Live chat this Wednesday, plus: buttons!

The next Field of Schemes live chat will be this Wednesday, June 16, at 1 pm Eastern, or 10 am Pacific, or 11 pm if you’re in Almaty, Kazakhstan and want to discuss the 2022 Winter Olympics bid. All FoS Supporters at any level get to join in. (Archive of last month’s chat is now publicly viewable here.)

And speaking of membership having its privileges, the long-awaited Field of Schemes Supporter buttons are finally here on my kitchen table, and will begin winging their way to site supporters shortly. If you can’t live without one of these, or just want to help me keep devoting my time to reporting the latest stadium and arena news for this site, sign up today!

Braves stadium will face south, the better to see their new artificial lake

New Atlanta Braves stadium rendering porn! Looks like the Cobb County facility will have, um, an artificial lake? And a, what’s that in left-center field, a restaurant? An aquarium? And four decks of seating, or maybe five?

The most interesting rendering is probably this one, since it finally gives a sense of perspective on which way the stadium will face:

Braves officials at first indicated that the stadium would face southwest, which would be kind of crazy, given that that’s where the sun is during the afternoon, which is when baseball games are played. (Batters face east in most baseball stadiums, which is why left-handed pitchers are called “southpaws.”) They later changed that to “south,” and it looks from this rendering like it’s slightly east of south — one reporter tells me that the stadium designers now say it’s 22º east of due south, which would still be the most southerly-facing stadium in MLB. (Comerica Park in Detroit, the current record holder, looks to be about 28.5º east of due south.)

Anyway, it’s all fun to speculate about, especially since there’s nothing else really to say about the Braves’ stadium plan … what’s that? The transportation improvements that could still cost the county an additional $160 million on top of its $276 million in stadium construction costs? Reply hazy, ask again later.

In Bizarro America, city council am saying no to funding new football stadium

Big news from Liverpool, where the city council has just turned down a request from Everton for funding for a new 50,000-seat stadium:

Liverpool City Council says it will not fund Everton’s new stadium

Also, where the city council has just promised to support Everton’s new 50,000-seat stadium in any way possible:

Liverpool City Council back new Everton stadium

Okay, what the council actually said was that it “is clearly not in a position to fund the costs of a new stadium,” but would consider funding “a wider regeneration scheme, subject to a sound financial and economic rationale for doing so.” Which leaves the door open to lots of things, but not to Liverpool building a stadium and then renting it to Everton, which is what team execs wanted.

Of course, we’re still talking about a team offering to pay rent at a publicly built stadium, which almost never happens in the U.S., and then a city council saying, “No, we might help, but go build it yourself,” which also pretty much never happens. No wonder the Pilgrims got the hell out of Dodge.

Wrigley Field celebrates 100th anniversary as Cubs owner mulls how to make it look less like Wrigley Field

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first game at Wrigley Field, and I hope everyone is tuning in, because those 1914 Federal League uniforms are pretty cool, even if the uniform numbers are an anachronism:

fed-uniNot pictured, of course, is the not-at-all-1914-throwback scoreboard that Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is champing at the bit to build, but holding off on for now because of the thicket of lawsuits he must navigate first. The Associated Press tackles this subject today, coming to the conclusion that video screens make it easier to see replays, fans don’t all like them regardless, Wrigley Field had a moving walkway in the 1950s, young people love to take selfies, wait, what were we talking about again?

Everything that’s wrong with sports stadium coverage, in one sentence

I’ve made no secret of how unimpressed I’ve been with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the Bucks arena debate, but this, from today’s column by Michael Hunt, really takes the cake:

So now it becomes a matter of trust that the extraordinary financial commitments by Kohl and the new owners toward the building won’t languish on the table in another unseemly political fight.

So, to recap: The owners of a professional sports team offering to pay for less than half of the cost of their new arena is “extraordinary.” Public officials not wanting to pay for the other half, meanwhile, is “unseemly.” Got that?

(For those who would like an alternate perspective, I have a longer piece on the Bucks situation up at Sports on Earth, hot off the presses.)

Edmonton not building a $120m soccer stadium just yet

Finally, somebody who isn’t jumping into building an MLS-ready soccer stadium! Hello, Edmonton!

City councillors agreed Wednesday to install new artificial turf at Clarke Park, but dropped plans to one day consider building a $120-million soccer stadium.

That’s a reasonable decision, even if MLS does seem committed to offering up a franchise to just about anyone who asks for one (and builds a stadium, and finds someone to come up with the expansion fee). So what made the city decide to reject plans for a new home for FC Edmonton?

Councillors accepted a $20-million plan to expand Clarke to 10,000 seats from the current 5,000 once a team can average 4,500 fans a game for three years.

FC Edmonton, which now draws almost 2,500 people a game, says it needs average attendance of about 8,000 to break even.

But council deleted a proposal to start planning a 20,000-seat stadium at a new location once an average of 9,500 spectators start showing up.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate to make decisions in 2014 about something that might not come up as an issue until the 2020s,” Coun. Bryan Anderson said.

Okay, so that’s not so much “rejecting” a 20,000-seat stadium as “putting one off,” though it is nice to see that they’re considering the idea of having the soccer team share with the Eskimos CFL team if it should come to that.

What I’m still a bit unclear on, though, is why Edmonton is talking about putting up the money for the soccer team’s stadium, or what the city would be getting in return. (Okay, I’m also confused as to whether it’s Clarke Park, Clarke Field, or Clarke Stadium — the Interweb can’t seem to agree on a name.) It makes sense to wait until the team is showing it can draw more fans before expanding the place, but would FC Edmonton pay more in rent to compensate the city for the expansion? Does the pro team really just pay the hourly rental fee? Canada truly remains a strange, inscrutable land.

Baseball writer wonders if Atlanta “deserves” the Braves, like what does that even mean?

A FoS reader points out a Twitter spat he had with MLB.com reporter Tracy Ringolsby about the Atlanta Braves stadium situation, which started out with Ringolsby complaining, “Turner Field has not held up well. Never had surrounding growth. Traffic is horrid. Can’t blame a business for moving,” and eventually leading up to this:

Ringolsby, Ringolsby. Didn’t he say something like this similar once before? Oh, yeah, here it is, from the dispute early last decade about the fate of the Minnesota Twins:

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had the right idea.

Might as well contract the Minnesota Twins.

The folks in the Twin Cities certainly don’t seem to care.

As much as they whined and as many lawsuits as they filed after Twins owner Carl Pohlad quickly volunteered to be paired with Montreal for contraction following the 2001 season, now that they have won the battle to keep the Twins, few in the Twin Cities seem to care.

Ringolsby’s argument back then was that the Twins were winning (they’d made the American League Championship Series the previous year) yet fans weren’t showing up (the “Twins rank 27th among baseball’s 30 teams in average home attendance,” wrote Ringolsby, though Doug Pappas pointed out that they were actually 20th). Attendance tracked upward to just under 30,000 per game after that, took a major leap the first two years of the Twins’ new Target Field, and last year dropped back near 30,000 per game again now that the team is terrible again.

In other words, about what you’d expect from a mid-sized market. (Minneapolis-St. Paul is 15th in U.S. Nielsen market size.) How does Atlanta’s attendance stack up?

The Braves’ “poor” attendance last year was 31,465 tickets sold per game, which was good for 13th in MLB. Atlanta is the 9th largest media market, but four of the markets ahead of it (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and S.F-Oakland) have two teams apiece. Of the 12 teams ahead of the Braves last year in attendance, only three (St. Louis, Detroit, and Colorado) hail from smaller markets; of the 17 teams that drew fewer fans, four (Toronto, New York Mets, Oakland, Chicago White Sox) came from bigger markets. That’s arguably a mediocre showing — the Braves won their division, after all, though so did St. Louis and Detroit (the Rockies are clearly putting something in the water) — but it’s hardly terrible. Braves attendance has actually been remarkably steady since the initial Turner Field, especially when you consider the team’s attendance was pretty dismal during the Hank Aaron years, so a more reasonable conclusion is: mid-sized market, mid-sized attendance figures.

When you think about it, the whole notion of whether a city’s fan base “deserves” its team is a bizarre one: Attendance is based on so many factors (market size, ticket pricing, perceived quality of team, whether there’s other stuff to do in the summer) that it’s tough to pin the blame on fans for not showing up in droves when the team demands it. For that matter, is it the fault of rabid A’s fans that more of their neighbors don’t come out to games? Is hosting a major-league baseball team some kind of test that citizens are expected to pass, by buying tickets whether they want to or not? And finally, in what way does it punish Braves fans by moving their team from downtown Atlanta to Cobb County, which just means a different impassable highway interchange for them to drive to?

Maybe I’m thinking about all this too hard — it’s just a tweet, after all, and Ringolsby may have just been snarkily countering the argument that Braves Field is a nice place to see a game. (He also remarked that “You need to get out more and see what a great place to see a game is like. Destination stadiums don’t work,” which I’m also not sure what it’s supposed to mean.) But regardless, it’s worth looking at the thought process behind this stuff, because it’s very easy to throw around concepts like metropolitan areas being worthy or unworthy of sports franchises, when really it’s just a matter of where the rich guys who own them decide to put them, based on their projected profits. What it comes down to is that Cobb County — or rather four members of the Cobb County Commission, standing in the hallway so they could avoid public debate — decided to throw a lot of money at the Braves, and Atlanta officials didn’t, so Braves owner John Malone decided to go where the simoleons are. If Atlanta had coughed up a few hundred million for a new or renovated stadium, the Braves would undoubtedly be staying put — and it’d be interesting to see what attitude writers like Ringolsby would have toward Braves fans, and the Turner Field environs, then.

Philadelphia Union gripes city that gave it $77m for stadium is imposing “unfriendly business environment”

When last we left the Philadelphia Union, the MLS team’s owners had gotten $77 million in state, county, and city money to help build a $122 million stadium in the city of Chester, and then the local economic benefits inexplicably failed to show up, and the mayor of Chester threatened to start levying city parking taxes to make up for the city’s losses on operating the building. Now, almost two years later, team CEO Nick Sakiewicz is griping that the city has inflicted an “unfriendly business environment” on it by imposing new taxes and allowing independent parking lots that have cut into the team’s parking take, and if the city doesn’t start acting more chummy, he might not build all the additional development the team had promised near the stadium:

“The talk about a hotel down there, the talk about retail, the talk about other programming around the stadium, there is no talk about that because the environment that this city administration has put in place has made it such that there are so many other opportunities in South Jersey and Wilmington and other parts of Pennsylvania where building those projects is a lot less complicated.”

I’m pretty sure this is a new twist on the old move threat: Build us a new stadium, and then don’t tax us or allow anyone to compete with us, or else we’ll move our hotel to Delaware. Oh, like the Adorable Autarch wouldn’t charge parking taxes.

Crain’s admits Super Bowl impact overblown, says still “windfall” because it just is, okay?

I guess this is a victory of a sort: After a flurry of articles calling into question the NFL’s claims of an economic windfall for New York and New Jersey from hosting the Super Bowl, including mine and one from the Associated Press, Crain’s New York business columnist (isn’t that redundant?) Greg David began his column yesterday by writing, “The Super Bowl probably didn’t generate the $500 million in economic activity that the host committee claimed based on a study that wasn’t credible enough to be released.” But no worries, because, as he explained in perfect 5th-grade persuasive-essay format (topic sentence, details, concluding sentence), the game was still a “windfall” for its host city. Why?

  • The Super Bowl was free advertising for New York. Because who can put a price on putting New York on the tourist map?
  • The Super Bowl “highlighted the city’s ability to handle any big event in stride.” This is really the same as point #1, but is especially hilarious given that the main visitor memory of the game is likely to be this.
  • “The hotels did well.” David might have wanted to actually call some hotels; the AP did, and found that many were actually underbooked, with one midtown hotel manager declaring, “All of the anticipation and the hype about what this was going to bring for hotels in New York City has not materialized.”
  • “One of the biggest subliminal messages is that winter in New York is not a big problem for tourists.” Admittedly, the weather on Sunday was lovely. So long as you left straight for the airport at halftime and didn’t wait until the next day for your flight, when, not so lovely.
  • You didn’t need pricey game tickets to be a part of the action. There was a giant slide in Times Square, and only a 45-minute wait to ride on it! And, um, the press conference in Newark was free! Who can put a price on that?

Speaking of putting a price on things, David didn’t attempt to do any of that, because “windfall” is such a nice evocative word. His concluding sentence: “Big events are important to the city, and should be a part of any administration’s economic agenda.” Business journalism, ladies and gentlemen.

Orlando City SC latest team to evict church via eminent domain for stadium

Orlando City Soccer Club may have gotten its $20 million in public stadium money, but it hasn’t acquired the land it needs yet. So, naturally, it wants to evict a church to make way for its stadium, because that’s how things are done these days. And also naturally, now that the city can’t settle on a price for the church land (the city offered $1.5 million, Faith Deliverance Temple countered with $35 million), it plans to use its eminent domain powers to acquire it:

Jonathan Williams, son of the church’s founder, said city officials jumped the gun by ending negotiations and saying they had to settle it in court.

“If they want it, they’ll pay more for it than it’s actually worth. We used that [$35 million price] as a basis to start conversations,” Williams said. “I was shocked — I thought we were still in negotiations. There was a high ball and a low ball, so let’s work it out. They initiated the disconnect.”

Silly church founder’s son: There is no “high ball” and “low ball.” There is only  hardball.