Entire minor soccer league wants new stadiums by 2020

Detroit doesn’t have an MLS team or particular plans for one, but it does have two minor-league teams, Detroit City FC and the Michigan Bucks, which play in the National Premier Soccer League and the USL Premier Development League, respectively, both of which Wikipedia claims to be the 4th tier of U.S. soccer. (Once you’re that many tiers down, who really cares?) And at least one of these amateur squads could be about to get its very own new soccer stadium, or at least free land for it:

The city has reportedly indicated a willingness to “provide land on the Detroit waterfront for either club if it needs more room.”

With minor-league soccer teams like Indy Eleven already clamoring for stadium subsidies, you have to wonder how many more minor-league soccer teams are going to start asking for new buildings. And the answer, apparently, is all of them:

The USL is pleased to announce a groundbreaking multi-year partnership designating global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm HOK as the Official Stadium Design Partner of the league. HOK will lead a stadium development, design and standards initiative supporting the league’s strategic initiative to house all USL clubs in soccer-specific stadiums across North America by the end of the decade.

That’s a whole mess of stadiums: 24 for now, though the league may yet expand beyond that in the near future. Even if some of these end up being renovations rather than entirely new buildings, you can see why HOK (which is no longer the same as Populous, which used to be HOK) would jump at the chance to get all those new design contracts, even if most won’t like be big-ticket jobs.

As for the USL, this allows the league and its teams to stake a claim to the burgeoning cities-throwing-money-at-soccer-teams market, and get “[Fill in team name here] needs a new stadium by 2020″ articles in every USL city across the nation. Why, look, here’s one from Louisville!

A team that opened its inaugural season playing at Louisville Slugger Field still has “a lot of work to do” to meet the USL’s stadium mandate by the end of the decade, [Louisville City FC owner Wayne] Estopinal said Thursday.

Remember, people: When a team owner says he wants a new stadium, it’s just a demand. When a league says it wants new stadiums for its teams, it’s a mandate.

Bored reporters now just making up own San Diego stadium deals for Chargers

There hasn’t been much public talk in San Diego about building a new Chargers stadium since a local city councilmember threw everything he could think of at the wall to see what would stick, though the mayor’s task force is supposed to announce the “outlines” of a financing plan on May 20. Some reporters, though, can’t wait that long, and so are trying to spin stadium news out of … well, follow the bouncing ball:

Now, it’s possible that Moores’ plan meant the increase in taxes from added hotel stays, not an unconstitutional-without-a-vote increase in hotel tax rates, though there’s no way that that would generate anything close to $1.4 billion. And anyway, it turns out that Moores didn’t actually figure out how to pay for his stadium proposal: U-T San Diego reported last year that “JMI did not ask its consultants for a financing plan, leaving that crucial detail to the city to work out.”

So, San Diego’s convention center expansion funding may be in trouble thanks to a court ruling handed down last year, so that could open the door open (sorry, just can’t stop typing that) for a new Chargers stadium to be funded by some means nobody has figured out yet. I don’t know what the mayor’s task force is going to come out with in eight days, but it’s gotta be more newsworthy than this.

SD mayor vows “good and fair deal” to subsidize Chargers stadium

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer gave his State of the City speech yesterday, and make clear that he wants citizens to know that he’s committed to throwing money at the Chargers for a new stadium, but not throw it, you know, too wildly:

Delivering his first “State of the City” address, Faulconer said he would assemble a group of civic leaders to recommend a location either in Mission Valley or downtown and a financing plan that is “a good and fair deal for San Diego taxpayers.” He said he would then seek voter approval.

“At no point in San Diego’s history has the possibility of the Chargers moving to Los Angeles been more real,” he said. “When the next season ends, we’ll be talking about the proposal to keep them here where they belong.”…

“Both the stadium and convention center are vital to San Diego,” he said. “Together or separately, we can get both done.”

You know what they say about negotiations: The most important thing is to say up front that it’s “vital” for you to see the project happen, because then you eliminate any leverage to walk away if the price tag gets too expensive. (Editor’s note: They don’t actually say that.)

Bucks exec gives speech on arena subsidies, Milwaukee paper straight-up summarizes it, calls this journalism

Of all the advantages that powerful people have — the ability to get meetings with any elected officials they want, the money to spend $240 for eight pieces of sushi, that whole droit du seigneur thing — the most valuable might be the power to get their opinions printed in the paper at the drop of a hat by amenable reporters. And since there’s no one more amenable than the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker, we have today’s masterpiece, an alleged news story that quotes or paraphrases Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin in a mind-boggling 16 out of its 18 paragraphs. Here, let’s arrange it as free verse:

The new president of the Milwaukee Bucks said Tuesday

Peter Feigin said

Feigin said   Feigin said   Feigin said

Feigin said   Feigin said

He said

Feigin said   Feigin said   Feigin said   he said

Feigin said

he said

Feigin also said

Feigin spoke at the War Memorial Center at a luncheon sponsored by the Rotary and the Milwaukee Press Club.

If you’re wondering what Feigin talked about, it was the usual stuff: He thinks the government should spend public money on his team’s stadium, he wants to create “economic growth,” etc. But really, this article is remarkable less for the content of Feigin’s talk than for the fact that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel now appears to be paying someone to take dictation on the local sports team’s advertorial copy.

When something like this comes up, I immediately think of the story that Frank Rashid of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club told me about his interaction with one of the local Detroit papers over an article regarding subsidies for a new stadium for the Tigers, which the TSFC opposed. Here’s how we recounted it in chapter six of Field of Schemes:

On one occasion, Rashid recalls, he wound up calling the 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? [Then-Detroit 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.”


St. Pete council calls Rays’ bluff, rejects lease buyout unless team coughs up development rights

If yesterday’s news had you thinking that city councils were just mindless automatons who would inevitably rubber-stamp any stadium deal set before them, then the St. Petersburg city council had a surprise for you: That body voted 5-3 yesterday afternoon to reject the proposed deal in which the Tampa Bay Rays could buy their way out of their Tropicana Field lease to move to a new stadium elsewhere in the bay area for a payment of at most $42 million.

Given that as recently as a week ago, all signs were that the council was going to approve the plan that Mayor Rick Kriseman had worked out with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, this was a bit of a shocker. But according to the Tampa Bay Times, Rays execs shot themselves in the foot with their answer to questions about whether the team would agree to forgo a split of profits from development of land on the 85-acre Tropicana Field site if they were in the process of leaving anyway:

Council member Darden Rice, who voted for the agreement, said the Rays blew the deal with their presentation.

“I think at one point we had five votes,” Rice said. “But I was very disappointed by Auld’s response to Karl Nurse’s question about development rights. It was either tone deafness or arrogance.”…

Nurse had asked Kriseman earlier in the week to change the agreement so the city could retain all development rights in that situation. But the Rays declined to make any substantive changes to Kriseman’s deal.

Nurse still voted for the deal in the end, but this did not go over well with several other members of the council:

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley said he felt like the Rays were making ultimatums. “I don’t like arrogance,” he said.

“The deal breaker for me was the idea that they want us to abide by the use agreement for redevelopment purposes, where they can benefit,” [councilmember Amy] Foster said, “but they didn’t want to abide by the use agreement” by staying at the Trop.

“This is a common strategy,” she said. “They use their mobility in order to threaten cities in order to get more.”

Yep, that they do. But in most cases they don’t have an ironclad lease like the one that the Rays are locked into in St. Pete, which currently doesn’t allow the team owners to buy their way out, or even talk about leaving, until 2027. That’s a hefty piece of leverage that the council has at its disposal, and they just used it.

For Sternberg, the logical next step in this situation is to haggle: If the council wants a bigger share of development rights, throw them a bigger share of development rights. Or kick in an extra million or two a year in lease-breaking payments. But it seems like the council isn’t opposed to the principle of the deal, just the specifics, so the usual strategy would be to pick off a couple of councilmembers and find out what their price is.

Sternberg, however, has already declared that he won’t negotiate any more changes to the lease buyout, saying last week, “If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave.” This kind of paints him into a corner, with his only obvious options being:

  • Try to pretend he never said anything about no further negotiations, and quietly resume talks in a few months. This would not only require swallowing a lot of pride at this point, but also leave him with a weakened negotiating position, since clearly his ultimatums wouldn’t be worth squat.
  • Sit tight and wait — if not 13 years, then at least for a new city council to be elected next fall. And then hope like crazy that the new folks are more willing to give you anything you want.
  • Sell the team and make it someone else’s problem. Forbes, which tends to underestimate team values, has the Rays worth $485 million, which would be a nifty 142% profit on what Sternberg bought them for in 2002. But presumably the Rays would be worth an awful lot more if they had a shiny new stadium to play in (especially if the shiny new stadium debt could be fobbed off on taxpayers), so Sternberg would be leaving a lot of hypothetical money on the hypothetical table if he took this route.
  • Call Bud Selig and ask him to threaten to blow up the team on his way out the door, and hope that the courts will protect them from the inevitable antitrust lawsuit that would result.

So far, the Rays have just responded with a generic “You’re a bunch of poopyheads” statement:

There’s still plenty of time — until 2027, really — for a deal to be worked out, so there’s no reason to start freaking out about the Rays moving to Montréal (unless you’re the Tampa Bay Times editorial board). The St. Peterburg council did send a message, though, that they’re at least aware that, as Jonah Keri puts it:

Public officials trying to negotiate better deals in the public interest. What’ll they think of next?

Lincoln arena losing money even after taxpayers cover construction costs, because most arenas are terrible ideas

I know this site is turning into Media Crit 101 some days, but 1) that is one of the things I do, and 2) the media coverage really deserves it lately. Like, try on for size the article from yesterday’s Lincoln Journal Star on Lincoln’s new arena (no pro teams present, just concerts and University of Nebraska basketball) that begins thusly:

Pinnacle Bank Arena has a mixed report financially for its first year.

And what’s the mix, exactly? The good: The restaurant, hotel, and car rental taxes that are going to pay off the arena bonds are coming in faster than expected so far. That’s reassuring in that not having enough money to pay off sports construction bonds can have dire consequences, but it’s not exactly a good financial report on the arena itself: It just means that people are renting more cars in Lincoln, which has nothing to do with the arena’s books per se.

And how are the arena’s books doing? That’s the bad news:

Run by a national management company under contract with the city, the arena did not meet its first year budget expectations, needing a $465,000 boost from the [West Haymarket Joint Public Agency] to break even.

The JPA already was providing $285,000 in pouring rights revenue — money beverage distributors pay to sell drinks at arena concession stands — to the city for arena operations, bringing total JPA contributions to $750,000 for the fiscal year…

In addition, the city gave the area a $500,000 cash advance, which it must repay by 2016.

So actually running the place is losing so much money that the city has had to kick in more than a million dollars just to keep it breaking even — and that’s even if you don’t count the cost of building the arena in the first place, which is being covered by taxes on all those restaurant-eaters and hotel-renters.

This is, frankly, not a “mixed” report, but a pretty dismal one. It’d really be nice if someday, someone other than me would lead off a story on an arena losing money hand over fist with a line like “The new arena is losing money hand over fist,” but I guess that’s not the kind of thing one says out loud in the polite society that is journalism.

Bills used taxpayer money to rip out drinking fountains, force people to buy $5 water

My article yesterday at The Cauldron (direct link now active, click at will) on the Buffalo Bills demanding a new stadium right after getting renovations to their old one prompted this tweet pointing me to this article by ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook, which notes:

Reader Jim Medwid of Alden, New York, attended a recent Bills preseason game and reports: “The concourses are now wider, but all drinking fountains have been removed from the stadium, which prohibits bringing in any kind of bottle, even clear-sided water bottles.” So taxpayers paid $90 million for renovations that force Bills ticket holders to buy $5 water bottles from the concession stands, and guess who keeps the profit.

Actually, more like $227 million, but who’s counting?

No drinking fountains and a ban on water bottles sounds like not just a terrible idea, but a recipe for lawsuits the first time someone passes out from dehydration on a hot day. (Yes, they have those in Buffalo in September.) It’ll also be interesting to see if we fan protests along the lines of the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ memorable Water-gate, which ultimately led to the team reversing its ban on outside water.

Warriors release rendering of what new SF arena will look like from orbit

People love the arena renderings, even if the actual buildings seldom end up looking quite like the original drawings, so here you go. Courtesy of the San Francisco Business Times, renderings of the latest Golden State Warriors arena plans:

Toilet bowl? Trash can lid? The Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy? (Snohetta designer Craig Dykers actually compared the design to one of these three — see if you can guess which!)

Okay, this doesn’t actually show us much of anything of what the arena will look like to humans who aren’t paragliding overhead. (Snohetta didn’t release any ground-level renderings.) You can see where two 160-foot office towers would go (only a bit taller than the arena itself), but other than that, for now you’ll just have to imagine yourself being one of those teensy dots looking up at the building.

Sports on Earth blows up real good

Sorry for the lack of news posts yesterday, but I had some other stuff to work on in the morning, then news broke that Sports on Earth, where I’ve written 2-3 times a month since last fall, was shutting down. Also not shutting down. Actually pretty much shutting down after all, even if the site will live on in name only.

This sucks for me as a journalist, because under editor Larry Burke, SoE had become a terrific place to explore important topics in-depth, and get paid an actual living wage while doing so. But it also sucks for me as a reader, because now I won’t be able to read all the great work being done by Patrick Hruby and Jeb Lund and Howard Megdal and … I’m going to stop there before I start worrying about who I’m leaving out, but so many other talented sportswriters who are suddenly out of a job. Or rather, I’m sure I’ll still get to read them somewhere, but not all in one place, and probably not with as much freedom to explore the nooks and crannies of the sports world as they were afforded at SoE.

Anyway, for the immediate future the bulk of my sportswriting will be here, though I do have one article in the pipeline for another outlet. Thanks to all of my supporters for helping pay the bills so I can devote time to this site (if you’d like to become one, that’s what this hotlink is for), and thanks to every Field of Schemes reader for reading, and commenting, and retweeting, and all that good stuff.

And now for the news…