Friday roundup: A’s pollution woes, Falcons roof woes, Hansen email woes, and more!

Whole lot of news leftovers this week, so let’s get right to it:

  • It’s not certain yet how serious the environmental cleanup issues at the Oakland A’s proposed Peralta Community College stadium site are, but anytime you have the phrases “the amount of hazardous materials in the ground is unclear” and “two possible groundwater plumes impacted by carcinogens” in one article, that’s not a good sign. Meanwhile, local residents are concerned about gentrification and traffic and all the other things that local residents would be concerned about.
  • There’s another new poll in Calgary, and this time it’s Naheed Nenshi who’s leading Bill Smith by double digits, instead of the other way around. This poll’s methodology is even dodgier than the last one — it was of people who signed up for an online survey — so pretty much all we can say definitely at this point is no one knows. Though it does seem pretty clear from yet another poll that whoever Calgarians are voting for on Monday, it won’t be because of their position on a Flames arena.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof won’t be retracting this season, and may even not be ready for the start of next season. These things are hard, man.
  • Nevada is preparing to sell $200 million in bonds (to be repaid by a state gas tax) to fund highway improvements for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium, though Gov. Brian Sandoval says the state would have to make the improvements anyway. Eventually. But then he said, “I just don’t want us to do work that has to be undone,” so your guess is as good as mine here.
  • Pawtucket is preparing to scrape off future increases in property tax receipts for a 60- to 70-acre swath of downtown and hand them over to the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new stadium, an amount they expect to total at least $890,000 a year. Because downtown Pawtucket would never grow without a new baseball stadium, and there’s no chance of a shortfall that would cause Pawtucket to dip into its general fund, and nobody should think too hard about whether if minor-league baseball stadiums are really so great for development, this wouldn’t mean that property tax revenues should be expected to fall in the part of the city that the PawSox would be abandoning. Really, it’ll all be cool, man, you’ll see.
  • Somebody asked Tim Leiweke what he thinks of building a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays for some reason, and given that he’s a guy that is in the business of building new stadiums, it’s unsurprising that he thinks it’s a great idea. Though I am somewhat surprised that he employed the phrase “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play,” given that having to depend on fans of road teams to fill the seats is already kind of a problem.
  • The study showing that spending $30 million in city money on a $30-million-or-so Louisville City F.C. stadium would pay off for the city turns out to have been funded by the soccer team, and city councilmembers are not happy. “There’s something there that someone doesn’t want us to find,” said councilmember Kevin Kramer. “I just don’t know what it is.” And College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson chimed in, “I expect for-profit sports team owners to generate absurdly high economic estimate numbers in order to con gullible city council members into granting subsidies.” I don’t know where you could possibly be getting that idea, Victor!
  • Congress is considering a bill to eliminate the use of federally tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities, and … oh, wait, it’s the same bill that Cory Booker and James Lankford introduced back in June, and which hasn’t gotten a committee hearing yet in either the House or the Senate. It has four sponsors in the House, though, and two in the Senate, so only 263 more votes to go!
  • A Miami-Dade judge has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the sale of public land to David Beckham’s MLS franchise illegally evaded competitive bidding laws, then immediately suggested that the case will really be decided on appeal: “I found this to be an extremely challenging decision. Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.” MLS maybe should be having backup plans for a different expansion franchise starting next season, just a thought.
  • The New York Times real estate section is doing what it does best, declaring the new Milwaukee Bucks arena to be “a pivotal point for a city that has struggled with a decline in industrial activity,” because cranes, dammit, okay? Maybe somebody should have called over to the Times sports section to fact-check this?
  • And last but not least, Chris Hansen is now saying that his SoDo arena plan missed a chance at reconsideration by the Seattle city council because the council’s emails requesting additional information got caught in his spam filter or something. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to knock off for the weekend, I don’t know what is.

Cincinnati considers offering Bengals’ stadium as home for MLS team, seeing how that flies

Cincinnati really does appear to be one of the front-runners for an MLS expansion franchise, based on its record attendance for the minor-league F.C. Cincinnati, but local soccer advocates are worried about the league’s stated rule that any new teams need to bring with them new team-controlled soccer-only stadiums. (Which worrying is exactly the goal of said rule.) So while some people still dream of applying to have an MLS team play at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, the Hamilton County Commission is wondering, hey, maybe MLS would like the Bengals‘ stadium better?

Commissioners are offering up the stadium, which county taxpayers own, as a solution to keep FC Cincinnati in Ohio — without spending the $100 million from the public the team says it needs to build a $200 million stadium.

“We own a stadium on the riverfront, that from my understanding, soccer can be played at,” Hamilton County Commission Vice President Denise Driehaus said. “I’ve asked the (county) administration to take a hard look at Paul Brown, to pursue it or get it off the table.”

Yes, soccer can be played at Paul Brown Stadium, just as it can be played at Nippert. And sure, maybe MLS will be placated by a non-soccer-specific facility that isn’t owned by the local team if it’s a non-soccer-specific stadium that has nicer cupholders. But since MLS has made pretty clear that it intends to conduct its expansion decision as a stadium arms race — consistent with its greater mission of getting as much short-term cash as possible, because who knows what the future may hold, especially now that any hope of getting an attendance boost from the draw of seeing next year’s U.S. World Cup stars just went out the window — they probably would be just as well off saying, “We’ve got a terrific market, you’ll just have to put up with our oldish stadium if you want us,” and see how that works out. Probably poorly, but when the alternative is spending $100 million you don’t have, it’s worth a shot, anyway.

Las Vegas to help fund 51s stadium by spending $80m to call it “Las Vegas Ballpark”

The owners of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s are going to build a $150 million stadium that won’t be in Las Vegas but will get $80 million from Las Vegas so the stadium will be called “Las Vegas Ballpark.”

You know what, let’s let the Las Vegas Sun and the Las Vegas Review-Journal, both of which are probably kicking themselves now that they didn’t demand naming-rights deals with the city, explain it:

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority acquired naming rights for the stadium in a 20-year, $80 million deal approved by the organization’s board. It will be called Las Vegas Ballpark.

And:

Representatives of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors debated for 1½ hours on whether the $80 million dedicated to stadium naming rights is money well-spent…

Board members Ricki Barlow, a Las Vegas city councilman, and John Lee, the mayor of North Las Vegas, opposed the measure and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who expressed concerns about the public perception of the move, and Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who works for the 51s, abstained. Brown, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, did not participate in the debate.

“This is public money and it comes to us by taxes that were voted on by the Legislature and that Legislature was voted in by residents of my community,” Lee said in the explanation of his vote. “And I don’t think, as their leader, that this is a very good and responsible thing to do.”

Okay, so if you read this site regularly you know that team owners can be awfully clever at finding under-the-table ways of seeking public money for their stadiums and arenas, but this, this is just weird six ways from Sunday. The argument by the tourist authority is that spending $4 million a year on naming rights to a stadium in the nearby suburb of Summerlin is a good investment, because the city is getting its name out there on not just the stadium, but advertising signage and the like. The counterargument would be, oh, lots of things:

  • For Las Vegas to spend a whole bunch of money on enabling the 51s to move out of Las Vegas — in fact, to move out of a stadium owned by the tourist authority — doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense. Sure, the economic impact of a minor-league baseball team isn’t much, but moving it beyond the city limits is a net negative, even if a small one.
  • Sure, the 51s might have been able to sell naming rights regardless, so on one level Las Vegas is just buying the name like anyone else would. But anyone else would almost certainly be paying far, far less: Minor-league naming rights deals typically top out at $1 million a year at most, meaning Vegas is overpaying here by a factor of at least 300%. Or, looked at another way, is sneaking money to the 51s owners — the Howard Hughes Corporation, a major development firm that traces its origins back to one namesake, but sadly not to a far more respected one — by writing “4 NAMING RIGHTS” in the memo field of the check.
  • Even if you grant that Las Vegas needs to buy more publicity — I’m pretty sure most people have heard of the place by now — it’s beyond ironic to do so for a team that already puts your city’s name on the front of its damn jerseys. (The 51s are currently the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, incidentally, but won’t be by the time the new stadium opens, because the Mets just bought an entire team in Syracuse in order to have a team that’ll agree to be associated with the Mets.) The logic here, presumably, is that non-local TV viewers of 51s games will think, “Time to sit down to watch my team play against Las Vegas. Oh hey, the Las Vegas team plays in a stadium called ‘Las Vegas.’ I haven’t thought about Las Vegas in, oh, three or four seconds before this! I should book a vacation there!”

How the Hughes Corporation managed to pull this off I’m not clear, though to hear tourist authority president Rossi Ralenkotter talk, it was by hinting that the 51s would leave town without a new stadium, while simultaneously hinting that Las Vegas is such a great market for baseball it could get a major-league team if it played its cards right:

Ralenkotter said possibly the biggest benefit to preserving professional baseball in Las Vegas with a new stadium and superior training facilities is that Las Vegas would position itself well when Major League Baseball considers expanding or moving a franchise.

I suppose there is actually the possibility that MLB will look at this deal and think, “Man, sure are a bunch of suckers in Las Vegas. We gotta get in on that action!” Now that’s the kind of publicity you just can’t buy.

Friday roundup: Raiders talk lease extension, Rams attendance woes may set record, and more!

Here’s what you missed this week, or rather what I missed, or rather what I saw at the time but left till Friday because there are only so many hours in the week, man:

Cincy may lack cash for MLS stadium because it has too many other sports venues to subsidize

About 100 F.C. Cincinnati fans attended a Hamilton County Commission meeting last night to urge the commission to spend $100 million on a new soccer stadium for the USL team, which is hoping to land an MLS expansion franchise. County Commission President Todd Portune, however, told them that “we have more projects than we have money,” with the county facing $1.5 billion in pending capital projects. Like, the county jail is overcrowded and needs expansion, and a new waterfront development project is still mostly undeveloped, and, um:

The city’s two current major league sports teams — the Reds and the Bengals — will eventually come knocking on the county’s door for a new deal. The Bengals stadium lease with the county expires in 2026 with the Reds’ lease expiring a few years after. Combined, the two stadiums could need more than $200 million in upgrades within the next decade.

“While no one is talking about demoing these stadiums, we know there will be substantial maintenance (needs),” [Hamilton County Administrator Jeff] Alutto said.

Those leases running out are worth planning ahead for, I suppose, but it’s still a little worrisome that Hamilton County is already budgeting for stadium renovation “needs” that the teams haven’t even asked for yet. Apparently either somebody hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s okay to demand that taxpayers not take a bath on stadium projects, or else Hamilton County leaders think that Cincinnati has less leverage to keep its teams without bribing them to stay, which, okay, maybe.

That said, the rest of the county’s wish list includes a $230 million convention center expansion and a $342 million rebuild of the city’s arena, neither of which exactly seems like a “need” per se. If the only choice for Hamilton County is which dumb project for private profit to sink public money into, I can sort of see why soccer fans would feel justified in saying, “Us first!” Too bad overcrowded prisoners don’t have fan clubs.

Louisville mayor wants to give $30m to minor-league soccer stadium that will cost maybe $30m

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced yesterday that he plans to sell $30 million of bonds to provide money for the city’s previously announced soccer stadium, and wait, what, Louisville announced public funding for a soccer stadium and I missed it? Well, look at that:

Mayor Greg Fischer announced Friday that the city wants to fork over $30 million to help local investors build a 10,000-seat stadium for the club in the Butchertown area…

“Soccer is a sport that is obviously attractive to everybody, but especially millennials and our international population as well,” Fischer said in his podcast Friday morning. “We want to compete for an MLS franchise at some point in time, and having a dedicated soccer stadium is required for that.”

The city money would go for land and infrastructure costs, not directly to construction (which will cost an estimated … actually, nobody seems to have estimated that yet, though previous estimates were in the $30-50 million range, and the overall development that would include the soccer stadium is projected at $200 million). And Louisville City FC, the USL team that will play there, will pay the city $14.5 million over 20 years in rent, which is a –6.5% return on investment.

There are oh so many questions here, as befits a plan that was announced via podcast:

  • Who’s going to pay maintenance and operating costs and cost overruns on this thing?
  • What does the Louisville Courier-Journal mean when it reports: “Leveraging the deal will involve the city applying for a mixed-use tax increment financing, or TIF district, with the state. If approved, Fischer’s office said the city will not commit any of its local property tax revenues to that TIF”? So it would just be redirected state tax money? Redirected from where, exactly? And seriously, nobody in Louisville has learned their lessons about the dangers of TIFs yet, despite the city pretty much being the poster child for the dangers of TIFs?
  • When Fischer says he wants to “compete for an MLS franchise,” does he realize that Louisville is one of the few cities in America that hasn’t yet applied for an MLS expansion franchise? Or is he just figuring he’ll get to jump the line once he has a shiny new stadium (maybe) or that MLS will eventually hand out enough teams that everybody who wants one will get one (even more likely).

On the one hand, $30 million for a soccer stadium complex is chicken feed when you have states coughing up $750 million for NFL stadiums. On the other, $30 million in subsidies for a minor-league (for now) soccer stadium that may only cost $30 million to build in the first place is kind of significant. Hopefully there are some Louisville city council hearings to come so we can learn more about this thing, or at least some more podcast episodes.

Friday roundup: Saskatoon soccer frenzy, Phoenix hotel sale to fund Suns, and more!

And more!

This week in boondoggle vivisection: Plenty of good seats available in SF, Cleveland, Ottawa

We’ll get to the weekly news roundup in a minute, but first, I need to mention this editorial from yesterday’s Globe and Mail, which makes several eminently reasonable points about how Calgary shouldn’t capitulate to the Flames owners’ extortion attempts for arena cash (“using past bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions does not qualify as logic,” “arena financing is a hamster wheel, and here is an opportunity to jump off”), and then says this:

Everyone involved should take note of a remark this week by Neil deMause, renowned stadium boondoggle vivisectionist and creator of the fieldofschemes.com website: “The number of mayors who’ve been voted out of office for standing up to sports team subsidy demands remains zero.”

That’s right, I am a major-newspaper-certified renowned boondoggle vivisectionist, y’all. Clearly it’s time to order some new business cards.

Okay, the rest of the week’s news:

  • The Los Angeles Rams aren’t the only California team having trouble getting fans to turn out for games in the September heat: The San Francisco 49ers are seeing so many empty seats on the sunny side of their stadium that they’ve hired architects to see if it’d be possible to add a sun shade. One problem: The stadium can’t get any taller, as it’s in the flight path of San Jose’s airport. Until then, the 49ers are handing out free water bottles and sunscreen to fans on the hot side of the stadium, which is nice and all, but probably isn’t what you want for your big marketing push. This once again points up how smart the 49ers management was to stick fans with PSLs before the team got lousy and people noticed how crappy the new stadium was for actually watching football in.
  • And speaking of empty seats, the Cleveland Indians won their American League–record 22nd straight game yesterday, but they still can’t sell out their ballpark, which not that long ago saw a record sellout streak of 455 straight games. Indians GM Mike Chernoff blamed Cleveland’s small size, the start of the school year, and “weekdays,” three things that apparently didn’t exist in the ’90s. At least he didn’t blame the 23-year-old stadium or demand upgrades as a solution — yet, anyway.
  • And also speaking of empty seats, the Ottawa Senators have begun tarping over part of their upper deck for every game, because they can’t sell tickets there. The Senators owner is already blaming his 21-year-old arena for that one (apparently the last owner built it in the wrong place), so team president Tom Anselmi was left to say: “We just need more of us to come to more games more often.” Can’t argue with that!
  • And also also speaking of empty seats, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have only sold about 5% of available tickets so far to actual fans (ticket brokers have bought up another 18%), with less than five months to go before the games start. If you’re looking to snap up a bargain to watch curling, though, be forewarned: Not all the new hotels planned for the Olympics are finished yet.
  • And speaking of seats that a team hopes won’t be empty, the Oakland A’s will be letting in fans for free to a game next April against the White Sox. Make jokes all you want about how dismal an A’s-White Sox matchup will be, it’s still free baseball, and you never know what you might see that you’ve never seen before.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman declared that that the scaled-down Nassau Coliseum is “not a viable option” for the New York Islanders, two weeks before the team is set to present plans to Nassau County for a new arena near Belmont Park. A total coincidence, I’m sure.
  • The Rhode Island state senate started hearings on a new Pawtucket Red Sox proposal yesterday, with the team owners and their allies noting that “the team’s 54-percent share of stadium costs is the highest portion of private investment in 14 AA and AAA ballparks built over the last decade,” according to the Providence Journal. What was that someone was just saying about using bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions?
  • Deadspin’s Drew Magary has come up with a new nickname for the Atlanta Falcons‘ new iris-roofed stadium: Megatron’s Butthole. Drew Magary needs to be put in charge of all stadium nicknames, starting immediately.

Rams to charge record PSL price, Cavs arena subsidy moves ahead, and other news of the week

It’s Friday again, so let’s go spanning the world:

  • The Los Angeles Rams are considering charging a top personal seat license price of as much as $225,000, just for the right to then buy season tickets for $350-400 per game. This seems like a bit of a reach when the payoff is just that you get to watch Rams games, but I guess Stan Kroenke needs to try to recoup his $2 billion in stadium costs somehow — and at least if it all goes south, he’ll be the one on the hook, not taxpayers.
  • Some Canadian bank bought the naming rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs arena away from some Canadian airline. Is this going to buy it valuable market exposure and name recognition that will justify the $40 million a year expense? Not on this blog!
  • The LED lights at the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium make football look all weird.
  • Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler says spending $30 million on an arena for a minor-league basketball team is a great idea that only “naysayers” don’t appreciate. “I think sometimes we don’t believe in ourselves and some of our urban areas we don’t believe that we are able to make things happen,” she says. If Mayor Tyler needs a reelection campaign theme song, I have a suggestion.
  • “The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that the Oakland Raiders‘ proposed stadium in Las Vegas would not be a hazard to aircraft.” Huzzah!
  • Would-be St. Louis MLS owner Paul Edgerley says he’s still ready to pay $150 million for a franchise, and $100 million toward a stadium, as soon as someone comes up with the other $60 million in construction costs. Noted.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has officially reinstated his plan to do $140 million of renovation work to the team’s arena, with Cuyahoga County paying for half the cost. ”This is corporate welfare at its worst,” said Steve Holecko of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, after his erstwhile coalition partners the Greater Cleveland Congregations withdrew petitions against the arena subsidy after getting a promise of two mental health crisis centers from the county. Holecko’s group doesn’t plan to mount another ballot challenge on their own, though, so construction work is set to begin later this month.
  • Mikhail Prokhorov is ready to sell the Brooklyn Nets, but will hold onto the Barclays Center, after renegotiating the team’s lease so that it will pay less rent to the arena. This … does not seem like the smartest way of going about things, but maybe Prokhorov is figuring he’ll give up future rent revenue in exchange for a higher sale price now on the team? Or maybe he’s just not very smart.

Friday roundup: Everybody still has lots of dumb stadium ideas, sun keeps rising in east

And aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers arena subsidy returning from the dead, Mrs. Lincoln, here’s how some of the rest of the week in stadium and arena news went:

  • Chicago is looking at closing some streets to accommodate DePaul University’s new city-subsidized basketball arena, because of course they are.
  • The new arena for the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will have a Kid Rock-themed restaurant, because of course it will.
  • San Diego mayor Kevin Falconer wants to build a professional lacrosse stadium, even though the owners of the city’s newly created lacrosse franchise say they don’t need one, because of course he does.
  • Rhode Island state senate president Dominick Ruggerio says he hopes the state legislature will vote on $38 million in public funding for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium in November, despite not believing the team has a viable threat to move to Worcester if it doesn’t get what it wants, because “You know what, we’ll get criticized for anything.” And you know, he’s got a point: No matter what elected officials do, there’s somebody somewhere who won’t like it, so might as well do whatever they want, right?
  • The Las Vegas Raiders’ stadium construction could be delayed because nobody realized until now that they needed Army Corps of Engineers approval to remove a flood culvert. (The Raiders have agreed to pay the $1 million cost, at least.)
  • Dave Zirin at The Nation has examined how Joel Osteen’s dithering over whether to let Hurricane Harvey evacuees into his megachurch has its roots in the Houston subsidy deal that turned the Rockets‘ old arena into the church in the first place, and I put in a cameo to note that while littering the landscape with redundant current and former sports venues is one way to create a lot of hurricane shelters, it’s probably not a very cost-effective one.
  • Wells Fargo released a report that “real stadium construction spending” on new sports facilities has “climbed 80 percent over the past five years” to $10 billion per … something. And are they counting money committed, or actual construction money spent, and does this count both private and public funds? I guess we should cut Wells Fargo some slack, they have a lot on their minds these days.