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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New MLB CBA should help spark new A’s stadium, but maybe not why you think

Of all the small changes in the new MLB collective bargaining agreement agreed on last week (which include the end of our long national World Series home-field nightmare), one that’s getting a bunch of attention is the decision to phase out the Oakland A’s exemption that’s allowed them to be the only team to collect revenue-sharing checks despite playing in a big market. The upshot, according to most sportswriters, is that this should turn up the heat on the A’s to build a new stadium:

Q. Sure, losing $35 million is one thing, but spending $800 million or likely much more to build a privately financed stadium is in a whole other category. Why does this force the A’s hands?

A. In absolute terms, it can’t. But the A’s want and need a new stadium and its revenue generating potential, so this is a strong push in this direction. Both executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst have talked about a future in which they can dial up the payroll to fit a new stadium.

That’s … not wrong, but wrongish. The implication here is that now that the A’s won’t be cashing annual revenue-sharing checks from the rest of the league no matter how crappy their balance sheet is, they’ll have to turn a profit some other way, so time to finally get cracking on that new stadium that’ll open up the money taps!

But that’s not how sports team owners think, or at least not how they should think if they’re remotely rational economic actors. (Which they probably aren’t entirely, but let’s overlook that for the moment.) If a new stadium is going to bring in more money than it costs to build, then you’re going to do it regardless of how much money you’re currently getting from other sources; and if a new stadium is going to be a money-loser, it’s not going to help you either way.

Where the new revenue-sharing rules can change the game is in how they effect marginal tax rates. Think about it this way: If you’re considering making an investment — moving to a new city, buying a car that allows you to commute to a new job, getting an advanced degree — and trying to figure out if the extra income it will allow you is worth it, the first thing you need to know is how much your net income will change after taxes, deductions, etc. So if you’ll be earning an extra $10,000 a year, but your bank balance will only change by $6,000, that’s a 40% marginal tax rate. (We can call it this regardless of whether it’s actual extra taxes you’re paying, or, say, credits you’re no longer eligible for.)

So back to the A’s. In past years, as an exempted “small market” team under MLB’s two-tier revenue sharing system, they’ve been subject to the leaguewide 34% tax on each new dollar earned, plus a 14% “performance factor” tax where both the size of the tax and the size of the benefit is based on how much money your team brings in (or fails to). (the effective marginal tax rate impact of this is largely the same regardless of whether you’re a high-revenue team or a low-revenue team, since either you’re paying out more and more into revenue sharing as your revenue rises, or you’re receiving less and less in checks, or both.) The new system eliminates the performance factor sliding-scale tax and replaces it with more flat tax — while the math is complicated, it won’t change things drastically in terms of how much of each new dollar the A’s get to keep.

What will have a significant effect is eliminating the huge penalty the A’s were previously going to face for building a new stadium. Before, a new stadium was going to make the team ineligible for any revenue-sharing checks at all, since it would kick them into the “big market” bracket; now, with the checks already shutting off, there’s no disincentive to go ahead and build. Getting rid of this penalty — a “benefit cliff,” in economic terms — should make building a new stadium a lot more alluring to the A’s owners, which is no doubt a big reason why MLB took this measure. (Though also probably because some owners were just sick of giving the A’s any money when they weren’t spending it — though that remains a problem with some other teams that remain designated “small market.”)

In other words, while losing that $35 million a year should be a huge incentive for building a new stadium, it’s not actually the loss of the money that matters, but rather taking away the threat of losing the money if they built a new stadium. MLB could just as easily have incentivized Lew Wolff and Co. by saying, “Hey, you’re small market either way, go ahead and replicate the Miami Marlins if you feel like it,” and it would have done largely the same thing.

If all that is too much math to swallow on a Monday morning — it’s almost too much for me — just hold on to the takeaway that the A’s might be building a new stadium soon with largely private money, though there’s still concerns they may try to make a grab for public land. Just also remember that revenue sharing works in mysterious ways, so what’s sauce for the A’s may not be sauce for, say, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Oakland mayor announces that Raiders stadium plan framework concept is mumble mumble something

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced a thing yesterday:

The mayor of Oakland announced that the city has reached a framework agreement with the Ronnie Lott group for a new stadium, with the hopes of keeping the Raiders in Oakland.

“It is exciting that we have reached a conceptual framework agreement with the Lott group,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf.

So what exactly would that be, a “framework agreement” with a developer to build a stadium for a football team that isn’t actually party to the agreement? Schaaf’s office hasn’t actually announced anything — and her press spokesperson didn’t respond to my queries — but NBC Bay Area’s Ray Ratto sums up the state of things as follows:

That stadium is considered by most experts, including Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, to run in the neighborhood of $1 billion, with the city and county’s contribution limited to infrastructure improvements that are loosely estimated now at around $190 million, to be generated by some new tax or taxes as opposed to access to the general fund.

So: The city and county will put in maybe $190 million for infrastructure, which it will get from somewhere, while the developers will put in $1 billion, which it will earn back by charging the Raiders something. Or maybe getting an equity stake in the team. None of which has been worked out yet with team owner Mark Davis.

Maybe someone on the board of supervisors or city council, who would have to vote on this, can shed some light?

Alameda supervisors discussed the proposed deal behind closed doors Tuesday morning, but Supervisor Scott Haggerty, the president of the board, downplayed Schaaf’s comments that the county was close to voting on Lott’s proposal. Haggerty said the city has not released information supervisors have requested. He would not say what that information was.

Well, then. Maybe Schaaf and Lott have actually agreed on something, but if so, they aren’t saying what it is, and even then, it may not matter unless Davis agrees to have the Raiders play there. She got her name in the paper under “getting things done” headlines, though, so I suppose that’s a short holiday work week well spent if you’re a mayor.

Trump plan could create huge incentive for governors to rebrand stadiums as “infrastructure”

I followed up on Monday’s quick take on what Donald Trump’s infrastructure tax-break plan could mean for stadium subsidies with a longer investigation for Vice Sports, and after speaking to a half-dozen experts in the field, the conclusion is: This is mostly a plan to coerce states into outsourcing roads and other big public projects to private companies, but if it means funneling money to things like stadiums and calling it “infrastructure,” they’ll probably take that too.

While some [public-private partnerships] have worked out well, the failures have been of epic proportions. A few years ago, Texas contracted out State Highway 130 to a private developer, which skimped on construction costs by installing cheaper asphalt rather than sturdier concrete, resulting in what the Austin Statesman described as “a rumbling, dangerous washboard effect that tends to last for a couple of seconds each time.” Despite a much-ballyhooed 85-mile-per-hour speed limit, the road’s builders filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, sticking the federal government with a half-billion-dollar tab for its piece of the P3.

Under Trump’s proposal, more for-profit companies getting involved in building public roads would probably be the best-case scenario. Without strict limits on what qualifies for the Trump tax breaks, all sorts of projects for private benefit could end up being rebranded as “infrastructure.” We’ve already seen mayors and business leaders propose everything from affordable housing (this from the mayor of D.C.) to “Internet of Things technology” (this from the CEO of IBM, which makes—you guessed it—said technology) as infrastructure projects…

You can probably see where this is going. John Q. Governor decides that he wants a slice of that sweet, sweet Trump money so he can show voters that he can get benefits for his state. He doesn’t need another toll road, and no private investors are looking to build a new sewage system because sewage doesn’t pay the bills (and also, ick). However, the local arena shuffleboard team is asking for a new stadium, and shuffleboard arenas are infrastructure, right? Like, the kids can use them to practice for pro shuffleboard careers? Plus, jobs. Jobs are totally infrastructure!

Do I think that Trump is definitely going to unleash billions of dollars of federal sports subsidies on top of the couple billion a year currently being spent by local governments? No. Do I think that he’s set to open a giant loophole that every sports team owner is going to try to figure out how to drive a stadium through? Yeah, that one.

Trump’s “infrastructure” plan could unleash a flood of new sports stadium subsidies

Ever since election day, there’s been talk that one Donald Trump policy proposal swiped from the Democratic playbook would be a massive program of federal spending to, as his website says, “pursue an ‘America’s Infrastructure First’ policy that supports investments in transportation, clean water, a modern and reliable electricity grid, telecommunications, security infrastructure, and other pressing domestic infrastructure needs.” Some local officials have responded enthusiastically, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying he hoped this would lead to increased funding for long-planned public transportation projects like bridges and airports.

According to an op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post, though, Trump’s actual plan wouldn’t actually involve any increased funding to public construction projects. Former Obama stimulus-spending czar Ronald Klain, citing a report by two Trump policy advisors, writes:

The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.

If you’re a regular reader of this site, this should be sounding familiar: Tax kickbacks to projects that might take place anyway are the M.O. that has helped create the $2-billion-a-year sports stadium and arena subsidy industry — not to mention a slew of other subsidies to businesses from auto plants to airplane factories, plus the innumerable construction projects that receive tax increment financing even though they’d still be built without it.

What would be new under the Trump plan would be a massive federal outlay for these kinds of privately built projects. (Right now the main way the federal government subsidizes local private construction projects like stadiums is via tax-exempt bonds, which amounts to a whole bunch of money, but not nearly as much as if the feds were subsidizing projects directly.) The Trump policy paper, by leveraged buyout king Wilbur Ross and UC-Irvine economist Peter Navarro, is maddeningly unspecific about what projects would qualify for Trump income tax credits. But given that the rebates would be limited to projects that private-sector builders were interested in building — and that it’s likely to be left up to local governments to determine what to use the tax credits for, as the Trump policy report promises to “provide maximum flexibility to the states” — don’t expect to see a whole lot of new bridges when there are for-profit housing developments and, yes, sports stadiums to be built that would be far more lucrative for their builders.

At minimum, the Trump plan would be a way to coerce state and local governments to deal in private developers on otherwise public projects, with the private contractors getting to extract a “10% pretax profit margin” (it’s unclear whether that’s a guarantee or just an estimate). But if it ends up just being a way to subsidize private construction projects by rebranding them as “infrastructure” — something that has already been used to justify local-level stadium subsidies in the past — then we could easily see a whole lot of sports team owners lining up with their hands out. If the Trump plan moves forward, we’re going to need to keep a super-close eye on the arcane details of how the eligibility rules are written; it’s either that or trust state and local government officials to decide what to use the federal tax rebates for, and we’ve seen how well that’s worked before.

Field of Schemes live talk, Tues 11/15, UConn campus bookstore in Storrs, CT

Today’s decision day for the Texas Rangers owners’ stadium subsidy proposal, and the San Diego Chargers owners’ stadium subsidy proposal, and probably some other stuff people are voting on nationwide, I haven’t really been paying attention. I’ll be up late to report in as returns are available.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to talk to me directly about these and other matters of sports venues and who pays for them, and will for some reason be in the vicinity of Storrs, Connecticut next Tuesday, I’ll be giving a talk at the University of Connecticut campus bookstore at 4 pm, and generally hanging around campus all day to drop some stadium science upon the undergraduate masses. (Do college students still say “drop some science”? Probably should check on that before next week.) It’s free, and I’ll be signing copies of Field of Schemes if you don’t have one or need to do any early holiday shopping, so come on down!

Soccer exec: West Ham’s four-year-old stadium sucks, tear it down and build a new one

And finally this morning, former English soccer star and stadium consultant Paul Fletcher had this to say about West Ham‘s new home in London’s Olympic Stadium:

“Either we go on as we are for the next 30 or 40 years or we knock it down and start again,” Fletcher told the BBC.

“Something has to give. If you want to satisfy spectators the only way to get those spectators near that pitch is to knock it down and start again,” added the former Burnley striker turned chief executive.

Which, given all the complaints about the crappy views at the stadium, plus scenes of West Ham fans throwing coins and bottles at opposing fans and even fighting among themselves, isn’t an entirely unreasonable response from a guy who figures he could have done it better. Still, calling for a four-year-old stadium to be torn down and rebuilt has to be some kind of record, no?

(You could actually make an even better case for knocking down West Ham’s roster and starting again, but pointing that out would be cruel. So I’ll only do it in parentheses.)

Unapproved Braves vendors will still face arrest but maybe not jail, now quit your griping

The Cobb County Commission, having somewhat walked back plans to arrest anyone near the new Atlanta Braves stadium who offers parking spaces to Braves fans, is now backing away from restrictions on unapproved vendors around the stadium, too, saying they won’t necessarily face jail time:

Earlier this year, the county amended its anti-peddling ordinance to essentially grant an exemption for the Braves to control vending at the stadium and The Battery, a mixed-use development under construction next to SunTrust Park. It included what the county described as “standard misdemeanor language,” including fines and jail time for violators.

Following pushback, the county suspended the ordinance to remove references to specific penalties, effectively leaving the matter in the hands of the magistrate court.

Braves fans who want to buy peanuts for less than eight dollars, rejoice! Vendors will now be free to sell them to you and maybe escape jail time if they can talk a judge into a lesser penalty! That’ll be something to celebrate while running across the highway next year to watch the National League’s best last-place team.