Texans owner to St. Louis, San Diego, Oakland: Fund stadiums, and make it snappy!

In case anyone in St. Louis is getting too complacent about Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan to cobble together $400 million in public money and give it to Rams owner Stan Kroenke for a new stadium, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair is on the case to tell everyone to hurry it up already!

“That’s what we have to see is the term sheet — you know, what’s the firm commitment,” McNair told the Post-Dispatch during a break between sessions of the owners’ October meeting here. “If they’re going to do something, they need to act.

McNair said he did not know what was holding up the process.

McNair — “a respected NFL owner” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s report — also brandished the bossy stick at officials in San Diego and Oakland who haven’t snapped to it to meet their teams’ stadium demands:

McNair said the committee hasn’t “seen much in Oakland,” and worried that San Diego is moving too slowly on a public vote regarding stadium financing.

“They’re talking about an election in June. And I think that would be too late,” he said of San Diego. “They could have had one in January, but they’re not ready for that.”

“We hope in the next few weeks,” McNair said, “we’ll have firm commitments from these cities as to what they’ll do and what they won’t do.”

All part of the stadium playbook (see “Two-Minute Warning”), in other words. It’s kind of a new twist having another owner deliver the message instead of the commissioner or one of his henchmen, but maybe Eric Grubman was otherwise occupied.

Rams owner reportedly open to sharing L.A. stadium (if price is right, won’t name price)

With multi-sided game of chicken that is the NFL’s plans to move a team (or two) to Los Angeles going nowhere fast, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has reportedly decided to up the ante a bit:

Rams owner Stan Kroenke, intent on playing next season in Los Angeles as he attempts to build a new stadium in Inglewood, has made it clear to the league he is willing to share the facility with another owner from the onset, league sources said.

(Great, thanks for that wording, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. Now I have this stuck in my head.)

As described by La Canfora, this is largely Kroenke trying to win over NFL owners who may be opposing his bid for a stadium in Inglewood because they’d prefer to see two teams move to L.A. (Whether they’d prefer this because they don’t want a single owner hogging all the riches, because they don’t want a single owner being stuck with the nearly $2 billion stadium cost, or just because they want the ensuing game of stadium musical chairs to have maximum number of empty chairs and minimum number of remaining players, it’s tough to say — and may vary owner to owner, even.) Kroenke hasn’t indicated how he’d split revenues and costs with another owner, so we’re still at the very, very early talking stages here — or the talking about talking stages, even.

Regardless, it’s a sign, if La Canfora’s sources are accurate, that Kroenke feels like he has some work to do to win over the NFL on allowing him to move. And, perhaps, that he’s serious about moving to L.A., though we can’t discount the possibility that this whole thing was leaked to turn up the heat on St. Louis. Closed-doors games of chicken are so hard to keep score on.

More 49ers fans dumping seat licenses, because 49ers’ new stadium sucks

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium in Santa Clara has had some problems since it opened last year — the grass won’t stay put, it was brutally hot, getting in and out by car was often painful, and the stadium lights blinded nearby airline pilots. And now, according to KGO-TV, some seat license holders are fed up and want out of their season-ticket deals:

If you were hoping to get your hands on a San Francisco 49ers Season Builders License, or SBL, you’re in luck. Thousands are now available, but re-sellers say it has nothing to do with the team’s current record. Still, a growing number of fans are very dissatisfied…

“Half the stadium, we get beat up by the sun. So if you’re going to watch a game, you want to enjoy, drink a few beers. Here, you drink a few beers, and you get beat up, come home with sunburn, it’s just a bad experience,” [San Jose resident Tuan] Le said.

Other fans complained that the 49ers changed their ticket policy this year, sending only electronic tickets that can’t be printed until 72 hours before the game, making it harder to sell unwanted tickets.

Now, it’s only 3,000 licenses that are up for resale, up only slightly from last spring, and not all that much in a 68,000-seat stadium. And besides, the magic of PSLs (or SBLs as the 49ers call them) is that the team doesn’t have to give a crap about any of this: They’ve sold the licenses already, and it’s the fans’ problem if they made a bad investment.

The more interesting question is what this means for plans to finance stadiums in Los Angeles by similar means: Will L.A. fans, seeing the mess in Santa Clara, be more hesitant to plunk down for Rams/Raiders/Chargers PSLs? Nobody knows, but then nobody knows how viable those PSL sales projections were in the first place. This is a cautionary tale for somebody, that’s for sure, but whether it’s for football fans, for city officials in Inglewood and Carson, or for cities that think they have to outbid L.A. for the right to keep their teams is yet to be determined.

NFL owners still can’t agree whether Rams, Chargers, or Raiders should move to L.A.

Whenever I’ve asked about the prospects for an NFL team moving to Los Angeles, I’ve tried to stress that we have no idea what’s going to happen, in part because this is something that will be decided by a vote of NFL owners, meaning it could be determined by personalities of 32 rich guys as much as anything. And guess what? It turns out that the 32 rich guys can’t agree on anything right now, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:

Neither the Inglewood project, spearheaded by Rams owner Stan Kroenke, nor the Carson project, led by Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis, has sufficient support to carry a vote…

Several ownership groups maintain that if the relocation came to a vote right now, there would be a sufficient split to hold up any move forward. The NFL will not bring the matter to a formal vote among the owners until enough straw polling has been conducted to ensure one of these projects has at least 24 votes in the affirmative.

Spanos is the more popular of the two owners among the general constituents, but Kroenke’s project is viewed by some as potentially the more lucrative for all the entire league — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Patriots owner Bob Kraft chief among them. Some estimate Kroenke would have as many as 10 votes in his favor right now.

Now this is some quality tea-leaf reading here: The NFL is split between people who don’t like Stan Kroenke and people who don’t like the Carson stadium project. It would be nice to know why other owners think the Inglewood plan would be more lucrative for the league as a whole than the Carson one — why people might not like a guy who is known a “Silent Stanley” and who bum-rushed the line to move to L.A. is less mysterious — but La Canfora doesn’t say.

Anyway, all this is good reason to bet the over in any pools about when this whole L.A. situation is likely to be resolved, because looks like we the hoi polloi are not the only ones confused about which deal makes sense. At this point I’ll going to be increasingly surprised if any teams are approved to relocate for the 2016 season, if only because it seems like the league could use a little more time to see which cities are shakedownable for stadium funding. (Current scorecard: St. Louis maybe, San Diego possibly but don’t hold your breath, Oakland only if you squint really hard.) Something has to tip the balance for league owners, especially when a three-quarters majority is needed, and that something is still in the future.

Vikings stadium czar: Team was never moving to L.A., thanks for the $500m, though!

With stadium talks with the San Diego Chargers still going nowhere fast, this has left the San Diego sportswriters who’ve been pushing for a deal in a bit of a quandary for what to write about. On Friday, Mark Ziegler wrote about how Tijuana’s soccer team got a new stadium when San Diego isn’t (the trick: a total cost of a mere $125 million, plus an owner who was hoping to cash in by getting his team promoted to the top Mexican league, two things that aren’t options for the Chargers); today, it’s our old pal Kevin Acee pointing out that it took the Minnesota Vikings a good decade and a half to get a new stadium, so San Diego should be patient and — wait, hold on a second here:

Even as the Vikings were frequently mentioned from the outside as a possible relocation candidate in the years leading up to the 2012 approval of a new stadium here, [Vikings stadium point man Lester] Bagley said the team never used Los Angeles as a bargaining chip. He said he believes ownership would have sold the team before it moved the Vikings.

“Never used Los Angeles as a bargaining chip”? So when NFL VP Eric Grubman declared that the time was “getting ripe” for the Vikings to move and that “I think the Wilfs do not want to sell the franchise, but I think there is a point where they probably would be open-minded,” and then NFL commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Minnesota to scare the state legislature into coughing up half a billion dollars in public money, something it immediately did despite an electronic gambling scheme that ended up generating no revenue and having to be bailed out by other state cash, that was just, you know, a coincidence? Or he’s making a distinction that the owners never threatened to move to L.A. themselves, they just had league officials threaten that the team would be sold and moved to L.A., which isn’t a bargaining chip at all, right?

Oy. For a palate-cleanser, go read this NBC San Diego report on how the Chargers may be in violation of their lease for not meeting with the city often enough to discuss stadium plans. It doesn’t really make any more sense — San Diego would have nothing to gain by breaking its lease with the Chargers, unless you really think the Spanos family could be frightened into spending more money on a new stadium by the threat of being forced to play in the street — but at least it’s based on actual reality.

NFL owners are paying for their new stadiums by sticking players with the bill

Friday afternoon brought an especially weird headline from Bloomberg Business:

NFL Wants Players to Pay for Los Angeles Stadium

Say what, now? I know that the dueling Carson and Inglewood stadium proposals have a whole bunch of financial questions remaining, but really, asking NFL players to chip in? And why on earth would they want to?

The accompanying Bloomberg story isn’t exactly the clearest, but there are some nuggets of information buried in it. The financing vehicle is something called “stadium credits,” a provision of the league’s collective bargaining agreement that allows the league to exclude half of all private stadium costs — and 75% in the case of stadiums in California — from salary cap calculations. There are additional provisions for excluding naming rights revenues, PSL revenues, etc., though there’s also a cap on how much the league can deduct at any given time, equal to 1.5% of total league revenues.

That 1.5% cap is really all you need to understand, because it’s long since maxed out. In short, when NFL players signed the current CBA back in 2011, they agreed to set the salary cap at 1.5% less than they had previously, with the money set aside for stadium costs. (Newballpark.org had a good explanation of this at the time.) That’s money that goes back to the league overall, of course, not the specific teams building stadiums — but it’s what the NFL uses to generate funds for its G-4 program, which lets owners keep money they would normally share with the league and instead spend it on stadium costs.

The end result of all this money-shuffling, then, is that the players give up money to the league in the form of lower salaries, and the league then lets teams draw on it to pay for new stadium costs. It’s not additional money we didn’t know about — both of the L.A. stadiums have been counting on G-4 money all along — but it does clarify that when we hear talk about the NFL’s “contribution” to new stadiums, it’s less out of the goodness of their hearts than because they’ve ensured they can pass the tab along to the players.

Except that the Stadium Credit fund is now exhausted, so the league now has to go back to the players to ask for more concessions. (There’s also a clause in the CBA saying that L.A. stadiums can be excluded from the credit, but that’s at the league’s sole discretion, so it’s not clear why it’s even in there — unless maybe someone at the league offices back in 2011 was thinking of denying G-4 money to L.A. stadiums in order to leave more for other projects.) Why the players would even be considering this is an excellent question — sure, a new stadium could bring in new revenues and thus raise salaries, but that’s not going to help players any if they just have to turn around and give it back to the NFL — but union official don’t seem to be asking it, not publicly, anyway:

“When we signed the deal in 2011, we considered our role in growing the game and we review every investment opportunity and proposal carefully,” union spokesman George Atallah said.

In the grand scheme of things for L.A. stadium proposals, this doesn’t matter all that much, as the league has already promised G-4 money, so other team owners will just have to eat the cost of that if they can’t pass it along to players. Still, it’s a fascinating look at how the sausages get made, and a reminder that one of the main skills necessary for becoming rich enough to own an NFL team is figuring out how to make sure someone else always picks up the check.

Your Labor Day weekend reading: Cost to cities of losing teams, and Calgary’s art of the steal

If you’re looking for some light stadium-subsidy reading to make your blood boil over the last weekend of summer, there were a couple of good ones this week, and I don’t say that just because they quote me a lot:

  • Louis Bien at SBNation has a long piece up about the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders threatening to move to L.A., and the cost on those teams’ fan bases. (I’m not honestly sure what the “you care too much” is about in the headline, as it doesn’t seem to have much to do with Bien’s actual article, but whatever.) Included is a long section on the dubious threat to cities’ well-being that team relocations actually pose, with my favorite line coming from Rick Eckstein of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums fame:

Quality of life improvements claimed by the franchise were “a load of crap,” Eckstein wrote to me. He continued: “Los Angeles has been doing just fine without football for the last decade; there has not been a mass exodus from Seattle after the Sonics left; the Long Island suburbs will not go vacant with the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, just as they survived the Nets leaving; Montreal has shown no ill effects after losing the Expos while the Nationals decidedly did NOT put DC ‘on the map.'”

  • Katie Baker in Grantland has an article that does a really cool thing, taking the “Art of the Steal” chapter from Field of Schemes (and subsequent “Art of the Steal Revisited” chapter from the expanded edition) and applying it specifically to the Calgary Flames owners’ arena demands. Best quote in the piece, though it’s not new and wasn’t particularly said about arena demands (it was about hockey lockouts), is from current Flames president Brian Burke when he worked for the Maple Leafs: “My theory is, make the first meeting as short and unpleasant as possible. Sometimes it’s better to just punch the guy in the face.” Not sure if demanding at least $490 million in taxpayer cash while claiming this would be for the public good quite qualifies as a punch in the face, but it’s pretty close!

Raiders nixed using team revenues for stadium in April, but developer kept it in plan because whatev

So remember how NFL stadium consultant Marc Ganis said back in June that the Oakland Raiders owners would hate Floyd Kephart’s Coliseum City stadium proposal, because they’d be on the hook for all the construction costs? Well, turns out a Raiders exec said so specifically back in April, in an email obtained and published yesterday by the San Jose Mercury News:

“Simply put, the ‘terms required for the Raiders to commit to remaining in Oakland’ are a plan that fills that funding gap without stripping revenues from the stadium and preserves the current level of surface parking (for tailgating),” Raiders President Marc Badain wrote to Kephart on April 28.

He added that “all revenues from the stadium must be retained by the Raiders.”

Not to belittle the Merc News’s “exclusive” too much, but this isn’t really big news: That the Raiders owners don’t want to have to pay for a new stadium with stadium revenues has been a given from the start of this whole mess. (Otherwise the Raiders could just go and build a stadium in Oakland themselves, without messing around with city “conduit bonds” and the like.) So really what we have here is confirmation that an Experienced Developer doesn’t have any more ability to magically make $400 million appear out of thin air than city officials do.

Ultimately, the question here is whether Raiders owner Mark Davis is willing to pick up his team and move to L.A. — where, keep in mind, he would similarly have to pay for a new stadium out of stadium revenues, though he’d maybe have more stadium revenues to work with, depending on how excited you think L.A. fans will be to buy Raiders PSLs — and whether the NFL will go along with him. Which is going to depend on the same two known unknowns we’ve been working with all along: how lucrative the L.A. market really is for NFL owners despite not coming with any added local cable revenue like in other sports; and how the NFL is going to decide which if any of the three teams jockeying for L.A. (the Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and San Diego Chargers) will be given the go-ahead to move. And there’s so no indication that we’re going to know any of this before the start of 2016 at the earliest.

In the meantime, we can take comfort in the reminder that rich developers are mostly pretty useless, at least as far as turning money-pit stadium projects into money makers for all concerned. Though if someone wants to pay me a retainer to say, “I can build a stadium for the Raiders right now, if the Raiders put up the money,” I wouldn’t say no.

Missouri actually identifies $280m in Rams funding, now only has $100m as “dunno yet”

The Missouri Development Finance Board has approved the first $15 million installment of those $50 million in tax credits Gov. Jay Nixon wants to give to the St. Louis Rams to help fund a new stadium. (The next two installments would come in 2016 and 2017.) That’s as to be expected, but the interesting part comes down in the fine print of the tax credit offering, which finally spells out how Nixon plans to cobble together $400 million or so in public stadium subsidies:

They have proposed to pay for construction with $450 million from the National Football League and the team that plays here, $201 million in bond proceeds from the state and the city of St. Louis, $160 million from the sale of seat licenses and $187 million in tax credits, according to the state application.

Let’s take those one at a time:

  • $201 million in bond proceeds is about what the state could get by refinancing the existing Jones Dome bonds: They have $18 million a year in hotel-motel tax money (approved for the last Rams stadium 20 years ago, which is now unconscionably old), and about $100 million in remaining debt on the dome, so if they can get an interest rate of around 4% they should be good to go there. It’s still doesn’t explain how the city will now pay off the convention center debt that it’s currently using some of the tax money to cover, but at least it exists.
  • While including $160 million from the sale of seat licenses as part of the public portion is a bold move, no doubt Rams owner Stan Kroenke is going to want PSL money to cover his share of the cost. So calling it public funding is going to be contentious, to say the least.
  • $187 million in tax credits: Whaaaa? The $50 million from the Missouri Development Finance Board is discussed above, and there’s been discussion of maybe $30 million in federal Brownfield credits. Other than that, if Nixon and friends have specified what other tax credits they’re thinking of, I’ve missed it (and so has Google).

In other words, we’re still looking at a funding gap of at least $100 million here, though presumably somebody has at least an idea of where to ask for it, even if it’s not completely public yet. And even then, we’re talking about only (“only”) $388 million in public cash, which, while more than the entire last stadium cost, is still less than Nixon had promised. Whether that’d be enough to make Stan Kroenke and the NFL happy enough not to move the team to L.A., assuming it all eventually gets approved, is the $388 million question — if nothing else, it should make for some interesting conversations in NFL board rooms along the lines of “Jeez, Stan, take the free money,” though you know no one’s going to say it out loud for fear of blowing the chance to shake Missouri down for even more.

(Or maybe Kroenke really will just require the people of St. Louis to build the stadium with their bare hands. Some things, after all, money can’t buy.)

Carson stadium design scraps lightning-bolt tower, what’s the point anymore?

The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders presented their Carson stadium plan to the NFL last week, and on Monday shared their trailer with the public. If you like swooping CG renderings and Kiefer Sutherland, it’s, well, got those:

It’s also missing something from earlier static renderings. Try to figure out what it is? (Er, without peeking at my headline.)

Previous plans called for a tower that extends 115 to 120 feet through and above the main concourse of the sleek, futuristic stadium. The tower’s cauldron would change depending on the team: simulated lightning bolts shooting out of a glass ball for the Chargers and a massive flame in honor of legendary owner Al Davis when the Raiders play…

Stadium backers confirmed that the design elements have been scrubbed from the plans. No reason was given, other than the previous renderings, released in April, were preliminary in nature.

Translation: Sure, we threw it in with the initial drawings, but it was too hard to do with our video software, let alone actually build. That would be crazy!

So farewell, giant Van De Graaff generator. We are sad to see you go, but not all that surprised, because that’s why they (okay, I) call i “vaportecture.”