Friday roundup: The baseball gods are very, very angry

Happy baseball season, everybody! Last night the New York Yankees were leading the Washington Nationals 4-1 when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred came out to explain the new playoff system in which 16 teams will make the postseason and the only advantage you’ll get from winning your division is home-field advantage in empty stadiums, at which point the baseball gods tried to kill Manfred by hurling lightning bolts at him and the game had to be called. This really could not be a more auspicious beginning.

Anyway, stadium and arena news, that’s what you’re here for:

Friday roundup: Silver Knights face arena suit, Prokhorov seeks to ditch Nassau lease, journalism spirals the drain

Happy Friday, everybody! MLS has resumed play with an MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando (at least for all the teams other than the two that dropped out because they had too many coronavirus-positive players), and MLB starts its season next Thursday, and restarting sports leagues are soaking up all of the United States’ available testing capacity and ballplayers are getting called “pansies” for wearing masks to the grocery store. Also, another of the few remaining news outlets just laid off a ton of quality people, including several I used to work with, because journalism is one of the many nice things we apparently can’t have anymore.

If all that doesn’t cheer you up, here’s a passel of stadium-and-arena-related news that probably won’t do the trick either:

  • The Henderson city council voted unanimously yesterday to reject a petition seeking to overturn the city’s decision to spend $60 million on a minor-league hockey arena plus some other stuff, which should probably come as no surprise given that it’s the same council that voted to approve the Silver Knights arena in the first place. (The petitions were initially rejected because of a technicality about whether enough information was included on every page of the petition, but the council was under no obligation to consider the legal requirements rather than just voting for what they wanted to happen.) Petitioners could now seek to sue the city, which is how these things always seem to turn out.
  • Former Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is in negotiations to get out of his lease with Nassau County on the Nassau Coliseum, Nassau Executive Laura Curran revealed Tuesday. This could work out well for all concerned, or it could let Prokhorov get out of his lease obligations by having shut down the arena and held it hostage; the devil will be in the details of the talks, and Curran didn’t divulge anything about those.
  • The Palace of Auburn Hills, former home of the Detroit Pistons, got blowed up real good on Saturday, as one does when one is a 32-year-old sports arena in the early 21st century. And if you thought you already saw images several months ago of the Palace being torn down, that’s because you did, but history repeats itself, the second time with dynamite.
  • The Edmonton Oilers‘ four-year-old arena was partially flooded by a hailstorm, but don’t worry, the NHL says it will still be able to use it for its planned restart on August 1. Or maybe Edmonton will have to build another new arena in the next two weeks, it’s always hard to say with these things.
  • Fivethirtyeight tried to evaluate whether the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium is a better place to see a ballgame than their old one by overlaying one seating cross-section on the other and determining that the last row of seats is 33 feet closer to the field horizontally and only a few feet higher vertically, so that’s an improvement! Except that they failed to take into account that the new stadium has 8,000 fewer seats than the old one, so really you want to compare the worst seats in the new place to the 40,000th best seat in the old place, since the people in the last row of the old place will now be watching at home on TV. I remember when Nate Silver still made sure his writers did their math correctly, those were good times.
  • D.C. United is surveying fans to ask them if they’ll feel safe attending soccer matches in person later this summer, because who better to ask for advice about public health policy than random soccer fans?
  • Have you been missing sports columns about how your city needs to replace its arena despite not having a major-league team to play in it because the old one is a “graying ghost that is all but begging for a retirement cake” and besides even Tulsa has a newer one, oh the shame? The San Diego Union-Tribune is on it!

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: 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:

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!”

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.

 

 

Nevada city to vote on building $30m minor-league hockey arena during global pandemic, because JOBS!!!

For all of youse who’ve been commenting and emailing to suggest that a global pandemic and economic collapse is surely going to bring at least a temporary end to the constant cycle of sports-venue subsidies that has been ongoing for more than 30 years now, Henderson, Nevada is here to tell you: NUH-UH, IT WON’T.

On Tuesday, what to do with the Henderson Pavilion will come back before the Henderson City Council.

It may take action on issuing $60 million in bonds to pay for turning the now 20-year-old outdoor venue into a year-round entertainment spot and hockey arena.

When we last discussed this back in February, which in coronavirus time was roughly 200 years ago, Henderson was looking at building the arena for a minor-league affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights as a “public-private partnership,” with no further details of how the funding would work. It now looks like the total public cost will be $60 million, though some of that would also pay for such things as park improvements and a police station; a previous article estimated the arena would cost $30 million to build, but then added “there is no estimated cost for the proposal of the arena,” so maybe take that one with a grain of salt.

(This Henderson arena, it is important to note, is different from the practice rink that Henderson is already spending $10 million to build for the Golden Knights, which at last word was still scheduled to open this July, not that there will likely be any hockey players to practice in it.)

Are there people saying now’s not the time to spend tens of millions of city dollars on a minor-league hockey arena for a team that is already getting city dollars for a practice rink? You betcha!

Given how the economy is now on a virus-induced ventilator, they say now’s not the time to borrow.

“We need to take a step back, we need to regroup, we need to really assess where the community is and what the needs are,” says [John] Dalrymple [of Henderson Coalition for Responsible Government].

Though Dalrymple also added, “We’re not opposed to an arena. It’s the location.” So maybe his group is more concerned about traffic than about the $30 million, actually.

And what’s the argument in favor of the arena?

Henderson real estate agent Trish Nash says the bond issue is the right thing to do. She sits on the city’s comprehensive planning committee.

“This is going to bring jobs,” she tells me and says an arena will not hurt the neighborhood. She just sold a house there.

“One of the reasons that this particular buyer bought, and this is walking distance from the pavilion, is they’re very excited about what going to happen with the arena,” she says.

JOBS! In particular, jobs for realtors who want to sell houses to people who for some reason want to live down the street from a minor-league hockey arena. And who can put a price on that?

We’ll see how the Henderson council votes today (which is just a vote on approving the arena bonds; the arena project itself would be voted on later), but this should help make it extremely clear that no sports teams are going to stop asking for subsidies just because the world has changed, and no elected officials are going to stop considering handing them out, and no one is going to stop making dumb economic arguments about why they’re necessary. That would probably take the annihilation of all sentient life on earth by an asteroid strike — though even then, I could see sports team owners arguing that this was an indication of why they needed an asteroid-proof roof.