FoS 20: Frank Rashid on what two decades of fighting to save Tiger Stadium taught him about American politics

There were innumerable people who helped Joanna Cagan and I learn the nuances of the sports stadium subsidy business when we first began our research more than 20 years ago, but I think it’s say that no one devoted as much time and expertise to the cause as Frank Rashid. A Detroit English professor and lifelong Tigers fan, Rashid was one of five friends who in 1987 founded the Tiger Stadium Fan Club, which became one of the longest-lived community groups fighting first to preserve a historical ballpark they loved as fans, and later to stop the flow of public funds to a private stadium project as concerned citizens.

One of my most enduring memories of researching Field of Schemes is of Rashid driving me and a couple of friends around Detroit, regaling us with tales of past and present government mismanagement and racist urban planning, along with a few tidbits of Detroit baseball lore (“That’s the house Ty Cobb lived in when he supposedly murdered a guy”) — and afterward, getting to visit the model of a proposed Tiger Stadium renovation, designed by architects John and Judy Davids, that was in storage at Rashid’s house. I was fortunate enough to get to go to a couple of games at Tiger Stadium with Rashid and other Fan Club members, and even more fortunate to get to get to testify alongside him before Congress. The book and this website simply would not exist as such without him, and given the amount of advice and knowledge he and other Detroit activists shared with people facing similar battles in other communities, neither would much of the stadium subsidy opposition nationwide.

ND: Hi, and welcome to the Field of Schemes 20th anniversary interview series! I am extremely pleased today to be joined by Frank Rashid, who is one of the cofounders of the Tiger Stadium fan club and who recently celebrated, if I’m counting right, his 30th anniversary as a stadium activist. Am I right about that?

FR: I think that’s right, from ’87 to — yes, we did mark it.

ND: I had to think about when the Tigers were in the playoffs. The Darrell Evans series.

FR: That’s right.

ND: Well, thank you for being here. You’ve been somebody who’s been you know following and involved with this stuff even longer than me which is —

FR: I think I’ve been following it longer than you’ve been alive, Neil.

ND: It’s entirely possible! I know this story and readers of the book know the story, but tell me a little bit about how the fan club got founded.

FR: It actually started when I read a column by a classmate of mine, Mike Betzold, in the Free Press. He had gotten wind that the Tigers — under Tom Monaghan, this was some time ago — were making noises about a new stadium. Not even 10 years had passed since the publicly funded renovations that were supposed to guarantee the stadium’s future for at least 30 years from that point, from 1978. I didn’t know an awful lot about the stadium finances, but I at that point just loved Tiger Stadium — it was one of the locations in Detroit that was common ground for many of us and that we loved growing up. So I called Betzold and I said, “Is there anything that can be done about this?” So he said, “Well, you know, maybe we can put something together.”

So we got a few of our friends: my brother Kevin, Jerry Lemenu, Bob Buchta, and Mike and I, and we got together for a pizza at Buddy’s pizza in Detroit, which is an institution, and watched the Tigers get no-hit and still win against Baltimore, I think it was September 2nd. [Ed note: It was indeed September 2nd, but it was Cleveland the Tigers beat despite being one-hit.] And while we were doing that, we made plans for what we were going to do. We pooled our money, ordered bumper stickers and T-shirts, and handed them out to people outside the stadium for anybody who would give us their name on a mailing list. Some of them were even accurate!

And so we started a group, and it caught on. We got a lot of favorable publicity because we tried to keep the issue very light at first, make it kind of a pro sports thing, a feel-good “people love Tiger Stadium.” And got a lot of great publicity from the local media, and that got us members. Three hundred people showed up for our first membership meeting in February of ’88, just a few months after we got going. And they turned out to be some real loyal, strong, wonderful people — people like Catherine Barron and Eva Navarro and people who had been with us for a long time — both of those wonderful women are now deceased. But it was a wonderful gathering of people and it stayed light for a while, even as we were learning more and more about baseball stadium economics, and starting to realize what a boondoggle this really was in the city of Detroit. And how really wrong it was when you had a treasure — Tiger Stadium I would say is a treasure like Fenway Park or like Wrigley Field, both of which are still still going and still contributing to healthy franchise values for their team owners.

So as we got this going it became, especially for me, much less of a baseball — even less of a historic preservation issue, even though I’m a strong preservationist — it became really about “How can we be subsidizing the wealthiest people in our society?” And I came to realize this is not unusual, but this was the issue that landed in my lap. And so I started to fight it even more intensely because of that.

ND: One of the first realizations that Joanna Cagan and I had working on the book was we went into it thinking, like I think a lot of people who follow this casually did, that “Oh yeah, this is one of those battles where the sports fans are all saying ‘the teams need to get whatever they need,’ and the people who aren’t sports fans are saying ‘no, don’t spend our taxes.’ But there are plenty of people, whether it’s in Detroit or the Fenway Park folks — really you can pick the city, there are plenty of sports fans who are opposed to these deals, either in spite of or because of their involvement with the team.

FR: Yes, I think that’s it. You know, I recently have written something about this where I was thinking about the deal that the teams have with us. We give them our loyalty, we buy their merchandise, we listen to their advertising, we read their stuff in the newspapers. We support them. But we don’t have to turn over hundreds of millions of public dollars that can go to other more worthy projects that are legitimate public interests. And that’s where the deal got broken. There are more intense Tiger fans than I was — but not too many. I just grew up loving this game, loving this team, loving the experience of baseball in Detroit and a Tiger Stadium. And to me they broke the deal. The illusion was that they were our team. The Tigers are our team. That’s what they sell. And I realized, no. That illusion doesn’t work for me anymore. And so it’s been really painful to realize that — that the loyalty isn’t mutual.

ND: Do you think that’s something that’s hard for sports fans to realize? Certainly plenty of fans resent their teams and their team owners for all sorts of different things whether it’s trading all their good players or charging too much for ticket prices — or tearing down a stadium. But it seems like it’s hard to navigate believing in the team as something that’s a communal experience. You wear the gear, but you at the same time are recognizing that it’s a corporation that’s owned by somebody — we may be attached to ordering things off of Amazon, but very few of us, I would think, wear hats with the Amazon logo.

FR: Yeah, it’s the same kind of thing. Hey, sell us this illusion that they are our team, and because we like it, we buy it! It’s the Detroit Tigers. It’s the Ford Motor Company, but it’s the Detroit Tigers. They’re ours. It’s the Boston Red Sox. It’s the New York Yankees. It’s the Los Angeles Dodgers. The teams belong to the community; that’s the illusion.

We willingly suspend our disbelief about about the fact that it’s a business and the owners may be a crook or a racist or whatever. But the team was ours. And that’s the hard part to realize that really that is an illusion. You can accept it for a while, and then sometimes it’s not so not so good anymore.

ND: So the Tiger Stadium battle went on, if we count it as starting from from ’87 , when did they finally, they left in —

FR: 1999 was the last game.

ND: And when did they tear it down?

FR: 2009, finally.

ND: So in the various stages, it went on for over 20 years. And when I tell people about the Tiger Stadium Fan Club , it’s always, well, this is one of the great success stories of citizen organizing — except for the end.

FR: Yeah, except for the fact that all of our work paid off in: not only do we have a new baseball stadium, we have a new football stadium, and a new arena! You can’t imagine what great success we all feel.

ND: It’s just like Star Wars, only if Darth Vader won at the end!

This is probably beyond the scope of a short interview, but what are some of the things that you feel like you learned during all that time, maybe that other people in other cities could take away from this in terms of anything from discoveries about the way that this system works to discoveries about what works and what doesn’t in terms of organizing.

FR: I think there are a lot of ways to answer that question. The large issues are: It opened my eyes in many ways to the way we subsidize the wealthy in this country and the ways stadiums are one instance of this and that that’s a larger battle. But this is an important part of it. And there’s a whole feeding frenzy on the stadium game — it’s not just the team owners and the players, it’s the construction people and the developers and the real estate people and the lawyers and a whole bunch of politicians, of course. And it’s all legal — I mean most of it is legal, as far as I know — but it’s a bad game. It’s something that’s stacked against regular folks. And so that’s part of it.

And I recognized too, through fighting two ballot initiatives — or one ballot initiative and one referendum — on this issue, that that system, it’s not just one person, one vote. Because the system is rigged in favor of those who are going to profit from the team. They can all contribute to a campaign. It’s Citizens United at the local level, because it’s their freedom of speech to be able to contribute to a pro stadium initiative. They’re the developers and they’re the bond attorneys and they’re the construction people — they’re all the people who are going to profit from this.

So when you are trying to take part in a referendum about a stadium issue, that’s great that we have those referendums — they should come to votes, they often don’t. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a fair fight. It’s not a fair fight. That’s something else, and it opened my eyes so the ways in which elections work.

There were a lot of larger issues I learned about as a result of this. I specialize as an academic in research about contemporary Detroit, in addition to its literature, and I have been made aware of the way in which cities work and the way development happens in cities, not always for the most altruistic or the most public spirited reasons.

So those are the large things. Along the way, though certainly we learned very early on — there were five of us to start with, and we were a bunch of writers and artists and teachers — we didn’t have the expertise to make this work. But if we got the word out, which we were able to do early on, to people who did know how to make it work, like the architects and the lawyers and the urban planners and people who just had influence, knowledge, ability that we didn’t have. That was our what we did. Andthe reason that the fight lasted as long as it did and was as successful as it was — ultimate failure though it ultimately became — was that there were all these great people who were brought together by their love of this ballpark and their interes, later on , in the subsidies for the wealthy. And that became kind of wonderful, meeting all these people that I wouldn’t otherwise have met. And how it jelled — how really great the effort was as a result of that process. I think I could, if I had the energy, start another organization, if I had a Tiger Stadium to work with, something that people loved. If I were able to pull together those diverse groups of people into this, that’s something really useful.

I also found out: Do not overbuy merchandise. When we did the first hug of Tiger Stadium I let two of my pals talk us into “Oh, we’re going to have so many people.” We had this souvenir book that we spent quite a bit on, itt was pretty glossy, pretty nice. And we ended up where we bought , I forget, 10,000 of them or something — we ended up with nine hundred and eighty that I had to get rid of. Along with several posters and all kinds of stuff like that.

ND: I think I still have a couple dozen of those in my closet.

FR: I think everybody in the United States might.

It was don’t believe what they say about how popular you are and how great you are. Be real careful about the money. When you’re grassroots you can’t waste money. And it took us a long time to get out of debt, and time and energy that would have been better spent working on the issue.

ND: That said, though, I think you did have was successes. The Fan Club story has tons of examples of both the power and the failure of American democracy, right? Not just the way that the referendums went , and the power of money there, but I always remember the story — I’m probably going to mangle it, but what was the governor’s fund —

FR: Oh, the Michigan strategic fund!

ND: That he managed to use as a slush fund and then, am I remembering right that it went to a state court and the ruling was, “Yeah, he’s not allowed to spend it without legislative approval, but we’re going to let it go this time”?

FR: Yes, exactly. That’s how they got the $55 million for Comerica Park. But then they went back to the well and got much more through the Michigan strategic fund for the hockey arena.

ND: Oh, that’s the same fund! I didn’t even realize.

FR: Yes. So this is a fund that if you go to their website, you look at what kind of money they give out, it’s supposed to be for worthy development projects: things that will help diversify Michigan’s economy, things that will help Detroit, help commercial districts. And you’ll see a few hundred thousand grant, 30,000 grant, maybe up to five or maybe ten million. But not 55 million, and not 60 million or whatever they ended up using from it for the hockey arena.

From what I can see, this is really unprecedented use of this fund. Some of it’s passthrough money that goes through this fund, but that’s the vehicle they use to make this happen. And that is not the way the fund was supposed to be used. It was set up by Democrats, by Jim Blanchard, to be a development fund to help diversify Michigan’s economy, badly in need of diversity. And the Republicans, John Engler in particular, opposed it, thought it was a terrible idea — big government. And he was going to close it down, and then lo and behold, when the stadium thing came up, he found a way to make use of it.

And then it kind of lay dormant. I shouldn’t say dormant — it was doing its good work through the Granholm administration. And then when the Ilitches wanted a hockey arena, they came back to Rick Snyder, the Republican governor now, and got it.

You know, I don’t understand the fiscal responsibility of this. Big government works for big business, but it doesn’t work for other folks.

ND: And that’s the thing again — there are some people who will approach this whole thing as “Why are you opposed to public spending on sports?” And at least for me, I feel like it’s not fundamentally about whether the government should ever spend money that helps sports projects, it’s about who the government is serving.

FR: That’s right.

ND: Is the government serving the public interest, or is it serving the interest of people with money? And you really cannot have better examples than Michigan and all these sports projects.

I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the list that became Chapter 4 of Field of Schemes, “The Art of the Steal.” I think you unintentionally started that by saying, “Somewhere I have a list of what the playbook is.” And I called you up, and I said, “Can I get that list?” And you said, “Well, we have to figure that out. It’s like a list or anything.”

FR: I remember that conversation.

ND: We sat down to figure out, here’s the things everybody does. It’s that there’s economic benefits of it, saying the team s going to move, it’s saying you can’t compete — whether that means compete monetarily or compete for players or compete on the field. And it seemed like this amazing snapshot of the mid-’90s sports business. And ten years later we came back to work on the new edition of the book, and we didn’t have to make any changes to that chapter at all. And if we did a new version of that now, I think it would be exactly the same, because it’s really the exact same same playbook. It just does not change.

Does that surprise you any, that it has managed to go on this long, and they’re just doing the same tactics over and over and over again, sort of cycling through them — if one doesn’t work, you try the next one. But did you expect that by the year 2018 we would be on to something different?

FR: Yes, you know, I did. And that’s another thing you learn is how short the memory of the public is — and of the press, and of a lot of political leaders and activists, even. We don’t really learn from what has happened and from the tricks that have been played on us before. And so a threat to move is going to still be a threat to move — people don’t want to take the chance.

And so all of those little steps that they follow, the little playbook on how to do this, are still very much in operation. I’m shocked. One of the funny things was that they used to say you know there’s Spalding concrete in Tiger Stadium — some cement fell down. Well, you know what happened about three years ago at Comerica Park? Some cement started to fall down. So I’m pretty sure we’re going to start hearing some noise about Comerica Park, just not safe and it’s time to time to start thinking of a new place.

ND: It’s almost 20 years old now, right?

FR: It’s almost 20 years old.

ND: That’s ancient in ballpark years!

FR: Yeah. So we will see.

The problem that I think we will have with a lot of the newer generation of stadiums is that so many of them are right downtown, and are supposedly anchors for all kinds of development, that in selling that aspect of it they’re going to have to figure out what do we do about this big gaping hole we’re going to leave in this area. One of the stages we should add is “Don’t talk about what’s going to happen to the other facility.” They never plan — at least they didn’t plan what was going to happen here for Joe Louis Arena or for Tiger Stadium before they move to the other facilities. That really should be part of the part of the discussion, since these are huge swaths of land that the city should have some plan for once they’re going to be abandoned. And right now they’re just starting to talk about what’s going to happen with Joe Louis Arena after they’ve already built this new arena.

ND: They still haven’t built the soccer stadium, so they can repurpose Comerica to be the soccer stadium. And build their baseball stadium somewhere else.

FR: Yeah, that might be what happens. But really, keep it simple and play to ignorance is part of what’s there. Don’t complicate it by worrying about what’s going to happen to the old place. Even though the civic leaders should be should be on them about that. That’s where they fall down on the job.

ND: So do you see a way that this is ever going to end? When Roger Noll, the sports economist, was here, he was saying, I think that the tide started to turn here. And, as I think I said to him, I’ve predicted the tide was turning before and been wrong, so I’m always hesitant to say that. But part of it’s just that I don’t know what kind of end game you can have. I think people are getting somewhat more skeptical. I think it doesn’t seem as unusual for people to say, “Well, of course economists all agree that sports stadiums aren’t worth big economic numbers and aren’t worth big subsidies. But again, it doesn’t seem like — every week or two it seems like it’s another team that comes out there and is saying, well, of course we need to get more money for renovations or for a new stadium. It’s hard to see it ending any time in our lifetimes.

FR: I kind of agree with you, Neil. But I also know that there is more awareness. There’s more awareness in Detroit. There was a big push — it didn’t work out well — in the wake of the arena deal, which was an obscene deal, because it was right after we declared bankruptcy! I mean, it was in the midst of all of this awful stuff with emergency managers, and taking money from the pensions of the public employees as part of the grand bargain, and threatening the Detroit Institute of Arts collection, and oh, by the way we’re going to turn over nearly 300 million dollars, and the land, to the Ilitches for this new hockey arena.

So in a sense I think it was so obscene that there was more awareness. And then John Oliver came out — so there is a shared understanding among more people now. There was a movement to do a community benefits agreement in the wake of the Little Caesars Arena deal. And then of course the political establishment said, “Oh, good idea, but this one’s a little too you know strong in this way.” And so they put another one on the ballot and put all their strength behind that — Mayor Duggan, by the way. And that’s what we have. We have a very weak community benefits agreement — but there is a community benefits agreement. That language is now out there, and there is a there is a strong group of people, not just Tiger Stadium Fan Club members anymore, who realize what a bad deal this is.

ND: So maybe Roger is right in that the success that the movement to raise awareness at least about these deals has had is that team owners are increasingly … “too embarrassed” isn’t the right term, but that they can’t manage to stand up in public and demand quite the same lavishness of subsidies as they once did. So they’re resorting to, “Well, just give us a little bit here and give us some land and give us some tax breaks — which still adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars. But I guess that’s better than just being able to say, “Write us a blank check.” Although, of course, in Las Vegas the Raiders are practically getting a blank check.

FR: No, you’re right. It’s not going to be a sudden stop of this kind of stuff. Even Obama tried a couple of years in the budget to get rid of federal supports for these things. So there was a discussion; it was happening. And I’m finding it happening more on different levels and that we’re not the only ones bringing it up in Detroit, at least locally. And I think that’s true nationally, too. I think there’s awareness of it. That awareness doesn’t always translate, as we know, into policy change, though. Because there’s too much of a gap between awareness, academic research, all of the things that contribute to our knowledge of how bad these deals really are, and the deal getting done right. The media are not always filling that gap of translating what we know about how bad these deals are into the discussion, because they’re still addicted in some ways to fairness, and they just play off two arguments against each other as if they’re of equal worth.

ND: “Fairness” in scare quotes, right? Not actual fairness, but “balance” and the fairness of “We’re not going to try figure out what’s true, it’s just about you know picking two people with opposing opinions and saying well, therefore…”

FR: And I think that’s changing a lot in the media. But it’s still there n the local media a lot. So until you can really inform the public and bring out the real discussion and the debate and what information exists, the folks with money can wage the campaign that is a a disinformation campaign.

ND: So I’ve got to ask you: Have you found yourself able to watch baseball again yet?

FR: If I’m sitting in a bar and the ball game is on, I will watch it. And I o go back sometimes late at night, when I can’t work anymore, and look at old things like Willie Mays making his catch on YouTube. I still get pleasure from the game. But it’s very hard to follow the Tigers. Much as I would never have believed it. I wonder now how I ever had the time to always make sure I had the radio on at a certain time and could go to 20 or 30 games a year, or however many I ended up going to, and following it in the papers. I spent a lot of time of my life doing this. And I’m puzzled as to how I made that happen.

ND: Is that a good feeling or a bad feeling?

FR: It is a relief. When you love something you’re obligated to it, and to suddenly find yourself free of the obligation, it’s not all bad. There are things I miss about it. But it’s not as much as I would have thought. The Frank Rashid in 1990 or 1985 or whenever I was the most rabid fan that I could have been would be very surprised that he was so able to let it go.

Friday roundup: Warriors rail stop turns pricey, West End stadium undead again, Montreal mayor meets with would-be Expos owners

Superbrief mode today:

  • Expanding light-rail service to the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is now expected to cost at least $62 million, which is a lot for Muni Metro, though not for some other transit systems. The Warriors owners are kicking in $19 million, but the rest will be funded by tax money from the arena district, which may or may not be enough to cover the entire nut. Tim Redmond saw this coming.
  • F.C. Cincinnati owners are officially pivoting back to the West End stadium site that it had declared dead last month after not getting offered enough property-tax breaks on the land. How come? Team CEO Jeff Berding said of the other two options, Oakley is “not as close to the urban core as desired,” and the team couldn’t secure land in Newport, Kentucky. Sounds like the West End has the club over somewhat of a barrel, which it should be able to use to ensure the team pays full property taxes, at least, though some residents may be more concerned about keeping out a stadium entirely over fears it will further gentrify their neighborhood.
  • The mayor of Montreal is meeting today with an ownership group that wants to bring a new Expos MLB team back to town. “We don’t need a cent from the city of Montreal, but we need a little help,” prospective co-owner Stephen Bronfman said earlier this week; your guess is as good as mine what that actually means.
  • Minnesota taxpayers have spent $1.4 billion on new or renovated sports venues over the past 20 years, if anyone is counting.
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox‘ stadium demands continue to be stalled, if anyone is keeping track.
  • “A deputy in one of Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities has claimed that a latest inspection by the world’s footballing body has neglected a missing column at a newly built stadium.” You’ve just got to read the whole Moscow Times article now, don’t you?

 

Friday roundup: Rangers to keep empty ballpark, football Hall of Fame seeks bailout, Goodell dreams of a new Bills stadium

Happy baseball season! Unless you’re a Miami Marlins fan, in which case it’s already ruined. But anyway:

Yet another Birmingham legislative body approves $250 million college football stadium subsidy, because sidewalks or somesuch nonsense

The Birmingham city council voted 6-3 yesterday to approve spending $3 million a year for 30 years on a new University of Alabama-Birmingham football stadium. I think this was the final vote necessary, and we’ve already covered the total public costs ($15.7 million a year, or about $250 million in present value) and crazy economic arguments behind the plan, so let’s just move ahead with quotes from the four hours of citizen comments that were otherwise ignored by the council:

“It doesn’t benefit us anything to build this stadium here,” [Robert Walker, vice president of the Wahouma Neighborhood Association,] said. “I ask you to do something different. The people don’t want it.”

Edna Freeman, of the Druid Hills neighborhood, which borders the BJCC property, said she doesn’t support the stadium. “It will need parking. People will have to move.

“When you talk about four blocks to build a stadium, where is the parking? They are going to buy property for parking,” she said.

“We don’t need a stadium in our neighborhood,” Freeman added. “It can go somewhere else. We need our houses developed. We need property where people want to move in our neighborhood, not tear it down.”…

The Rev. Gwendolyn Cook Webb said no vote should take place until the people are allowed to be heard. “The people haven’t been heard yet,” she said.

“It is like we are going back to the ’60s,” she said. “‘You do what I say do,’ is what I heard this morning.”

Spending all this money on a college football stadium that will be used a handful of times per year and move games from one part of the city to another will make it easier for the city to spend money on fixing sidewalks, according to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who as a reminder is out of his goddamn mind.

Friday roundup: Why Pistons fans can’t bear to watch, Broncos land grab move, Donald Trump could win Morocco the World Cup, and more!

All evidence to the contrary, spring (and the spring end-of-legislative-session season) must be getting nearer, because the stack of weekly roundup news items in my Instapaper is getting longer and longer each week. Better get down to it:

Alabama house overwhelmingly approves taxing rental cars to fund college football stadium, because revitalization!

Birmingham’s $174 million college football stadium (I’m guessing you’ll be able to tell which Birmingham I mean by the rest of that noun clause) took another step forward yesterday, after the Alabama state house approved a 3% car rental tax hike by a 14-3 vote:

The tax has been on the books since 2001, when it was proposed to help build a domed stadium, but has never been collected. The bill would start collection of the tax when the BJCC Authority contractually commits to building the stadium…

The bill, which has passed the Senate, now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey, who could sign it into law.

As a reminder, local taxpayers will be contributing $15.7 million a year — about $250 million in present value — toward a stadium that will mostly serve to allow the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s football team to move from one part of town to another. Or, as Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin put it:

“The action the Alabama House took today puts us one step closer to Birmingham having state-of-the art facilities to better compete for tourism, sporting and entertainment business. In addition, expanding and renovating the BJCC will generate millions of dollars over the next decade for the city that will go to neighborhood revitalization.”

Out of his goddamn mind.

Chicago, Minneapolis, Vancouver drop out of World Cup bid rather than grant FIFA a decade-long tax exemption

The leading candidate to host the 2026 World Cup has been a joint U.S./Canada/Mexico bid that would see the tournament take place across a long list of cities. And I put that in the present perfect progressive tense because what seemed a shoo-in looks a bit shakier now that Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vancouver have all removed themselves from the bid, on the grounds that FIFA’s demands for tax breaks and other concessions were just too much:

theBreaker has obtained a copy of FIFA’s requirements for governments bidding for 2026. The Swiss-based organization, still reeling from the FBI’s 2015 crackdown on FIFA’s massive bribery and kickbacks, requires host governments agree to grant it huge tax breaks for an entire decade and allow it to import and export unlimited amounts of foreign currency. FIFA also requires host taxpayers pick up the full bill for safety and security and assume liability should there be any security incident of any size…

For its workforce, FIFA wants a visa-free environment where work permits are issued “unconditionally and without any restriction or discrimination of any kind.”

“It is also requested to grant exemptions from labour law and other legislation for companies and personnel directly involved with the competition, provided that these exemptions do not undermine or compromise the government’s commitment to respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights.”

That is a lot! And it was apparently a take-it-or-leave-it deal: British Columbia tourism minister Lisa Beare explained that her government withdrew from the bid because “there was no interest by FIFA to negotiate or address our concerns, and that the costs still remain unknown”; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that “FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk”; and the Minneapolis bid committee issued a statement that “the inability to negotiate the terms of the various bid agreements did not provide our partners and our community with sufficient protections from future liability and unforeseen changes in commitments.”

The North American bid is still moving ahead with 23 locations — Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto in Canada; Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey in Mexico; and Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle. and Washington in the U.S. — all of which apparently agreed to FIFA’s terms. But it’s still an unexpected hiccup in FIFA’s plans, and shows that at least some governments are willing to turn down a major sporting event if it requires handing over tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues and untold security costs along the way.

West Ham fans run onto field to protest team’s disastrous move to Olympic Stadium

You’ll recall that West Ham United F.C. moved out of its 112-year-old Boleyn Ground in 2016 and into London’s Olympic Stadium, after the city spent something like a billion pounds building it and then handing it over to the team with a sweetheart lease in which the public has to pay for everything from security to corner flags. Previously West Ham’s owner had called the stadium “ridiculous” and fans threw coins, bottles, and even seats at fans of opposing clubs; are things going any better now?

“Pitch invasions” is British for “fans running on the field,” and “players scuffle with fans” is British for this:

This is truly the worst for everyone concerned — taxpayers, fans, players — especially with West Ham currently only three points above the relegation zone, which is British for “if they lose one more game than one of the teams below them in the standings the rest of the way, they could be sent to play in a lower-level league.” And now Eurosport sportswriter Desmond Kane says the building should just be demolished, or at least redesigned (again) for soccer:

It should be knocked to the ground and rebuilt as a football stadium as soon as possible. Juventus and Bayern Munich have left stadiums built for athletics for stadia suitable to host football. Sevilla and Real Betis opted out of a move to an athletics stadium in Seville because of such dangers.

You’ll get no argument from me here, though there is the little problem that the Boleyn Ground currently looks like this, en route to being redeveloped as housing:

So, in short: The city of London is losing money, the team is losing money, fans are miserable, the team sucks, and there’s no going back. There are lose-lose scenarios, and then there is West Ham. At least everybody loves some soccer schadenfreude.

Flyers to spend $250m of own money (we hope) on arena renovations

Here’s one data point for Roger Noll’s optimistic view of the sports subsidy future: Comcast Spectacor, the cable TV giant that owns the Philadelphia Flyers, has announced it will spend $250 million on renovations to the team’s arena, because building a whole new one would have cost $750 million:

The bulk of the upgrade will come over the next three summers, with about 21,500 seats being replaced so as to not disrupt Flyers and Sixers games. Concerts will continue through the construction…

First up for the upgrade: the mezzanine (200 level) this summer. Here, Comcast Spectacor will carve out two lounges by tearing out cinder block walls on the southeast and northeast corners, adding about 7,000 square feet for fans to drink and talk. Both were “void spaces” without public access, and one has served as the employee gym for years.

“Folks want a more social experience when they go to the game,” Phil Weinberg, executive vice president and general counsel at Comcast Spectacor, said. “They want to get up and go back and text and show photos. They want it more open.”

Assuming that there are no public subsidy demands involved, this is all as it should be, at least if your notion of “as it should be” includes a sports business model where you spend more money to renovate a 22-year-old arena than it cost to build it in the first place. If the Flyers think they can make more money by investing in renovations that will boost revenues, more power to them.

Of course, given that the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning have all gotten public money to pay for arena renovations in recent years, either Comcast Spectacor has decided not to demand the same out of the goodness of their hearts (pause for Comcast customers to laugh bitterly here), has decided that they wouldn’t be able to talk Philadelphia or Pennsylvania elected officials into giving them public cash, or are just starting with their best foot forward (we’re spending $250 million on arena upgrades!) before dropping the other shoe (we’re spending $250 million on arena upgrades for you, the people of Philadelphia, wouldn’t it be only fair if you’d help us?). I have zero inside information as to which is the case, but we should all be watching closely.

Friday roundup: Warriors debt fight, giant American butts, and the blackout curtains that will eat Minneapolis

It’s laugh to keep from crying week! (Just kidding: It’s always laugh to keep from crying week.)

  • The 46-year-old Richmond Coliseum is “clearly past its prime” and “smaller and gloomier than many competing venues,” and the city should use “original thinking and strong leadership from the private and public sectors” such as tax-increment financing to help pay for a new arena, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Not included in the editorial: any indication of how much a new arena would cost or whether the benefit to the city would be worth it, because why think about such things when there’s new-car smell to be had?
  • Oakland and the Golden State Warriors owners are still fighting over who’ll pay for $40 million in remaining Oracle Arena debt once the Warriors move to San Francisco in 2019. It sure sounds like the team’s Oakland lease requires them to pay off remaining debt if they leave before 2027, but the city really would have had a much stronger case if it had refused to grant the team a lease extension without an agreement on debt payments, and made Steph Curry go play in the street for a couple of years.
  • The Texas Rangers‘ new stadium will feature seats that are 1 to 2 inches wider than in their old one, which is good for fans with wide butts (I stand accused, although not of being a Rangers fan), but less good for fans with butts of any size who will have to make do with seats farther down the outfield lines to make way for the butts of more well-off fans. Everything’s a tradeoff.
  • The Detroit Grand Prix owners, seeking to justify turning a public park into a private raceway for three months of preparation each summer, claim the annual event is worth $58 million to the local economy, and I told the Detroit Metro Times why that’s probably bullshit.
  • Here are some pictures of Los Angeles F.C.‘s new stadium in the final stages of construction that look disturbingly like pictures of stadiums in the first stages of demolition. At least season-ticket sales are going well, and those are way harder to fake than individual game ticket sales!
  • Derek Jeter may have gotten rid of anything not nailed down from the 2017 Miami Marlins, but he still can’t move Red Grooms’ horrific home run sculpture, because the public helped pay for it so now it’s public art. (Too bad Marlins fans couldn’t have tried the same argument about Giancarlo Stanton.)
  • The NCAA has awarded the 2019 men’s Final Four to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and now is demanding a giant blackout curtain to cover up the building’s windows for the event. Cost, according to Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chair Mike Vekich: “It will be expensive — obviously.” Crazy idea: Tell the NCAA, “You already awarded us the Final Four, if you want a giant venetian blind, pay for it yourself or go play in the street with Steph Curry.”
  • The cost of a pedestrian bridge to get fans to a new stadium in Atlanta — no, not that bridge to that stadium, a different bridge to the Falcons stadium — has nearly doubled from $12.8 million to $25.1 million, thanks in part to rush charges to get ready for next year’s Super Bowl. You know where next year’s Super Bowl would look great if the NFL won’t pay rush charges for a bridge? You guessed it!