Friday roundup: Fresh subsidy plans for Titans and WFT, Flames arena “paused” amid overruns, Boston Globe can’t stop clowning on Pawtucket for not wanting to spend $150m on stadium

Happy Friday! I have a ton of week-ending stadium news to bring you today, or at least there’s a ton of news out there whether I’m bringing it to you or not. What is it about that that is confusing?

Onward:

  • Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, according to DCist, wants to use “some of” the county’s $1.6 billion in state funding this year to build — wait for it — “infrastructure improvements” for the Washington Football Team‘s stadium that would include “restaurants and places to shop.” It sounds like Alsobrooks is only talking about $17.6 million, maybe, but still this earns a Stupid Infrastructure category tag until proven otherwise.
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants to use $2 million a year in state sales tax money (figure roughly $30 million in present value) for upgrades to the Titans‘ stadium, though actually it could end up being more like $10 million a year (figure roughly $150 million in present value) if more development is built around the stadium, plus he wants to give $13.5 million to Knoxville for its Tennessee Smokies stadium. Did Lee call this an “infrastructure” plan? Not that I can find in the Tennessean’s news reporting, but everybody drink anyway.
  • The Calgary Flames‘ $550 million arena plan, which already includes about $250 million in public subsidies, has run into $70 million in unexpected cost overruns and is now “paused” until the team and city can figure out who’ll cover them. Actually, the report is that the Flames owners are demanding $70 million, and previously the city and team agreed to split overruns 50-50, so maybe it’s really $140 million over budget? Either way, there’s already a petition to scrap the whole deal, though “trim a little from the team’s design and both sides kick in a little more money” seems a far more likely outcome, especially with Mayor Naheed Nenshi declaring it “far better to have these issues sorted out at this stage than to have unexpected cost overruns after construction has begun.” (Are known cost overruns actually better than surprise ones? Discuss.)
  • The Boston Globe, not satisfied with its glowing report last month on Worcester’s new stadium for the Red Sox Triple-A team (top farm club of the Boston Red Sox, owner of the Boston Globe), ran two separate opinion pieces this week slagging Pawtucket officials for not offering up $150 million in subsidies like Worcester did and thus losing their team: Dan McGowan, the Globe’s Rhode Island politics reporter, wrote, “Imagine what we could have had if our leaders showed even a tiny sense of vision” and “It too often takes only one politician to spoil a really good idea” while condemning “extremists on both sides of the [stadium] debate” who think a thing can be either good or bad (while also calling the Worcester stadium “great”). The very next day, Mike Stanton, a UConn journalism professor who writes occasionally for the Globe, wrote that former Rhode Island House speaker Nicholas Mattiello “rightly deserves blame for his role in killing the PawSox,” though he also blamed WooSox owner Larry Lucchino for “demanding extravagant taxpayer support for a new ballpark” and harming negotiations for, I guess, less extravagant taxpayer support? Anyway, the Globe wants you to know that Worcester has a shiny new baseball stadium and Pawtucket doesn’t, and let’s not speak of what else Worcester could have done with $150 million.
  • Six Republican Congressfolk — Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Marsha Blackburn, and Rep. Jeff Duncan — have cosponsored legislation seeking to end MLB’s antitrust exemption in response to the league pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new voting-restrictions law. This is part of a long line of proposals to yank the league’s 99-year-old exemption from antitrust laws, which never seem to go anywhere; the last time by my count was when more than 100 Congresspeoples wrote a letter in 2019 threatening to rescind “the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime” if MLB didn’t back down on its plan to eliminate more than 40 minor-league franchises, a letter that was signed by none of Lee, Cruz, Hawley, Rubio, or Blackburn, all of whom were in office at the time. (SPOILER: MLB didn’t back down, and Congress did.) Waving the antitrust-exemption stick has become the standard way for federal representatives to express their anger at baseball over one thing or another, in other words, but actually using it is apparently beyond the pale, either because of partisanship or lobbyists or both, pick your poison.
  • Another U.S. representative, Georgia’s Buddy Carter, has introduced legislation — or maybe just drafted legislation and sent it to Fox News, he doesn’t seem to have actually submitted it to Congress — to block MLB from relocating non-regular-season events except in cases of natural disaster or other emergencies, under penalty of allowing local businesses to sue for damages for lost revenue as a result of the move. Which, as Craig Calcaterra notes, would be hilarious because it would put MLB in the position of having to argue in court that its events have no economic impact, which is pretty much the truth: “The evidence — like, all the evidence from multiple studies — would actually be on MLB’s side in such a case! And it’d likely win! And all it would cost MLB is the ability to continue to lie about how big an impact All-Star Games and stadiums and things have on local economies when it suits its interest.”
  • The Cincinnati Reds are offering discounted tickets to fans who can show they’re fully vaccinated, and Buffalo officials say the Bills and Sabres will be required to limit attendance to the fully vaccinated in the fall, though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’ll be the judge of that. Whatever the eventual admittance policies end up being, having going to things like ballgames (or traveling internationally) be less of a hassle if you wave your vaccine card seems likely to be the best way to encourage more people to get their shots, which is the only way to get to herd immunity, which is the only way to prevent lots more deaths and more re-closings of things like ballgames, so this is good news regardless of whether sporting events turn out to be insanely risky or relatively safe.
  • Finally, I can’t let this week pass without noting that the Buffalo Bisons, who have been temporarily relocated to Trenton to make way for the Toronto Blue Jays, who will be spending the summer in Buffalo thanks to Covid travel restrictions, will be playing their home games as the Trenton Thunder while playing road games as the Bisons. No word yet on how this Frankenstein monster of a franchise will be listed in the (checks revamped minor-league nomenclature) Triple-A East standings, though I wholeheartedly hope the Thunder and Bisons get counted as two different teams, ideally with players forced to wear fake mustaches in New Jersey and go by assumed names. “Marc Rzepczynski? No, he plays for Buffalo, I am of course Shmarc Shmepczynski, would you like my autograph?”

Maryland approves $59.5m for Hagerstown ballpark to lure league whose teams have lifespan of mayflies

So, the Hagerstown Suns. They’d fielded a team in the South Atlantic League since 1993 and in other minor leagues for a dozen years before that, playing all that time in Municipal Stadium, built for an earlier set of minor-league teams way back in 1930. Then came the Manfred Snap, and the Suns were vaporized, along with 17 other minor-league baseball teams. The unaffiliated Atlantic League then offered a team provided that Hagerstown build “a facility that meets or exceeds the league’s standards,” a gambit that has worked stunningly poorly for a series of cities that ended up with no teams and stadiums abandoned before they reached drinking age.

You undoubtedly already know where this is going:

On Monday, a bill that would allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to serve as project manager for a new facility proposed for Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue cleared its last hurdle in the Maryland General Assembly. The authority can also issue up to $59.5 million in bonds to finance the acquisition, design, construction and related construction expenses.

Sixty million dollars! The Atlantic League stadiums for the now-defunct teams in Newark, Camden, and Atlantic City only cost about $24 million apiece, and while those were all built around the year 2000, that’s still only about $37 million in today’s dollars. I’m a fan of the Atlantic League (or used to be, before it shuttered all the teams I could easily get to), but that kind of money is crazytown. How could anyone in the Maryland state legislature — which passed the bill 44-0 in the senate, and 131-5 in the house — justify such a thing?

[State Sen. Paul] Corderman said previously the facility could also host movie nights, fireworks and other events, and bring more people through the city’s downtown to support other businesses in that area.

Because you absolutely couldn’t host movie nights at a baseball stadium that hasn’t been renovated since 1995! The mere idea is absurd!

Anyway, there’s another $59.5 million in cash transferred from taxpayers to baseball owners as a result of MLB’s minor-league contraction scheme, and even if it’s baseball owners in a league MLB doesn’t control, I’m sure they’re happy enough for the Atlantic League, which is now a “partner league” where MLB can do things like test-drive new rules. The best we can hope is that other cities that lost teams don’t follow suit in desperation to land any replacement franchise at all, and — oh, what now?

The city’s Economic Development Corporation is in discussions with the Atlantic League — a quirky eight-team league that signs former pros, but isn’t affiliated with Major League Baseball — to take over the lease from the defunct Staten Island Yankees at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, THE CITY has learned…

[Former Staten Island Yankees president Will] Smith [not that one, or the other one, or the other other one] said the EDC and City Hall should be prepared to make numerous changes to the stadium — including installing synthetic turf, increasing parking capacity and adjusting seating.

I knew this was going to be bad — I believe the phrase I used back in December was “the next round of stadium roulette might not be too far off” —  but I didn’t quite think it would be this bad this soon. Give MLB commissioner Rob Manfred this: He may be kind of a mumble-mouthed doofus, but he’s carried out this game of multi-million-dollar musical-chairs extortion to perfection. Does Cooperstown have an Evil Genius wing?

Illinois spends $13m in “infrastructure” money on new video boards for minor-league hockey arena

It was only Friday that I suggested we would be needing a “stupid infrastructure” category to cover government spending infrastructure money on things that should at the bottom of the list, below tax breaks for yachts. And now here we already have our first entry, it’s so exciting:

State officials joined the Chicago Blackhawks, the city of Rockford, and the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in announcing a $23 million multi-year capital project to revitalize the [Rockford IceHogs‘] BMO Harris Bank Center — Rockford’s largest sports arena and entertainment venue.

Fueled in part by the Rebuild Illinois $45 billion capital plan, the project will modernize Rockford’s largest destination asset, creating over 250 construction jobs, retaining hundreds of existing full-time positions, and generating millions in economic activity to the region.

Rebuild Illinois, for those not familiar, is a $1.5 billion spending plan put forward by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to fund transportation and other public infrastructure. In this case, the infrastructure being paid for by $13 million in Rebuild Illinois grants is, as Kane County Connects relates it, “necessary infrastructure improvements, improved audio-visual and digital technology, enhanced guest experience and concession areas, space for sports betting, and other modernized customer amenities.” These new video boards and hot dog stands and in-arena gambling halls are somehow projected to create “$382 million in net spending” in Rockford — though actually the report says it’s the arena upgrades “combined with the sale of the team to the Blackhawks and their long-term commitment to the facility” (Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz graciously agreed to buy the IceHogs as part of the deal for public cash) that would create the economic benefits, so maybe Pritzker is just adding up every dollar that will be spent at an IceHogs game ever and attributing that to the new scoreboards?

In addition to the $13 million in state infrastructure money, the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority and the city of Rockford are putting up $10 million in “short and long-term capital,” bringing the public cost of upgrading the arena to $23 million, for a building that was built in 1981 for, let’s see, $15.7 million. Though that’s $47.5 million in today’s dollars, so really taxpayers are only paying half the entire original construction price to upgrade a minor-league hockey arena that, while owned by the city, is managed by a private operator and used by a private sports franchise now owned by a guy rich enough to own a superyacht. Stupid infrastructure: Ask for it by name!

Tennessee senator says Knoxville stadium would cannibalize tax money, mayor replies “But it’s newwww!”

The Tennessee Smokies stadium sales tax increment financing bill, which would siphon off $65 million in future sales taxes to build a new stadium in downtown Knoxville for a minor-league baseball team to local rich guy Randy Boyd, took another step forward last night, passing the state house’s finance committee. The night before that, though, the bill got a hearing in the state senate ways and means committee, and there was a bit of a dust-up over exactly how tax increment financing works:

[State Senator Bo] Watson expressed concerns the develop would encourage local people, those who already shop and dine in the region, to go to the new site instead, and bring less revenue to the state.

“Minor league baseball is more regional. So people who are coming to the games now, they’re eating at restaurants that the state is now collecting sales tax on. You’re going to simply transfer them to one area to another area, so at the end of the day the state loses tax dollars because we’re collecting even less in this zone than we would be collecting if they were in the other part of the city,” Watson said.

That’s the substitution effect, even if Watson didn’t quite explain it as clearly as he might have. (The idea in a nutshell: If you just substitute sales tax collections in one place for collections in another place, that doesn’t actually leave you with extra money to hand out to the Invisible Fence guy.) It too often gets overlooked in development deals, so it’s nice to see someone raising it as an issue here.

Knox County Mayor Glenn “Kane” Jacobs, though, had an answer for Watson’s argument:

“It’s one of the most prime locations in Knox County. It produces no money in sales tax. No money whatsoever. So whatever that it does produce will be an increase,” Mayor Jacobs said.

Um, no. I mean, yes, the stadium site itself would produce more tax revenue, but that’s not the same as saying the state would get more tax revenue overall — especially when the Smokies would just be moving from the suburbs to the city. The only way it would increase state tax revenue would be if more people came to visit from out of state, which is certainly possible, but $65 million worth of people? That would require a study, but admittedly it’s far easier just to point at a plot of land and say, “Empty! Let’s make it not-empty!” and leave it at that.

I wish I could tell you more about the bill’s chances in the state senate, but aside from a quote from the TIF district bill’s sponsor, Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, that the stadium would be a “transformational economic development project,” the local news outlets don’t have much on what the other 36 senators think. (Republicans hold a 30-8 advantage in the chamber, but Watson, Jacobs, and Massey are all Republicans, so this clearly isn’t breaking down along partisan lines.) I’ll see what I can do to find out more; in the meantime, if anyone wants to be Field of Schemes’ Tennessee legislative correspondent, let me know.

Friday roundup: NFL to shop for overseas host cities, plus the attack of the no-good, terrible stadium names

How’s everyone doing out there? Did you, like me, spend much of yesterday watching baseball games and wondering why MLB bothers to have mask rules if half the fans are keeping their masks off at any given time, and then wondering if this is really the right thing to be concerned about rather than all the people who are leaving the game and going to indoor sports bars, and then wondering if disregard for mask rules is a reasonable proxy for being careless about going to bars as well? I hope not, because that is very much my job, and the mission of this site remains Thinking Too Hard About Things So You Don’t Have To.

Which is one nice thing about Fridays: No thinking too hard, because all the leftover news gets boiled down to a single bite-size bullet point, ideally with a quip at the end. It’s like pre-wrapped meals of stadium facts, and here’s this week’s assortment:

  • The NFL is adding a 17th game to its season, mostly so it can charge TV networks more for the extra game but also to create more games that can be played outside the U.S. to help increase the league’s international visibility, and the operators of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Vancouver’s B.C. Place have both said they’ll throw their hats in the rings. You can read my thoughts about Olympic Stadium here; suffice to say that it’s simultaneously perfectly serviceable and not at all what sports owners consider state-of-the-art at selling people things other than a seat to sit in. It’ll be very interesting to see whether the NFL makes its international game hosting decisions based on which markets it most wants to break into or which cities offer the snazziest stadiums. (Or which cities offer straight-up cash, that’s always a popular NFL move.)
  • Indy Eleven USL team owner Ersal Ozdemir got his approval from the Indiana state legislature this week to take more time on how to spend his $112 million in state stadium cash, and team officials replied that they will now take their own sweet to to “finalize the site” “in the coming months.” Given that Ozdemir at first asked for the cash so he could get promoted to MLS and then later decided, know what, maybe he’ll stay put in the USL and avoid all those expansion fees but still get the snazzy new digs, there is a non-zero chance that he decides to ask to use the money to build condos or a space laser or something.
  • The Henderson Silver Knights have sold naming rights to their publicly funded and owned under-construction arena (I know it doesn’t make any sense, this is just how naming rights are allowed to work in most of the U.S. with few exceptions) to the payday loan company Dollar Loan Center, which means the arena will now be called … also the Dollar Loan Center? Shouldn’t it at least be the Dollar Loan Center Arena? This seems like very confusing branding, among other things, though I guess it’ll at least be amusing when people use Google Maps to try to find places to get high-interest advances on their paychecks and end up at the Silver Knights ticket window.
  • Also in the terrible names department, we have the Miami Marlins cutting a deal with a mortgage loan company that starts with a lower-case letter, which is going to wreak havoc among sports department copy editors across the land. (Just kidding: All the sports departments have already fired all their copy editors, pUNCtuATE and spel tHiNgZ however U want!!1!)
  • Here’s some video of the under-construction Phoenix Rising F.C. soccer stadium, which when it was announced last December would be ready for 2021 I predicted would be “off-the-rack bleachers that can be installed quickly,” and which indeed looks exactly like that. No robot dog showrooms or giant soccer balls are visible, sadly, but the USL season doesn’t start for another three weeks, so there’s still time to find some off-the-rack robot dogs.
  • And finally, across the pond, Everton F.C. finally had its stadium plan approved by the Liverpool City Council, meaning the £500 million project can move ahead. The city is loaning a little over half that money to Everton’s billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri, but Moshiri is then supposed to repay it in actual cash with interest, so the only real concerns are why Liverpool needs to act as banker for a rich guy, and whether it’s a good idea to build an oceanfront stadium when the oceans are already starting to rise. Those other countries have such quaint problems compared to America’s!

Worcester’s $150m minor-league stadium will be awesome, says newspaper owned by team’s parent club

The Worcester Red Sox are about to open their new $157 million stadium — okay, about to open when the minor-league season starts, which isn’t until May, but anyway, isn’t two months in advance still a good time for the local newspaper to write a piece about how great the place will be once it’s finished? The local newspaper that is owned by the owner of the WooSox’ parent club? Surely this will be a reasoned and objective assessment, so let’s dig in:

Worcester didn’t want its new stadium to be Fenway Park.

Easily accomplished. Moving on!

There’s capacity for 9,508 fans, but the seating bowl of 6,000 seats — all with cup holders — is almost entirely around the infield.

That’s true of almost every minor-league ballpark. And, actually, most major-league ballparks, which have a grandstand wrapped around home plate, and usually at most some more cursory bleachers in the outfield. Glad to hear about the cupholders, though, because if there’s one thing American sports fans hate, it’s having to put their beers on the ground.

Polar Park will be unique. There’s a Woo Shop where purchases are recorded on an app without any checkout or waiting in line. There are heart-shaped light towers and a heart adorned on the side of each seat.

“Without any checkout” sounds like the Amazon store system, which is made possible by an insane number of surveillance cameras, so maybe that’s what the team has planned here? One hopes they will be heart-shaped cameras, at least, to honor Worcester’s nickname of “the Heart of the Commonwealth,” because it’s so close to the middle of the state, which, I guess?

On June 12, 1880, Worcester pitcher Lee Richmond threw the first perfect game in Major League history, against the Cleveland Blues.

Interesting! But not actually about the stadium, if we’re getting technical here.

“One of the things we’ve been good about is making sure that there is a customization factor in every ballpark, so it looks and tastes and feels and smells like the city in which it is located,” Lucchino says.

I’m not sure which is more disturbing, the notion of a stadium that “tastes like” Worcester, or what the construction crew needed to do to ensure quality control on that.

They could have built the stadium on flat land, but instead they shoehorned it into the historic Canal District with multiple levels, a nod to Worcester’s three deckers and the up-and-coming downtown restaurants.

Yes, they could have built on flat land, saving themselves and Worcester taxpayers $58 million. But they chose to build on a hill, because … I dunno, say something about restaurants, the Globe will print whatever we tell them.

“So you should be able to experience a two-dimensional ballpark. Both a low-priced ballpark where tickets are eight or nine dollars, and we have higher-priced tickets that come with more creature comforts,” says [WooSox owner and former Boston Red Sox CEO Larry] Lucchino.

That is not what two-dimensional means.

A long ball hit to left field could land in an open boxcar and wind up in Chicago.

Freight rail companies don’t leave boxcar doors open anymore, but nice thought!

The home bullpen is just a few feet past the dugout and built into the stands. To sit in a box seat sandwiched between the dugout and the bullpen is unique. Fans get an umpire’s view of pitchers warming up, and hear the pop of the catcher’s mitt up close and personal.

Seats right next to the bullpen actually sound kind of neat, though also something that can be experienced at a bunch of other stadiums, including Fenway Park. Though in Worcester this view will be reserved for high-paying patrons, so maybe that’s the unique part here.

Not mentioned at all in the article: The controversy over the stadium’s high public cost, not to mention the overruns that now have taxpayers on the hook for $146.8 million, or more than eight times what it cost to build Fenway Park in 1912, adjusted for inflation. On the other hand, the original Fenway seats didn’t have cupholders or surveillance cameras watching your every shopping move, and who can put a price on things like that? (A: Larry Lucchino, and that price was $146.8 million.)

Friday roundup: Baseball ticket chaos, and the continuing endless rain of minor-league soccer stadium demands

New York state announced yesterday that baseball stadiums will be open at 20% capacity to start the season, which, as things go, is not one of the stupidest reopenings announced by Gov. Gropey this week. As a Mets fan who will be fully vaccinated-plus-two-weeks by shortly after Opening Day, it has me weighing whether sitting three hours masked and distanced outdoors at a ballgame is low-risk enough to be worth considering or still terrible for society as a whole, which in turn had me checking out the Mets’ ticket sale policies:

All ticket management actions for tickets for impacted games [in April], including Ticket Forwarding, will be canceled. These tickets will be removed from your account and are no longer valid for admission.

Glad I didn’t buy tickets when I first noticed they were on sale a couple of weeks ago, because those are apparently now worthless. (Worthless for entry, anyway; you can still get a credit on your account for the purchase price.) Season ticket holders will get first dibs at buying the new blocks of tickets, at least for April; it’s unclear when the mad scramble for seats begins.

Then I checked the Yankees‘ site, and found this:

To be eligible, fans must have purchased their tickets through Ticketmaster and not have transferred, posted or resold them. If the tickets were transferred, the transferee or recipient of the ticket will need to transfer the tickets back to the original purchaser in order for the original purchaser to request a credit or refund. The credit request option is not available for tickets purchased via resale or the secondary market.

If you bought through Stubhub or the like, in other words, you are SOL, unless you can find the person you bought from and have them ask for a refund, then refund you.

I get why the teams are doing this — rather than figure out how to reassign already-purchased seats in distanced pods, it’s way simpler to just refund everybody and start fresh with new ticket sales. But it’s hard not to foresee a whole lot of lawsuits, or at least angry tweets, from people who bought or sold what are now worthless barcodes, and questions about whether pro sports are becoming the latest realm where buying a thing doesn’t mean you’re actually buying it.

Anyway, enough about that. On to the stadium and arena news, which I know you’ve been waiting for and which includes lots of good juicy schadenfreude, plus more minor-league soccer than you can shake a stick at:

  • I’ve been mostly steering clear of the debate over where to build a new high-school sports stadium in Spokane, because, frankly, high-school sports stadium in Spokane, and also the money ($31 million) has already been allocated, so it’s now just a question of where to build it. But if you want an explainer, here’s a good one, which I will now summarize even more briefly: Spokane residents want the stadium to be built where the current stadium is, but the USL says it’ll put a soccer team in Spokane if they move it to a site downtown, so now city officials are trying to decide who it’s more important to listen to, their constituents or the guys dangling a minor-league soccer franchise. Also local business advocates say that if the city doesn’t build a stadium downtown, the USL may look to build there anyway, and they already have $2 million in cash plus a promise of $1 million from an unidentified investor, and that’s only $28 million short! More news as events warrant, which I seriously hope is never.
  • Elsewhere in everybody-gets-a-pro-soccer-team, Grand Rapids may get a USL team if it can be determined how to fund a $40 million stadium. Nobody’s talking public money just yet, but a guy from Convention, Sports & Leisure — yes, those guys — has been hired to talk up how a stadium “has the ability to anchor development, serve as a destination but also kind of speed up and accelerate reinvestment into areas of the city, whether that’s in downtown or on the purview of downtown,” so it’s gotta be only a matter of time.
  • And the Indy Eleven, currently of the USL but maybe one day to be in MLS if you dream real hard, are still seeking their own $150 million stadium, saying it would be “more than a stadium, it is the opportunity to create a vibrant community that will attract individuals and families from near and far to live, work and play — creating jobs and improving quality of place far beyond game day.” Team owner Ersal Ozdemir already got $112 million in state money approved for the stadium last year, but then decided maybe he’d build a smaller stadium and give up on the plans to join MLS that were the whole reason for him getting the $112 million. The state legislature is currently deciding whether to give Ozdemir more time to figure out exactly which scam he wants to pull or to take back the money; “give him more rope” just unanimously passed the state house ways and means committee, so that’s not a great sign.
  • A Nevada state senator is proposing to create a state esports commission to lure major video-game tournaments to Nevada, because “economic development.” I’m still not entirely clear how many people actually travel to attend esports rather than just watching online — attendance figures are brutally hard to come by online, though apparently 45,000 turned out for one event in Beijing in 2017 — but this is one to keep an eye on, especially if esports organizers start choosing site based less on who has the most regulatory oversight (?) and more on who offers cold, hard cash.
  • And finally, circling back to questionable sports reopenings, the Texas Rangers decided to advertise their 100% capacity opening day by showing a fan flagrantly violating their own mask rules. This is all going to go just great!

 

 

Knoxville council asks state to siphon off $65m in sales taxes to pay for Smokies stadium

The Knoxville city council voted 8-1 last night to ask the state legislature to create a sales tax increment financing district to siphon off state and local sales taxes from a swath of downtown and put them toward paying off a $65 million Tennessee Smokies stadium.

And … really, that’s about all I’ve got on this one, given that the only news outlet that seems to have reported on the council vote seems to be the dreaded WBIR. How big a swath of downtown? Has anyone done a study to confirm that the sales-tax money would actually be new revenue, and not just taxes on spending relocated from elsewhere in the city or state? (Moving baseball spending from the Knoxville suburbs to downtown Knoxville seems an especially zero-sum prospect for state legislators, whose approval is required for this plan.) What are the plan’s prospects in the legislature? And so on.

I’m getting tired of posts here that just complain about how bad local news reporting has gotten, as I’m sure you have too, but sometimes that’s the only option — I don’t have the resources to independently research every sports subsidy deal ongoing right now, though I’ll see what more I can find out about this one. I’m deeply concerned about how the gutting of journalism is making it impossible for democracy to function, because it’s increasingly hard for anyone to tell what even to call their elected representatives to yell at them about. And no, the rise of a few Substack celebrity pundits isn’t going to help much with getting city council hearings covered properly.

Anyway, tl;dr: Handing over $65 million in tax money to the University of Tennessee’s president/invisible dog fence plutocrat took another step closer to reality last night. All else is ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

Friday roundup: A’s stadium goes lopsided, another Cali soccer stadium stalls, plus how to skip rent payments and use them to fix up your own home

I’m very busy this morning, busy enough that one entire news item will have to wait till Monday when I can give it its due, but that means an extra post on Monday, so what are you complaining about, really? Anyway, there’s still plenty of stadium and arena news from this week, let’s have at it:

Friday roundup: Climate-doomed sports cities, a $500m video-game arena, and tax breaks to allay pirate fears

Happy Friday, everyone! If you’ve been thinking, Gee, what with vaccines rolling out and the end of the pandemic maybe finally imaginable, I could really use some other global catastrophe to experience existential panic about, Defector and I have you covered with an article about which U.S. sports cities are most likely the first to be made uninhabitable by climate change. No spoilers here, but suffice to say that if you’ve been holding out the last 64 years for the return of the Rochester Royals to the NBA, this might be your lucky century.

And in the newsier news:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux were among the slew of developers and landholders who successfully lobbied the Trump administration last year to redraw Census maps to expand Opportunity Zones, earning who the hell knows how much money in tax breaks as a result. This may sound like a blatant cash grab that isn’t available to normal people who don’t have lobbyists on payroll, but just wait until you hear about the St. Croix hemp farmer who says that without tax breaks he would have trouble finding investors in the U.S. Virgin Islands because “people have ideas of pirates and all this sort of thing,” and then think about how little he probably paid for his land there after telling the seller, “I dunno, man, it’s probably infested with pirates,” and then you’ll know for sure.
  • The owner of two separate Toronto esports teams (one an Overwatch team and one a Call of Duty team, if you think I’m going to dignify them with boldface team names you’re nuts) has announced plans for a 7,000-seat venue to host them, at a cost of $500 million. Wut? I mean, it will also be able to host concerts (its designer called it neither “a sports arena nor an opera house” but “a new typology that straddles the two,” which he got “new” right, anyway), but still, half a billion dollars for a 7,000-seat theater with lots of big screens? Also, the developers already announced this last July, just without the $500 million price tag, so good job, guys, if you leaked the large number now just to get attention, as it’s working. No word yet on whether they’d want public money or tax breaks or anything for this, but you have to think they’d be crazy to spend all their own money on this.
  • Add the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to the list of minor-league baseball teams trying to use the downsizing of the minors to shake down cities for stadium improvements. Sure, it’s only $2 million, but it’s also only to secure a ten-year lease extension, which means they can demand more money in 2031 … if Florida is still above sea level by then. (Oop, damn, the spoiler thing again, sorry.)
  • The Oakland A’s owners may have won their lawsuit to fast-track any environmental challenges to their proposed Howard Terminal stadium (which, by the way, is in an area likely to be among the first to be inundated by sea level rise — oops, I said no spoilers), but lawsuits can be appealed! There, I just saved you $52 a year on an Athletic subscription.
  • I’ve been only marginally following Everton F.C.‘s plans for a new £500 million stadium on the Liverpool waterfront — holding 52,000 people, eat that, Overwatch barons — but there are some mostly dull new renderings out. Also the team’s owners are claiming that moving from one part of town to another will add £1 billion to the local economy, which just goes to show that even when all they’re asking for is a city loan that they’ll repay with interest, sports team owners can’t stop going to the “money will rain like manna from heaven” page in the stadium playbook.
  • The Columbus Crew have fresh renderings out of their new stadium, and do they include people throwing their hands in the air and gesturing wildly to things they want to buy at a bar to show how excited they are to be at a soccer match and ignoring the game so they can sit indoors with a bunch of other uniformly young and attractive people? You bet they do!