Qatar killing World Cup workers at record pace, FIFA bribery arrests mean someone may actually notice

Now that FIFA officials are getting arrested left and right following a three-year corruption probe by the FBI, the Washington Post has taken the opportunity to publish a chart comparing worker deaths in Qatar during construction of 2022 World Cup stadiums to worker deaths in other nations’ preparations for World Cups and Olympics. And while the numbers aren’t completely exact — there’s some guesswork involved, and it’s not possible to determine exactly how many of these deaths were on World Cup projects — still, holy crap:

imrs.phpThat’s an insane body count among the workers that Deadspin has taken to calling (entirely accurately) “FIFA slaves,” and is only likely to increase calls for a boycott of the Qatar World Cup, the ouster of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the reassignment of the 2022 World Cup (and maybe the 2018 World Cup currently slated for Russia) to another nation, or all of the above. Not that any of those are exactly likely, but they’re a hell of a lot more likely than they were before the concierge at a five-star Zurich hotel called upstairs to say, “We’re going to need you to come to your door and open it for us or we’re going to have to kick it in.”

Converting Boston Olympic stadium for soccer would cost as much as building soccer-only stadium

Boston Magazine has published the complete bid book that Boston 2024 gave to the United States Olympic Committee in December, and it includes a bunch of details on the proposed Olympic stadium that were not in the previous public document. In particular, the cost for a temporary stadium that would be torn down after the 2024 Summer Games is estimated at about $521.3 million ($436.3 million for construction, $85 million for land); designing a stadium that could be converted for later soccer use by the New England Revolution would add another $134.5 million in construction costs, plus $59 million for the actual conversion.

That’s $193.5 million total, plus land costs, which could get you a pretty decent standalone soccer stadium to begin with. Why the Boston Olympic committee would want to roll that into its own budget — or even whether it really intends to, since this is still just an options document — is unclear, but the situation remains worth keeping an eye on.


Anybody want some old boxes of papers? Uh, I mean, valuable historical research? Inquire within!

Joanna Cagan and I wrote the first edition of Field of Schemes so long ago that we actually did research by compiling physical pieces of paper and placing them into cardboard folders. (This should not be seen as a commentary on the current, all-updated edition of Field of Schemes, which was written entirely with nanotechnology while flying around on our jetpacks.) As was the way of things in the late 20th century, we then put the folders in boxes, and the boxes in closets, and forgot all about them.

As it so happens, both Joanna and I are looking to reclaim our closets (Joanna because she’s about to move cross-country, me because I just want more closet space), and these 17-year-old book research files need to go. At the same time, there’s no doubt some useful information in there for future researchers — let’s see, this first box I pulled out has some early article drafts, clippings from now-defunct newspapers (New York Newsday, R.I.P.), Nexis searches, hey, it’s the catalog (and my name tag) from that stadium finance conference where Jay Cross talked about how referendums are a good thing because you can always just buy the outcome if you’re worried. I have a bunch of original cassettes containing recorded interviews as well that I’d love to get out of my house make available to researchers.

If you are a librarian or archivist or know one who might be interested in taking possession of the Field of Schemes papers, please drop me a line here. We’re probably talking about six or seven file boxes total, to be picked up or shipped from New York City. No serious offers turned away, not even if you plan on using this material to craft a papier-maché effigy of Roger Goodell. (Actually, that might get you bonus points.)

Questions welcome in comments or via email. But hurry, because Joanna’s moving van can’t wait forever.

Milwaukee arena reporter Don Walker has passed away

I’ve poked a lot of fun at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker in recent months — most memorably for this — but he’s done a bunch of good reporting as well, all part of his assignment to cover the Bucks arena deal on a daily basis. And even if he hadn’t, it still would have been a shock to see this just now:

No word yet on the cause, though Walker was still tweeting as recently as last night, so presumably something sudden. (From his college graduate date, it looks as if Walker was in his early 60s.) Our condolences to his family and friends, and respect to someone who clearly cared a lot about reporting on the sports-business world, even if we came at it from very different places.

Clock running out on Minnesota United tax breaks, but pols lay groundwork for future deal

Today’s lesson in how to read newspaper journalism, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Negotiators in Minneapolis may be making progress on a menu of mostly local tax breaks for a Major League Soccer stadium, even though the proposal appeared dead Monday in the closing hours of the legislative session.

On the face of it, that’s … what? A Minnesota United stadium tax-break deal “may be making progress,” but also “appeared dead.” That is not a particularly useful diagnosis, unless you’re Erwin Schrödinger.

If you read a little further, you find a bunch of stuff on how city officials and United execs are pushing for a package of tax breaks — a freeze on property taxes on the stadium site (which isn’t a full tax exemption, but given that it’s currently undeveloped land, it’s pretty close), plus extending the city’s 3% entertainment tax liquor/restaurant tax (thanks to longtime Minneapolis journalist David Brauer for the correction) to the stadium district and kicking that money back to pay for the arena — and then reporting on how nobody thinks there’s time to get this done before the state legislature, which would have to sign off on the breaks, adjourns on Monday.

What seems likely to have happened is that the Star Trib’s reporters collected a bunch of info on how United is preparing a new tax-break plan, but then got word that it probably couldn’t pass this session, so had to hurriedly piece together something that indicated both. So you get this mashup of a story, under a headline that doesn’t do a great job of explaining to anyone what’s going on (“Mpls. negotiates MLS stadium subsidy as lawmakers adjourn”).

A better way of putting this would be: “Clock running out on Minnesota United tax breaks, but pols lay groundwork for future deal.” In fact, I think I’ll use that one myself.

Bucks arena to include magic basketball that will transform Milwaukee into world of color

MILWAUKEE —The Milwaukee Bucks released a video Thursday showing what good a new arena could do.

Oh, boy! I hope this involves one of those computerized flyovers that are all the rage! Preferably with the arena leaping into action to save Milwaukee citizens from the Green Goblin!

Okay, so, um, floaty basketball that will apparently reorganize molecular structure at the subatomic level into life-generating matter of equal mass. That’s pretty good, too!

I’m not sure which I like best about this, the disclaimer that the arena won’t actually look like it’s depicted in the video (the magic basketball, presumably, will look exactly like this), or the bit that shows all six of the Bucks’ one championship banner being lowered from the rafters. Promotional videos are just awesome.

Entire minor soccer league wants new stadiums by 2020

Detroit doesn’t have an MLS team or particular plans for one, but it does have two minor-league teams, Detroit City FC and the Michigan Bucks, which play in the National Premier Soccer League and the USL Premier Development League, respectively, both of which Wikipedia claims to be the 4th tier of U.S. soccer. (Once you’re that many tiers down, who really cares?) And at least one of these amateur squads could be about to get its very own new soccer stadium, or at least free land for it:

The city has reportedly indicated a willingness to “provide land on the Detroit waterfront for either club if it needs more room.”

With minor-league soccer teams like Indy Eleven already clamoring for stadium subsidies, you have to wonder how many more minor-league soccer teams are going to start asking for new buildings. And the answer, apparently, is all of them:

The USL is pleased to announce a groundbreaking multi-year partnership designating global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm HOK as the Official Stadium Design Partner of the league. HOK will lead a stadium development, design and standards initiative supporting the league’s strategic initiative to house all USL clubs in soccer-specific stadiums across North America by the end of the decade.

That’s a whole mess of stadiums: 24 for now, though the league may yet expand beyond that in the near future. Even if some of these end up being renovations rather than entirely new buildings, you can see why HOK (which is no longer the same as Populous, which used to be HOK) would jump at the chance to get all those new design contracts, even if most won’t like be big-ticket jobs.

As for the USL, this allows the league and its teams to stake a claim to the burgeoning cities-throwing-money-at-soccer-teams market, and get “[Fill in team name here] needs a new stadium by 2020″ articles in every USL city across the nation. Why, look, here’s one from Louisville!

A team that opened its inaugural season playing at Louisville Slugger Field still has “a lot of work to do” to meet the USL’s stadium mandate by the end of the decade, [Louisville City FC owner Wayne] Estopinal said Thursday.

Remember, people: When a team owner says he wants a new stadium, it’s just a demand. When a league says it wants new stadiums for its teams, it’s a mandate.

Naming rights deals are terrible investments, so why do companies keep doing them?

The idea that buying naming rights to a sports venue is a massive waste of money is nothing new — Chris Isidore of CNNMoney noted way back in 2003 that businesses with naming-rights deals had an alarming tendency to go bankrupt — but now there’s evidence to back it up. New York magazine spoke with marketing professor J. Scott Armstrong, who noted that sponsorship deals of all kinds have been found to have no significant correlation with more people actually buying your product, even just out of name recognition. And in particular, naming-rights deals “do not have a lasting impact on the profitability of the firms that buy them.”

So, why on earth buy them? Aren’t corporate tycoons supposed to be profit-maximizing machines, stopping at nothing to evaluate every action coldly in terms of return on investment? Spake Armstrong:

“People who are running the company feel good about it — and this is just speculation, of course — they feel important, I imagine,” he said.

In other words, if you work for a company looking to buy naming rights, it’s simply cool to have an association with the NBA or the NFL or a snazzy new stadium, and in some cases it can lead to tangible benefits like hanging out with celebrities or attending playoff games. “I think they just assume it’s going to [work], and it’s a fun project to get involved with,” Armstrong explained. This can help explain the response he’s gotten when he’s queried employees of companies directly as to whether they try to calculate the return on investment on their sponsorship deals: “Nah, we don’t do that.”

On the one hand, it’s lucky that corporate marketing execs are so daft, because naming-rights deals have helped make new stadiums a hell of a lot more affordable in recent years without dipping quite as far into the public purse. (This is assuming that you think making it more affordable to tear down 20-year-old stadiums and build new ones is a good thing, big-picture speaking.) On the other, if you’re an employee of, say, the University of Phoenix who’s being told there’s no money to give you a raise because the university is in a death spiral of red ink, you might consider giving up on making a case that you deserve it, and instead argue that you’re “a fun project to get involved with.”

Bored reporters now just making up own San Diego stadium deals for Chargers

There hasn’t been much public talk in San Diego about building a new Chargers stadium since a local city councilmember threw everything he could think of at the wall to see what would stick, though the mayor’s task force is supposed to announce the “outlines” of a financing plan on May 20. Some reporters, though, can’t wait that long, and so are trying to spin stadium news out of … well, follow the bouncing ball:

Now, it’s possible that Moores’ plan meant the increase in taxes from added hotel stays, not an unconstitutional-without-a-vote increase in hotel tax rates, though there’s no way that that would generate anything close to $1.4 billion. And anyway, it turns out that Moores didn’t actually figure out how to pay for his stadium proposal: U-T San Diego reported last year that “JMI did not ask its consultants for a financing plan, leaving that crucial detail to the city to work out.”

So, San Diego’s convention center expansion funding may be in trouble thanks to a court ruling handed down last year, so that could open the door open (sorry, just can’t stop typing that) for a new Chargers stadium to be funded by some means nobody has figured out yet. I don’t know what the mayor’s task force is going to come out with in eight days, but it’s gotta be more newsworthy than this.

Brazil’s $3.3B in World Cup stadiums being used for bus parking, homeless encampments

It’s been a while since we checked in on Brazil’s $3.3 billion in new stadiums that it built for last year’s World Cup, several of them in cities without major teams to play in them once the big event was done. Now NPR has taken a look, and oh dear:

The most expensive World Cup stadium — located in the capital, Brasilia, and with a price tag of $550 million — is being used as a parking lot for buses.

Oh dear, oh dear:

The stadium in Cuiaba — which cost some $215 million to build — has made news repeatedly: first for being closed down because of faulty construction, and then recently for the homeless people squatting in its unused locker rooms.

Well, at least that’s only two—

The stadium in Natal is trying to make money by hosting weddings and kids’ parties — with little luck.

Brazil spent about $15 billion on the World Cup overall, and the government has long since given up pretending that it was worth it. (Especially when the defining moment of the tournament itself was Brazil’s team getting embarrassed by Germany.) The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, though, those are surely going to be awesome, because nothing ever goes wrong for countries that host the Olympics.