Friday roundup: Won’t anyone think of the sports franchise owners?!?

Coming up on the end of week four here, I think, and how is everyone doing? I remembered that today was Friday and I needed to do a news roundup, which was the first day in several that I remembered what day it was, so I feel like things are looking up! Except for the fact that large numbers of people gathering in close confines is looking like the main way this virus spreads, and that describes perfectly spectator sports and music and theater and many other things that make life worth living, so that’s not so great. And, of course, nearly 17,000 people have died and tens of thousands more deaths are expected, and that’s not counting all the people who are dying uncounted at home. Small victories may be victories, but they’re also small.

Eventually this will all be over, though, whatever “over” means, and it’s not too soon to start wondering about what the sports world will look like on the other side. Especially for sports journalists who are twiddling their thumbs right now and hoping that their employers still exist once the worst of this has passed:

Be well, stay safe, and see you Monday!

Friday roundup: Stadium construction continues despite sick workers, drained city budgets may not slow subsidy demands, and other news from our continuing hellscape

How did everyone do during Week Whatever (depending on where you live) of the new weirdness? I finished another jigsaw puzzle, spent way more time than I thought possible trying to understand the new unemployment insurance rules, had the best idea ever, and wrote another article about how the media should stop feeding the troll. (Here’s the previous one, if I neglected to post a link to it before, which I probably did.) And, of course, continued to write this site, even if the subject matter, like all subject matter everywhere, has taken a decided turn for the microbial. Hopefully it’s helping to inform or at least distract you, because it looks like we may be here a while.

Anyway, it’s Friday again, so let’s celebrate getting another week closer to the end of this unknowably long tunnel with some stadium and arena news:

  • Construction is now shut down on the Worcester Red Sox stadium, but continues on the in-progress stadiums for the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Texas Rangers, even after workers on the latter two projects tested positive for COVID-19, and despite it being pretty much impossible to do construction while maintaining a six-foot distance from your fellow workers. The USA Today article reporting all this cites continued construction as a “boost to the economy,” which is slightly weird in that 1) pretty much all economic activity is a boost to the economy, but everyone has kind of decided now that keeping millions of people from dying is more important (okay, almost everyone), and 2) given that these stadiums will all have to be finished eventually regardless, shutting down construction would only push the economic activity a few weeks into the future, to a time when construction workers would actually have stores and restaurants open where they could spend their salary. It really would be nice if journalists writing about economics talked to an economist every once in a while.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin says she’s preparing for a “recession budget” that could require cutting back on planned projects including “a planned renovation of the PNC Arena, an expansion of the Raleigh Convention Center, an addition to the Marbles Kids Museum, a proposed soccer stadium in south Raleigh and a recreational complex at Brier Creek,” reports the News & Observer. Since every local government in the U.S. if not the world is about to see its tax revenues plummet, could this mean a temporary lull in stadium and arena demands while teams have to wait for treasuries to refill? Or will team owners just do like during the Great Recession and pivot from “times are good, now is when you should spend your surplus on giving us new sports venues” to “times are tough, now is when you should be spending to promote any development jobs you can get”? Hawaii officials say the latter, and they don’t even have a team owner lobbying them, so I think you know where I’d be laying my bets.
  • A new poll shows that sports fans believe they’ll be less likely to go to live sporting events once they’ve been “deemed safe,” mostly over fears that they won’t actually be safe. (Nearly two-thirds said they’d be concerned about “health safety,” and more said they’d avoid indoor events than outdoor ones.) There’s presumably some push-poll effect here — if someone asks you if you’re going to be concerned about your health at large events, that’s going to get you thinking about how you maybe should be concerned — but still it’s at least one data point suggesting that game attendance could suffer for a while despite pent-up hunger for live sports.
  • Meanwhile, ratings have plummeted for pro wrestling events before empty venues, which could be a sign that a big part of watching televised sports is enjoying the roar of the crowd, or that pro wrestling isn’t really a sport, take your pick. Where are those New Jersey Nets sound operators when you need them?
  • Don’t count on getting back your “sports fee” on your cable bill even if there’s no sports to watch, though maybe if your TV provider can recoup some fees they’re paying to sports leagues, they’ll consider sharing some of the savings with you.
  • A study by an “advertising intelligence and sales enablement platform” that is no doubt really annoyed right now that this press release didn’t get me to use their name and promote their brand projects that ad spending on sporting events will drop by $1 billion this year. And will that cost sports teams, or the cable and broadcast networks that are contracted to carry them? Sorry, didn’t study that part, we figured Forbes would report on this even without that info, and we were right!
  • Speaking of dumb Forbes articles, here’s one about how baseball should make up for lost revenue by expanding, which overlooks both that this is undoubtedly the worst time imaginable to get the highest expansion fee possible, and that MLB teams are all owned by billionaires so really the issue isn’t having cash on hand, it’s getting yearly income back up, and diluting your share of national revenues by one-fifteenth (if two new teams were added) is no way to do that.
  • But hey, at least stadiums come in handy for herding homeless people into en masse to keep them from getting sick, that’s neither disturbingly dystopian nor terrible social distancing policy, right? What’s that you say? You’re right, let’s instead spend some time revisiting cab-hailing purse woman, that’s a much more soothing start to the weekend.

Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

Friday roundup: Dolphins owner seeks Formula One tax break, Tacoma okays soccer subsidies, plus vaportecture from around the globe!

Happy coronavirus panic week! What with stadiums in Europe being closed to fans and stadium workers in the U.S. testing positive for the virus, it’s tough to think of much right now other than what song to wash your hands to for 20 seconds (this is my personal preference). But long after we’re done with our self-quarantines, the consequences of sports venue spending will live on, so to the week’s news we go:

  • Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is seeking a sales-tax exemption for tickets to Formula One racing events at his stadium, saying that without it, Miami might not get a Grand Prix. The tax break is expected to cost the state between $1.5 million and $2 million per event, but Formula One officials say each race would generate an economic impact of more than $400 million, and what possible reason would they have to lie about a thing like that?
  • The Tacoma city council voted 8-1 on Monday to approve spending on a $60 million, 5,000-seat stadium for the Reign F.C. women’s pro soccer team. According to a letter of intent approved by the council, the city will provide $15 million, while the city parks agency will provide $7.5 million more, with perhaps another $20 million to come from federal tax credits for investing in low-income communities. The parks body still has to vote on the plan on Monday as well; given that Metro Parks commissioner Aaron Pointer — who is also a former Houston Astro and a brother of the Pointer Sisters — said he doesn’t see “really any benefits at all” for the city or its parks, it’s fair to say that the vote there will be more contentious than the one in the city council.
  • Brett Johnson, the developer behind a proposed $400 million development in Pawtucket centered around a pro soccer stadium, says he has lots of investors eager to parks their capital gains in his project tax-free under the Trump administration’s Opportunity Zone program, but it might take a while to work out all the details because reasons. But, he added, “My confidence is very high,” and confidence is what it’s all about, right?
  • Nashville’s Save Our Fairgrounds has filed for a court injunction to stop work on a new Nashville S.C. stadium, on the grounds that no redevelopment of the state fairgrounds can take place without a public voter referendum. This brings the total number of lawsuits against the project to … umpteen? I’m gonna go with umpteen.
  • There’s now an official lawsuit against the Anaheim city council for voting on a Los Angeles Angels stadium land sale without sufficient public meetings. The People’s Homeless Task Force is charging that holding most of the sale talks in private violated the state’s Brown Act on transparency; the city’s lawyers responded that “there could be a myriad of reasons” why the council was able to vote on the sale at a single meeting in December despite never discussing it in public before that, though they didn’t suggest any specific reasons.
  • Wondering what vaportecture looks like outside of North America? Here’s an article on Watford F.C.‘s proposed new stadium, though if you aren’t an Athletic subscriber you’ll be stuck with just the one image, though given that it’s an image of Watford fans stumbling zombie-like into the stadium out of what appears to be an open field, really what more do you need?
  • There are some new renderings of the St. Louis MLS team‘s proposed stadium, and once again they mostly feature people crossing the street, not anything having to do with watching soccer. Are the clip art images of people throwing their hands in the air for no reason temporarily out of stock or something?
  • Here are photos of a 31-year-old arena being demolished, because America.
  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ four-year-old stadium needs $21 million in new paneling on its exterior, because the old paneling was leaking. At least the stadium’s construction contractors will be footing the bill, but it’s still an important reminder that “state of the art” isn’t necessarily better than “outmoded,” especially when it comes to new and unproven designs.
  • And speaking of COVID-19, here’s an article on how travel restrictions thanks to the new coronavirus will cost the European tourism industry more than $1 billion per month, without wondering what else Europeans (and erstwhile travelers to Europe from other continents) will do with the money they’re saving on plane tickets and hotel rooms. Where’s my article on how pandemics are a boost to the hand sanitizer and canned soup industries?

Friday roundup: More Carolina Panthers stadium demands, D-Backs explain Vancouver move threat, and giant soccer robots

Good morning, and thank you for taking a break from your coronavirus panic reading to patronize Field of Schemes. Please wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and we can begin:

Friday roundup: Nashville SC “disappointed” mayor upset at overruns, Miami paying Super Bowl teams’ hotel bills, and the return of Cab-Hailing Purse Woman

It’s been a long week and there is apparently some other stuff in the news and also I want to go read the new Deadspin writers’ temporary blog that is not Deadspin, so let’s get straight to this week’s roundup, which is long, because remember what I literally just said about it having been a long week?

I absolutely cannot wait for the first stadium report to calculate the projected economic impact of Cab-Hailing Purse Woman. Clearly she’ll go anywhere to see a game of baseball and/or soccerfootball! How can your city possibly turn up its nose at the spending on ride-hailing services she will bring?

UPDATE: Someone just forwarded me another article with more Royals stadium renderings, and OMG that sign:

If you’re having trouble reading it, the side facing the camera reads “HEY CDC KC HAS THE FEVER,” which is apparently a joke about the coronavirus epidemic now threatening to sweep the globe? And the other side, facing the field, reads “TODAY’S MY BIRTHDAY SURPRISE ME WITH A WIN” which is a way too on-the-nose reference to the fact that the Royals have lost more than 100 games the last two years. Forget any innovations in stadium design, I want to hear more about how the Royals can draw more fans by encouraging negging.

Friday roundup: Panthers owner donated to Charlotte officials during stadium lobbying, St. Louis MLS didn’t need $30m in state money after all, and what time the Super Bowl economic impact rationalizations start

Happy Friday, and try not to think about how much you’re contributing to climate change by reading this on whatever electronic device you’re using. Though at least reading this in text doesn’t require a giant server farm like watching a video about stadiums would — “Streaming one hour of Netflix a week requires more electricity, annually, than the yearly output of two new refrigerators” is one of the more alarming sentences I’ve read ever — so maybe it counts as harm reduction? I almost linked to an amusing video clip to deliver my punchline, wouldn’t that have been ironic!

And now, the news:

Hamilton votes down $130m junior-hockey arena as “giving money away” to a rich dude

When last we checked in on the Hamilton Bulldogs, the (I’m going to get this right this time, I swear) junior hockey team’s owner was demanding a smaller stadium or else he’d leave town, and the city council was on board with considering building a “right-sized” arena for as much as $130 million to replace the city’s existing one. So I honestly had to blink a couple of times to be sure I was really reading today’s news that the council has voted down the plan as stupid and a waste of public money:

Councillors voted 11 to 3 against participating with Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer in a development at the mountain mall…

A report presented by authors Glen Norton and Ryan McHugh from the economic development and planning department (EDPD) … recommended “no further action be taken” in terms of moving forward with the project, citing cost and location as issues as well as the potential “negative perception” associated with downsizing to a capacity of fewer than 10,000 seats…

[Mayor Fred Eisenberger] defended the city’s current downtown arena and suggested further investment in FirstOntario Centre as a more feasible option.

“But to continue to disparage a facility that is actually probably as good a facility as any that are around other than in size, I think is a little disingenuous,” said Eisenberger…

“It really comes down to the feasibility and whether or not we can afford it and what kind of asset are we going to get at the end of the day?” said [Coun. Brenda] Johnson. “We’re not getting an asset. We’re just giving money away to a private investor who’s going to benefit.”

Okay, so admittedly Andlauer had significantly blue-skied the city by lowballing maintenance and operations costs on a new arena and the price tag of building parking garages, and was trying to stick the public with three-quarters of the costs of his new building — that’s just what sports team owners do! For city analysts to actually notice, and then city officials to read the analysts’ report and vote a plan down as a result, is extremely unusual, and makes me think we’ve somehow passed into an alternate dimension where decisions are made based on common sense and not keeping the local very rich guy happy.

As for what happens now, Andlauer already moved an AHL team out of town two years ago, then moved it again two years later, so clearly he’s willing to pack up the moving vans in order to punctuate his hissy fits. On the other hand, Hamilton is in a virtual tie with Quebec City for the largest city in Canada without an NHL team, so Andlauer might not find greener pastures quite so easily, and if he does, you have to imagine somebody else would interested in locating a team in Hamilton if he leaves. Sure, he or they could always try to demand upgrades to the current arena as part of any deal — and the mayor did leave the door open for that, so Hamilton taxpayers aren’t totally out of the woods yet. But still, it’s nice every once in a while to see some elected officials willing to say publicly when the local sports team owner is wearing no clothes.

Saskatoon to maybe build $175m arena to save local businesses “millions,” this is surely great fiscal management

Saskatoon city officials have been talking about building a new downtown arena for years now, and for years now I’ve been relegating it to the small bullet points in Friday roundups, because it’s such an amorphous plan (the dollar figures have wavered between $175 million and $375 million) and because Saskatoon’s arena doesn’t even have a major pro sports team playing there, just the Blades (junior hockey) and Rush (lacrosse) and Rattlers (minor-league basketball). But that all ends today, and not just because Global News chose the report on this with the irresistible headline “Saskatoon city councillors want fewer homicides, new arena in 2020.”

No, the real kicker is this:

[Saskatoon councillor Randy] Donauer compared the SaskTel Centre to a used car, saying a responsible steward needs to plan for its replacement. He also said that concert promoters had told council that the SaskTel Centre is missing amenities which would keep attracting A-list talent to the city.

He said local businesses would lose out on “millions” of dollars if entertainers went to another venue in another city.

First off: Used cars have lots of moving parts that tend to break, while stadiums are mostly steel that can last effectively forever if protected from corrosion, so this is a terrible, terrible analogy. But more importantly, here we have an elected official saying, presumably with a straight face (Global News didn’t include video of Donauer’s comments), that his city needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new arena because otherwise local businesses would lose millions of dollars if Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand kept on skipping stopping in Saskatoon.

I am not an expert on Canadian finance, but I’m pretty sure hundreds of millions of Canadian dollars are still hundreds of times more than millions of Canadian dollars, so, you know, even if you see the main job of city governments is to prop up local businesses’ profits, maybe there would be cheaper ways to help Saskatoon businesses than building a whole new arena? Maybe?

Right now it looks like the Saskatoon council is only going to work on identifying a site for an arena in 2020, with any actual money to be allocated down the road, possibly because the city is already almost at its debt limit. So there’s still a long ways to go before anything gets decided, which will hopefully give Donauer a bit more time to learn about how money works.

Worcester adds $20m more in tax money to baseball stadium because it forgot how gravity works

The Worcester Red Sox stadium project has always been on the pricey side as minor-league baseball stadiums go, both in terms of projected construction cost ($90 million) and projected public subsidy (around $100 million — yep, the builders were set to get more in tax kickbacks and infrastructure funds than they actually spent on construction — so news that it’s facing significant cost overruns is not really what anyone needed to hear:

Construction costs for Polar Park have increased by $9.5 million over initial estimates, while costs to acquire the properties needed for the ballpark, relocate businesses and prepare the site for development have run roughly $20 million more than what was anticipated.

That has prompted city officials to negotiate changes to the agreements with the ballclub that will be playing at Polar Park starting in 2021 and for the private development that will be built as part of the overall $240 million redevelopment of the Kelley Square/Canal District area.

These “negotiated changes” are that the team will cover the $9.5 million in increased construction costs, while the city will cover the $20 million in added land acquisition and site prep costs. Part of the team’s costs (according to the city manager’s report that starts on page 59 here) will be covered by a doubling of the 50-cent ticket fee that was planned for WooSox games; the city’s costs will be funded by increasing the size of the tax increment financing district where future rises in property tax revenues will be siphoned off and used to pay for land acquisition costs.

Worcester city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. told the Worcester Telegram that the stadium “will continue to pay for itself” and that no “existing” taxpayer money will be diverted to pay for it, which is a clever bit of wordplay to get around the fact that $20 million in future tax money that would have gone to the city will now instead go to site prep costs — and if tax revenues don’t rise as much as expected, Worcester will absolutely have to dip into existing funds to cover the shortfall.

The best part of all this, though, is Augustus’s explanation for why the city’s site costs have risen so much:

“Due to a number of unknown factors, particularly related to business relocation costs, and the need for a more complicated retaining wall system resulting from the steep grade of the site, those costs total $20.69 million,” Augustus said.

I’m sorry, did you say “the steep grade of the site”? You mean despite years of planning, nobody noticed until now that the site is on a hill, and that when you cut into a hill you need to build retaining walls to keep the hill from falling on your new stadium? Clearly this was an unknown and unforeseeable factor, and not an example of lowballing projected costs so that local elected officials (and one economist, though not most) could think it was a better deal!