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.

In America, we build things then tear them down then get sad about the ruins

It’s stadium demolition porn day at Deadspin, with photos of the ruins of Candlestick Park and a link to not-actually-all-that-new-but-still-cool photos of the ruins of the Pontiac Silverdome. They are sad and oddly beautiful.

Since we’re on the subject, one piece of the stadium debate that seldom comes up is that of waste. Not waste of money — that comes up all the time, of course — but waste of resources, of labor power, or energy, of carbon footprint, of all the stuff that you use more of by tearing down an existing building and erecting a new one. Not that nobody should ever build anything — and I’ll happily admit that the San Francisco Giants‘ new stadium is an awful lot nicer than the ‘Stick, for example — but there’s a predisposition in American political culture in particular to think of new development only for the jobs and economic activity it creates, without wondering if constantly building structures and then tearing them down again is the most efficient way to run a society.

Anyway, lookit the pretty pictures, but allow yourself a moment to think about the cost of constant upgrades to people’s sports experience, when it even can be considered an upgrade. Had your moment yet? Okay, we’re done.

Red Wings almost ready to build new taxpayer-subsidized arena, are Pistons next in line?

The Detroit Historic District Commission is set to vote this afternoon on whether to allow Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch to demolish the historic (but long-vacant) Park Avenue Hotel to make way for his arena district construction project, which promises to draw to a close the city’s debates about sports arena construc — oh, come on now, seriously?

Pistons owner Tom Gores launched Project “Big Math,” a sweeping idea for change and economic growth for the city of Detroit and state of Michigan, when he hired agent Arn Tellem last week as vice chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment.

One of Tellem’s first agenda items when he takes over Aug. 3 is to explore bringing the Pistons downtown from Auburn Hills. … The Pistons have two viable options. They can move into the new Red Wings arena, which is scheduled to open in 2017, and share it with Olympia Entertainment. There is also a Hail Mary option to tear down the half-built Wayne County Jail and build an arena in conjunction with Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert.

This is still pretty much just at the rumor stage — and the Pistons say they have “no plans” to move from Auburn Hills, for what it’s worth — but still, there’s at least the chance that Detroit may end up talking about building not one but two downtown arenas. Not bad for a city that’s bankrupt. Or, looked at another way, not good.

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.)