Rays to Tampa Bay: If you don’t wanna buy tickets, maybe we just won’t offer you as many seats

Tampa Bay Rays management has announced its first plan for the immediate future following the collapse of its new-stadium plan, and it involves that favorite refuge of the attendance-challenged: tarpaulins.

Seating capacity at Tropicana Field will be reduced to about 25,000 to 26,000 under a renovation plan aimed at improving fans’ experience.

The team on Friday announced plans to create a more “intimate” atmosphere, including the creation of the Left Field Ledge in the lower level featuring premium seating for small groups, and the elimination of the upper-deck 300 level.

The capacity at the Trop previously was 31,042.

The notion that closing off sections that nobody wants to sit in anyway creates more “intimacy” is, of course, kind of disingenuous: If done right it can make the dearth of fans a bit less obvious, but it’s not like it moves the remaining seats any closer to the action. (Notwithstanding that the Tampa Bay Times, no doubt parroting the Rays’ press release, says this move will “bring fans closer to the action.”) Mostly, what it does is create at least a little bit of ticket scarcity, encouraging fans to buy tickets to big series in advance, rather than thinking, enh, I’ll wait and see who’s pitching and what else I have going on then, there’ll always be seats available — which isn’t better for fans in any way (they have to take on the risk that the Rays will be out of contention when the games they’ve bought come around), but clearly can be better for team coffers. Plus, for any really popular games you can raise prices, and that helps make up for the extra 6,000 seats you can no longer offer for sale.

To see what happens when a team closes its top deck, we can look to the example of the Oakland A’s, who tarped off the top level of the Oakland Coliseum from 2006 through 2016. Here’s what their attendance did:

That’s … not so good. What about their operating revenue?

That’s less bad, but still falls more into the category of “didn’t hurt” than “dramatically helped.”

In short, closing off sections is a stopgap measure that isn’t all that significant to anyone, but at least shows an eagerness to do something, even if that something is only to acknowledge that it’s hard to get people to go to your games even when you’re winning. That’s not exactly the best thing to advertise in order to attract new fans, but then, now that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has spent well over a decade telling Tampa Bay residents that their home ballpark is an inaccessible dump, it’s a little late to change course now.

Friday roundup: Don’t subsidize bad people, XFL to pay St. Louis more in rent than Rams did, unscientific poll on Suns arena is unscientific

Happy first Friday roundup of 2019! I could add a whole lot of thoughts on lists I’ve read and haven’t made of the best of this and that of last year, but to save time let me just stick with saying that this song is pretty damn excellent and get right to the news of the short week:

  • Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote a column about how Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder is a bad person and a terrible owner and should never get a dime of public stadium money because that’d be “a bailout, welfare,” none of which I can disagree with, but at the same time I’m a bit uncomfortable with the implication that if Snyder were less unpleasant, he’d then be deserving of public largesse.
  • The XFL may still be considered a bit of a joke league, but at least it can pay the city of St. Louis a decent stadium rent, unlike the Rams ever did. (Of course, the “joke league” bit is exactly why they are being required to pay real rent whereas the Rams could refuse to; there’s not much advantage to being an 80-pound gorilla.)
  • This essay responding to Amazon’s tax breaks is pretty excellent, though it’s still a half-notch below this classic Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon.
  • An opposing team manager has demanded that Tottenham Hotspur be required to play the rest of their season at Wembley rather than moving into their much-delayed stadium, because … teams that got to play them while they were adjusting to their new grounds would have an advantage somehow? From what I’ve been able to tell, most of home-field advantage in soccer comes from home fans booing (or whistling) at refs to intimidate them into making calls that go their team’s way, but the last time I tried reading the literature on this it quickly went deep into the weeds, so I won’t belabor the point.
  • “Fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena” were “surprisingly” in favor of spending public money to renovate the Phoenix Suns arena, according to Fox10 Phoenix, compared to “the online response” which was more “mixed.” This is both an impressively off-label use of “surprisingly” and an impressively lazy attempt at polling Phoenix residents — two impressively lazy attempts, even — so fine job, Fox10 Phoenix!

Coyotes exec vows new owners will keep team in town (in a new arena, paid for by somebody who is not them)

I’m been out of commission the last couple of days with the flu — if you want an early indication that this year’s flu vaccine may not have been particularly well-targeted, I’m your data point — but it looks like I didn’t miss too much stadium and arena action. Except, that is, for a truly impressive non-threat threat from Arizona Coyotes management about new owners potentially moving the team.

Ever since it was revealed last year that Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway was looking to sell anywhere from 49% to 100% of his stake in the team, there has been speculation that new owners might want to relocate it to someplace where people actually want to buy hockey tickets. So new team president Ahron Cohen issued a New Year’s statement that, news outlets reported, declared “Arizona is our home” and reaffirmed the team’s desire to stay in the state.

Except the key section of Cohen’s statement said nothing of the sort:

“Recently, you may have read reports about a potential ownership transaction. As I have said for months, we will continue to explore investment opportunities to better assist our team in achieving our long-term goals and organizational vision. This process has at its core one key pre-condition: any investment in our team must be laser-focused on helping the Coyotes achieve a long-term sustainable arena solution here in Arizona,” Cohen wrote.

“Every potential investment opportunity we evaluate and every business deal we consider is predicated on making our franchise successful here in Arizona for decades to come. Arizona is our home. We love it here. And we love playing for you, the very best fans in the NHL.”

That is not, under any possible reading, we will only sell to new owners who will promise to stay in Arizona, but rather, it’d be a real shame if anyone was to set fire to those paratroopers, colonel.

Now, does this mean it’s any more likely that the Coyotes are going to move if they’re sold? No. Less likely? Also no. In fact, it’s exactly the same thing you would expect team execs to say regardless of what their plans are for the team — or if they have no idea what their plans are, but they just want to keep their options open. So this makes the team’s current ownership group look concerned about fans while also not hamstringing future owners in any way — other than not to turn down a free arena in the Phoenix area if one is offered — which is just rhetorical evil genius, man.

And as a reminder, in case anyone has forgotten: Yes, the Coyotes already play in a largely free arena in the Phoenix area, one they were reasonably happy with until a conflict-of-interest loophole allowed the city of Glendale to terminate the lease that paid the team $8 million a year to play there. I’m sure there’s a clever, pithy way to describe the interlocking ironies at work here, but I’m still getting over being sick, so I’ll have to leave that as an exercise for my readers.

Calgary councillor on Flames arena: We haven’t tried setting $600m on fire yet, it’s worth a shot

It’s generally not a good idea to base your perceptions of a major development plan on which of two elected officials has the best sound bite, but in the case of the proposed new Calgary Flames arena, it’s really hard not to when these are both contained in the same article:

“What I’ve been saying to proponents of the arena is, ‘Don’t sell me magic beans,’” [Calgary Mayor Naheed] Nenshi said in a year-end interview with Postmedia. “Just be really honest: This is the amount of public financing that it’s going to take to build this and this is why we think it’s a good investment in the city.”

And:

Some at the city, including the mayor, have questioned what sort of private development is likely to be spurred in an environment where office towers are already sitting empty and there exists an oversupply of condos and apartments.

“I dispute that a little bit, [that] putting an office tower there isn’t a good thing when we have vacancy,” says [city councillor Jeff] Davison. “It’s absolutely a good thing, because it’s a totally different model than what we have now. And what we’ve learned is that in this downturn, the model we have right now doesn’t work.”

Don’t sell me magic beans vs. we should build an arena in order to spark the creation of office towers in the middle of an office tower glut because not building arenas hasn’t worked great so why not try something different? is a first-round rhetorical knockout even before we get into the actual numbers involved. Which are, if you’re scoring at home: A new arena could now cost $600 million plus the price of land, which is a higher price tag than in the last plan that the Calgary city manager projected the city would lose $1.2 billion on (though that one would have included a CFL stadium as well).

The Calgary council is set to vote on January 28 on which projects to dedicate public funds to, and both Davison and Nenshi have votes. Expect a whole lot of public lobbying in the next four weeks, in other words, which means lots more opportunities for fun sound bite wars.

Raiders could move to London for 2019, according to man on TV doing impression of P.G. Wodehouse character

This just in: Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is in talks to play next season’s home games at Tottenham Hotspur‘s new stadium, according to multiple news stories all citing … aw man, the Daily Mail? Repeating claims from a single unsourced story is never good journalism, but doing so when the original story is in a paper actually banned by Wikipedia as unreliable is even worse.

And even worse than that, the original Daily Mail story actually does provide a source, but it’s an extremely problematic one:

NFL commentator and writer Ray Glazer revealed: ‘London is now an option for the Raiders. It is being discussed for them to play there next year. They are still trying to figure it out. The Raiders are discussing it. Do they play four home games, four away games, and back and forth again?

That’s actually Jay Glazer, who said that in on-air commentary on Fox Sports over a week ago, and provided no sources himself beyond just throwing London out as “a possibility as of now.” Then he signed off “Cheerio!” because that’s how you indicate to Americans that you are talking about England, or that you are Bertie Wooster.

This is a pretty alarming example of journalistic reification, wherein something gets reported once in the press (or in a British tabloid that is sort of shaped like the press) and then can freely be reported by headlines around the world because it was reported in the press, man. Not that the Raiders definitely won’t move to London — it’s a possibility, just like pretty much every other place on the planet — but it’s not a particularly new one or an exceptionally likely one. I mean, I could write that the Oakland Raiders could play next season at the Stade Olympique in Montreal, and it would be just as accurate and just as sourced. In fact, I just wrote it, and I’d put this site’s accuracy up against the Daily Mail’s any day. San Jose Mercury News, your task is clear.

UPDATE: OH GOD NOW IT’S BEEN UPGRADED TO A “REPORT”!

Friday roundup: SF doesn’t want Raiders, Spurs hate Tottenham, Rays outfielder says team has “no fan base” and should maybe move

It was a bit of a slow holiday week, but the news that there was made up for it by being extra-entertaining:

  • The Oakland Raiders played maybe their last game in Oakland, at least until the next time they move back to Oakland. (Hey, it’s happened before.) Still nobody has a clue where the team will play next year, but San Francisco officials are already gearing up to block any Raiders games at the Giants‘ AT&T Park, saying they don’t want to be “scabs” in the city of Oakland’s lawsuit against the Raiders for skipping town that prompted this game of stadium chicken in the first place. This is looking like a better and better option.
  • The New Jersey state legislature is preparing to help out the horse racing industry by providing $100 million over the next five years to goose winnings, which seems like exactly the opposite of how gambling is supposed to work.
  • Tottenham Hotspur still can’t get its new stadium open — the earliest possible date is now in February — but that’s not stopping team officials from griping that the surrounding neighborhood is too dirty to go alongside its fancy new stadium thanks to “litter and fly-tipping.” According to one borough memo, “When the question of all the extra cleaning needed was raised and who would fund it it was made very clear that it would not be paid for by Spurs.” The estimated cost of added street cleaning would be £8,000 per match; the team’s most recent annual profit was £58 million.
  • I love interactive fiction and have even written some myself, so I’m inclined to like this Arizona Republic article presenting the Suns arena showdown as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. But sadly its plot relies on some misconceptions — allowing the Suns owners to break their lease in 2022 doesn’t necessarily mean the team will leave, and if they do leave the city’s estimates of $130-180 million in renovations to keep it “competitive” for concerts may be overblown — so I won’t be voting for it for a XYZZY Award.
  • Some details have been released about plans for a Portland baseball stadium, but none of them involve how the stadium would be paid for or how much rent it would pay to its public landlords or even where a team would be obtained, so feel free to skip reading the full documents unless you’re really interested.
  • Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Tommy Pham was asked what he thought about playing in his new home city after being traded last year from St. Louis, and replied, “It sucks going from playing in front of a great fan base to a team with really no fan base at all.” Pham added, “Do I think something has to happen, whether it be a new ballpark, maybe a new city? I think so.” I am going out on a limb to guess that attendance will probably not be great next year on Tommy Pham Bobblehead Night.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks arena has been open for “several months” now, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which apparently can’t count to four, and the most important takeaways are that: 1) kids like candy, 2) grownups like cheese-covered sausages, 3) everybody likes taking selfies, 4) Bucks president Peter Feigin also likes candy, and 5) nobody actually wants to sit in that ridiculous Panorama Club. No reports back yet on the status of the magic basketball.

D.C. councilmember facing pay-for-play charges, could be too in jail to help with Washington NFL stadium

Washington, D.C., has put close to a billion dollars in public money into sports stadiums and arenas in recent years — for the Nationals, D.C. United, and a Wizards practice facility that doubles as a Mystics home court — and at the center of pretty much all of the spending campaigns is city councilmember Jack Evans. And Evans, according to a Washington Post report, is now in super-hot water, which I will hand it over to Deadspin to explain because they do it so much pithier:

The paper alleged Evans received an estimated $100,000 in stock from a private company just before introducing “emergency” legislation that would have directly benefited the gift horse firm. The story said the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability began looking into Evans’s play-for-pay behaviors earlier this year. The ethics board suspended that investigation and released no findings, which according to the Post typically happens “in deference to law enforcement investigations.”

Uh oh.

Serious uh-oh. The private company in question is billboard company Digi Outdoor Media, and it gifted Evans with the $100,000 in stock in October 2016, one month before Evans introduced emergency legislation to legalize large digital advertising signs that the company wanted to install. Digi had earlier worked with Evans on legislation legalizing large fabric ads on the sides of buildings, and had given the councilmember $50,000 in checks earlier in 2016, in what Evans said was a retainer for future consulting work. (Evans says he ended up returning both the checks and the stock.)

If Evans goes down in flames, notes Deadspin’s Dave McKenna, it will be nothing but bad for Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder’s attempts to get a new stadium on the RFK site:

In keeping with his no-billionaire-left-behind reputation, Evans was viewed as the leader among D.C. politicians in putting together a package to beat whatever Maryland and Virginia lawmakers were going to give the bumbling but moneyed Skins owner. One source with ties to the D.C. council tells me Evans’s package calls for the city to turn over the choice real estate to Snyder for free, and to take care of new road and parking lot costs, and Snyder would dip into NFL coffers and maybe even his own bank accounts to finance the actual stadium construction. I was at an election night function last month and saw Evans holding court and boasting about how the plan to turn over the federally owned, city-controlled parcel of land to the most despised man in the Nation’s Capital (yes, even in the Trump era) was all but signed, sealed and delivered.

“It’s a done deal,” Evans said, according to one of the folks in the court. So done, in fact, that Evans also said the city was already planning that the stadium building project would be “announced in March” of 2019.

Maybe not, now.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t note McKenna’s excellent disclosure at the end of his article that “Jack Evans once called me to berate me for writing that Nationals Park was being built with public funds; the dumbass argument Evans made repeatedly during his phone tirade was that all the money used to build the stadium, a tab that eventually hit about $1 billion, would come from new taxes implemented specifically for that project, and therefore those tax revenues can’t be called ‘public money.’ Huh?” Hey, I’ve heard that argument before! If it turns out that Evans had a hand in killing my Washington Post op-ed way back in 2012, then full disclosure here that I had reason for animosity towards him, though honestly I think any D.C. resident or person concerned about not lavishing public dollars on wealthy sports team owners has plenty enough reason already to be excited to see him hoist on his own $100,000 petard.

Friday roundup: More Raiders temporary home rumors, more MLB expansion rumors, and pro cricket (?!?) in Texas

Was this week longer than usual, or did it just feel that way? The number of browser tabs I have open indicates the former — personally, I blame the moon.

  • Or maybe the Oakland Raiders will play in Arizona next year? When you have a lame-duck team whose new stadium in its new city isn’t ready yet, no idea is dumber than any other, really.
  • The University of Texas is reportedly building a new $300 million basketball arena at no cost to the state or the university, though if you read the fine print it’s actually getting Oak View Group (the same people behind Seattle’s arena rebuild) to build the arena in exchange for letting OVG keep a large chunk of future arena revenues. So really this is no different from UT building the arena themselves and using future revenues to pay off the construction costs, except I guess that OVG takes on the risk of cost overruns. Anyway, this is a good reminder that it’s not just about the costs, it’s about the revenues, stupid.
  • Las Vegas wants an MLB expansion team. It shouldn’t hold its breath.
  • There are lots of ideas for what to do with D.C.’s RFK Stadium site, and not all of them involve a stadium for Washington’s NFL team.
  • Queens community groups are protesting possible plans to build a soccer stadium for a would-be USL team called Queensboro F.C. on the Willets Point site cleared of businesses for redevelopment (including affordable housing) several years ago. This is a super-weird story that I’m still trying to get to the bottom of, so stay tuned for a more in-depth update soon.
  • Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk now says he’d consider letting someone else own his team’s proposed downtown arena if they’d pay to build it, contradicting what he said two years ago. Here’s a fun list of other times Melnyk contradicted himself!
  • Lots of public meetings coming up in Phoenix on the much-derided $230 million Suns arena renovation plan. The city has also posted the actual arena proposal, which among other things notes that the Suns’ rent is projected to go up from $1.5 million to $4 million a year in a renovated arena, which would help offset some of the public’s $168 million in costs, though it doesn’t say whether the rent (which is based on revenues) would go up in an unrenovated arena as well, so really this wouldn’t offset it all that much.
  • Speaking of the Suns, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said this week that “it’d be a failure on my part if a team ended up moving out of a market.” Now that’s how you play the army protection racket non-threat threat game! Rob Manfred, take notes. (Actually, please don’t.)
  • And speaking of Manfred, MLB is reportedly considering letting teams take control of their streaming broadcast rights instead of running them all centrally through MLB.tv, which would be a huge deal in that it would allow teams in large markets to monopolize streaming revenue like they currently do TV revenue, forestalling an NFL-like future where TV money is a more level playing field. They could offset this through increased revenue-sharing, sure, but … you know what, let’s table this discussion until there’s more than an unsourced New York Post item to go on.
  • Allen, Texas, is talking about building a pro cricket stadium via a “public-private partnership,” leaving me with two big questions: 1) how much is the public kicking in, and 2) maybe would it be a good idea to wait until a pro cricket league actually exists before building a stadium for it to play in?
  • The Athletic has a strangely formatted article about how finished MLS stadiums seldom look like their renderings that’s a fun read if you’re an Athletic subscriber, which you probably aren’t. (I got the $1-for-90-days trial deal, so I can keep tantalizing you with paywalled stuff for another few weeks yet.)

Cubs co-owner once got so steamed at mayor for refusing subsidy demands that he suggested selling or moving team

This doesn’t quite rise to the level of news per se, but it’s getting lots of attention and it’s a Deadspin scoop and they’re nice and pay me money to write for them, so what the heck: Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts once got so mad at an interview where Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel bragged about refusing the team’s stadium subsidy demands that he suggested moving the Cubs out of town.

Having received a final proposal for the Ricketts investment in the Cubs, Emanuel told the Chicago Tribune [in 2013]:

When I first started this discussion, the Cubs wanted $200 million in taxpayer dollars. I said no. Then they said we’d like $150 million, and I said no. Then they asked whether they could have $100 million in taxpayer subsidies, and I said no. Then they asked about $55 million in taxpayer subsidies. I said no. The good news is, after 15 months they heard the word ‘No.’”

Todd Ricketts, a prominent Republican fundraiser and the current finance chariman of the Republican National committee, forwarded the story to his father and siblings, writing:

I think we should contemplate moving, or at least recognize that we are maybe not the right organization to own the Cubs.

That’s pretty weak tea, but it is amusing to see that the hissy fits thrown by rich dudes come off just as petty in private emails as in public statements. But then, Todd Ricketts is a guy whose dad, according to another part of the email cache that Deadspin’s sister site Splinter has uncovered, once sent his entire family a list of bullet points about how great rich people are, so it only makes sense that he’d respond to being told “no” on his subsidy demands by threatening to take his ball and go home. He didn’t do it — the Cubs are the third most valuable team in baseball precisely because they play in Chicago, so presumably either his siblings talked him down or he came to his senses — but as a first reaction, that’s so very Ricketts.

Former Marlins exec gives fans the finger (literally, not figuratively) as he brags of profits from stadium ripoff

Former Miami Marlins president David Samson was never the smoothest in the PR department, what with the way he upstaged the opening of his own team’s stadium by calling Miami residents and legislators “stupid” for giving his ex-stepdad Jeff Loria public money to build it. But this really takes the cake:

Samson showed up in a shiny rich-guy sport coat and dress shirt. He walked onstage to a hail of booing from the sort of drunk bros who would hang out at a Dan Le Batard event…

So how did Samson respond to angry fans? He flipped them off and bragged that he and Loria’s cartoonishly evil antics helped the owner sell the team for $1.2 billion…

“Thank you so much; thank you very much,” a drunk-sounding Samson stammered into a microphone as Le Batard lumbered behind him. “Here’s why I love when you guys boo me. Right. I want you to keep booing me. Because guess what? One-point-two billion. Fuck you!”

Yes, a former sports executive actually bragged about how he didn’t care if people hated him, because he and his boss/stepdad walked away with piles of moneybags thanks to public largesse, and literally said “Fuck you!” while literally giving the audience the finger. If this seems way too on the nose to possibly be true, here is video evidence:

I guess this is just the way things are going to go from now on. I look forward to Henry Kissinger’s upcoming memoir, Yeah, I Helped Send Three Million People to Their Deaths, What Are You Gonna Do About It, Assholes?