Beijing to host 2022 Winter Olympics, probably should just host all Olympics from now on

Beijing has been chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, defeating Almaty, Kazakshtan in a two-city race after every city you’ve actually heard of dropped out. This will make Beijing the first city to have hosted both the summer and winter games, which is interesting from a trivia perspective I suppose, and the second city where there isn’t really any snow to host a Winter Olympics. (Events requiring actual winter will be held 100 miles away in Zhangjiakou.)

If there’s an upside here, it’s that at least Beijing already has lots of event spaces left over from the 2008 Olympics that can be repurposed for 2022, and presumably has already evicted everyone necessary to make way for the Olympic Village and such. In fact, once Beijing has a full set of Olympic venues for all seasons, maybe it would be best just to let it have the Olympics permanently, as Chris Dempsey of No Boston Olympics suggested earlier this week in my article for Vice:

Dempsey, for one, dreams of a day when the Olympics will just settle down in one place and put this orgy of beach-volleyball-stadium-building to an end. “Since 1896, we’ve invented the radio, TV, the internet, air travel,” he says. “You’re in a world now where 99.9 percent of people watch it on a screen. And the vast majority of the other people who are going to be there will fly in to see it. So they could really fly anywhere in the world for it — they could fly the same place every four years, and you could build this stuff once and not have to worry about with these massive capital and infrastructure costs.”

Sure, China has a terrible human rights record, but clearly the IOC doesn’t care much about that anyway. It would mean North America and Europe watching lots of events in the middle of the night or on tape delay, but we do that regardless, and who’s to say that Asia’s huge population doesn’t deserve to watch the Olympics in their own time zone? If Beijing wants to be Olympic City, I’m all for it, so long as it spares the rest of the world’s cities the headache. Now we just need to do something about the World Cup.

AEG asks Cincinnati to help pay for $200 million renovation of arena, no one laughs for some reason

Show of hands: Did you even know that Cincinnati had a basketball and hockey arena? It hasn’t had an NBA team since the Royals moved to Kansas City in 1972, and major-league hockey since the Stingers went away with the folding of the WHA in 1979. But it still has the U.S. Bank Arena, built in 1975 as the Riverfront Coliseum, and probably best known as the reason we don’t have general admission rock shows anymore.

Anyway, the arena is, according to its LinkedIn page, “a first-class, state-of-the-art venue,” and

U.S. Bank Arena’s owners unveiled a plan Tuesday morning that showed how long-anticipated and extensive renovations could support the Downtown venue’s future.

Right, that’s what I meant, it needs $200 million in renovations to gut the place and add luxury suites and “revitalize downtown Cincinnati” and all that. Because after all, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer, “The 40-year-old arena has not undergone a major renovation since 1997″! Can’t be having that!

The arena is co-owned by theater operators Nederlander Entertainment and venue mega-managers AEG, neither of whom have said anything about how this major renovation will be paid for, though the Enquirer reports that “taxpayers will be asked to pay at least part of the bill for any improvements.” This wouldn’t necessarily be bad if taxpayers also got a share of arena revenues to help repay their investment, but something tells me that’s not what Nederlander and AEG are thinking.

Anyway, one hopes that Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials will drive a hard bargain here, and — oh, who are we kidding, this is Cincinnati. Once your elected officials have bought into the notion that having concerts in the same place with nicer cupholders is going to “revitalize” your downtown, all hope is lost. Unless you get some different elected officials.

Boston doesn’t want your stinking Olympics, should any city?

I’m sure you all caught this already, but Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid imploded spectacularly on Monday, with Mayor Marty Walsh declaring that he wouldn’t let the USOC rush him into signing a guarantee to cover cost overruns, and the USOC promptly declaring that it was withdrawing Boston as its chosen bid candidate.

It was all very sudden, but, as I wrote at Vice Sports yesterday, not entirely unexpected given how poorly the bid was going so far:

All the talk about ballooning costs not only worried Boston residents — who were mostly opposed to hosting the Olympics from the start — but garnered opposition from more than a few local elected officials, the sort who typically fall into line once there’s sports to be chased. Boston city councilor Tito Jackson had already announced he planned to subpoena Boston 2024 for more financial details; Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, meanwhile, hired economists Brad Humphreys and Allen Sanderson — both notedskeptics about the benefits of sports construction — to put together that report on whether the Boston bid numbers made a damn bit of sense. (One hopes we’ll still get to see it, as it would be fun reading, though the governor may end up deciding that would be rubbing salt in Boston 2024’s wounds.) Walsh, in all likelihood, merely put the final nail in the coffin with yesterday’s announcement, though he certainly did it with gusto.

The question now is whether the USOC will put forward a candidate at all for 2024 — the deadline is September 15, which doesn’t leave much time to revive a candidate from the ashes, though they’ve already put in a call to Los Angeles — and whether we’re entering a new era of cities steering clear of the Olympics as a nightmarish money suck, after most of the 2022 Winter Games candidates withdrew for that reason. Writing in the Guardian, Les Carpenter suggests that that would be an excellent idea:

The internet is clogged with slide shows of empty, broken, useless stadiums built in the euphoria of a coming Olympics or World Cup then abandoned soon after, allowed to fill with weeds, rodents and other signs of human escape. Is there a better sign of Greece’s collapse than a pile of useless sports facilities crumbling since the torch went out in the summer of 2004? What use did Athens have for a baseball stadium anyway? It’s crumbling among the weeds just like the field hockey venue, the canoeing center and the training pool green with algae…

After Rome, Paris, Hamburg and maybe Toronto or Doha – all fighting to host the 2024 Games – the list of Olympic hopefuls may quickly dwindle until only bidders will be places like Beijing or Qatar or breakaway Soviet republic. These are places that won’t need to worry about local opposition when writing checks in the name of national pride. The concept of getting one big city to compete against another, with each promising more extravagance is probably an old one.

Of course, that’s still plenty of cities to keep the Olympics in business, though at some point the IOC may have to reduce its lavish demands a tad if it finds no takers. (Or gets tired of holding all its Olympics in China.) After all, the last time cities started bailing on the Olympics, after the financial disaster of the 1976 Montreal games, Los Angeles ended up the host by default, despite a plan that built no sparkly new facilities at all. We’re not there yet by any means, but the 2026 and 2028 bid processes are going to be real interesting.

Vegas, Quebec now frontrunners for NHL expansion teams, because nobody else bothered to bid

Official bids to own an NHL expansion franchise (assuming the NHL actually expands) were due yesterday, and of the several motley candidates, only two ended up submitting an actual bid, along with a $2 million non-refundable deposit: The Bill Foley/Maloof brothers group in Las Vegas, and Canadian telecom company Quebecor in Quebec City.

If the neo-Quebec Nordiques and Las Vegas Black Knights (that’s seriously what they’re considering calling the team — one can only hope their team motto will be “Tis but a flesh wound!“) happen, it will be because the NHL thinks it can get $500 million apiece in expansion fees, which would be worth the roughly $20 million a year in TV revenues the other teams would have to give up to each of the new franchises. Neither city would be a guaranteed success — Quebec probably has a better shot, if only because people actually watch hockey there, but they’d both be among the NHL’s smallest markets — but then, if there were an obvious expansion market, it would already have a team by now.

There was one bigger market considering a bid, or actually two bids: Seattle, where both Chris Hansen and Ray Bartoszek were reportedly interested in teams for their prospective arenas in downtown Seattle and suburban Tukwila. Neither ended up bidding, though, which would leave Seattle looking at being the home for a relocated team at some point, assuming either Hansen or Bartoszek is really that interested in the NHL.

And that, ultimately, is what the NHL would be giving up here, even more than a sliver of TV revenues: leverage. Right now, cities undergoing arena battles face a slew of marginally believable bogeymen where their team could be said to be relocating to if they don’t agree to demands. If Vegas and Quebec get new teams, the league would pretty much be down to Seattle as a threat, and while one city will certainly suffice for this (look at what the NFL has done with L.A.), it’s less than ideal.

All of which is to say that Glendale officials should probably feel comfortable taking a hard line with the Arizona Coyotes owners in their lease battle. There’s reportedly been some progress in those talks, but if the worst-case scenario ends up being that the Coyotes might move back to a new arena in Phoenix, leaving that city stuck with how to keep afloat a money-losing franchise with subsidies, that’s the kind of chance that Glendale should feel comfortable taking.

UPDATE: Deadspin thinks that this is going to hurt the NHL’s leverage in getting the highest price for expansion teams, since now they can’t get a bidding war going. I’m less sure — the league can still refuse to assign any new teams at all if it doesn’t get what it wants — but this certainly doesn’t help the NHL’s racket, let’s put it that way.

Japan changes course, won’t build $2B Olympic potty-stadium after all

Holy cow, Japan’s war of cartoons against their $2 billion Olympic stadium actually worked:

Three years after Japanese Olympic organizers selected a vast, sleek stadium design by a prominent Iraqi-British architect for the centerpiece venue of the 2020 Summer Games, the government announced on Friday that it would scrap the plan and start over because of spiraling costs…

“The current plan will go back to being a blank sheet of paper, and we will rethink it from scratch,” [prime minister Shinzo] Abe said at a news conference.

This just two days after Abe said there was no way he was going to change the design, because there’s only five years left before the 2020 Summer Olympics, and that’s too short a time to come up with something cheaper, somehow? But that was before this:

x3dgqr93vluqumudThe new plan is, well, a blank piece of paper, so no one knows what it will look like or how much it will cost. Reuters reports that Abe “made no mention of costs and whether this meant another competition for a design, or if another design from a 2012 competition would be used.”

Anyway, this kind of thing happens from time to time — the Brooklyn Nets were originally going to have an arena designed by Frank Gehry, recall, until it turned out to be too crazy expensive and featured an office building next door that looked like a stack of post-apocalyptic milk crates. The hope is that Japan can now come up with something both cheaper and less ugly, though the precedent here isn’t exactly promising.

Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics stadium now set to be priciest, ugliest in history

I haven’t been providing updates on Tokyo’s butt-ugly 2020 Olympic stadium, mostly for lack of time, so let me remedy that now: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe says it’s too late to change the design, and also the price tag has now risen to a breathtaking $2 billion, making it the most expensive stadium the world has ever seen:

What is the money buying? The design of the stadium’s ribbed roof on huge steel arches resembles a bicycle helmet. To support a natural grass field, the roof’s southern end will be translucent to let in sunlight and underground will be soil ventilation and temperature control systems. Movable seats will bring the crowd closer for more intimate events, and this being Japan, the stadium will have earthquake-resistant features…

Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, added that he suspects the cost will rise further during construction, which is due to begin in October.

Despite widespread popular opposition to the plan, it looks like the stadium, and its soaring price tag, will go ahead as scheduled. At least it’s given the Japanese public the opportunity to create lots of macros comparing the stadium to a potty seat, and who can put a price on that?

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch just wrote John Oliver’s show for next week

If you slept through the last week, this headline from Detroit Curbed probably has you utterly baffled:

Ilitch Responds to John Oliver’s Critique of Stadium Deal

Yes, that’s the owner of the Detroit Red Wings (and Detroit Tigers, and Little Caesar’s Pizza) issuing a press statement in response to an HBO comedian’s criticism of his deal to get $300 million in public subsidies for a new hockey arena. And what was Ilitch’s response?

“This project is about so much more than a world-class sports and entertainment arena; it’s about transforming a core part of our city for the benefit of the entire community,” the statement said. “The new Detroit arena and The District Detroit will create 8,300 construction and construction-related jobs, as well as at least 1,100 permanent jobs. To date, the Detroit Downtown Development Authority has approved nine contracts worth $121 million, of which Detroit-based and -headquartered businesses have won more than 88% — or $106 million. Initiatives of this size, scope and impact — $1.8 billion dollars for our city, region and state — are almost universally public-private partnerships. The majority of this development is being privately financed, and no City of Detroit general funds are involved whatsoever.”

That doesn’t actually counter any of Oliver’s criticisms, which amounted to pointing out that 1) Ilitch is getting $280 million in public funds, 2) Ilitch is worth an estimated $5.1 billion, 3) Detroit filed for bankruptcy the week before all this was approved, and 4) Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread sucks. In fact, the majority of the development is not privately financed (it’s 58% public, even by the Detroit Free Press’s conservative math), and while city general funds aren’t being used, development funds that would otherwise go to other city projects are, as is a gift of free city land.

In short: Watch John Oliver’s show next week, because he just got handed a whole lot of new material. Thanks, funnyman Mike Ilitch!

The punchline missing from last night’s great John Oliver segment on stadium scams

I don’t want to in any way criticize Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s outstanding segment last night, which did a terrific job hitting all the highlights of the stadium subsidy game. But I did want to add a side note to one of Oliver’s examples:

Teams are shameless in manipulating cities’ fears. In 1997, the Minnesota Twins even ran an ad showing a player visiting a child in hospital with cancer, and the tagline: ‘If the Twins leave Minnesota, an 8-year-old in Wilmar undergoing chemotherapy will never get a visit from Marty Cordova. Which is less like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and more like the Make-A-Threat Foundation.

All true! But it actually turned out to be even worse than that, as the Minneapolis City Pages reported at the time:

Then there was the TV ad aimed at prodding fans to rally the legislature, which depicted Twins outfielder Marty Cordova going to see a sick child at the Minneapolis Ronald McDonald House. “If the Twins leave Minnesota, an 8-year-old from Willmar undergoing chemotherapy will never get a visit from Marty Cordova,” the announcer intoned, as the screen faded to black. To make matters even more repulsive, it turned out that by the time the ad aired, the patient had died.

Also, nobody had bothered consulting Twins outfielder Cordova, whose charity had sponsored the hospital visits, and who objected vociferously to being used for owner Carl Pohlad’s stadium shakedown. The ad was quickly pulled, the Minnesota state legislature declined to fund a new Twins stadium, and the team moved to — er, that is, kept on plugging away at getting public stadium money out of Minnesota, until finally the legislature gave in. That’ll show those lousy dead-cancer-kid-mongers, right?

John Oliver on sports shakedowns: “We replace stadiums even faster than we replace Spider-Men”

And here’s last night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which not only gave a great overview of stadium shakedown craziness (I’m especially pleased that the Milwaukee Bucksmagic basketball put in an appearance), but which culminated in a rousing speech that needs to be shown in the 4th quarter of every sports venue negotiation until the end of time. Put down your breakfast and watch now:

Rose Bowl nixes hosting NFL team, L.A. temporary stadium options down to Coliseum or playing in street

The Pasadena-controlled board that owns the Rose Bowl voted this week not to bid to provide a temporary home to an NFL team in Los Angeles, saying they would rather host an annual music festival instead. (The music festival wouldn’t be during the NFL season, but its environmental impact statement requires that the Rose Bowl not host pro football if the festival takes place.)

This still leaves the NFL with a bunch of options, but as the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno report, they’re all problematic. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are baseball stadiums, and not only does the NFL hate playing in baseball stadiums, but baseball teams hate sharing digs with football, which messes up their schedule and tears up the grass. The Los Angeles Galaxy‘s StubHub Center in Carson only holds 27,000 — though NFL stadium consultant Marc Ganis tried to put a happy face on this to the L.A. Times, saying, “There’s something interesting about playing in a smaller facility, to start with creating a scarcity of tickets and increase the level of interest early on,” yeah, right — and is run by AEG, which already has no love for the NFL after having its own downtown L.A. stadium plan shot down.

That leaves the L.A. Coliseum, which would be fine but for two things: First off, USC’s lease on the Coliseum only allows it to host one NFL team, which would be a problem if, say, both the Raiders and Chargers needed temporary homes while waiting for a new stadium to be completed. Second, it’s really hard to get a bidding war going with only one serious bidder, so any team wanting to bunk at the Coliseum temporarily likely just saw its prospective rent go up.

This probably isn’t enough to be more than a speed bump en route to a new L.A. NFL stadium (and team), but given that the finances of such a project already look shaky enough, you never know which is going to be the speed bump that breaks the camel’s back. (Yeah, I know the metaphor doesn’t really make sense, work with me here.) The fight to be the future home of the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams still seems like a battle that no one can possibly win — it’s one reason I don’t expect any resolution soon, but I guess we’ll get some hints, maybe, following the August owners’ meetings.