Friday roundup: CFL in Halifax, Columbus ghost stadium, Sydney is the new Atlanta, and more!

Are any of my American readers even out there, or are you all too busy tormenting retail workers with your demands for discounted goods? If so, you’re missing out, because we’ve got all your goods right here, at our everyday discount of free!

  • The CFL is considering expanding to Halifax, which means Halifax would need a CFL stadium, which means somebody would have to pay for a Halifax CFL stadium. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a stadium is “not a capital priority at this time” and would have to be built “without putting taxpayers at risk.” The Ottawa RedBlacks stadium model is being floated, which is slightly weird because that ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money plus free land, but maybe “taxpayer risk” is defined differently in Halifax. Anyway, we’ve been this far before, so grains of salt apply.
  • Remember how I wasn’t sure what would be included in the $75 million in public “infrastructure” spending that F.C. Cincinnati is demanding? Turns out that’s because nobody’s sure: WCPO notes that the team hasn’t provided any cost estimates or a traffic study, which “leaves us wondering where, exactly, FC Cincinnati came up with its figures.” I’ll take “nice round number, slightly less than the $100 million elected officials balked at previously” in the pool, please.
  • A guy in Columbus came up with an idea to use county sales tax money to build a new stadium to keep the Crew in town, then the next day said it was just an idea he came up with over the weekend by himself and never mind.
  • The city of Worcester is still trying to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town, and the state of Massachusetts may be getting involved, with one unnamed source telling the Worcester Telegram that stadium funding would need to be a “a three-legged stool” among the city, state, and team. You know this article is just going to be waved around in the Rhode Island legislature as it heads toward a vote on public funding for a PawSox stadium there, and what was everyone just saying about the role of enablers in abuse, again? (Not that stadium swindles are morally equivalent to sexual harassment, obviously, but you get my point. Also, why are all the articles about the role of enablers in sexual harassment a month old, are we not going to pay attention to that after all?)
  • The state of Connecticut may spend $40 million on upgrades to Hartford’s arena and some retail properties near its entrance, on the grounds that it might make it more attractive to buyers. If this seems like getting it backwards to you, yeah, me too, but at least it’s better than spending $250 million on the arena and then not selling it.
  • Laney College students, faculty, and staff all hate the idea of an Oakland A’s stadium on their campus. “They want to disrupt our education by building a ballpark across the street with noisy construction, traffic gridlock, pollution, and alcohol consumption by fans,” Associated Students of Laney College President Keith Welch told KCBS-TV. “We will not sacrifice our education so that the A’s owners can make more money.” Pretty sure they won’t get a vote, though.
  • “Industry experts” say that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will charge more for concert tickets because … it’ll draw bigger-name acts that cost more, I think they’re saying? That doesn’t actually seem like a detriment, though they also note that the new arena has a higher percentage of seats in the lower bowl, which people will pay more for even if they’re way in the back of the lower bowl, and helps explains why arena and stadium designers are so obsessed with getting as many lower-deck seats as possible even if it makes for crappier upper-deck seats. Which we kind of knew already, but a reminder always helps.
  • And move over, Atlanta, there’s a new planned stadium obsolescence king in town: The state of New South Wales is planning to spend $2 billion Australian (about $1.5 billion U.S.) to tear down the Sydney stadium it built for the 2000 Olympics, along with another smaller stadium in Sydney built in 1988, in order to build newer ones that are more ideally shaped for rugby, I think? Because nobody thought of that in 2000? I need to wait for my Australian rugby correspondent to return from holiday break for a more authoritative analysis, but right now this is looking like one of the worst throw-good-money-after-bad deals in stadium history, and it’s not even in America, the land that has perfected the stadium swindle. Crikey!

Friday news: Phoenix funds Brewers but not Suns, brewers float crowdfunding Crew, and more!

So, so much news this week. Or news items, anyway. How much of this is “news” is a matter of opinion, but okay, okay, I’ll get right to it:

  • Four of Phoenix’s nine city council members are opposed to the Suns‘ request for $250 million in city money for arena renovations, which helps explain why the council cut off talks with the team earlier this week. Four other councilmembers haven’t stated their position, and the ninth is Mayor Greg Stanton, who strongly supports the deal, meaning any chance Suns owner Robert Sarver has of getting his taxpayer windfall really is going to come down to when exactly Stanton quits to run for Congress.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Milwaukee Brewers will remain there for spring training for another 25 years under a deal where the city will pay $2 million a year for the next five years for renovations plus $1.4 million a year in operating costs over 25 years, let’s see, that comes to something like $35 million in present value? “This is a great model of how a professional sports team can work together with the city to extend their stay potentially permanently, which is amazing, and we’re doing it in a way where taxpayers are being protected,” said Daniel Valenzuela, one of the councilmembers opposed to the Suns deal, who clearly has a flexible notion of “great” and “protected.”
  • And also speaking of Phoenix (sort of), the Arizona Coyotes are under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly having “spied on staff, engaged in union busting and fired two employees who raised concerns about pay.” None of which has anything directly to do with arenas, except that 1) this won’t make it any easier for the Coyotes owners to negotiate a place to play starting next season, when their Glendale lease runs out, and 2) #LOLCoyotes.
  • A U.S. representative from Texas is trying to get Congress to grandfather in the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium from any ban on use of tax-exempt bonds in the tax bill, saying it would otherwise cost the city of Arlington $200 million more in interest payments since the bonds haven’t been sold yet. (Reason #372 why cities really should provide fixed contributions to stadium projects, not “Hey, we’ll sell the bonds, and you pay for whatever share you feel like and we’ll cover the rest no matter how crappy the loan deal ends up being.”) Also, the NFL has come out against the whole ban on tax-exempt bonds because duh — okay, fine, they say because “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums” — while other sports leagues aren’t saying anything in public, though I’m sure their lobbyists are saying a ton in private.
  • A Hamilton County commissioner said he’s being pressured to fund a stadium for F.C. Cincinnati because Cincinnati will need a sports team if the Bengals leave when their lease ends in 2026 and now newspapers are running articles about whether the Bengals are moving out of Cincinnati and saying they might do so because of “market size” even though market size really doesn’t matter to NFL franchise revenues because of national TV contracts and oh god, please make it stop.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the proposed Oakland A’s stadium site has pros and cons. Noted!
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Calgary Flames‘ arena “needs to be replaced” and the team can’t be “viable for the long term” without a new one. Not true according to the numbers that the team is clearing about $20 million in profits a year, but noted anyway!
  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is set to announce his proposal for city subsidies for F.C. Cincinnati today, but won’t provide details. (Psst: He’s already said he’ll put up about $35 million via tax increment financing kickbacks.)
  • The Seattle Council’s Committee on Civic Arenas unanimously approved Oak View Group’s plan to renovate KeyArena yesterday, so it looks likely that this thing is going to happen soon. Though apparently the House tax bill would eliminate the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which the project was counting on for maybe $60 million of its costs, man, I really need to read through that entire tax bill to see what else is hidden in it, don’t I?
  • The owners of the Rochester Rhinos USL club say they need $1.3 million by the end of the month to keep from folding, and want some of that to come from county hotel tax money. Given that the state of New York already paid $20 million to build their stadium, and the city of Rochester has spent $1.6 million on operating expenses over the last two seasons to help out the team, that seems a bit on the overreaching side, though maybe they’re just trying to fill all their spaces in local-government bingo.
  • There’s a crowdfunding campaign to buy the Columbus Crew and keep them from moving to Austin. You can’t kick in just yet, but you can buy beer from the beer company that is proposing to buy the team and then sell half of it to fans, and no, this whole thing is in no way an attempt to get free publicity on the part of the beer company, why do you ask?

Handicapping Deadspin’s “Worst Stadium Scam” Vote

Deadspin is holding its second annual Deadspin Awards, and among the categories, you will be excited to know, is Worst Stadium Scam. And it’s set to be a tight race, with these candidates, not all of which are technically from 2017, but let’s not nitpick:

  • The Raiders robbing Las Vegas
  • The Flames trying to rob Calgary
  • The Falcons robbing Atlanta
  • The Louisville Cardinals robbing Louisville
  • FC Cincinnati robbing Cincinnati
  • The Pistons and Red Wings robbing Detroit

Even though these seem mostly selected by which stories were covered by Deadspin in the last year (Nashville SC robbing Nashville didn’t make the cut, nor did the Cavaliers robbing Cleveland), that’s a pretty solid selection. The Raiders and Falcons stand out for the scale of the subsidies — the Raiders will get $750 million in state cash while paying zero rent, while the Falcons will end up getting almost that much over time — and the Falcons have the bonus scamminess of hiding $400 million of their payday in a “waterfall fund” that will keep paying out long after the stadium’s opening. The Flames and FC Cincinnati haven’t been successful in their shakedowns yet, but are notable for trying (and failing) to get a more team-friendly mayor elected in the former case, and for demanding subsidies on the grounds that their owner has never asked for them before so he’s due in the latter. The Red Wings and Pistons are getting about $350 million in public money from a bankrupt city (or from a state that is otherwise starving a bankrupt city, at least), while the Louisville basketball arena deal is just a nightmare without an end.

I’m not going to reveal how I voted, except to say that it was a tough decision, and I won’t be unhappy at all if one of my second choices takes home the prize. Go cast your ballot now, and give extortionate corporate behavior and terrible public policy the shiny trophy it so desperately deserves.

Friday fun: Draw your own Rays stadium, Pacers make money hand over subsidized fist, and more!

Oh, has it ever been another week! Some things that happened:

  • The Indiana Pacers revealed they brought in a record $13.2 million in revenues from non-sports events last year. “We’re trying to be a good steward for this venue,” said Rick Fuson, president of the team that is getting paid $16 million a year by the city to run its arena without sharing any of its revenues with taxpayers and also may ask for more public money for arena upgrades soon. “This is about an investment into the economic vitality of our city and our state.”
  • UC Berkeley is going to bail out its terrible football stadium deal with non-athletic department funds, though it can’t say where exactly the money will come from other than that it won’t be student tuition or state tax dollars. You guys, I’m starting to worry that UC Berkeley may have a lucrative meth-lab business on the side.
  • The University of Connecticut is spending $60 million on three new stadiums, which it will presumably totally pay for out of student tuition and tax dollars.
  • The NFL is opposed to the language in the GOP tax bill that would ban use of tax-exempt bonds for sports stadiums, because of course it is. “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums,” NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart said with a straight face, either because he doesn’t understand that any sliver of economic development in one part of the U.S. from stadiums just comes at the expense of economic development in another part, or because it’s what he’s paid to say, or both. Meanwhile, speaking of that tax bill, there are a lot of reasons to be terrified of it, even if that stadium clause would be nice.
  • The Oakland Chamber of Commerce polled 503 “likely voters” and found that a large majority supported the idea of an A’s stadium at “a new, 100 percent privately financed site, near Interstate 880, four blocks from Lake Merritt BART and walking distance from downtown.” Cue the opposition poll describing it as a “cramped site wedged into an already-developed neighborhood with existing traffic problems” in three, two…
  • A website commenter got sick of waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays to issue stadium renderings and drew some of their own, getting on SBNation for it despite having failed to find the Fireworks menu in their CAD program. No, I don’t know why it has an apparent non-retractable roof, or how people in that upper deck in right field will get to their seats, or what’s holding up those seats, or lots of other things.
  • FC Cincinnati president Jeff Berding says a stadium announcement is scheduled for next week and that it will involve Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, so presumably the team owners are now focused on building in Cincinnati instead of across the river in Kentucky, using Cincinnati’s tax kickbacks instead of Kentucky’s. Poor Cincinnati.

Ban on tax-exempt bonds would add $100m-plus to Nevada’s costs for Raiders stadium

That provision in the U.S. house tax bill to bar use of federally tax-exempt bonds for pro sports facilities is already starting to freak out proponents of the Oakland Raiders‘ planned $1.9 million stadium in Las Vegas, which is set to use $750 million in public bonding:

“We stress-tested the model for things like higher interest rates,” [Nevada economic analyst Jeremy] Aguero said. “We understand the potential that comes with either legislative risk, or interest-rate risk or development risk, for that matter. I wish I could tell you it’s going to cost X amount of dollars in order to make it work but we need to go through the exercise of making sure we understand all the components of that legislation because that’s not the only one that will affect municipal finance.”

Okay, sure, figuring out how exactly this bill’s passage would affect the Raiders stadium costs is complicated. Figuring out roughly how much it would affect it, though, is dirt easy: Tax-free bonds typically allow an interest rate 1-1.5% below taxable bonds. So adding that much to the financing costs on the state’s $750 million would mean an extra $7.5-11.25 million a year, which over 30 years, converted into present value … I get between $115 million and $173 million worth of added interest costs.

So that’s a hefty chunk of change, and the big question would be who would pay it: The state or Raiders owner Mark Davis? That all depends on what it says in the team’s stadium lease — and in all likelihood it just says “we’ll use tax-exempt bonds,” meaning the whole thing would need to be renegotiated to settle who’d be on the hook for the extra cash. That would certainly be interesting.

(Note: It’s also important to remember, as I almost didn’t while writing this headline, that this would not be an increased cost of the stadium — it would just be shifting $115 million to $173 million worth of costs from the federal treasury, which would have been subsidizing it with tax exemptions, back to the state. It would make a hidden subsidy less hidden, in other words, but somebody’s paying those costs regardless.)

House tax bill would finally put a fork in tax-exempt bonds for sports stadiums

Buried deep in the hand grenade of a tax bill proposed by the House of Representatives is a clause that a lot of people have been waiting a long time for:

To recap briefly for anyone who hasn’t been reading this site: In 1986, Congress tried to rein in the use of federally tax-exempt state and municipal bonds — basically a funding mechanism by which local governments can get lower interest rates by fobbing off some costs onto the federal government — by prohibiting their use for any projects where more than 10% of the use would be by a private entity, and more than 10% of the cost would be paid for with private dollars. The idea was to allow tax-exempt bonds for projects that genuinely needed the help — public parks, say — but preventing cities from just sticking federal taxpayers with part of the bill for private projects that could pay their own way.

To say that this failed would be a massive understatement. Local governments immediately started upping their public contributions to stadium and arena projects to keep the private share under that 10% limit — and where that wasn’t possible, they resorted to shenanigans like accepting private payments but pretending they were public tax money. The result has been $3.7 billion in federal subsidies to sports facilities since 2000, according to a Brookings Institution study; it’s this provision that has meant that Red Sox fans living in Boston helped pay for a share of the New York Yankees‘ new stadium.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich proposed prohibiting sports stadiums from using the tax-exempy bond dodge a decade ago, then President Obama did the same in 2015, then Senators Cory Booker and James Lankford did it earlier this year, and finally President Trump hinted at it (in retaliation for NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem) last month. But only now are we seeing actual legislative language for outlawing tax-exempt stadium bonds in a bill that might actually be passed.

Whether it will, in this form, is anybody’s guess: The House could still strip the stadium language before passing the tax plan, or it could be eliminated in the Senate version of a tax bill; you have to figure that sports league lobbyists are working the phones hard this morning. Even if it does pass, it won’t eliminate sports subsidies by any means — state and local governments will still be welcome to throw their own money at team owners, and they would almost certainly seek out loopholes by, say, trying to use tax-exempt bonds to finance all the parts of a stadium project not used for sports. (An attached food court isn’t really “used for games,” right?) But it would at the very least close a 31-year-old loophole that even the guy who wrote it into law wanted repealed, which would be a start, anyway.

Chicago developer offers stadium to Amazon as part of HQ deal, just because, okay?

I’m sorry, what?

A Chicago developer is offering a unique perk in the all-out competition to win Amazon’s second headquarters: Amazon Stadium.

Sterling Bay’s proposal to bring as many as 50,000 Amazon headquarters workers to its Lincoln Yards development includes the potential for a sports and concert venue near the Chicago River.

The developer describes preliminary plans for “a world-class sports and entertainment stadium” in the materials obtained by the Tribune.

And look, there’s a rendering:

That is indeed a stadium, and it indeed says “Amazon” on the field, where there appears to be a soccer match going on. (The Amazon logo is going to be sideways when viewed on TV or by the vast majority of fans in the grandstand, but they can always tweak that later.) The question is: Why? Does Sterling Bay really think that Amazon would like a sports stadium as part of its corporate headquarters, for when the company is bored with dominating retail sales and streaming video and wants to monopolize sports, too? Is this part of some gambit to move the Chicago Fire out of Bridgeview, leaving the suburb with its massive stadium debt that it already can’t pay off? Is it just trying to get “Sterling Bay” associated with “stadium building” in the public mind, so that next time a stadium needs to be built, they’re the ones who get the call?

I think maybe let’s just go with “When a megacorporation like Amazon dangles jobs as a carrot, both local elected officials and local developers tend to lose their minds.” This is so going to make the Tesla subsidy shakedown look like penny-ante stuff, I’m afraid to even watch.

Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

Friday roundup: A’s pollution woes, Falcons roof woes, Hansen email woes, and more!

Whole lot of news leftovers this week, so let’s get right to it:

  • It’s not certain yet how serious the environmental cleanup issues at the Oakland A’s proposed Peralta Community College stadium site are, but anytime you have the phrases “the amount of hazardous materials in the ground is unclear” and “two possible groundwater plumes impacted by carcinogens” in one article, that’s not a good sign. Meanwhile, local residents are concerned about gentrification and traffic and all the other things that local residents would be concerned about.
  • There’s another new poll in Calgary, and this time it’s Naheed Nenshi who’s leading Bill Smith by double digits, instead of the other way around. This poll’s methodology is even dodgier than the last one — it was of people who signed up for an online survey — so pretty much all we can say definitely at this point is no one knows. Though it does seem pretty clear from yet another poll that whoever Calgarians are voting for on Monday, it won’t be because of their position on a Flames arena.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof won’t be retracting this season, and may even not be ready for the start of next season. These things are hard, man.
  • Nevada is preparing to sell $200 million in bonds (to be repaid by a state gas tax) to fund highway improvements for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium, though Gov. Brian Sandoval says the state would have to make the improvements anyway. Eventually. But then he said, “I just don’t want us to do work that has to be undone,” so your guess is as good as mine here.
  • Pawtucket is preparing to scrape off future increases in property tax receipts for a 60- to 70-acre swath of downtown and hand them over to the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new stadium, an amount they expect to total at least $890,000 a year. Because downtown Pawtucket would never grow without a new baseball stadium, and there’s no chance of a shortfall that would cause Pawtucket to dip into its general fund, and nobody should think too hard about whether if minor-league baseball stadiums are really so great for development, this wouldn’t mean that property tax revenues should be expected to fall in the part of the city that the PawSox would be abandoning. Really, it’ll all be cool, man, you’ll see.
  • Somebody asked Tim Leiweke what he thinks of building a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays for some reason, and given that he’s a guy that is in the business of building new stadiums, it’s unsurprising that he thinks it’s a great idea. Though I am somewhat surprised that he employed the phrase “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play,” given that having to depend on fans of road teams to fill the seats is already kind of a problem.
  • The study showing that spending $30 million in city money on a $30-million-or-so Louisville City F.C. stadium would pay off for the city turns out to have been funded by the soccer team, and city councilmembers are not happy. “There’s something there that someone doesn’t want us to find,” said councilmember Kevin Kramer. “I just don’t know what it is.” And College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson chimed in, “I expect for-profit sports team owners to generate absurdly high economic estimate numbers in order to con gullible city council members into granting subsidies.” I don’t know where you could possibly be getting that idea, Victor!
  • Congress is considering a bill to eliminate the use of federally tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities, and … oh, wait, it’s the same bill that Cory Booker and James Lankford introduced back in June, and which hasn’t gotten a committee hearing yet in either the House or the Senate. It has four sponsors in the House, though, and two in the Senate, so only 263 more votes to go!
  • A Miami-Dade judge has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the sale of public land to David Beckham’s MLS franchise illegally evaded competitive bidding laws, then immediately suggested that the case will really be decided on appeal: “I found this to be an extremely challenging decision. Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.” MLS maybe should be having backup plans for a different expansion franchise starting next season, just a thought.
  • The New York Times real estate section is doing what it does best, declaring the new Milwaukee Bucks arena to be “a pivotal point for a city that has struggled with a decline in industrial activity,” because cranes, dammit, okay? Maybe somebody should have called over to the Times sports section to fact-check this?
  • And last but not least, Chris Hansen is now saying that his SoDo arena plan missed a chance at reconsideration by the Seattle city council because the council’s emails requesting additional information got caught in his spam filter or something. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to knock off for the weekend, I don’t know what is.

Trump scares NFL with tax break threat, but will he do anything real about sports subsidies?

So Donald Trump’s tweet yesterday threatening to eliminate the NFL’s “massive tax breaks” got an immediate response from league commissioner Roger Goodell, who issued a press statement that of course the league believes that “everyone should stand for the national anthem,” and will get right on figuring out how to make players do that without violating collective bargaining laws. The lesson: Sanctions work!

Trump hasn’t yet responded to Goodell’s letter, but one has to figure he’ll probably call off the tax break attack dogs now that they’ve achieved what he unleashed them for. Which would be a shame, as I note in an op-ed today for the Washington Post website, because if the president really wanted to rein in public subsidies for pro sports, there’s plenty he could do:

The use of tax-exempt bonds for sports stadiums is a problem that goes back to a time when Trump was still a USFL owner suing the NFL. The practice, which effectively provides sports franchises with low-interest loans at the expense of the federal treasury, has cost taxpayers an estimated $3.2 billion across all pro sports since the turn of the millennium…

And that stadium tax break — if it was what Trump was getting at (even his own press secretary seemed unclear which public money he was talking about) — is only the tip of the sports-subsidy iceberg. Even at $200 million a year, the public cost of tax-exempt bonds is dwarfed by the flood of cash flowing from state, county and city governments to sports teams.

Please go read it now. There’s a good bit at the end with David Minge in it.