Cincy arena owner: NCAA wants snazzier locker rooms, might as well tear the whole place down

The NCAA has awarded a round of its 2022 basketball tournament to Cincinnati, for the first time in 30 years. Yay, Cincinnati! But this is conditional on Hamilton County making $200 million in upgrades to its arena. Boo, NCAA! But actually the NCAA’s upgrade demands aren’t that major or costly, it’s just the arena’s owner/operator who’s trying to leverage this into a major upgrade:

U.S. Bank Arena needs to add two locker rooms and greatly expand media space below the seating area if it’s going to host the first- and second-round games, Ray Harris, CEO of Nederlander Entertainment, which operates and is majority owner of the arena, told me on Wednesday…

Harris is shooting to make those changes as part of a planned massive overhaul of U.S. Bank Arena that would likely cost anywhere from $200 million to $350 million, he said.
“We’d certainly advocate the major renovation that addresses what the NCAA needs and provides additional amenities as opposed to losing events,” Harris said. “That’s certainly our hope. We think this is a great time to address all the shortcomings of this facility. It would put Cincinnati on the map to be competitive with all the major cities around us.”

Well, sure, you’d advocate that the city chip in on $200 million to $350 million of upgrades to your arena, rather than just adding two locker rooms and some media space. And what would that greater renovation entail, exactly?

[Harris] said Wednesday that the current plan to prepare for the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball championship includes tearing down the arena and building a new, larger arena in its place.

Okay, then!

Some backstory: Harris has been proposing a major overhaul of the arena for two years now, with the minor snag that he wants the county to help pay for it, and after coughing up big bucks for new stadiums for the Reds and the Bengals, spending nine figures on an arena whose highest-profile tenants is a minor-league hockey team isn’t exactly likely to be a priority. But if it’s about making the NCAA happy, and “putting Cincinnati on the map” — hey, sure, maybe somebody will buy it. Not anyone on the county commission, admittedly — commissioner Todd Portune replied yesterday, “Go do it. It’s your arena. We’ll be happy to help with permits and zoning, but don’t think that the county has a pot of money over here that we’re waiting to make available” — but maybe somebody somewhere.

Baltimore Sun claims Camden Yards pays own way, can’t even keep up pretense for whole article

And hey, look, another major media article that can’t do basic math! Let’s start with the headline:

Orioles payments to stadium authority exceed original cost of Camden Yards

Wow, that would indeed be impressive. Is perhaps Camden Yards one of those rare examples like the Minneapolis Metrodome, of a stadium where the public put up a bunch of money up front but then was repaid in full and more by lease payments over time? Spoiler: no.

Documents show the authority has received an average of $6.4 million in annual rent from the team, plus $4.1 million a year as its share of state admissions taxes. The total, through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, is $255 million.

That compares favorably with the stadium’s original $225 million price tag, including $100 million for land acquisition and $125 million for the stadium.

Yeah, no, that’s not how money works. Even if you count state admissions taxes as new state revenues (the Orioles would have been paying them if they’d stayed at Memorial Stadium, too), $10.5 million a year over 25 years is only worth about $140 million in present value, still far less than the $225 million price tag. Or if it helps, you could flip it around the other way and see if $10.5 million a year is enough to pay off the state’s annual debt payments — oh, look, the Sun actually did that:

The stadium authority said it pays about $15 million a year in debt service — principal plus interest — on the 30-year bonds issued to pay for Camden Yards.

So by the Sun’s own calculations, Maryland is actually losing money on Camden Yards. Anything else?

The debt service, however, is paid with Maryland Lottery proceeds appropriated each year by the General Assembly. The authority uses the team’s rent money for ballpark operations.

Oh, right, ballpark operations costs. So really the Orioles’ rent payments pay nothing towards the public’s debt on Camden Yards. Lovely headline, though — beautiful plumage.

Top Florida economic advisor lacks econ degree, avoided using real data because it’d look bad

I’ve made fun of Florida’s propensity for giving its sports teams lots of money based on doofy economic impact studies before, such as when Pinellas County moved forward with a plan for giving the Toronto Blue Jays $65 million for a new spring training facility in Dunedin based on an economic report that assumed that every single ticket sold went to a different person who traveled to Florida just for that game. But this, this, from WTSP’s Noah Pransky, takes the damn cake:

10Investigates found the author of so many economic impact reports that support public sports subsidies may not be the expert economist state leaders believe he is.

The resume of Mark Bonn, Ph.D., a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, boasts of dozens of reports compiled for municipalities all across Florida, including some statewide organizations.

Bonn’s side company, Bonn Marketing Inc., recently received $23,000 from just one study, commissioned by the Toronto Blue Jays and city of Dunedin to show the economic impact of spring training…

Nobody on the committee questioned Bonn’s qualifications.

But 10Investigates did, asking if Bonn considered himself an economist.

Yard Goats stadium sparking literally dozens of hotel-room conversions, yay?

Next in today’s rundown of questionable media spin, the Hartford Courant is reporting that “the city’s shiny new minor league ballpark has dramatically transformed what for decades was a just barren stretch of land north of downtown.” How dramatically? This dramatically:

The owners of the nearby Radisson Hotel are combining guest rooms on the top nine floors of the 18-story hotel into apartments. The $19.5 million project will create 96 rentals, some of which will overlook Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The first apartments are expected to be ready by this summer.

Hotel owner Inner Circle U.S. said the apartment project was planned prior to the plans for the stadium, but the ballpark helped sell the idea of rentals to Inner Circle’s lenders.

VERDICT: I do not think that word “dramatically” means what you think it means. Building a new sports facility may not have the kind of economic impact that sports team owners pretend it does, but it does have some, and “making the hotel-to-rental-apartment conversion that developers already had in the works marginally more marketable” is just about perfectly the size of it. Downtown Hartford is starting to draw more interest from renters with money, but that’s thanks to the Great Inversion, not anything to do with sports, and certainly not a minor-league baseball stadium that until recently wasn’t certain ever to open.

That said, I am eagerly awaiting the chance to take in a Yard Goats game this summer. I will almost certain make it a day trip from New York City, and will probably stop for pizza or falafel in New Haven. My footprint on the Hartford economy will be exceedingly light, but if some millennials want a view from their apartments of my car pulling in and out of the stadium parking lot, more power to them.

Only thing standing between Indianapolis and MLS is meeting league’s stadium extortion demands

It’s a hectic Monday morning, and time for a quick game of “What have been newspapers been spinning inappropriately this weekend?” First up, the Indianapolis Star:

Unless the General Assembly finds surprise funding for a new stadium in the coming days, Indy Eleven has no discernible path to join America’s premier professional soccer league.

VERDICT: Yes, but… There’s no reason MLS can’t approve Indy Eleven as an expansion franchise without a new stadium — as recently as two years ago there was talk about the team owners settling for upgrades on their current stadium — except that the league is dedicated to a business model based on “bring us a $150 million check and some new stadium blueprints, and you’re cool.” A more accurate report would have been something along the lines of “Indy Eleven is ready to make the leap, but MLS is holding out for stadium subsidies” — but that would have made the sports league the bad guys instead of the politicians, and this is a business column and team owner Ersal Ozdemir is a major local businessman, so.

St. Louis mayor says Blues arena needs $70m to keep wrestling finals, but what does math say?

I spend a fair amount of time here ragging on media outlets that go out of their way to parrot the arguments made by sports team owners and their political allies on behalf of stadium and arena subsidies. But it’s also instructive to stop and take a look at a more routine kind of media bias: the kind where journalists do their basic job of reporting the facts, but stop short of the most important step, actually explaining to readers what those facts mean.

For today’s punching bag, I present reporter Austin Huguelet of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose entirely competent article on St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay asking the state of Missouri for subsidies to his city’s hockey arena (or the Blues‘ hockey arena that is on the city’s books, if you prefer) included the following:

A proposal from Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, would allow the state to contribute up to $6 million per year to upgrading the St. Louis Blues’ 23-year-old home ice, which officials say needs urgent fixes if it is to continue attracting top-flight sporting events and concerts…

Without the money, Jack Stapleton of St. Louis Sports Commission said Scottrade could lose out on events like the wrestling championships to better equipped facilities with better public support.

“The competition is stiff,” he said. “We are going to up against a lot of cities with newer buildings with public funding.”

He listed Louisville, Chicago and Oklahoma City as examples.

Proponents also offered an array of statistics to support the bid. A report prepared by Johnson Consulting and given to legislators said Scottrade has generated nearly $170 million per year in spending from visitors and an average of about $11 million in annual tax revenue for the state.

So far, so good, though it’d be nice to explain who Johnson Consulting is or what their track record is for economic projections for their other consulting projects. (One example from this site’s archives: Johnson’s prediction of hotel stays due to Austin’s new convention center ended up being overly optimistic by more than 25%.) But more to the point, let’s connect the dots between the first and last figures in that story: The state is being asked for $6 million a year in subsidies in order to avoid hurting an arena that produces $11 million a year in state tax revenues. Unless the wrestling championships are a huge chunk of the arena’s business, that seems like a pretty terrible return on Missouri’s investment — taxpayers would be far better off letting Louisville have the damn wrestling and keeping their $6 million a year for other, more economically productive uses.

Sure, there are other benefits to having the shiniest arena on the block. (Though there are also other downsides that aren’t reported here, like the roughly equal amount of money that the city of St. Louis would be putting up under the Blues owners’ proposal.) But still, this is one of the huge drawbacks of a media industry that sees its job merely as accurately reporting what elected officials and business leaders say, not exploring whether it makes any damn sense. Doing basic math isn’t bias, and neither is investigating the bona fides of the institutions you’re reporting on — though both take time, something that’s increasingly in short supply at newsrooms stripped to the bone in response to declining revenues (and demand for higher profits). So my sincere sympathies to Huguelet and his ilk, but if you have a moment to spare, please try to up your game some next time, okay? Little things like an informed public and the fate of democracy depend on it.

 

Maple Leafs ticket prices aren’t part of a grand conspiracy, except for the usual ones

A headline like “Why are NHL tickets expensive in Toronto? Because they’re cheap in Phoenix” has got to be pretty much irresistable if you’re an editor at the Globe and Mail. But does columnist Tony Keller actually make that case? Let’s follow the bouncing argument:

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs can charge through the nose for tickets because demand for hockey in Ontario exceeds the supply.
  • The Arizona Coyotes can’t charge squat for tickets because demand for hockey in Arizona is a sad joke.
  • If the Coyotes moved to Toronto or even Hamilton, it would cut into the Leafs’ market, and they’d be forced to lower ticket prices.
  • Since the Coyotes don’t make money, they have to be subsidized by revenue sharing from teams like the Leafs.
  • “The MLSE golden goose helps subsidize a squad of American lame duck franchises; those lame ducks, stuck in dry ponds, make necessary a golden goose in Toronto.”

All of this is technically true, but there are some leaps of logic here: There’s no reason to think that the NHL would allow the Coyotes to move to within spitting distance of Toronto if they left Arizona, and that Toronto “golden goose” is something the league presumably would want to keep around (and the Leafs owners would absolutely want to keep around) with or without the Coyotes’ revenue issues. There’s a difference between “the Maple Leafs owners are willing to send some money to the Coyotes’ owners to maintain their monopoly” and “this is all part of a grand conspiracy to screw hockey fans both coming and going.” (Except inasmuch as trying to use your monopoly power as the only major pro league to jack up ticket prices is the plan for pretty much every sports league that doesn’t have open promotion and relegation.)

That said, it is undeniably true that if territorial rights were eliminated and teams could move wherever they wanted, it would be arguably good for hockey fans (except those in lousy hockey markets like Phoenix) and maybe even good for the league as a whole — just the same as it would be for MLB if the Steinbrenners and Wilpons didn’t have monopoly rights to New York City. But then, sports leagues aren’t really monolithic corporations, but rather cartels of individual business owners, each in it for themselves. The only conspiracy at work here is the profit motive combined with the failure to enforce antitrust laws, which is a bigger problem than just for hockey.

Pretty much every Olympic sports venue in Rio is falling apart now

And finally today, in The Olympics Are Bad For People And Other Living Things news, Deadspin has a rundown of all the Olympic venues in Rio de Janeiro that are falling apart just months after the games were concluded, which is basically “all of them”: The Maracanã soccer stadium that was upgraded for the 2014 World Cup is plagued by patchy grass and power outages to save operating costs (and vandals stealing seats during the power outages), a complex of nine Olympic venues that was supposed to be auctioned off after the games drew zero qualified bidders, an Olympic site that was turned into a public park was closed when its private manager shut down, and its $19 million Olympic golf course is falling into disrepair. All this for a cost of only $10-12 billion in public money!

Some of this, no doubt, has to do with Brazil’s political turmoil and resulting economic crisis, which is what leads a government to do things like skimp on paying the light bill at its most iconic soccer stadium. But when the best you can say about hosting the Olympics is “Hey, we might have been left with lots of nice but unneeded sports venues for our $10 billion if only our entire nation hadn’t collapsed,” that’s not really the best selling point for hosting the Olympics.

Rangers release first unintentionally hilarious renderings of new $1B stadium design

The Texas Rangers have selected HKS, designers of the Dallas Cowboys‘ stadium, to design their new stadium set to open in 2020, which means we now have initial images of what a replacement ballpark for a 23-year-old stadium marked for death because it doesn’t have air-conditioning looks like. Take it away, HKS renderings department:

newrangers1-hks newrangers3-hks newrangers2-hks

Initial gripes from Rangers fans are that it looks a hell of a lot like the Houston Astros‘ stadium that opened just six years after the one that the Rangers are tearing down. Which it does, but hey, there are only so many ways you can design a stadium with a sliding retractable roof (the right-field seats are reminiscent of the Miami Marlins‘ new stadium, too), and they didn’t have much time to work up these preliminary drawings. More fun is to play “What’s wrong with this picture?” with them, because there sure is a lot:

  • Those three levels of seats suspended in the left-field archways are remarkable not just for seemingly having no structural support at all, but no way for fans to actually get to their seats. Maybe state-of-the-art stadiums will now include transporter technology?
  • There appear to be enormous bullpen areas in both left and right fields, which would seem to be overkill unless the Rangers want the ability to have four teams warming up at the same time.
  • That’s an awfully weird defensive shift that the road team is playing, what with the center fielder playing super-shallow and the left fielder extremely deep. Though maybe they’re just making up for the fact that the first baseman has apparently left to use the restroom.
  • The woman with the sleeveless shirt and purse in the outdoor promenade is awfully blasé for having just walked right through the guy checking his phone.
  • Judging from the number 10 and the five-letter name, that kid on the promenade (who photobombed two separate renderings, what the heck?) appears to be wearing a Michael Young jersey. If that’s the case in 2020, the Rangers are going to be in big trouble, such that they’re not going to be selling out the stands with people mysteriously raising their fists skyward when everyone around them is sitting still.
  • The couple in the final image are wearing their “Texas” and “Rangers” shirts backwards, no doubt in protest of the team not having any players worth celebrating since Michael Young.
  • All of these people are shown enjoying a baseball game outside in the open air in the daytime, when it’s been firmly established that nobody will go to baseball games in Texas without air-conditioning, how could you even think of such a thing?

I am 100% sure that the final stadium design will end up looking very little like this, so there’s time for HKS to fix their errors. In the meantime, though, if their renderings department wants to hire a fact-checker, I can recommend some people.

Send money to Field of Schemes, I send you stuff! Just like a stadium deal, only you get stuff!

It’s been quite a year, 2016, both in the stadium world — from St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke turning up his nose at a $477 million stadium subsidy offer to go build his own stadium in Los Angeles, to the sad, hilarious Hartford Yard Goats endless road trip saga, to the city of Arlington voting to give the Texas Rangers owners $500 million to build a new stadium because their 22-year-old one lacked air-conditioning. (I think there may have been something else of import that happened on Election Day, too, but it’s escaping me at the moment.) I also published a new book, and got a new job. So, it’s been a busy time.

With this year finally winding down, that means it’s time for my semi-annual site supporters’ drive, where you send me money so I can keep on doing what I do here and I send you various tangible and intangible goodies. For 2017, the tchotchke tally will amount to:

  • Full supporters ($100 for one year, $50 for six months) continue to get a free banner ad at the top right-hand corner of this site — either supply your own 250×90 image, or I can design one for you. I reserve the right to reject inappropriate or inaccurate messages, though that’s never happened yet.
  • All full supporters will now receive a signed paperback copy of my new book The Brooklyn Wars, which features much investigation of my home borough’s new basketball arena and minor-league baseball stadium and their effect on development, plus other tales of the evolution of the world’s trendiest borough.
  • Everyone, including both full supporters and $25 mini-supporters, gets: a one-inch members-only pin (pictured at right); two limited-edition sets of stadium trading cards (one now, the other when I finish it, which will be real soon now I promise); and a reprint of issue #9 of Brooklyn Metro Times, the self-published zine containing the article by myself and Joanna Cagan that sent us down the road to our book and this site. Plus an electronic copy of The Brooklyn Wars in PDF, ePub, or Kindle format.

And if that’s not enough, you also get the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing that I can take the time to keep bringing you daily news about the gotta-laugh-to-keep-from-crying world of stadium subsidies, which seems determined to keep on going indefinitely, despite a lot of people’s best efforts to declare it terminally stupid. And my eternal thanks, which I really do mean from the bottom of my heart — news blogging can be a lonely enterprise, and hearing from you all via your comments and emails and tweets and Grants and Benjamins helps me remember that this is important to you all, and that hopefully I’m performing a useful service by providing the latest news and analysis and a place to make crappy Simpsons-reference jokes about it.

Click the button below if you care to begin or renew a supporters’ subscription. And if you pay with Paypal, please remember to enter your mailing address under instructions, so that I can send you stuff without having to ask. (Who am I kidding — nobody is going to remember, and I’ll just email you. That’s fine.)

Thanks, have a happy holidays, and see you back here shortly with more news.

UPDATE: If you were having any trouble with the payment button earlier, try again — it should be working now.


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