Friday roundup: New Rangers stadium scam movie, Nevada arena petitions rejected over technicality, and many many dumb ideas for getting you (or cardboard cutouts of you) into stadiums this year

Welcome to the end of another crazy week, which seems redundant to say, since that’s all of them lately. I spent a bunch of it working on this article on what science (but not necessarily your local newspaper) can tell us about not just whether reopening after lockdowns is a good idea, but what kinds of reopening are safe enough to consider. And important enough to consider, since as one infectious disease expert told me, “It’s not ‘open’ or ‘shut’—there’s a whole spectrum in between. We need to be thinking about what are the high-priority things that we need to reopen from a functioning point of view, and not an enjoyment point of view.”

And with that cheery thought, on to other cheery thoughts:

  • If you’re a fan of either sports stadium shenanigans or calamitous public-policy train wrecks in general — and I know you are, or why would you be reading this site — you should absolutely check out “Throw A Billion Dollars From The Helicopter,” a new documentary about the Texas Rangers‘ successful campaign to extract half a billion dollars from the city of Arlington so they could play in air-conditioning. It’s a story that has everything: a mayor who was elected as a stadium-subsidy critic then turned around to approve the biggest stadium subsidy in local history, George W. Bush grubbing for public money and failing to do basic math, grassroots anti-red-light camera activists getting dragged into stadium politics, a trip back to the Washington Senators’ final home game before moving to Texas which they had to forfeit because fans ran on the field and walked off with the bases, footage of that 1994 Canadian TV news story I always cite about how video-rental stores comedy clubs in Toronto were so happy with extra business during the baseball strike that they wished hockey would go on strike too, plus interviews with stadium experts like Roger Noll, Rod Fort, Victor Matheson, Allen Sanderson (the man whose line about more effective ways than building a stadium for boosting your city’s economy gave the documentary its title), and me. Rent it here on Vimeo if you want some substitute fireworks this weekend.
  • Opponents of the publicly funded minor-league hockey arena for the Henderson Silver Knights got enough signatures to put a recall on the November ballot, but have had their petitions invalidated for not including a detailed enough description of their objections on every page. This will almost certainly result in lawsuits, which is how pretty much every battle for public oversight of sports subsidy deals ends — that, and “in tears.”
  • The San Diego city council approved the $86.2 million sale of the site of the Chargers‘ former stadium to San Diego State University, which plans to build a new $310 million football stadium there. Whether this is a good deal for the public is especially tricky, because not only do you have to figure the land value of a 135-acre site in the middle of an economic meltdown, but also San Diego State is a public university, so really this is one public agency selling land to another. It’s all more than I can manage this morning, so instead let’s look at this rendering of a proposed park for the site that features bicyclists riding diagonally across a bike path to avoid a woman who stands in their way with arms akimbo, while birds with bizarre forked tails wheel overhead.
  • You know what would be a terrible idea in the middle of a pandemic that has closed stadiums to fans because gathering in one place is a great way to spread virus? An article telling fans what public spaces they can gather in to catch a glimpse of game action in closed stadiums, and Axios has you covered there! And so does the Associated Press!
  • Sure, hundreds of thousands of people have died and there could be hundreds of thousands more to go, but won’t anyone think of the impact on TV network profits if there’s no football to show in the fall?
  • And speaking of keeping an eye strictly on the bottom line, the NFL is considering requiring fans (if there are any) who attend NFL games this fall (if there are any) to sign a waiver promising not to sue if they contract Covid as a result. But can I still sue if someone goes to a football game, contracts Covid, and then infects me? I’m not actually sure how easily one could sue in either case — since you can never be sure where you were infected with the virus, it would be like suing over getting cancer from secondhand smoke — but I always like the idea of suing the NFL, so thanks for the idea, guys!
  • New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says he wants to see fans at Yankee Stadium “in the 20-30 percent range,” a number and prediction he failed to indicate he pulled from anywhere other than his own butt. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are reportedly planning to open rooftops around Wrigley Field at 25% capacity for watching games this year, something that might actually be legal since while would mean about 800 fans in attendance, they wouldn’t all be in attendance in the same place, so it could get around rules about large public gatherings.
  • If you want to spend $49 and up so a cardboard cutout of yourself can watch Oakland A’s games, you can now do that on the team’s website. If that sounds like a terrible deal, know that with each purchase you also get two free tickets to an exhibition game at the Coliseum in 2021 (if there are any), and if you pay $129 then you also get a foul ball mailed to you if it hits your cutout, all of which still sounds like a terrible deal but significantly more hilarious.
  • If you were hoping to make one last trip to Pawtucket’s 74-year-old McCoy Stadium to see Pawtucket Red Sox baseball before the team relocates to Worcester after this season — it was on my now-deleted summer calendar — you’ll have to settle for eating dinner on the field, because the PawSox season, along with the rest of the minor-league baseball season, has been officially called off. Also, the Boston Herald reports that the Lowell Spinners single-A team won’t be offering refunds to those who bought tickets for non-canceled games, only credits toward 2021 tickets — shouldn’t ticketholders be able to sue for not receiving the product they paid for? I want somebody to sue somebody, already! When will America’s true pastime be allowed to reopen?
  • Here’s a New York Times article on how new MLS stadiums are bucking past stadium trends by being “privately financed, with modest public support for modernizing infrastructure,” which is only true if you consider $98 million (Columbus) and $81 million and up (Cincinnati) to be “modest” figures.
  • I apologize for failing to report last week on the Anaheim Ducks‘ proposed development around their hockey arena, less because it’s super interesting or there is amusing vaportecture than because it’s supposed to be called “ocV!BE,” which is the best name ever, so long as you want to live in a freshly built condo in what sounds like either a randomly generated password or an Aughts rock band.

Friday roundup: Return to some pretense of normalcy (for now, depending) edition

Morning, everybody! We’re coming up on halfway through June, and the sports world is beginning to awake from its pandemic-inspired slumber: Spain’s La Liga soccer league held its first restarted games yesterday, with fake crowd noise and CGI fans (I’m watching via DVR right now: the fans disappear periodically and are replaced by ads, something I’m sure league broadcasters wish they could do in normal times); England’s Premier League is set to begin games next Wednesday. Japan’s J League is set to restart on July 4, with fans possibly returning at reduced capacity a week later. Germany’s Bundesliga, meanwhile, is several weeks into its restart and going full speed ahead despite occasional players testing positive and going into quarantine.

Over in the U.S. — currently 7th worldwide in new Covid deaths per day, behind Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, and the UK — the NBA is planning to finish its season and then play the playoffs entirely at Disney World starting July 30, though it’s not certain that all players will show up given they’d be isolated from their families for seven weeks at minimum. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has promised “100 percent” that there will be a 2020 season of some kind, though again, it’s always possible lots of players will just stay home rather than risk their health to get less than a third of their regular salaries in exchange for a month-long preseason plus a month and a half of games. MLS is relaunching with a World Cup–style tournament at Disney World, to be followed by a season as yet to be determined. The NHL is shooting for a playoff tournament starting in August, maybe, depending. The NFL is still insisting it will be able to play its regular season as usual in September with full stadiums, though individual teams are planning otherwise.

In short, the grand sports epidemiological experiment has begun, and we’re just going to have to keep checking back week to week to see how it’s turning out. Playing fan-free games in regions with low current infection rates seems to be working out okay — at least if you don’t mind that players will occasionally keep turning up infected and have to be quarantined, which is fine enough on public health grounds even if it might leave players antsy — but how that translates into fans in seats, or a world where a second wave kicks in starting in September just as leagues are in full swing, remains a work in progress. The best bet remains not to plan anything more than a few weeks in advance, which is understandably hard when you’re trying to steer an aircraft carrier of an institution like a sports league, but for individual fans we can just enjoy whatever’s on TV this week while we wait for our ticket refunds to trickle in one month at a time.

Anyway, on to the week’s stadium and arena news:

  • To the confusing lack of firm information about the Carolina Hurricanes‘ new arena lease, add the news that Hurricanes owner Thomas Dundon has “termination rights” and the executive director of the local sports authority is mumbling about how maybe it’s time for a downtown arena. This still looks to be in the long-game phase — if you’re not playing the long game during a hopefully temporary global health crisis, you’re pretty dumb, not that sports team owners can’t be dumb when necessary — but it’s worth keeping an eye on, because we know well that sports team owners and elected officials love nothing more than to meet behind closed doors to plot things while waiting for the money to return.
  • Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is defending spending tons of city money on a new Flames arena and other big development projects as the smart thing to do during an economic downturn, and he has a point in terms of government spending being a smart thing to do when the cost of borrowing is cheap and people need jobs so they’ll start spending again. Whether it’s a smart thing to spend that money on a new hockey arena when the city is in the middle of slashing school budgets is another question.
  • Henderson, Nevada has issued some renderings of its planned arena for the Silver Knights (what the Vegas Golden Knights‘ farm team will apparently be called, which, okay), and I gotta say, they are seriously lacking in batshittery. Long-distance images of generic fans, with no lens flare or fireworks or Mitch Moreland? Okay, there’s a giant statue of a knight and one fan raising his hands in the air in the parking lot for no particular reason, but step up your game, Henderson, America needs entertainment, or else we’ll have to start pretending that our game consoles are hockey arenas!
  • Speaking of long-term vs. short-term thinking, people who want to own major-league (or minor-league) sports teams are lobbing plenty of lowball offers, but aren’t getting many takers.
  • Here’s an article about how college football teams will only let you into games if you’re old or rich, which seems about right for America.
  • Wait, there was a baseball stadium named after Marge Schott? Who ever thought that was a good idea?

Friday roundup: Gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down (plus: stadiums still gonna stadium)

A bunch of news items this week, but none of it is as important a read as this series of incredible tweets by my reporter friend Jake Offenhartz about New York City police luring peaceful protestors in the Bronx into an ambush and then trapping them so they could beat them with batons, just one of many horrific reports about the police riots that are currently spreading across the U.S.

There’s a growing move among elected officials in New York and elsewhere to defund the police — $1 billion in cuts is the number being thrown around in New York City, which would still leave the NYPD with $5 billion — and use the savings for other programs  like education and housing that are facing massive cuts amid the pandemic economic crash; I could probably try to draw some parallel between the sports-industrial complex and the police-industrial complex and their parallel drives to make public policy all about meeting their monetary demands, but honestly I’m kind of exhausted by the entirety of everything right now, so hopefully “Americans are being taxed to buy tens of billions of dollars of military equipment for police department to use against them” is sufficient to get the point across.

Anyway, for those of you not in jail or under sedation for your injuries, here’s some news about sports stadium ripoffs:

  • Here’s an article by the desiccated husk of Sports Illustrated about the Oakland A’s potentially stalled Howard Terminal stadium plans that sheds a little more light on owner John Fisher’s problems: He’s having a hard time getting any banks to loan him money in the middle of an economic collapse and with no clear sign of when and if normal sports attendance will resume, and also lots of his family’s Gap stores had to close temporarily, and now he might have to trade his team’s young stars because he only has his net worth of $2 billion to fall back on.
  • The pandemic has Worcester worrying that it won’t be able to cash in on a tax windfall from building a new stadium to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town. The good news: There was never going to be a cash windfall in the first place! The bad news: That isn’t very good, as news goes.
  • Here’s an article by a Forbes “contributor” speculating that Tottenham Hotspur‘s new stadium will be the last of the big-money sports venues now that selling lots of tickets to sporting events is at least temporarily a thing of the past, which, I really wouldn’t hold your breath on that.
  • Speaking of which, the Los Angeles city planning commission recently approved a plan for a new 7,500-seat stadium or arena (developers aren’t sure which yet) because, in the words of one developer, “We’re tired of transporting over the hill to see events.”
  • New trailer for Michael Bertin’s documentary “Throw A Billion Dollars From The Helicopter” on the Texas Rangers‘ extraction of public funds for their new stadium to replace their old one because it wasn’t air-conditioned, coming soon to a streaming video site near you!
  • A stadium-sized asteroid is headed toward Earth (well, our general vicinity), and Twitter has already made the obvious joke, good job, Twitter.

Friday roundup: Ohio could cut stadium funds, A’s could delay stadium plans, sports could return, world could end, anything’s possible

A little distracted this morning with a new work project and the usual pandemic stuff and the not-so-usual riots on TV, but there’s a passel of stadium and arena news I didn’t get to, so let’s get to ’em:

Friday roundup: Sacramento faces cuts to pay arena debt, Henderson approves arena debt, music festival to be held in phantom Yankee Stadium parking lot

Sorry, getting a late start today, let’s get straight to the news without delay:

Friday roundup: Rattling sabers for Panthers stadium, leagues large and small seek bailouts, and a very large yacht

So how’s everyone out there, you know, doing? As the pandemic slowly feels less like a momentary crisis to be weathered and more like a new way of living to be learned (I refuse to say “new normal,” as nothing about this will ever feel normal), it’s tempting to occasionally look up and think about what habits and activities from the before times still make sense; I hope that FoS continues to educate and entertain you in ways that feel useful (or at least usefully distracting) — from all accounts the entire world being turned upside down hasn’t been enough to interrupt sports team owners’ important work of stadium shakedowns, so it’s good if we can keep at least half an eye on it, amid our stress-eating and TV bingewatching.

So get your half an eye ready, because a whole bunch of stuff happened again this week:

City of Henderson explains $60m hockey arena subsidy by releasing cloud of random numbers

One of the sports arena projects still moving ahead despite the uncertain future of both sports and arenas is the minor-league hockey arena in Henderson, Nevada, which had $60 million in public bonds approved last month, though official approval of the project itself is still a ways off. So the Henderson city government is still hard at work justifying its expense, and yesterday they came up with a doozy:

City of Henderson says new arena would create 106% return on investment in first year

“The economic output of the Event Center will, directly and indirectly, enhance sales tax in the area, and the City will benefit from taxes related to construction of the new venue,” said Jim McIntosh, Chief Financial Officer…

The analysis outlined the City of Henderson would benefit $40.9 million over 20 years in projected savings and tax revenue.

In addition, the one-year return for the proposed center was projected at 106.57 percent based on the matching investment from the Vegas Golden Knights.

That is some impressive math salad! Spending $60 million in public money would create $40.9 million over 20 years in savings (on maintaining the amphitheater currently on the site) and new tax revenue, which would amount to a 106.75% return in one year! No need for 3 News Las Vegas to question that, or to provide a link to the actual report!

Coverage in the Las Vegas Review-Journal wasn’t much more illuminating, though it did provide two different uninstructive numbers: the arena would “generate a projected economic output of about $17 million to $26 million” (per year? does this account for any spending just siphoned off from other local businesses?) and “could sustain 89 to 122 jobs” (full-time equivalent or part-time?). And I can’t find anything on the City of Henderson website, or on the site of the analytics company that conducted the study, so your guess is as good as mine as to what it all means. Other than “People are griping about us spending $60 million in tax money on a private sports arena in the midst of a global pandemic, somebody come up with some numbers to throw at them, stat! No, I don’t care if they add up, you think journalists have time to find a calculator and check them? This isn’t 2010, people!”

Friday roundup: Another Canadian sports bailout request, and everyone pretends to know when things may or may not reopen

Happy May, everybody! This crisis somehow both feels like it’s speeding into the future and making time crawl — as one friend remarked yesterday, it’s like we’ve all entered an alternate universe where nothing ever happens — and we have to hold on to the smallest glimmers of possible news and the tiniest drips of rewards to keep us going and remind us that today is not actually the same as yesterday. In particular, today is fee-free day on Bandcamp, when 100% of purchase prices goes to artists, and lots of musicians have released new albums and singles and video downloads for the occasion. Between that and historic baseball games on YouTube with no scores listed so you can be surprised at how they turn out, maybe we’ll get through the weekend, at least.

And speaking of week’s end, that’s where we are, and there’s plenty of dribs and drabs of news-like items from the week that just passed, so let’s catch up on what the sports world has been doing while not playing sports:

In return to normalcy, Nevada city approves $60m in arena bonds to steal hockey team from San Antonio

The Henderson, Nevada city council voted yesterday on authorizing $60 million in public bonds to pay for a minor-league hockey arena for an affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, and if you thought they were going to reject it just because the economy is collapsing and hundreds of thousands of people may die, you really must be new to this site:

The Henderson City Council voted 4-1 today to approve $60 million in bonds to finance an arena for the Golden Knights’ new American Hockey League affiliate…

Councilman Dan Stewart suggested waiting six months to see how the economy shapes up before considering adding debt.

“If there is no immediate need for these bonds, why even consider the sale of them at this time?” Stewart said.

Most of the public comment was on his side, with about double the number of commenters opposed to the bonds compared to those in favor.

(I know what you’re probably wondering here: How was there public comment when Nevada is under a lockdown prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people? Maybe they decided to allow city council meetings to resume, and will just start shutting down whichever ones start leading to mass die-offs?)

The new Henderson team would be the relocated San Antonio Rampage AHL team, which the Golden Knights bought in February with the intention of moving them closer to their NHL club. As discussed yesterday, only about $30 million of the bond money is expected to go to arena construction, though it’s not clear whether some of the other “improvements” it would fund are arena-related as well. And the council still has to vote on the arena project itself now that the financing has been approved, though if they voted 4-1 to approve this amid public outcry, it certainly doesn’t bode well for the council suddenly playing hardball when it’s time for the followup vote. I guess at least it’s nice to see that some things are already returning to normal despite the pandemic, though honestly I would have taken “unemployment rates under 20 percent” ahead of this.



MLB to use pandemic to kill 42 minor-league baseball teams

While the endgame of the coronavirus pandemic remains incredibly unclear — from when anything resembling normal life to resume to who will get bailed out how — one thing that seems certain is that anyone with an agenda is spending their time in lockdown figuring out how they can use this catastrophe to their own ends. So, for example, you have an unnamed Boston Red Sox exec telling Peter Gammons this week that it could take until 2023 to rebuild revenues, and so baseball needs to “determine where that takes free agency, arbitration, draft and other player compensations,” a pretty clear shot across the bow of the players’ union that “but our ticket sales!” is going to be a big negotiating point in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

If that’s just public saber-rattling with the union, though, it looks like MLB may have exploited the pandemic to win an actual victory over another adversary: According to J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, who first broke the story last fall that MLB was looking to eliminate 42 existing minor-league franchises, the minor leagues are expected to agree to the plan as soon as today, because the shutdown of the 2020 season has left them so desperate for survival that they’ll take any port in a storm:

The world has changed dramatically over the past six months, especially now that the coronavirus pandemic has halted sports. When MLB and MiLB negotiators convene on a teleconference on Wednesday, multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations say MiLB will indicate that it agrees to 120 affiliated teams in a new PBA…

If both sides agree, it would mean as many as 42 current minor league teams would be lopped off by eliminating short-season and Rookie ball. Two independent league teams, the St. Paul Saints and Sugar Land Skeeters, would be added to affiliated ball. The two sides are working on a potential deal to ensure the majority of those 42 markets would have still have baseball with ties to MLB in a system that has long-term viability.

What that last bit means about “the majority of markets” having “baseball with ties to MLB” is still not entirely clear: Cooper writes that “those cities’ teams will not be fielding draftees and signees of the MLB club,” which is pretty much entirely what minor-league affiliation means, so who knows whether they’d just be getting some cash from MLB or getting to wear hats with the MLB logo on it or what. The Dream League idea — let all the players who don’t make the shrunken minors go play in independent ball with MLB footing some bills and hope that doesn’t go bankrupt immediately — seems not to be the plan since MiLB leaders still think it would crash and burn immediately, but maybe they’ll just announce today that they’ve agreed to minor-league contraction while what happens to former minor-league cities is relegated to “see Appendix A (not attached).”

And make no mistake, what happens to minor-league cities is going to be hugely important for the future not only of fans in those cities, but for how the entire minor-league ecosystem — and the minor-league stadium-grubbing ecosystem — works in the future. If one of the advantages of being a minor-league baseball owner seeking a new stadium is that there are plenty of potential minor-league cities you can threaten to move to, a disadvantage is that there are so many minor-league teams that it’s always possible for a city to lure a new one to take the old one’s place. (In European sports, it’s worth noting, move threats are almost unheard of, partly because there’s no restriction on just starting a new team and letting it try to work its way up the promotion ladder toward the top tiers.) Slashing the number of minor-league teams would dramatically shift team owners’ leverage, since you’d have a cartel controlling a more limited number of franchises deciding where to place them, much like the major leagues operate right now.

Now, it’s possible this agreement could still fall apart, or that Cooper’s sources are wrong: MiLB issued a statement yesterday that news reports of 42 teams’ imminent demise were “largely inaccurate” and “there have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues,” though it’s worth noting that there’s a big difference between “largely inaccurate” and “entirely inaccurate.”

But it looks at least like the current crisis has led to a dramatic shift in power between MLB (which has the cash reserves to weather even a full-year shutdown) and MiLB (which emphatically does not, and is even less likely to see games resume in 2020), and MLB is set to exploit it for all it’s worth. This will be bad for minor-league fans who will lose their teams, and bad for minor-league cities that will face even more shakedowns if they want to keep their teams in the future, but it will be good for MLB owners’ control of their industry. And if there’s one thing clear about historical crises of all kinds, it’s that they’re a great time to drive the competition out of business.