Bloomberg wins Mr. Met’s endorsement after $380m gift of public money

I know the big New York Mets news is supposed to be whether one rich guy is going to buy a controlling interest in the team from some other rich guys, but I’m more interested in another news item: Michael Bloomberg’s apparent presidential campaign endorsement by Mr. Met.

Mr. Met will be on hand to pitch the opening of the Bloomberg campaign’s new office at 39-36 Bay Boulevard in Bayside, Queens Thursday night.
While not an official endorsement from the Mets organization, Mr. Met is a beloved good luck charm who knows that Amazin’ things can happen in a political campaign as well as on the baseball diamond.

The New York Post didn’t comment much more on this, but it’s curious for several reasons. First off, “good luck charm” or no, getting the support of a giant baseball-headed homunculus who’s possibly best known right now for giving fans the finger seems like a dubious benefit, though I suppose it’ll get the attention of sports fans who otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention to the opening of a campaign office. But also, it’s unusual for sports teams (or sports team mascots) to be weighing in on presidential politics at all.

But then, the Mets and Bloomberg share a special relationship. In 2005, New York’s then-mayor shocked the city by announcing the construction of new stadiums for the Mets and Yankees less than four years after declaring them unaffordable, as part of his doomed bid for the 2012 Olympics. The eventual benefit to the Mets owners was more than $600 million, with $380 million of that coming out of city coffers via property-tax breaks, forgone parking revenues, free land and infrastructure, and other goodies. (The Yankees ended up with more than $1 billion in benefits, with nearly $700 million coming from the city.)

It’s probably a bit much to consider this a direct quid pro quo — after all, anybody can rent Mr. Met for the low (?) price of $600 an hour. Still, there’s something unseemly about a politician making a nine-figure gift of public funds to a business, then getting the support of that business when staging his next campaign. Not unusual, mind you, but still unseemly.

Campaign finance records show that Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon have given out donations to lots of national and local pols, though not much lately. (They also show that neither lives in New York City — Fred lives on Long Island, and Jeff in Connecticut — so they’re not even among the taxpayers who were billed the most for the new stadiums.) Maybe this is all best taken as a sign of the casual cronyism between politicians and wealthy business owners that is pretty much the defining characteristic of American democracy. It’s just sad that Mr. Met is getting dragged into this under orders from his employer, though that’s not unusual these days either.

Nashville SC offers more money for stadium, most of which isn’t real money actually

The standoff between Nashville S.C. owner John Ingram and Nashville mayor John Cooper is getting pretty nutso, with the release of a letter from Ingram offering an additional $54 million toward the project if Cooper moves ahead with demolition to make way for a new stadium. Though it turns out not to actually be $54 million in real money:

  • In the spirit of cooperation, the Team offered to pay an additional $19 Million to Metro for infrastructure in the immediate vicinity of the stadium.” This is real money — assuming the team (sorry, the Team) isn’t playing games and reclassifying tortilla chip fryers as “infrastructure” or something — but not exactly a huge concession given that the current deal doesn’t specify who’s responsible for infrastructure overruns, so it comes down to How about we split the costs, where we pay $19 million (sorry, $19 Million) and you pay whatever’s left over?
  • If ticket and sales tax revenues fell short of their $35 million projections, Ingram would cover any shortfall instead of making the city do it. This is worth something to the city, but almost certainly not anywhere near $35 million — how much depends on what you think the likelihood is of the taxes falling short, and by how much.
  • Ingram would also cover $85 million in stadium construction cost overruns, which is nice and all, but it was always going to be on the hook for stadium overruns, so this isn’t a savings to the public at all.

So where does this leave Nashville S.C.’s total subsidy demand? The stadium financing plan is super-convoluted, involving the city selling $225 million in bonds and then being partly repaid by the team. My best estimate previously was that about $50 million would be covered by sales taxes kicked back to the team by the state, to which we need to add $25 million that wouldn’t be repaid at all, plus the cost of the 14 acres of public land that would be handed over to the team for free. Even if we give Ingram the benefit of the doubt about who is currently supposed to pay for infrastructure overruns, and assume that the team will do absolutely terribly at selling tickets and nachos … we’re still probably looking at upwards of $50 million in public subsidies, especially counting the land value. And if we don’t Ingram the benefit of the doubt, he’s just offering a bunch of stuff he might have to pay anyway or might never have to pay at all, which would make the value of this offer closer to $0.

All that said, it’s certainly a sign that Cooper has managed to shake loose a carrot, even if a dried-out wrinkled carrot, to go along with the stick of last week’s nastygram from MLS about how if they’d known the new mayor was going to be a pain about this maybe they wouldn’t have given Nashville a team at all, sniff. Given that it’s extremely unlikely the league will rescind the franchise now — I doubt the acceptance of the $150 million expansion fee was made contingent on the mayor approving demolition permits — Cooper has lots of leverage to demand whatever he wants.

Whether that’s a better deal for the public or just more room to build other stuff at the fairgrounds site, though, remains to be seen. Cooper’s response called Ingram’s offer “$139 million in taxpayer savings,” which it most certainly is not, while instead focusing on the issue of Parcel 8C, a teensy plot of land between the proposed stadium and the nearby racetrack that Cooper wants to retain (for a racetrack expansion, according to Ingram), but which Ingram is insisting on getting (for a parking garage, according to Cooper), to the point of threatening to pull out of the agreed-on community benefits agreement if Parcel 8C isn’t included.

This seems like a strange hill to die on, and yet here we are. It seems extremely likely that something will get worked out in the end, especially if Cooper is willing to accept How about we pay you the money we were going to pay you anyway? as a legitimate offer, but demolition was supposed to start by the end of last year and here it is February and still the standoff continues. Elected officials do the strangest things.

Indy Eleven owner who got $112m so team could join MLS: Maybe I’ll just build minor-league stadium instead

A brief recap of the Indy Eleven stadium situation so far: Team owner Ersal Ozdemir asked for $87 million in public funds in 2014 for an 18,500-seat stadium so his then-preparing-to-join-the-NASL team could join MLS, then asked again the next year, then the state countered with a plan to instead provide $20 million to renovate Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis’s stadium but that died in committee, then team execs said they really only wanted a new stadium anyway, then state senate offered to give Ozdemir $112 million if he could promise an MLS team but he wouldn’t say if he was ready to put in $30 million himself, then the state house said never mind about that MLS guarantee, here’s $112 million.

You can totally see where this is going:

With its chances of joining Major League Soccer in question, Indy Eleven is considering significantly cutting the number of seats with which its new stadium would debut.

That’s right: Now that Indy Eleven‘s owner successfully got $112 million in stadium cash for a $150 million to $200 million stadium so his minor-league team can join MLS, he’s maybe going to just build a smaller (presumably cheaper) stadium because he’s not really going to join MLS yet.

The city of Indianapolis, to its credit, is holding off on final approval of a deal, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, “until the team answers a few major questions, including where the stadium would be located and when it would open, whether the franchise expects to be part of MLS by the time it opens, and how Indy Eleven would pay for its portion of the stadium.” No word yet on whether approval will still be forthcoming if the answers to the latter two questions are “no” and “with pocket change once we cut the price tag to $112 million or so.” But given how things typically go in Indiana, I’m guessing Ozdemir doesn’t have to worry too hard that the state or city is going to stop payment on its checks.

 

Friday roundup: Nashville SC “disappointed” mayor upset at overruns, Miami paying Super Bowl teams’ hotel bills, and the return of Cab-Hailing Purse Woman

It’s been a long week and there is apparently some other stuff in the news and also I want to go read the new Deadspin writers’ temporary blog that is not Deadspin, so let’s get straight to this week’s roundup, which is long, because remember what I literally just said about it having been a long week?

I absolutely cannot wait for the first stadium report to calculate the projected economic impact of Cab-Hailing Purse Woman. Clearly she’ll go anywhere to see a game of baseball and/or soccerfootball! How can your city possibly turn up its nose at the spending on ride-hailing services she will bring?

UPDATE: Someone just forwarded me another article with more Royals stadium renderings, and OMG that sign:

If you’re having trouble reading it, the side facing the camera reads “HEY CDC KC HAS THE FEVER,” which is apparently a joke about the coronavirus epidemic now threatening to sweep the globe? And the other side, facing the field, reads “TODAY’S MY BIRTHDAY SURPRISE ME WITH A WIN” which is a way too on-the-nose reference to the fact that the Royals have lost more than 100 games the last two years. Forget any innovations in stadium design, I want to hear more about how the Royals can draw more fans by encouraging negging.

Roger Goodell presses play on “buffalobillsstadiumdemand.mp3” file again

Oh dear, Roger Goodell is Goodelling again about a new Buffalo Bills stadium:

We all want the Buffalo Bills to continue to be in Buffalo, to be successful. A stadium that is going to be competitive with other stadiums around the league is going to be important in that context, and I think everyone’s committed to that, whether it’s a new significant renovation or whether it’s a completely new facility in a new location.

I think those are things that the group has to settle collectively and address over the next several months, if not sooner.

Yep, that checks all the boxes:

  • Non-threat threat that it sure would be a shame if the team had to leave town.
  • Associated threat that it would be a shame of the team weren’t “successful,” not specifying whether this means on the field or in terms of raking in profits.
  • Leaving open the option of a new renovation or a new building, so long as it’s “significant,” which usually means lotsa public moneys.
  • Two-minute warning that this needs to be resolved soon if not sooner, or else … something.

The Bills’ lease at their current stadium does expire in 2022, but that can always be extended, so there’s really no rush. And Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula have been decidedly lukewarm on demanding a new stadium, because getting a billion dollars out of the city or state would be hard, and lord knows they don’t want to blow their own money on one. (A spokesperson for the Pegulas told WHAM-TV yesterday that they’ve done a study and are “working internally to determine the next steps regarding any future plans for the home of the Buffalo Bills.”)

But commissioners gonna commissioner, and even if demanding new stadium spending for the Bills doesn’t immediately pay dividends in Buffalo, it does keep other NFL cities on their toes that this could happen to you too if you let your stadium get much past drinking age. (It also, to be fair, came in response to a journalist question, but Goodell certainly seemed to have his talking points ready.) And so if it ensures more headlines like “Could Buffalo Bills get a new home?” even when the team owners are showing no interest in beating the drum for a new home, that’s what Goodell is going to do to earn his big, big bucks.

Rays exec threatens St. Pete that if team can’t leave before 2028, it will stay

The extremely confusing Tampa Bay Rays stadiums talks with the city of St. Petersburg took a lurch — backwards? sideways? — yesterday when team president Brian Auld told city council members that team owner Stuart Sternberg won’t allow the city to start working on redeveloping their existing stadium site before 2028 unless the city allows Sternberg to start exploring moving at least some fames out of Tampa Bay before then:

Council members Amy Foster and Darden Rice both said Auld, in his meetings with them this week, referenced a quote from former St. Petersburg city attorney John Wolfe that appeared in a July 15, 2019 Tampa Bay Times article about the redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

The Trop’s use agreement binds the team to the city. But Wolfe, who wrote the contract, said it could also be used by the team to bind the city.

“They could certainly delay it for years if they wanted to,” Wolfe told the Times, regarding any attempt to develop the land without the Rays’ permission.

Rice said the message was clear: If the Rays are forced to abide by the Trop’s use agreement and stay in St. Petersburg through 2027, then the team is prepared to exercise its rights against the city.

This honestly doesn’t seem to be all that much of a threat, given that: 1) the city already has rights to develop the Tropicana Field parking lots, and it would be tough to build anything on top of the stadium itself without tearing it down first, which would require the team being elsewhere, 2) it would take a few years to get a development plan in place regardless, and the Rays’ lease only extends another 7+ years at this point, 3) Sternberg right now can talk to other cities about moving there, he just can’t talk about moving there before 2028, and 4) St. Pete has to share redevelopment proceeds with Sternberg if any new construction happens before 2028, but gets all the revenues to itself after that. So really this comes down to Let us consider leaving before 2028, or else we’ll stay until then. Which is really just a restatement of St. Peterburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s underlying dilemma, such as it is: He wants the Rays to stay, but he also wants the Tropicana Field land, and he can’t have both at once.

All of which remains a distraction from the fact that Sternberg doesn’t have another stadium to move to, let alone two stadiums if he’s really intent on going ahead with his Tampontreal Ex-Rays gambit. But in the meantime, if he wants to try to leverage Kriseman’s hunger to get his hands on the Trop land to get to get permission to consider leaving town in, say, 2025 instead of 2028, it’s the only leverage play he has at the moment.

This calls for a check in to see what Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium says about the latest twist:

But hey, at least Sternberg got a news story out of it that says he’s playing “hardball”! That’s got to be worth a few congratulatory slaps on the back at the next owners’ meeting.

Miami stadium sites are “future Atlantis” thanks to climate change, teams to deal with this by ditching plastic cups

As you may have noticed, I’m slightly interested in the massive human-created changes to Earth’s climate that are going to make many major cities uninhabitable soon via increased heat or sea level rise or both, so this CNBC article on sports venues at risk from climate change promised to check all of my boxes:

  • Florida International University climate professor Henry Briceno predicts that the Miami Heat arena will flood with only two feet of sea level rise (expected as soon as 2060), while the Dolphins‘ stadium will flood at a three-foot rise. As for the site of David Beckham’s new Inter Miami stadium, Briceno remarked, “I don’t know if those guys know that they are building in the future Atlantis.”
  • The San Diego Padres‘ stadium flooded in 2017, and the Quad Cities River Bandits stadium was made inaccessible thanks to flooding last year, and while both of those were because of torrential rains and not sea-level rise, more and more severe storms are expected to be a consequence of a warmed planet as well.
  • Disappointingly, the article doesn’t talk much about what will happen to sports teams once the cities they play in are largely uninhabitable as a result of climate change — Phoenix isn’t going to be underwater ever, but it could be too hot to live in as soon as 2050.

And the article then pivots to what sports teams are doing to help combat climate change — including a long set of quotes from Allen Hershkowitz, the staff environmentalist the New York Yankees hired after he helped MLB come up with programs to claim “green” status and then called commissioner Bud Selig “the most influential environmental advocate in the history of sports” — though only one specific initiative is mentioned: The Dolphins are replacing disposable plastic cups with (presumably reusable) aluminum ones. That sounds great, but while plastics are indeed a pollution nightmare, in terms of carbon footprint they’re not all that much better for the planet than alternatives (reusability is more important than what cups are made of). And there’s no mention of what the carbon footprint was of these teams’ repeated building and upgrading of new stadiums, which is kind of a big omission when nearly a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions are related to construction.

The best way to keep sports from drowning themselves, really, would be for teams to play in whatever stadiums they already have and for fans to stay out of their cars and instead stay home and watch on the internet listen on the radio. Or maybe just play fewer games. Somebody ask Hershkowitz about that, maybe?

A’s vow stadium opening in 2023, not clear yet on how to get fans to it

The Oakland A’s proposed stadium at Howard Terminal may still have a lot of unknowns like how to pay for $200 million in new infrastructure, but team president Dave Kaval isn’t going to let that stop him from declaring “Get the shovels ready!” and saying he hopes to begin construction this summer and open the stadium by 2023. That seems 1) ambitious and 2) like the sort of thing team execs say whether or not such a timeline is realistic, but it’s certainly more possible now that the A’s owners have control of the Oakland Coliseum land that they want to redevelop to help pay for the Howard Terminal stadium, though exactly how they’ll develop it is also up in the air, and … you can see why maybe counting on spending Opening Day 2023 looking admiringly at cranes is jumping the gun a bit.

In other news about the A’s maybe-ballpark:

  • There may not be a gondola taking fans to the game from the nearby BART station, but there will be a “transportation hub” where fans will be dropped off by shuttle buses, then can walk or take rental scooters (because California loves its scooters) across a pedestrian bridge across Embarcadero West. That $200 million infrastructure price tag is making more and more sense, especially if a new bridge is involved.
  • The city of Oakland’s Department of Transportation estimates that half of all A’s fans would drive to games, and another 16% would take Uber or Lyft. (Currently 70% of A’s fans drive to games, but that’s with a stadium surrounded by a sea of parking.) Then they’d likely have to take a shuttle bus or walk a ways from their parking spots, presumably across that same proposed pedestrian bridge plus one other, meaning it’s going to need to be really wide if they don’t want hour-long backups after games (something that’s already sometimes a problem at the Coliseum, even with the bridge really only serving BART riders), which means it’s likely to be really expensive.

Map of all the proposed transit plans, including the ones that remain *proposed:

Or, you know, maybe they could just close Embarcadero West to traffic before and after games, which would be a hell of a lot cheaper than building two bridges, even if you had to hand out $20 bills to drivers to bribe them to take different streets. Totally nothing that needs to be decided before holding a city council vote and breaking ground on a major new development project!

Friday roundup: Panthers owner donated to Charlotte officials during stadium lobbying, St. Louis MLS didn’t need $30m in state money after all, and what time the Super Bowl economic impact rationalizations start

Happy Friday, and try not to think about how much you’re contributing to climate change by reading this on whatever electronic device you’re using. Though at least reading this in text doesn’t require a giant server farm like watching a video about stadiums would — “Streaming one hour of Netflix a week requires more electricity, annually, than the yearly output of two new refrigerators” is one of the more alarming sentences I’ve read ever — so maybe it counts as harm reduction? I almost linked to an amusing video clip to deliver my punchline, wouldn’t that have been ironic!

And now, the news:

Lawsuit could ask to undo Angels stadium deal for violating state transparency law

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Angels heavily subsidized stadium land purchase deal was done largely in secret — the city didn’t even release details of the sale until ten days before its single public hearing on the matter, and even then a lot of questions were left unanswered — but now the sale is facing a potential lawsuit for violating California’s Brown Act requiring open government:

“The Council’s approval of this Agreement was a rubber stamp of the terms that had been improperly discussed, negotiated, and agreed upon outside of public view, in violation of the Brown Act (state transparency law),” reads the Jan. 19 letter filed by attorney Kelly Aviles.

Aviles letter alleges councilmembers violated the state’s transparency law because the 1953 Ralph M. Brown Act limits private discussion of any sale of public property to “price and terms of payment” for the sale of the land…

“If the Board fails or refuses to cure and correct or respond as demanded, my client will seek judicial invalidation of the challenged actions…” states Aviles’ letter.

That’s not a lawsuit yet, but it sounds like it’s going to be one unless the city council “corrects” its decision, which seems pretty durn unlikely. The success rate of these things at overturning city decisions isn’t all that great, but it’s not zero either, so it’s entirely possible that the $325 million land sale — which is probably at least a $175 million discount from what the land could have fetched on the open market — will have to be re-voted on, this time with more time for open debate. Hope springs eternal!