Friday roundup: How Kansas City evicted a team for rent non-payment and ended up costing itself $1m, and other stories

This week’s recommended reading: Girl to City, Amy Rigby’s just-published memoir of the two decades that took her from newly arrived art student in 1970s New York to divorced single mom and creator of the acclaimed debut album Diary of a Mod Housewife. (Disclosure, I guess: I edited an early version of one chapter for the Village Voice last year.) I picked up my copy last week at the launch of Rigby’s fall book tour, and whether you love her music or her long-running blog (guilty as charged on both counts) or enjoy tales of CBGB-era proto-gentrifying New York or coming-of-age-stories about women balancing self-doubt and determination or just a perfectly turned punchline, I highly recommend it: Like her best songs, it made me laugh and cry and think, often at the same time, and that’s all I can ask for in great art.

But first, read this news roundup post, because man, is there a lot of news to be rounded up:

Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

Friday roundup: Lots more fans showing up disguised as empty seats

Is public financing of sports venues worth it? If you’ve been noticing a bit of a dip in the frequency of posts on this site over the past few months, it’s not your imagination: I had a contract job as a fill-in news editor that was taking up a lot of my otherwise FoS-focused mornings. That job has run its course now, which should make it a bit easier to keep up with stadium and arena news on a daily basis going forward, instead of leaving much of it to week-ending wrapups.

That said, you all do seem to love your week-ending wrapups, so here’s one now:

Friday roundup: Lotsa soccer news, and oh yeah, saving the world

Happy global climate strike day! As kids (and their adults) take to the streets today, it’s important to keep in mind two not-contradictory-though-they-may-seem-so things: We are seriously screwed even if we act now, but there’s still a lot we can do to keep ourselves from being even more seriously screwed. (And by “we” here I mostly mean governments, because it’s almost impossible for individuals alone to significantly impact carbon emissions just by shutting off lights and avoiding air travel, not that those aren’t important things to do, too.)

Anyway, enough about the fate of humanity, let’s talk about sports venues (and not even about the carbon footprints of building new ones and flying teams from city to city, which would be a whole other article):

Owner may threaten to move minor-hockey team just two years after it replaced minor-hockey team that moved after only two years

Hey, remember last Tuesday when I wrote about Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer threatening to move his junior hockey team as part of an arena ploy, just four years after moving the previous Hamilton Bulldogs AHL franchise to St. John’s, Newfoundland? Well, the former Bulldogs only stayed two years in St. John’s before moving to Laval, Quebec, then were replaced last year by the ECHL Newfoundland Growlers, and you can already see where this is heading, can’t you?

With the ECHL champion Newfoundland Growlers yet to come to a lease agreement at its current home — Mile One Centre in St. John’s — the owner of the franchise has confirmed he’ll be making an announcement Tuesday.

Asked Saturday afternoon about a report on Newfoundland sports website the Sports Page that the 2019-20 season will be the team’s last in St. John’s, MacDonald wouldn’t say.

“We’ll be laying out the future of the team on Tuesday,” he told CBC News.

So, a few things:

  • Maybe Canadian cities might want to think about signing hockey teams to longer-term leases? I realize St. John’s was probably happy to get the Growlers once the St. John’s IceCaps (the former Bulldogs) left, but handing the team owner leverage to demand to take over operations of the city’s arena is possibly not the best idea.
  • On the other hand, there are so many Canadian minor- and junior-hockey leagues (junior leagues are for young players, minor leagues are for players who just aren’t very good) that it seems fairly likely St. John’s could land another team of some kind if the Growlers move.
  • The real purpose of all this brinksmanship appears to be that St. John’s wants to raise the Growlers’ rent payments because the arena is losing money, and the Growlers owners say they don’t want to pay more because they’re losing money. Which may or may not be true, but it’s certainly another data point that in most cases the only way to make money off an arena deal is to have somebody else’s red ink subsidize your profits.
  • The St. John’s arena was built all the way back in 2001, so either an almost-new arena is no guarantee that a team will be happy (or profitable), or 18 years now has to be considered old for an arena, or both, any of which is not a good advertisement for building an arena as a method of promoting long-lasting economic development.
  • The Growlers’ logo suggests that the team should really be called the Newfoundland Newfoundlands.

Hamilton hockey owner: Build me a smaller arena, or I’ll leave town

The Hamilton Bulldogs arena kerfuffle is reaching one of the lower DEFCONs, with the discovery of a confidential proposal to the city by team owner Michael Andlauer to have taxpayers build a new arena at Lime Ridge Mall, for which Andlauer would “partially offset” the costs:

No construction costs are included in proposal documents viewed by The Spectator and team owner Michael Andlauer declined through a spokesperson Monday to talk about how much he is willing to pay. Past estimates floated for a Mountain arena have been around $60 million.

That would be smaller than the 10,000-seat arena that the city council was discussing just last week to replace the city’s 17,400-seat arena. And Andlauer has upped the ante by threatening to move his team out of town if an arena isn’t completed quickly:

Team owner Michael Andlauer isn’t prepared to wait the four or five years the proposed project is expected to take.

Andlauer says if the city can’t get a new arena up and running before that, he’ll be forced to look at moving his OHL hockey team elsewhere.

“I don’t want to be put in that position, but I think timing is going to create that.”

He can certainly do that, but as the second-largest Canadian city without an NHL team, Hamilton would be well-positioned to pick up another hockey franchise if the Bulldogs left town. In fact, that’s how the city ended up with these Bulldogs in the first place, after Andlauer’s previous American Hockey League team of the same name moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland in 2015.

Also, Andlauer has threatened this before, using the same Hamilton Spectator columnist, Andrew Dreschel, as his mouthpiece. One hopes that the two-minute warning ploy wouldn’t carry as much weight anymore now that so many team owners have tried it over and over again, but nobody ever went broke gambling on the gullibility of local elected officials.

Hamilton could tear down arena and build new one to trim 7,000 seats

It was only a decade ago that Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum was being considered as a potential relocation target for various NHL teams, or at least being used as a threat by them. The Ontario city ended up without a franchise, though, and now the 34-year-old arena — since renamed something about a bank — is being targeted for possible demolition and replacement, not because it’s too old, but because it’s too big:

The city’s general issues committee voted Wednesday to set up a steering committee, hire a project manager and look at partnering with private companies to replace the city’s largest entertainment venue with a smaller one.

The move came after city staff said Hamilton needs a “right-sized” venue to replace the former Copps Coliseum — one with about 10,000 seats rather than the 17,400 the aging arena has now…

The Bulldogs are the current main tenant, and the staff report predicts attendance at those OHL games would increase 20 to 50 per cent with a new facility. Increased revenue, staff say, would bring in $20 million over the next 30 years.

But it would cost as much as $130 million to build a new facility, the report says. And some councillors are hesitant to tackle that price tag.

Okay, so a couple of things: First off, the idea that sports teams and the cities that love them too much should be building smaller venues is an old one, and makes sense if the new sports marketing strategy is to sell fewer higher-priced tickets and charge everyone else to watch on TV at home. But that’s if you’re building new — the idea of spending $130 million just to get a new arena that is 7,000 seats smaller is pretty crazy, when you can reduce capacity at an existing building just by throwing a tarp over the upper deck.

The premise here seems to be that the Bulldogs junior hockey team — that’s under-21s — would draw enough more fans in a smaller arena to make it worth the expense, which is at best an extremely speculative notion: Yes, watching sports in a “right-sized” venue can be more pleasant, but enough so that an additional 1,000 to 2,500 people are going to turn up every night just because there’s no upper deck? (The Bulldogs currently average just under 5,000 fans a night in attendance.) And to make a $130 million investment pay off, adding even 2,500 fans apiece at 34 home games would have to spend about $100 each for the arena just to break even on increased attendance alone. (A city report projects that ensmallening the arena would also save a little under $1 million a year in maintenance costs, in which case an additional 2,500 hockey fans a night would just need to spend $90 each to make the numbers work.)

There are other possible upsides to replacing your arena — you can get more modern facilities including revenue producers like ad boards and luxury seating, you can relocate it elsewhere in your city and redevelop the old arena land, etc. — but that seems to be less of a motivation than this “the old one has 7,000 too many seats” thing. Though most likely the real motivation has more to do with the Bulldogs owner making noise about wanting a new arena, after the previous minor-league Bulldogs moved to Newfoundland and were replaced by the junior hockey franchise. So while a new Hamilton arena may not necessarily be the dumbest idea on the face of the earth, it seems only reasonable to consider it dumb until proven smart.

Friday roundup: News outlets everywhere get pretty much everything wrong

On a tight deadline this week, so let’s get straight to the news:

Friday roundup: Saints’ $300m subsidy moves ahead, St. Louis MLS announcement on tap, Richmond council votes no on democracy

Sometimes I feel lucky to cover a topic with so many constant absurdities, and then this happens, and I realize that constant absurdities are just the new normal. Anyway, I did get to edit this this week, which is an excellent look at how this week’s absurdity is having potentially catastrophic impacts on people’s lives, so go read it!

But not before you read these:

  • The Louisiana State Bond Commission has approved selling $450 million worth of state bonds to fund renovations to the Superdome, in exchange for the New Orleans Saints signing a 15-year lease extension. As covered back in May, Saints owner Gayle Benson would cover one-third of the bond cost, leaving Louisiana to pay off $300 million, bringing the Saints’ five-decide subsidy total to a cool $1.442 billion. In exchange, the Saints will sign a 15-year lease extension — with another 15-year option, but there’s no way they’re going to extend their lease again without more subsidies the way this gravy train is rolling — which comes to state taxpayers ponying up $20 million a year for the presence of an NFL team, which is a hell of a lot of money, though not as much as Indiana pays the Pacers, because Indiana.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this week that St. Louis will be announced next Tuesday as the next MLS expansion city, bringing the number of teams in the league to a cool 154. (I think it’s actually 28, but honestly the number changes so fast it’s hard to keep track.) Deadspin read the announcement that there would be no public subsidies for the as-yet-unnamed team’s stadium and excitedly reported that the deal “might not completely fleece the city”; sadly, it will actually involve about $60 million in public subsidies, but since about half of that is coming from the state, not the city, that Deadspin headline is still technically correct, right?
  • The Richmond city council has voted 5-3 against allowing a referendum on the city’s proposed new $350 million city-subsidized arena on the November ballot, because voting is for elected officials, not regular folks. Though regular folks do still get to vote on electing elected officials, something that referendum sponsor Reva Trammell clearly had in mind when she said following the no-voting vote: “I hope the citizens hold their feet to the fire. Every damn one of them that voted against it.”
  • Two-plus years after the arrival of the Hartford Yard Goats in exchange for $63 million in public stadium cash — plus a couple million dollars every year in operating losses — the Hartford Courant has noticed that stadium jobs are usually part-time and poorly paid. Not included in the article: any analysis of how many full-time jobs could have been created by spending $63 million on just about anything else.
  • New Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo said he intends to keep the NHL team in Arizona, but that keeping it in Glendale is a “difficult situation,” at which point a Glendale spokesperson said that city officials would meet with Meruelo “to see how we can help him achieve his goals of success.” Which is all fine and due diligence and all, but given that helping Meruelo “achieve his goals” is likely to mean paying him money to play in Glendale like the city used to do, it’s not exactly promising; if nothing else, Glendale officials would do well to remember that Meruelo currently has exactly zero better arena options elsewhere in the state, so he’s not exactly negotiating from a position of strength.
  • Joe Tsai, who was already set to buy the Brooklyn Nets from Mikhail Prokhorov, has officially exercised his option to purchase the team, plus the Barclays Center arena to boot, for a reported $3.5 billion. Given that the arena is currently losing about $21 million a year, this seems like an awful lot of money even if the team does employ whatever’s left of Kevin Durant. Since Tsai already owns the New York Liberty, though, maybe it at least means that WNBA franchise will finally return to the city from its exile in the suburbs.

Oklahoma City soccer team owner wants tax money for new stadium, because “economic boost” and “diversity”

When I relayed the news last week that Oklahoma City’s fourth iteration of its MAPS sales-tax hike was being eyed to fund upgrades to the Thunder‘s arena that was already built and upgraded with previous MAPS sales-tax hikes, I neglected to note that USL team OKC Energy F.C. also wants some tax money for a new soccer stadium, because why wouldn’t they? Their existing stadium was entirely rebuilt way back in 2015, which is a lifetime if you’re a stadium or a mayfly.

Team co-owner Bob Funk, Jr. had this to say about why he’d like between $37 million and $72 million in public money for a new stadium for his minor-league soccer franchise:

“This is an opportunity to once again set our city on a global stage. It will connect and unify Oklahoma City’s diverse cross-section of cultures and provide a powerful economic boost to our urban core.”

Note that Oklahoma City already has a USL team, so that’s not enough to set it on a global stage. (Nor is the presence of the Thunder, apparently, though that “once again” implies that global stages expire about as often as mayflies.) Moving the soccer team from one stadium to another, though, would be a powerful economic boost, something that KFOR explains thusly:

The first option represented a $37 million to $42 million investment for an 8,000-seat stadium that would accommodate soccer, high school football, rugby, lacrosse, concerts and festivals.

Organizers believe it could host more than 60 events each year, which would bring $60 million annually to the city.

The second option was a $67 million to $72 million investment with 10,000 seats, shade structures and other amenities to improve the fan experience. Additional restrooms would be included, along with a larger stage and secondary stage. Organizers say this venue could host more than 80 events each year, which would bring over $79 million to the city.

Okay, so, just no. There is no way that the city is going to earn $79 million a year in rent (or sales taxes or whatever) on 80 events a year at a 10,000-seat stadium — that would be $100 a ticket, which would be a somewhat hefty fee for a team or stadium operator to pay.

Presumably what the “organizers” (which seems to mean Funk and a would-be stadium developer, though the article never says outright, because that would be committing journalism) mean here is $79 million a year in economic impact, which is a completely different thing adding up all the dollars spent in a region connected with a development project. That number is still almost certainly inflated — people attending minor-league soccer matches are unlikely to spend $100 total in the local economy, and even if they do they’d likely spend it just the same if the Energy F.C. were in their old stadium, or didn’t exist at all, because there are other things to do in Oklahoma City other than watch soccer — but saying “in economic impact” would have been at least marginally less misleading than “bring over $79 million to the city.”

Anyway, here‘s some vaportecture of the proposed stadium, which will apparently be used to watch dangerously over-capacity concerts involving fireworks displays at night, and to watch invisible football teams while wearing identical red floppy hats by day. Bonus points if you can spot any diverse cross-section of cultures getting unified!