stadium workers, because outsourcing

Another day, another news story about sports stadium workers who can’t pay their rent because teams are refusing to pay third-party employees during the coronavirus shutdown:

On March 17, the Dodgers and Angels — and every other major league team — each committed $1 million to provide financial assistance to game-day workers.

Luna believed that meant he would get financial assistance. He has not seen a dime. The fact that he works for third-party concession companies and not the Dodgers or Angels complicates his situation.

“It’s getting pretty stressful,” he said. “I rely on this income.”

That million-dollar-per-team relief fund got a lot of attention when it was announced, even though the total isn’t much more than each MLB team will be paying the last guy on their bench. But the bigger problem is that most of the people who sell you hot dogs or scorecards aren’t actually team employees — they work for concessionaires like Aramark, which means baseball owners feel entirely justified in not paying them squat during the sports layoff. Some teams have relented — the Red Sox added an extra $500,000 to cover some subcontracted employees after a public outcry — but plenty of others haven’t.

As discussed before, this is somewhere between irony and hypocrisy, given that every team that comes seeking stadium or arena funds makes sure to cite the jobs that these subsidies will help make possible. Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno and his supporters, in fact, used precisely that argument in pushing for a land deal that gave Moreno about a $175 million subsidy for his stadium plans:

“For every fan who told us to keep the Angels, this proposal would do exactly that,” Mayor Harry Sidhu said in a statement. “This proposal reflects what we’ve heard from the community – keep the Angels, a fair land price, money for neighborhoods, ongoing revenue, affordable housing, parks and jobs for Anaheim.”

Okay, Sidhu didn’t say good jobs, I guess. But even if “I am proud to sign a deal that will provide my city with shitty part-time jobs that can be terminated at the drop of a hat because of the magic of subcontracting” might have been more honest, it doesn’t fit as well on a bumper sticker.

Coronavirus could leave sports journalism even suckier than before

There is a long, long list of businesses that could be facing catastrophic financial futures in the wake of coronavirus-related shutdowns, from restaurants to bookstores to music festivals to you name it. Sports leagues should continue, since — with some exceptions — most leagues and teams have enough cash reserves to weather even a months- or year-long storm. But other parts of the sports ecosystem aren’t as deep-pocketed, and first among those is sports journalism, which as The Ringer reports, is already getting hammered by there being no sports to read about:

In March, FanGraphs’ traffic usually soars as readers put together their fantasy drafts. Without baseball games, Appelman said, traffic has fallen 60 to 70 percent from its usual levels. “Think weekends in the offseason,” he said, “or maybe even some time like Thanksgiving. But it’s every day.”…

The early signs are incredibly grim. The Athletic paused some freelance contracts. The soccer magazine First Touch, which is distributed in New York’s now-shuttered bars and restaurants, suspended print publication. Newspaper layoffs have claimed the jobs of everyone from the Penguins beat writer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to the sports editor at the Imperial Valley Press in El Centro, California. Freelance writers have lost thousands of dollars they were counting on because games they were supposed to cover this month were canceled.

There were already plenty of forces bearing down on legacy media. The coronavirus and the recession that might follow have become their accelerants. “It’s already over,” a poster wrote on the site SportsJournalists.com this month. “We’re all done. All of us.”

And if sports-only publications are suddenly on the ropes, the local newspapers and news sites that also cover sports are being pushed over a long-looming precipice, as CJR notes:

For the local-media business, last week was the bleakest since this crisis began. Last Monday, the Advocate, a high-profile Louisiana title that acquired the New Orleans Times-Picayune last year, said it was “temporarily furloughing” about 40 of its staff and implementing four-day work weeks for everyone else. The same day, Seven Days, an alt-weekly in Vermont, cut seven staffers, also “temporarily”; Trib Total Media, a Pittsburgh-area publisher that already made layoffs linked to the coronavirus, rolled two print editions into one to cut costs; and San Diego Magazine announced that it’s folding completely. (It hopes to reopen once this mess is over.) Last Tuesday, another city magazine—D Magazine, in Dallas—laid off 15 people and cut the salaries of staffers who were retained. On Wednesday, the publisher of Rhode Island’s Warwick Beacon—a twice-weekly newspaper that, thanks to the current crisis, is now a weekly newspaper—cut eight staffers, including himself; C&G Newspapers, a family-owned business in Michigan, suspended publication of 19 print titles; and the Snowmass Sun, a small newspaper in Colorado, was incorporated as a section of a different paper, the Aspen Times. On Thursday, the publisher of the Aspen Daily News suspended one of its other titles, the Roaring Fork Weekly Journal, to focus on its core product.

Locked-down people are actually reading more journalism during the pandemic, but readership is no longer how publications make money — they rely on ad sales, and nobody is buying ads anymore, notes CJR, “because many advertisers are hurting right now, and because some big companies who still have ad budgets don’t want their brands associated with wall-to-wall coronavirus content.”

And where restaurants should bounce back once we’re allowed to leave the house again — maybe not the same restaurants, but somebody is going to be willing to cook for all those people desperate to get out and eat something other than canned soup — news outlets may not be so lucky. Sports sites have been folding or contracting at a rapid pace in recent years, so even if sports readership bounces back, we could be looking at fewer sites that are more focused on just providing fantasy stats or being blog networks. And local newspapers are a vestige of an economy that no longer exists, where people pay to have stacks of paper delivered to their houses containing ads for local businesses, which seems as much like part of the distant historical past now as leaving the house does.

All of which could be devastating for coverage of the business and politics of sports, which is already pretty dismal, given that sportswriters don’t usually understand business and politics and news writers don’t understand sports, and neither has the time to learn when they have to file five stories a day. As much as I love to complain about terrible reporting on stadium and arena deals — and oh, do I love to complain — having even fewer local papers and sports sites willing to pay even wandering attention to stadium deals is going to be very bad for public oversight, and very good for those who want to get away with public-subsidy grifts; the New York Times may do okay in a post-coronavirus world, but the Times isn’t going to spend much time investigating public budgets in Columbus, Ohio.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and journalistic flowers will bloom in the burned-out media landscape, as readers clamor for good information, especially after seeing first-hand the costs of bad information. I don’t especially see how it’s going to happen, though, at least not without a massive bailout plan for journalism along the lines of what Congress has set aside for, say, airplane manufacturers. It would certainly be ironic if the only way to get good reporting on public subsidies would be to publicly subsidize reporters, but then, we live in ironic times.

Seattle arena developers find loopholes to evade coronavirus construction ban

The increasingly worldwide suspension of nearly everything has finally started to hit stadium and arena construction: New York’s order on Friday banning “non-essential” construction put a halt to work on the Islanders‘ Belmont Park arena, and Austin’s “stay at home” order has shut down activity on Austin F.C.‘s new stadium. It’s reasonable to expect that more construction bans will follow in coming days and weeks, especially since the U.S. curve is decidedly not flattening yet.

Each of these rulings comes with exceptions, though — for example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order exempts “roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing, and homeless shelters,” something that has drawn criticism given that tons of housing construction in New York City is now required to include a percentage of affordable units (or “affordable” units, since the formulas used mean that some apartments require tenants to earn $120,000 a year to qualify). And the renovations of the Seattle Center Arena (formerly KeyArena, and still widely known by that name despite Key Bank’s naming rights deal having expired years ago) for the city’s new NHL team have apparently found such a loophole:

The only exceptions are construction related to essential activities like health care, transportation, energy, defense and critical manufacturing; construction “to further a public purpose related to a public entity,” including publicly financed low-income housing; and emergency repairs.

KeyArena construction is exempt under the last two carve-outs, Leiweke said. The arena is a public facility, and time is short to reattach the arena’s 44-million-pound roof to its permanent support posts. The roof has been held up by temporary posts since late last year.

I am not an engineer by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard to see how leaving the roof sitting atop temporary posts for a few extra weeks qualifies as an emergency. (If the temporary posts are really so rickety that they’re on the verge of collapse any day now, that seems maybe not entirely safe regardless?) A spokesperson for NHL Seattle called it a “delicate and precise undertaking” involving an “intricate compression system,” but neither of those phrases actually says that delaying the work would make it any more “delicate” or “intricate” or what have you.

And as for the arena being a “public facility,” yes, it’s owned by the city of Seattle, but it’s being renovated and will be operated by the private developers Oak View Group, who are even making payments in lieu of property taxes on it because it’s so clearly a private project using public property. It’s a “public property,” in other words, but not really a “public purpose,” but then we’ve already seen how far governments are willing to bend the definition of public purpose when it suits them.

What all this means is that Seattle’s NHL team will likely be able to launch in its new home in 2021, while the Islanders’ new arena is now even less likely to be ready by then. This is not a huge deal in the long run — teams can easily enough move a few games to alternate sites while construction is completed, especially in a world where moving teams temporarily to whole different cities is being seriously considered — but it’s worth noting if you’re an Islanders or Seattle NHL or Austin F.C. fan, if any of those exist in large numbers. (Just kidding about the Islanders. Mostly.)

Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

Ballmer buys Forum for 1600% markup to get MSG to stop opposing Clippers arena

Just three weeks after it was first reported that Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was considering buying the Forum from Madison Square Garden to clear away MSG’s legal objections to a new Clippers arena, Ballmer has pulled the trigger, paying $400 million in cash to buy the 53-year-old arena:

The deal is expected to close during the 2020 second quarter. The new ownership group has no plans to tear down the Forum, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, and will keep it operating as a concert venue.

If $400 million sounds like an awful lot to pay for a half-century-old (albeit recently renovated) arena with no sports tenants, that’s because it is: MSG bought the Forum in 2012 for just $23.5 million, though they later spent another $100 million on renovations to convert it into a concert-only space. There are no public figures that I can find on how much money the Forum makes — it’s by far the busiest concert venue in the L.A. area, but as we’ve seen before, busy doesn’t always mean profitable — but it seems inconceivable that it’s really worth $400 million, especially in a world where it will soon face competition from a new arena two miles away. (Not to mention a world where no one knows when people will be allowed to go to concerts again.)

File this one, then, under “multibillionaire spends whatever he wants to get his new toy, because he can.” This is nothing new — Ballmer way overpaid to get the Clippers in the first place — and not necessarily a bad thing, unless you really care how the insanely rich decide how to shuffle their money around between them. But it is a reminder that when development deals are decided less by public oversight than by whether there’s some other billionaire willing to foot the legal bills to block them, it’s always possible for sports team owners to simply buy off the opposition.