Michigan residents’ $300m for Red Wings arena buying slightly closer seats, plus lasers

This week’s Sports Illustrated has a long profile of the Detroit Red Wings‘ under-construction new arena, which almost entirely consists of quotes from team execs and the arena’s designers, so take with a huge grain of salt. It does include a few tea leaves we can try to read, though, so let’s get to it:

The design starts with putting fans as close to the ice as possible. “We brought in our general manager, Ken Holland, to find which was the most intimidating place we play,” Tom Wilson, CEO of team and arena owner Olympia Entertainment, tells SI.com. “Without question it is Montreal. There is no light. No open concourses. Just a sea of red jerseys screaming at you in French. We went there to see it and, my gosh, they are on top of you.”

George Heinlein, HOK Sports principal, tells SI.com that they designed Little Caesars with Montreal’s Bell Centre’s vertical rise, but with added legroom. “It is about the steepness of the seating bowl,” Heinlein says. “But also the proximity of those fans to the rink.”

This is garbage: Since a hockey arena’s seating starts, by definition, at the edge of the rink, the only way to get fans (in the first deck, at least) closer to the ice is to reduce legroom. This is a tradeoff, obviously — less legroom is bad for the people sitting in those seats, but good for the fans sitting in the rows behind them — but unless HOK has reinvented geometry, they can’t accomplish both at once.

While Detroit’s current Joe Louis Arena has about 40% of seats in the lower bowl, Little Caesars flips the script, putting about 10,500 of the total 19,600 seats in the lower bowl, but with the last row in Little Caesars still able to fit within the last row of Joe Louis.

“More seats in the lower bowl” is actually HOK dogma at this point, apparently because team owners think they can charge more for a seat in the last row of a lower bowl than for a seat in the front row of an upper bowl, though they might be equally good for seeing the game. The last row being no farther from the ice than in the old arena is more promising, if that’s indeed what “fit within the last row of Joe Louis” means.

The baddest bowl eliminates the trendy concept of opening up the concourses to the rink. Instead of creating sightlines through the entire venue, the Red Wings wanted to focus on creating noise, eliminating any holes where noise or energy could escape. “We don’t want to blow out concourses, we want to contain all the energy in the seating bowl,” Heinlein says. “It is a throwback in that regard.”

This sounds like marketing gibberish — “we’re eliminating this thing that everyone has been claiming is one of the best things about new sports venues, and claiming it’s ‘throwback’ and trendy for not being trendy” — and it is, but it’s also potentially kind of cool. One staple of stadium and arena design the last couple of decades has been a large gap between decks, so that fans in concession areas can see the game while waiting on line for food. If you’ve ever been at one of these buildings, though, you know that this usually means “see maybe one corner of the game, or more likely a thin strip of the crowd that is watching the game, while peering around everyone standing around the concourse,” which is entirely useless, especially since there are typically TV monitors everywhere showing you the actual game.

Getting rid of that gap, though, enables the designers to move the entire deck above maybe 10-20 feet down and forward, which is a huge benefit to the people actually sitting in those seats, and could help explain that “worst seat is no worse than in Joe Louis” claim. I’m tentatively optimistic, anyway.

Connecting the interior of Little Caesars with the Via and surrounding neighborhood by blurring the entry plaza concourse with the external streets of the district, Wilson says the space offers diversity and will encourage fans to return over and over to experience new spaces. “The Via is a very active space,” Wilson says. “We want to change the way people come to games. Come at 6 (p.m.), have your choice of sports bars, a market house, a spaghetti house and have a full evening. At the end of the game, there are tons of experiences to still have and discover.”

In other words, the Via (a glassed-in concessions concourse that is meant to feel like it’s “outdoors”) is a cross between traditional concessions areas and an outdoor space controlled by the team like Eutaw Street at Camden Yards or Yawkey Way at Fenway Park. Nothing new, in other words — it’s just team-controlled restaurant space by another name.

Using a 12-laser projection system, the Red Wings can animate the arena, projecting full motion video and images on the arena’s “forward-thinking” metal-panel skin all the way through the Via. “There is nothing like it in Vegas, Disney or Times Square,” Wilson says. “It is an immersive sort of experience that everybody is going to enjoy.”

Dear lord, that sounds awful. Unless you like the stimulation overload of Vegas and Times Square, which I guess lots of people do, but if I count among “everybody,” I expect I’ll be able to personally disprove that last statement.

And that’s more than enough time to spend on a team PR statement. Let’s close with a reminder of the $300 million in public money this is costing Michigan residents, since SI somehow forgot to mention it.

Tampa proposes $30m subsidy for Yankees’ spring stadium, this passes for getting off cheap these days

The New York Yankees, a team that will be paying $225 million in player payroll this season (just thought I’d mention that, no reason), have agreed to a lease extension with the city of Tampa on their spring-training stadium that will include $30 million in city- and state-financed upgrades. (The Yankees will chip in $4.1 million for improvements to their training complex, and $6.2 million that they’ve already spent on the stadium since 2010, which is a new meaning of “will chip in.”) Planned improvements include new concessions concourses, new sun roofs, and a new “grand entrance” for fans fleeing the watchful gaze of bronze George Steinbrenner.

In exchange, Tampa gets to ensure the presence of the Yankees for another 21 years: The lease currently ends in 2025, and will be extended through 2046. That’s not a horrific tradeoff, though it’s worth noting that entire new minor-league stadiums have recently been built for this price. And the assessment of Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, aka the guy who thinks a single college football game can create 2,000 permanent jobs, remains, um:

[Hagan] said the deal is a good one for taxpayers. The county, which owns Steinbrenner Field, will receive an additional $8.4 million in lease payments for the extra 20 years of the contract. The improvements to the Yankees’ practice complex will raise its taxable value resulting in more property taxes.

And, Hagan said, the continued presence of baseball’s biggest name for spring training will continue to fill local hotels, bars and restaurants with out-of-state visitors.

“When you consider all the additional revenue, this is an extremely attractive return on investment, which makes this deal a no-brainer,” Hagan said.

First off, $8.4 million over the years 2026 through 2046 is never going to make a dent in $30 million in construction costs right now. The property-tax bump is likewise going to be small; as for the throngs of “out-of-state visitors” allegedly drawn to Tampa in March just to see Yankees spring training games, haven’t we killed that urban legend dead yet?

If there are two reasons to care about this, other than just enjoying hating the Steinbrenners for being rich and still being able to get public subsidies whenever they want (assuming the city and county approve the deal, which they haven’t yet), it’s because it’s likely to give another boost to the trend of MLB teams making demands for public upgrades or replacement of not-that-old spring training facilities (Steinbrenner Field was built in 1996), and because it gives us another hint of what Ken Hagan is likely to be like in negotiations for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s almost certainly going to cost Tampa taxpayers a heck of a lot more than $30 million if it happens, especially if Hagan hauls out rationalizations like these.

Chargers want downtown stadium, mayor doesn’t, isn’t this where we came in?

San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos has decided where he wants a new stadium, and it’s not where the city wants one to go:

“We believe that a downtown multi-use facility will attract broad support from throughout our entire community,” the Chargers said Tuesday in a written statement.

Cue the city officials:

“Most experts we’ve talked to have concluded that building a stadium downtown — on land not owned by either the city or the Chargers — would increase costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and take years longer to complete,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts said in a joint statement.

Yeah, this whole reboot of the Chargers stadium battle is going about as smoothly as you’d expect. Yes, the team can potentially get around environmental impact laws by going straight to a voter initiative, as it did for its now-defunct stadium project in Carson, but polls show that it’d be tough to win a vote with any substantial amount of public funding, and Spanos still doesn’t want to build anywhere without a significant chunk of taxpayer change, so there’s that. Unless the promise of $100 million in added NFL stadium cash and the fear of having to be Stan Kroenke’s tenant in Inglewood is enough to make Spanos open his wallet wider — but if it is, he certainly won’t be tipping his hand about it now, not until he sees what he can get out of the city. Say, shouldn’t we have some renderings to distract us about now?

California city terminates minor-league team’s lease on grounds giving away money is illegal

Back when they were filing lawsuits against the Phoenix Coyotes‘ arena deal every week or so, the libertarian Goldwater Institute at one point suggested it might challenge the team’s sweetheart lease as a violation of the state constitution because it represented represented an unlawful gift to a private enterprise. Goldwater never went ahead with that particular suit, but now the city of Adelanto, California is trying a similar tack to rework its lease with the minor-league High Desert Mavericks baseball team:

The Adelanto City Council on Wednesday night voted unanimously to terminate its stadium agreement with the ownership of the High Desert Mavericks…

The city says the public facility use agreement struck in 2012 violates the state Constitution and is essentially a “gift of public funds” in that the majority benefit is skewed toward the minor league baseball team. City officials say Adelanto has spent $2 million on maintenance obligations since August 2012 and yet Mavericks ownership Main Street Baseball, LLC pays $1 annually to lease use of Stater Bros. Stadium.

The Mavericks owners fired back with an “Oh, no, you don’t!” open letter, followed by a request to go to arbitration. They also insisted that the $1-a-year lease serves a public purpose because the lease says it does, so there. (Not quite in that language, but pretty close.)

Apparently a bunch of states have these kinds of gift clauses in their constitutions, and they’re almost always ignored, because not ever giving public funds to private entities for no public purpose would be un-American. This is the first time I can recall an actual elected body trying to void a lease on these grounds, so I guess I’m going to have to add the Victorville Daily Press to my reading list to keep up with how this fight goes.

Australian state is selling off a whole government agency so it can build more stadiums

The premier of the Australian state of New South Wales is selling off an entire governmental department to raise money to upgrade Sydney’s sports stadiums. I am not shitting you:

Hot on the heels of the privatisation of the state’s electricity poles and wires, the Baird government is selling the operations of the Land and Property Information Service – hopefully for a 10-figure sum – to help fund its $1 billion-plus upgrade of Sydney’s sports stadiums.

Premier Mike Baird has already earmarked $600 million from the Restart NSW fund for the ambitious stadiums plan, which includes the new 50,000-seat stadium at Moore Park, rebuilding Parramatta Stadium and upgrading ANZ Stadium at Homebush.

My knowledge of Australian sports venues is extremely limited, but fortunately we have on hand FoS correspondent David Dyte, who’s a Melbourne native and knows all these stadiums well. I asked him for a rundown, and he replied:

Parramatta Stadium serves the far west of the city, and is home to its own rugby league team. It’s pretty old and I guess could use work. ANZ (aka Stadium Australia) is the 2000 Olympic stadium and is reconfigurable – it hosts Australian football (Sydney, Western Sydney) as well as state level rugby league, and national soccer and rugby. It’s in good shape and does well. Moore Park is central and already has the Sydney Cricket Ground – Australia’s only MLB park – and the Sydney Football Stadium (for all the rectangular field sports I already listed, and home to Easts in rugby league, and Sydney FC in soccer) right next door. Why you need another stadium there, unless it’s a rebuild of the football one, is beyond me. [EDIT: It’s indeed a rebuild of the football one.] It’s already redundant with ANZ, really.

As to the arena, the SEC was fine and didn’t need replacing.

So, um… wtf.

WTF indeed. This would be a pretty remarkable stadium spending spree even without selling the state’s property-licensing arm — which normally brings in a hefty chunk of change to the government each year — to a private company and using the proceeds to pay for it, but … they’re selling off part of the government to pay for new sports stadiums. I mean, guh.

I think that’s all I can handle for today. See you on Monday, unless Stan Kroenke takes Roger Goodell hostage or something.

What if they built a new stadium and nobody showed up — oh, hi, 49ers!

Today in empty stadium porn, we present to you the third quarter at yesterday’s San Francisco 49ers home game:

Okay, so maybe that’s the unbearably sunny side of the field, and new stadiums have all kinds of other things for people to do other than actualy sit in your seats and watch the game (I was at Game 2 of the NLCS last night, and the seats behind home plate were empty for most of the game because it was cold and there’s a club where you can sit inside and watch on TV just steps away), and nobody actually goes to football games to watch with their own eyes anymore anyway. Still, it doesn’t exactly show why this place is $1.2 billion preferable to the place they just blew up. Especially not when the game also featured this, courtesy of the still-crappy stadium turf:

Ah, well, the 49ers owners already got their money from fans to pay for the place, so it’s not their problem. If you own a 49ers personal seat license, though, I’ll be wishing on your behalf for the team to get better, and some quirk of climate change to somehow bring rainclouds to the South Bay, I guess.

Would-be Hartford stadium builder has felony embezzlement record, local pol says “We’ve all made mistakes”

Happy Wednesday! And what do the papers have to bring us today?

A Somers businessman pitching a multimillion-dollar deal to bring professional soccer to Hartford has a felony conviction for embezzlement and has faced a string of legal judgments in at least four states for failing to pay personal and professional debts, a Courant investigation has found.

So many questions here. Among them: This guy thinks he can build a 15,000-seat soccer stadium in Hartford for $40 million? Also: With a track record like that, shouldn’t he really be looking to buy a team in the NHL?

But let’s stick with the question that the Hartford Courant provides more answers to, which is “How does one guy end up being charged with ducking so many debts?” To hear Hartford City FC CEO James Duckett tell it, it was all just a series of misunderstandings: He didn’t mean to charge Oracle $200,000 for temp work that was never actually done, or ducking out on an $84,000 debt to M&T Bank, or getting sued for $8,200 in 2010 over something that “might have been a long time ago. I don’t remember.” Or the “incident in which three of Duckett’s dogs attempted to break through the door to [his neighbor]’s home and attack his dog.” In fact, says Duckett, all of this makes him a more reliable candidate to get a 49-year lease on city land for a soccer stadium:

“Those are the things that … we grow from and that’s made me the tough exterior that I am today,” Duckett said. “Certain people, we have stories. Those stories aren’t complete until you go through some rough things.”

And what do Hartford city officials — who wouldn’t be putting up public money under Duckett’s plan, but would be entering into that long-term lease in exchange for either $500,000 a year in rent or 10% of team revenues — think of these revelations?

City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, who has led the effort to redevelop Dillon Stadium on the city side, said Tuesday that he was not aware of Duckett’s embezzlement conviction, and said it “does make you rethink some things.” But he said private money was financing the new stadium, and that if Duckett’s partners had confidence in him, “I think that’s enough for the city.

“We should remember the city has minimal risk here. I don’t see anybody else on the horizon who could bring these kind of dollars to get this thing done,” Kennedy said. “It was 16 years ago. I don’t want selective forgiveness. I think all people should be given another chance. We’ve all made mistakes. I certainly have made my share. A lot has changed in 16 years and I think James should be given the benefit of the doubt.”

Actually, there are probably lots of people willing to promise to bring dollars to the table if you don’t rule out those who have a track record of not actually paying. But then, this is apparently where the rich are different from you and me. I really need to make some business cards that say “Field of Schemes CEO.”

Which NFL teams will go to LA? No one can predict, but here are some predictions anyway

I’ve been trying to think of what to say about yesterday’s NFL non-action around moving teams to L.A. or not — in short, the owners of the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers submitted presentations on the same L.A. stadium plans that we all already knew about, then no one decided anything — and while I was thinking, Barry Petchesky of Deadspin went and did it for me:

It’s a simple matter of math at this point. The NFL is going to move at least one team—Giants owner Steve Tisch says “it’s better than 50-50” that a decision will be made by the 2016 season—and Oakland is the only chopping-block city currently unwilling to offer its team’s ultrawealthy owners hundreds of millions of dollars to stay. Mark Davis has no attachment to the Bay; sentiment doesn’t factor into it.

Good for Oakland, honestly. It—like St. Louis, like San Diego, like every single American city—has much more important things to spend its limited funds on. But this remains sad news for Raiders fans, who seem likely to lose their team, possibly as soon as next year. It’s not fair, but the NFL has all the leverage, because if Oakland won’t make any concessions, there are other cities that will. The only way the stadium scam will ever be stopped cold is if politicians everywhere simultaneously decide sports leagues don’t deserve handouts. It’s hard to see that happening in the near future. It’ll be even harder when politicians look at football-less Oakland, and know the NFL will be more than happy to call their bluff.

Well, maybe. Undeniably, Oakland has the least close to anything resembling a viable football stadium plan: Whereas St. Louis is offering the Rams to go halfsies on a stadum and isn’t sure how it’ll come up with its half, and San Diego has a plan to pay for maybe a third of a stadium that the Chargers hated the minute it left the presses, Oakland has hopes that maybe one day there will be a plan that can actually debated, but not very strong hopes at that. So with three teams and five slots (counting L.A. as two), it’s hard to picture Oakland not ending up an empty chair when this is all over.

That said, it’s never as simple as all that. What happens next is the NFL owners all sit around and figure out how to decide on which teams should most logically move for next season — oh, sorry, they figure out how to exploit the current situation to make the most money. For the time being (the course of the 2015 season, certainly), that should mean speaking ever more loudly about how two teams will be moving to L.A. in 2016, in order to keep fans and elected officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland panicked that they not be one of the two.

What happens, though, if — okay, when — we get to January and the three non-L.A. cities are still all in their various states of incomplete deals? Sure, you can set ever-shorter deadlines, you can fly Roger Goodell into town to frighten the state legislature, but eventually you need to decide whether to have your bluff called or not. Which means deciding whether to take the offers on the table from existing cities, or selecting Door #2, whether that be Inglewood or Carson.

And here’s where we run into unknowns again, because we simply don’t have a clue how lucrative the L.A. market is compared to the certain cost of being on the hook for paying for virtually all of the cost of building stadiums in Inglewood or Carson. And for that matter, the NFL may not know either. It all remains a massive game of chicken with unreliable information all around, which is no doubt one reason why the league has been stalling as long as it can, in the hopes that somebody makes somebody an offer they can’t refuse.

If I had to guess, I’d see three options. In one, Rams owner Stan Kroenke gets approval to move to L.A., then either the Raiders or Chargers join them. Whichever team is left out immediately starts threatening to move to St. Louis in order to get a better deal out of it current home town. In the second, the Chargers and Raiders move to Carson as planned, and Kroenke probably takes whatever deal he can get in St. Louis, though he’d lose a ton of leverage at that point. (One reason why option one is more likely to be approved by the NFL.)

Option three is the status quo: The NFL owners can’t come to an agreement, and decide to let things drag on into 2016. I’m not sure I’d say it’s likely — there’s little to be gained from stalling much longer than they have already — but it is 100% possible. Just keep in mind that none of this has to do with what makes sense: It’s a bunch of people demanding ransom in a chaotic situation, and those can often end in unexpected ways.

Newspaper calls Raiders stadium plan “worst ever” because NFL’s paid stadium consultant says so

Matthew Artz of the San Jose Mercury News revealed some of the details of Floyd Kephart’s Oakland Raiders officially secret stadium plan on Saturday (full plan is here), and immediately turned to stadium experts to evaluate how good a deal it is. Well, one stadium expert. Actually, Marc Ganis, a paid consultant for the NFL who immediately declared Kephart’s plan to be “the worst stadium proposal I’ve seen … by far” — because the Raiders owners wouldn’t get many public subsidies:

The proposed $900 million, 55,000-seat facility adjacent to the O.co Coliseum would be financed entirely by the Raiders, the NFL and future stadium revenues. The Raiders would have to dip into sponsorship revenue and naming rights fees to help repay $300 million in loans needed to offset an estimated funding gap.

And, other than parking garages, the stadium would get no subsidy from the surrounding “live-work-play” technology campus Kephart plans to build on the rest of the sprawling Coliseum complex. The plan includes 4,000 homes, a shopping center, 400 hotel rooms and several office buildings.

“I can’t think of any sports team owner that would take a proposal like this even remotely seriously,” Ganis said, noting that San Diego has proposed a major public subsidy for a new Chargers football stadium. “It’s so one-sided and so bad, that it’s almost as if local leaders are saying ‘we can’t really do anything, so go ahead and leave.’ “

Finally, toward the end of the article, Artz gets around to explaining the Kephart proposal, which is this:

  • The Raiders would pay for a $900 million stadium via $200 million from personal seat license sales, $200 million in NFL G-4 funding, $100 million in cash, $300 million borrowed (from somewhere, paid back somehow, possibly from naming rights and other revenues), and $100 million from the sale of 20% of the team to Kephart for $200 million.
  • Kephart would buy 90 acres of the Coliseum site from the city and county for $116 million, then develop it into apartments, shopping, a hotel, and office buildings.
  • The city and county would spend about $80 million of that on new parking garages, while paying off $100 million in remaining Coliseum debt from … somewhere.
  • $100 million in infrastructure improvements would come from “grants.”
  • The A’s would have space (somewhere) reserved to build a new stadium until 2019.

Admittedly, that’s a pretty bad deal for the Raiders, though not an awful lot worse than the team’s one in Carson, which would likewise require the team to pay for the stadium with its own revenues. (The upside of Carson would mostly be that things like naming rights should bring in somewhat more money in the larger L.A. market.) It would also potentially be a bad deal for Oakland, which would sell 90 acres of land for only a little over $1 million an acre, which Newballpark.org notes is “ridiculously cheap” given how much other nearby parcels have gone for. In fact, the only clear beneficiary of Kephart’s plan would be, let’s see, who would end up with all the proceeds from development on land that he got a dirt-cheap price … oh, right, Kephart!

The real question here is why Oakland and Alameda County thought that a private developer could somehow come up with a way to turn a project with more than $1 billion in costs and nowhere near that much in potential new revenues into a win-win for all concerned, via elfin magic or something. Mayor Libby Schaaf’s whole “have the Raiders and A’s submit bids for the Coliseum site and take whichever one is more” plan is looking better and better.

Sacramento says giving parking, billboards to Kings cost nothing, because they were just lying around

Testimony has begun in the Sacramento Kings arena hidden-subsidies lawsuit, and we’re already deep into “it depends on what ‘is’ is” territory:

[State assemblymember Kevin] McCarty said he felt the city should have told the public more about the dollar value of two other elements of that deal – several thousand underground parking spots the city agreed to let the Kings operate, and the right to build six billboards on city property…

[Assistant City Manager John] Dangberg said the city did not assign a value to those assets because, even if they are of value to the Kings, giving them away did not cost the city any money. He did acknowledge a potential “opportunity cost” on future revenues for the signboards.

Needless to say, Dangberg’s argument is what economists call “stupid” — there are any number of assets that a city could give away that don’t cost money yet that have significant value (unused land, taxes on projects that haven’t been built yet, the right to sell advertising space on the mayor’s suit jacket). Eye on Sacramento previously estimated the present value of the parking at $57.8 million, and the billboards at $18 million.

The court won’t be determining whether the city included hidden subsidies, though, but rather whether it committed fraud in doing so, which is a stickier legal wicket. In the court of public opinion, however, we are free to issue a verdict of liar, liar, pants on fire.