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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vaportecture artists just aren’t even trying anymore, man

We’ve been over a lot of bad stadium renderings on this site — stadiums with two sports being played at once, stadiums with people walking on snow-covered ice rinks in street shoes, stadiums where fans stare at trees. But this latest from the Worcester Red Sox (previous home of the tree starer), just come on:

What… what is even happening here? At first glance, it looks like the WooSox are proposing a stadium where all of the seating is in the outfield, the better to protect fans from the horrific sight of 30-foot-tall toddlers rampaging across the infield. Or it’s possible that’s some kind of baseball-field-themed play park out in the outfield behind the scoreboard — this image suggests maybe that’s the case — but even so, the people walking on it are wildly out of scale, even with each other, and also there appears to be nothing stopping them from just tumbling onto the real field in the background. I’m also not sure what purpose those frosted-glass turnstiles are supposed to serve, or what happened to the feet (or eyes, nose, and mouth) of that poor woman in the foreground. It’s like someone was left in the rendering room with a bunch of Colorforms and no supervision, and then the results were sent directly to the press.

Then there’s this, which MassLive helpfully captioned “Polar Park will offer a berm seating location the left centerfield”:

From the other images, I’m guessing that’s supposed to be a grassy slope with the outfield wall at the bottom, a wall that’s made up of some kind of blue rocks topped with a divider from Atari Adventure.

Of course, it’s always possible that the MassLive caption editors are trolling us, when you consider that this image is captioned “The Summit Street Fair located in Polar Park will offer year-round and nightly activities for patrons visiting the area in Worcester”:

Look, we all know that renderers are overworked by clients with no particular interest in quality control, so I’m willing to cut them some slack here. But why on earth did MassLive choose to run all of these horrific images, under the uncritical (if possibly trolly, everything starts to look possibly sarcastic if you stare at it long enough) headline “New Polar Park details include a heart-shaped clock, smiley foul poles and year-round nightlife”? (Yes, I didn’t even get to the smiley-face-topped foul poles.) Is this the dystopian future we now live in, where everyone just sighs and does whatever the money people ask for, while hoping that readers will be smart enough to laugh instead of taking it seriously? Do they even care if people take it seriously, so long as the checks clear? I think we may finally have arrived at that Hobbesian grift of all against all that we’ve been waiting for, people.

Friday roundup: Raleigh MLS project funding, Islanders’ train station costs, Flames arena talks are all ???

Happy Friday! If you’ve been wondering if Scott McCaughey’s excellent new album of songs written while in a hospital room recovering from a stroke can drown out the sound of poorly timed jackhammering by the gas company right outside your window, I’m here to report: Not nearly well enough!

Typing really loud so you can hear me over the din:

  • Raleigh residents are concerned that a development project centered on a new soccer stadium could price them out of living in the city. Also, there isn’t actually enough Wake County tax money available to pay for the project’s proposed $390 million public cost. And Raleigh doesn’t have an MLS team, or the promise of one. Other than that, this is going swimmingly.
  • Newsday has contradicted Long Island Business News’s report that New York state will pay “most” of the cost of a new $300 million train station for an Islanders arena at Belmont Park, saying that the actual cost is only $100 million and developers will pay most of it. Unnamed source fight!
  • Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, who is spearheading behind-closed-doors talks with the Flames owners over a new arena, says, “We do not have a deal today, and when we will have one and if we will have one is totally up in the air. But what we can tell the public today is that discussions are productive but they’re not complete. We can’t give an exact date as to when we’ll be back with any information [but] I’m confident if we do bring a plan back, that the public will support it.” Pretty sure that translates as “Still talking, ask again later.”
  • Noah Pransky has been on a writing tear about the Tampa Bay Rays mess this week, including a review of an article he wrote in July 2009 predicting much of what has since come to pass and an analysis of how hotel-tax money that Tampa officials say can’t be spent for things like policing or libraries really can, because they could be used to free up general-fund money that’s currently spent on tourism-related expenses. “Where’s the study on best uses for that new money?” writes Pransky at Florida Politics. “How about just a best-use conversation, held out in the sunshine?” Crazy talk!
  • Speaking of tax money that could be spent on other things, Cuyahoga County is considering a 1% hotel tax hike to free up $4.6 million a year to spend on its convention center and sports venues, which in present value comes to about $70 million. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer article on this is entirely about how the bed tax hike would affect the hotel industry, because of course it is.)
  • “Could an NFL Stadium [for the Buffalo Bills] be Built on an Abandoned Coke Plant Property?” asks Erie News Now, boldly toying with Betteridge’s Law.
  • Worcester will break ground next Thursday on its new heavily subsidized Triple-A Red Sox stadium set to open at the beginning of the 2021 season, which, uh, isn’t a lot of time. They’d better hope that the climate crisis means a less stormy winter construction season in New England, which, uh, isn’t likely.

Friday roundup: Wild get $55m to extend lease, A’s seek to buy into Coliseum land, Calgary will own Flames arena (maybe, whatever that means)

Friday! Let’s see what else has been happening this week:

  • The owners of the Minnesota Wild have extended their lease for ten years, through 2035, in exchange for cutting their rent from $9 million a year to just over $3.5 million. That may sound like a $55 million gift (or an $88 million gift — the Pioneer Press wasn’t clear about whether the rent reduction starts now or in 2026), but St. Paul officials say it won’t cost the city any money, because they renegotiated the public arena bonds so that they can be paid off over a longer time. No, I don’t get it either, this is just what the newspaper says the unnamed city officials said, go ask them.
  • The Oakland A’s owners have a tentative agreement to buy Alameda County’s half of the Oakland Coliseum site for $85 million. (The public landowners previously turned down a purchase offer of $167 million when it looked like the Raiders might stay put there, and other indicators put the market value of the site in the same range, so the price looks reasonable, at least.) No, that doesn’t mean the A’s owners will necessarily build a stadium there — they say Howard Terminal is still their first choice for that — but they could, or they could just build other development there, or they could be prohibited from building anything, given that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has been complaining that the county selling its stake without consulting the city, which owns the other half, could be illegal. Check back again in about a month, when the deal is supposed to be finalized, maybe.
  • Calgary councillor Jeff Davison, the main proponent of a new arena for the Flames, says that “the City of Calgary will own” any arena, which could mean, well, anything really: Will the city own just the deed, or the revenues from the build as well? Who will control non-hockey events? Who will pay maintenance? Will the building pay property taxes? Rent? The Calgary Herald says that “an official with the Flames said there was ‘nothing to report’ when asked for comment,” so we’re flying blind here, at least until Davison drops some more hints about what he thinks is going to be approved, if he even knows what will be approved and isn’t just trying to boost his plan’s prospects by talking it up in the press. Stenography journalism is hard!
  • Eastern Illinois University is looking at building an esports arena in a second-floor classroom, and now I really don’t get why Comcast Spectacor needs to spend $50 million to build one in Philadelphia.
  • This week in vaportecture: One of the ghostly figures projected to attend Worcester Red Sox games has now wandered onto the imaginary field’s imaginary second base and is celebrating an imaginary double; the F.C. Cincinnati stadium will now feature a “grand staircase” that is supposed to echo the Spanish Steps in Rome and the front steps of the New York Public Library, which are 174 steps and (roughly, I can’t find a count online) 25 steps respectively, whereas these look like they’ll be seven steps max, but okay; and the Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Tampa that will never be built has finally turned around its field so the giant gap in the grandstand isn’t behind home plate but is now in center field, which is more reasonable but, remember, not going to be built anyway, so never mind.
  • And speaking of Tampa, newly elected mayor Jane Castor has declared, “I will do what I can to have the Rays move to Tampa.” Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can’t move anywhere until 2027 without the permission of St. Petersburg, and the term Castor was just elected to expires in 2023, so good luck with that one, mayor.

Friday roundup: NYCFC turf woes, Quebec’s NHL snub, and why people who live near stadiums can’t have nice things

And in less vaportectury news:

  • NYC F.C. is having turf problems again, as large chunks of the temporary sod covering New Yankee Stadium’s dirt infield were peeling up at their home match last Saturday. There’s still been no announced progress on the latest stadium plan proposed last summer (which wasn’t even proposed by the team, but by a private developer), and I honestly won’t be surprised if there never is, though Yankees president Randy Levine did say recently that he “hopes” to have a soccer stadium announcement this year sometime, so there’s that.
  • Deadspin ran a long article on why Quebec City keeps getting snubbed for an NHL franchise, and the short answer appears to be: It’s a small city, the Canadian dollar is weak, Gary Bettman loves trying to expand hockey into unlikely U.S. markets, and Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson hates prospective Quebec Nordiques owner Pierre Karl Péladeau, for reasons having to do with everything from arena competition to Anglophone-Francophone beef. Say it with me now: Building arenas on spec is a no good, very bad idea.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers arena has an even more terrible new name than the two terrible names that preceded it. “I know that sometimes [with] change, you get a little resistance and people say, ‘Why are they changing it?’ and ‘How’s that name going to work?'” team owner Dan Gilbert told NBA.com. The answers, if you were wondering, are “Dan Gilbert is trying to promote a different one of his allegedly fraudulent loan service programs” and “nobody’s going to even remember the new name, and will probably just call it ‘the arena’ or something.”
  • Inglewood residents are afraid that the new Los Angeles Rams stadium will price them out of their neighborhood; the good news for them is that all economic evidence is that the stadium probably won’t do much to accelerate gentrification, while the bad news is that gentrification is probably coming for them stadium or not. The it-could-be-worse news is that Inglewood residents are still better off than Cincinnati residents who, after F.C. Cincinnati‘s owners promised no one would be displaced for their new stadium, went around buying up buildings around the new stadium and forcing residents to relocate, because that’s not technically “for” the new stadium, right?
  • Worcester still hasn’t gotten around to buying up all the property for the Triple-A Red Sox‘ new stadium set to open in 2021, and with construction set to begin in July, this could be setting the stage for the city to either have to overpay for the land or have to engage in a protracted eminent domain proceeding that could delay the stadium’s opening. It’s probably too soon to be anticipating another minor-league baseball road team, but who am I kidding, it’s never too soon to look forward to that.