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

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

Onward:

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

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

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

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

Easily accomplished. Moving on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is not what two-dimensional means.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday roundup: We have entered the Golden Age of minor-league stadium scams

Welp, that was another week. I know from comments that some of you think that the stadium and arena subsidy racket is about to come grinding to a halt, either because of the Covid economy or everybody already having a new enough stadium or something, but it sure looks like team owners didn’t get the memo — my RSS feeds are as hopping as they’ve ever been with tales of sports venue funding demands, and it’s still a rarity when local governments say no or even hmm, really? Check out this week’s roster, which, as yours truly predicted a couple of months ago, is especially jam-packed with minor-league baseball stadium plans:

World’s most expensive minor-league stadium may cost Worcester taxpayers $150m+ now, who can even keep track

I’m not exactly sure how something called the Worcester Airport Blog ended up closely covering the Worcester Red Sox‘ stadium subsidy controversy, but on Saturday it posted this:

Go to page 21 of the lease, section 4.5(b). It outlines who is responsible for cost overruns. The important sentence begins with “Notwithstanding … exceeds $18,000,000, the parties will work cooperatively to find alternative funding sources.” 

This says to us that the City may have to renegotiate with the Team if cost overruns exceed $18,000,000. Exhibit F states the cost overruns are currently $17,304,793 (as of 1/8/21) so the likelihood of there being cost overruns over $18,000,000 are probably high.

Backing up a minute: The new stadium being built to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox Triple-A baseball team to Worcester has been reported to cost a minor-league record $172 million, counting $157 million for actual stadium construction plus $15 million in “infrastructure” (mostly road work). The costs so far are broken down as follows:

  • $100.8 million in initial costs from the city of Worcester, of which WooSox owner Larry Lucchino and his partners are repaying $6 million in cash upfront, plus a little over $1 million a year via rent payments for the next 35 years. That’s been portrayed as worth $35 million, but getting $1 million in the year 2056 isn’t the same as getting it now (not just because of inflation, but because of the interest rate on bonds), so really it’s worth only, let’s go to the Present Value Calculator, use a low 3% interest rate because money is cheap right now, and we get $21.5 million. So the other $73.3 million is on the city.
  • $35 million for parking garages and other “infrastructure,” plus $3.5 million for a ballpark entryway, from the state of Massachusetts.
  • $20 million extra from the city for additional costs of acquiring and preparing the site (in part because the city neglected to account for hills requiring retaining walls so they don’t fall down).
  • Another $15 million from the city for that latest batch of road work.
  • Lucchino & Co., meanwhile, will be on the hook for the $6 million in cash, that $21.5 million worth of future rent payments, $9.5 million in added construction costs from January 2020, plus $17.3 million in new overruns this past year.

That comes to $146.8 million in public costs, and $54.3 million in team costs, which totals $201.1 million. A sizable chunk of that isn’t technically “stadium costs” — it’s costs for things like roads and garages that are needed by the stadium, but not the stadium proper — but the total cost of the project is now right around the $200 million mark.

Which, finally, brings us to that section 4.5(b) of the WooSox’ lease:

(b) Tenant shall be responsible for all Ballpark Design and Construction Costs that exceed the Cost Estimate (“Additional Ballpark Costs”) except for those that are caused, directly or indirectly, by (i) the delay or negligence of, or failure to act by, Landlord, City, or any of their representatives or contractors, including the failure to comply with the applicable Commonwealth public procurement laws, for which the Landlord shall be solely responsible; (ii) Excusable Tenant Delay; or (iii) Excusable Landlord Delay. Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the event that Additional Ballpark Costs exceed $18,000,000, the Parties will work cooperatively to find other, alternative funding sources. The foregoing cap applies to and includes any Ballpark Design and Construction Costs that are necessary in order for the Ballpark to meet the Comparable Facilities Standard.

I am, as usual, not a lawyer, but that language seems clear as mud: The team is on the hook for all overruns, but notwithstanding that, for any overruns above $18 million the city will help find “alternative funding sources” (knocking over a liquor store?) to cover the rest. If the cost overruns go up by more than that — and as noted at the top, they’re already within $700,000 of the cap — and no alternative funding sources are available, the lease is all ¯_(ツ)_/¯ about what happens then.

That’s bad, but those earlier clauses in 4.5(b) aren’t great either, since they leave open the possibility of the team claiming that overruns are due to “delay” by the city, and there’s certainly been a ton of delays and likely to be more given, you know, everything. So the total public cost of this project is probably best described as “$150 million plus or minus ¯_(ツ)_/¯” — it’s almost certainly the most expensive minor-league baseball stadium in history either way, though, so at least they can start designing the historical plaque now.

Friday roundup: OKC Thunder want their subsidies sooner, Indy Eleven want theirs later, let me repeat back your orders to make sure I have it right

I’ve already thanked everyone individually, but I’d like to give a collective shoutout to all the readers who signed up as FoS Supporters this membership cycle. The money you send translates directly into time I can spend covering stadium and arena news for you, and I remain extremely heartened by your support. If you sent me your mailing address, your magnets should be en route; if you didn’t, send me your mailing address already, these magnets aren’t going to ship themselves!

And speaking of covering stadium and arena news, let’s cover some stadium and arena news, why don’t we:

Worcester stadium hits $157m, is now the most expensive minor-league park of all time

The city of Worcester issued an update on Friday (actually dated tomorrow, but whatever) on its new Red Sox Triple-A stadium, which is full of small-type charts and lists and generally pretty dry. But Grant Welker of the Worcester Business Journal got out his abacus and went to work on the numbers, and was able to report this:

The cost of building Polar Park, the new home of the minor league Worcester Red Sox, has risen to $157 million, Worcester officials said Friday afternoon, reflecting cost increases stemming largely from the coronavirus pandemic.

With the increase, the public facility will become the most expensive minor league baseball stadium ever built, surpassing the inflation adjusted $153-million home of the Las Vegas Aviators.

May I be the first to say: Yikes!

The WooSox owners are paying for the latest $17.3 million in cost overruns, so at least this won’t cost Worcester more than the $100 million or so in subsidies that were approved back in 2018. Still, how on earth did this project’s costs balloon so rapidly?

The last time the stadium ran into overruns, it was $30 million in added costs that, according to Welker, mostly stemmed from “unexpected costs borne by the city for obtaining adjacent parcels, moving businesses and knocking down buildings to make way for the ballpark.” (Also because Worcester officials forgot how hills work. Let us never forget that.) This time it’s undefined pandemic-related costs: Some this appears to be “we had to stop work for seven weeks and still need to finish by spring 2021 (assuming there’s baseball in spring 2021)” and some of it something about supply chains mumble mumble, but still, $17.3 million seems like a lot for that.

The WooSox also have agreed to a lease, which is good because nobody remembered to do that before approving the subsidies and starting construction; I haven’t read through it fully yet, but it looks unremarkable. And the update also includes a whole bunch of new renderings, so let’s enjoy some of those now:

That’s unremarkable enough, though it’s amusing that some ad sponsors have been specified (Shaw’s grocery store) while others still just say “SPONSOR.” (Where the first-base coaching box should be. I’m not sure that’s allowable under baseball rules.) Also the team logo appears to be a smiley face with arms and legs. And Red Sox two-time All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts appears to have been demoted to the minors, or maybe is there on a rehab assignment. Otherwise, nothing too alarming.

Now it’s getting alarming. Why are there giant statues of Red Sox championship rings, and what does that small child and his mom find so fascinating about them? Other than that, looks like a pleasant enough plaza, though I’m not sure it’s advisable for the couple at the far right to walk through it barefoot.

What the hell? As a parent, I know something about what kids want in a baseball-themed playground, and it would either be 1) a miniature ballpark where you can play wiffle ball or 2) a big-ass slide. Baseball-themed boulders and a basepath covered in giant golf tees seem like odd design choices, and that’s even before we get to the smiley-face mascot (which must be inhabited by either a person with an abnormally short torso or with no head) playing keepaway with a baseball bat with a small child. We are well on our way to Boschian hellscape here.

This image, of a grassy hill outside the ballpark called Home Plate Hill because it’s kind of adjacent to the home plate grandstand, I guess, is unremarkable except for the woman at left who appears to be taking a photo of her dog using a large cinnamon roll as a camera.

Big Blue Bug Solutions is, as you might expect, a pest control service. It has apparently contracted to show off its solutions for pest removal by sponsoring an area where a select few fans can enjoy close-up views of the game without any protective netting, the better to be squashed like bugs by any foul balls.

Okay, it turns out Xander Bogaerts hasn’t been demoted — or rather, he’s been demoted to an unearthly realm where various Red Sox players of the last 50 years are all consigned to play out their declining years in a minor-league ballpark. Also Jim Rice has to play first base which he never once did in real life, even though Carl Yastrzemski, who did play lots of first base, could easily be moved there from Rice’s preferred position of left field. Clearly whoever constructed this image really has it in for Jim Rice — look, he’s even batting 9th, while the unheralded Jarrod Saltalamacchia bats cleanup — which is fair, Jim Rice was one of the most overrated players in baseball history.

Finally, we have the Ecotarium, Museum of Science and Nature, which seems to consist entirely of an exhibit on pitch speed, which you would think would at least include a radar gun and a place where kids could try out their feeble throwing arms and learn something about how radar works or something. But no! It’s just a cardboard cutout of a kid throwing a ball, at a distance of maybe ten feet from a photograph of a catcher. I’m almost willing to believe that this is supposed to be a real kid but the colorist screwed up, but if so why is he being forced to deliver his pitch over a counter? And won’t errant throws grievously injure those two older kids nearby admiring the ceiling? Oh wait, I get it — the science here is medical science, and kids will be able to see it in action up close and personal when EMTs have to rush to the aid of someone who’s just been concussed by a baseball delivered to their noggin at close range! I take it back, these people totally know what will entertain a small child — can’t wait to make my first visit!

Worcester neglected to sign lease with WooSox before building them a $132m stadium, this will be fine, surely

Whut:

More than two years after Worcester city officials announced the Pawtucket Red Sox were moving to the Canal District, there is no formal lease agreement legally obligating the team to come to Worcester.

And about six months before the minor league baseball team is scheduled to begin play in a new $132-million public stadium, the city government still doesn’t own the property on which its ballpark sits, even as construction on the project is well underway.

As the Worcester Business Journal notes, these are important omissions not so much because the Triple-A Red Sox really might back out of their move — they’re getting more money in subsidies than it was initially budgeted to build their stadium, why would they turn that down? — than because this gives the team huge leverage in negotiating lease terms, not to mention the stadium land’s private owners huge leverage in negotiating sale and development terms.

The biggest immediate issue, as the Worcester Business Journal points out, is cost overruns: The initial $90 million price tag for the stadium hit $132 million in January, and could yet surpass the $150 million Las Vegas Aviators stadium for priciest minor-league ballpark ever. The city covered the initial round of cost overruns — partly through direct cash, partly through money that the WooSox are putting up and then getting repaid via future ticket tax money that otherwise would have gone to the city — and are going to be hard-pressed to get the team owners to cover any future rounds, what with their ability to say, “Gee, I dunno, there are plenty of other cities we could still move to…”

“What’s unfortunate about this is this should have all been worked out up front,” Marquette sports law professor Martin Greenberg understated to the WBJ. “This is not usual.” City officials getting their heads handed to them in lease negotiations is sadly all too usual, but forgetting to actually sign the deal before building the stadium, that’s breaking new ground, yeah.

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.

Where will the Raiders start the 2020 season, if there is one?

For most of the teams facing possible stadium or arena construction delays thanks to the coronavirus crisis, there’s an easy fallback plan, which is to just keep playing in their current venue for a bit longer. Even the Worcester Red Sox could just stick around in Pawtucket for one more season, which I would actually appreciate since I’ve never been to 78-year-old McCoy Stadium and was planning on going this summer, back when there was going to be a this summer.

For the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders, though, things aren’t so simple, because the team declined its 2020 lease option at the Oakland Coliseum early in March, even though it had until April 1 to decide whether to do so. Even if it would have been hard to return to a city whose fans said farewell to their team by throwing nachos at them, this was maybe not the best decision to rush into rather than waiting a few weeks to see if the entire world was going to come to a screaming halt and leave your football team with nowhere to play, assuming anyone can play. Possible options include:

  • UNLV’s old Sam Boyd Stadium, San Antonio’s Alamodome, or El Paso’s Sun Bowl, according to Forbes, citing no sources at all other than that this is what is “said to be” in the works.
  • Salt Lake City, Phoenix, or San Diego, all of which are just the speculation of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which notes that “it is realistic to think that all of those options could be resurrected” since they were all options being considered for 2019 before the team re-upped with Oakland for one last season.
  • Play the preseason and possibly the opening of the regular season on the road, suggests the Review-Journal, while the Las Vegas stadium is finished.

All of this, of course, assumes that there will be a 2020 NFL season, which while the league swears is what it’s planning is not at all certain, given the difficulties of staging games safely even in front of empty stadiums when it would require so many people to play and broadcast games and feed and house all those people and if any one of them tests positive, suddenly you could have to shut down. (There’s also the question of whether it’s worth starting a season that could have to get interrupted again for renewed shutdowns if the virus flares back up again.) Though if the season is played in front of empty seats, then suddenly it doesn’t matter where the Raiders play: Forbes quoted “one NFL insider” as saying “the Raiders would hold games on a Las Vegas playground before going back to Oakland this year,” and they could totally do that if they don’t need anywhere for fans to sit.

One longer-term question for the Raiders and owner Mark Davis, meanwhile, is whether their business model of selling tickets mostly to out-of-town fans who’ll use Raiders games as an excuse for a trip to Vegas can survive the coronavirus, and the coronavirus recession. Will long-distance travel still be as common in a post-virus world? Will enough people have the money to do so anytime in the near future? These are small questions, maybe, in comparison to the bigger one of how any of us are going to watch sports (or live our lives) in the coming weeks and months and years, but if we can’t rubberneck at the bad fortune of Mark Davis (and David Beckham, always David Beckham), then it’s going to be a long 2020.

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.