Manager of local Subway thinks UNLV stadium will help sandwich business, is wrong

UNLV still isn’t even thinking about asking for state money for a new football stadium until 2017 (though it is hoping the buy the land by the end of this year), but that’s not going to stop intrepid Las Vegas Review-Journal reporters from asking local businesses what they think of this stadium that may or may not ever be built on their doorstep:

“It would bring more business all day long,” said Breina Colbert, a 2013 UNLV graduate who is the manager at the Einsteins bagel shop, one of 16 Einsteins stores in Las Vegas.

The district manager for the Subway submarine sandwich shop in the McCarran Village shopping center agreed a stadium next door would be great for business.

“More foot traffic is always good,” said Subway district manager Derek Bushberger, who is also a UNLV graduate. “It would bring people to the area. I’m all for it.”

Let’s do the math here: UNLV football plays six home games a year. There are 365 days in a year. The only way this football is going to bring business “all day long” is if the stadium catches on fire and the university sells tickets to see the ruins.

Okay, that’s not quite fair: There’s supposed to be additional commercial development on the site, too, so maybe that will bring in more 24/7 foot traffic. Let’s see, what do they have planned?

— Four to five quick-service restaurants of 2,500-3,000 square feet each. Possible brands could be Blaze Pizza or Pita Pit.

— Four to five sit-down restaurants of 6,000-8,000 square feet each. Possible brands include Buffalo Wild Wings.

— A UNLV themed restaurant/bar of 6,000-8,000 square feet.

— Entertainment building of 30,000 square feet for a brand such as Dave & Buster’s.

— Ancillary retail of 10,000-12,000 square feet.

So, sure, people might get hungry and want to stop for bagels on the way to … the Buffalo Wild Wings? I guess when your job is running a bagel chain outlet in Las Vegas, you have to find any way possible to give hope to your existence, though “Maybe I can apply for a job managing the Pita Pit!” probably would have been more honest.

More 49ers fans dumping seat licenses, because 49ers’ new stadium sucks

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium in Santa Clara has had some problems since it opened last year — the grass won’t stay put, it was brutally hot, getting in and out by car was often painful, and the stadium lights blinded nearby airline pilots. And now, according to KGO-TV, some seat license holders are fed up and want out of their season-ticket deals:

If you were hoping to get your hands on a San Francisco 49ers Season Builders License, or SBL, you’re in luck. Thousands are now available, but re-sellers say it has nothing to do with the team’s current record. Still, a growing number of fans are very dissatisfied…

“Half the stadium, we get beat up by the sun. So if you’re going to watch a game, you want to enjoy, drink a few beers. Here, you drink a few beers, and you get beat up, come home with sunburn, it’s just a bad experience,” [San Jose resident Tuan] Le said.

Other fans complained that the 49ers changed their ticket policy this year, sending only electronic tickets that can’t be printed until 72 hours before the game, making it harder to sell unwanted tickets.

Now, it’s only 3,000 licenses that are up for resale, up only slightly from last spring, and not all that much in a 68,000-seat stadium. And besides, the magic of PSLs (or SBLs as the 49ers call them) is that the team doesn’t have to give a crap about any of this: They’ve sold the licenses already, and it’s the fans’ problem if they made a bad investment.

The more interesting question is what this means for plans to finance stadiums in Los Angeles by similar means: Will L.A. fans, seeing the mess in Santa Clara, be more hesitant to plunk down for Rams/Raiders/Chargers PSLs? Nobody knows, but then nobody knows how viable those PSL sales projections were in the first place. This is a cautionary tale for somebody, that’s for sure, but whether it’s for football fans, for city officials in Inglewood and Carson, or for cities that think they have to outbid L.A. for the right to keep their teams is yet to be determined.

Postseason ticket rejection saddens Mets fans, new stadium in part to blame

The New York Mets held their ticket lottery for the National League Division Series yesterday, and me and pretty much everyone I know were among those getting the “Sorry, try again next round” letter. Which put us in good company, according to Mets fan Twitter:

Now, part of this is just the calculus of a team just returning to popularity in a big market: There are only so many tickets to go around, and no baseball fan in the city is willing to bet on Mets playoff appearances becoming an annual occurrence, stocked young pitching staff or no.

There’s another big difference between now and the last time the Mets made it to October in 2006, though, and it has nothing to do with jettisoning Paul Lukas’s least favorite uniforms. Rather, this will be (assuming the Mets don’t suffer an even more catastrophic collapse than their last couple) the first postseason played at the Mets’ new stadium, and as I noted last night for Vice Sports, Citi Field is way smaller capacity than its predecessor:

In 2006, the Mets still played at Shea Stadium, which—as was the custom in the 1960s, when it was built—could hold a hefty 57,333 fans. Citi Field, born 2009, falls more than 15,000 fans shy of that mark, though it does offer an additional 3,000 standing-room-only slots. The organization settled on this design decision for a couple of reasons:

  1. With all the luxury seating and clubs taking up more space on the lower levels, an additional 15,000 seats would have sent the new upper deck into a stratosphere far worse even than Shea’s famed nosebleeds.
  2. A smaller capacity meant it would be easier to sell out games without offering steep discounts on tickets.

That’s worked out pretty well for regular season games—Citi feels, if not exactly intimate, at least not cavernous, and the Mets have mostly been bad enough for there still to be plenty of discounts. Now that it’s the postseason, however, that’s an extra 20 to 30,000 fans per round who’ll be stuck watching at home.

There are other reasons why non-season-ticket-holder Mets fans might be getting the cold shoulder more than expected about now — for one thing, the team is apparently holding back some postseason seats to try to entice fans into plunking down deposits on season plans for 2016, despite not having indicated yet what prices will be for 2016. Plus, StubHub and its ilk have utterly changed how ticket markets operate — while it’s not completely linear, it has mostly meant that tickets to unpopular games are easy to get for dirt cheap, while the sky’s the limit on popular ones.

All of which means that the trend that rich fans are increasingly buying a larger and larger share of sports tickets should be expected to be even more true for playoff games, in all sports. Too bad New York City couldn’t have left Shea Stadium standing in the parking lot for big postseason series, like in olden times.

New Vegas arena nearing completion, NHL team could be next because NHL is crazy

The L.A. Times ran an article on progress on Las Vegas’s new arena on Saturday for some reason — possibly because AEG, owner of the Kings, is building it, or possibly just because it was Saturday and they needed to fill space — and there are two main reasons to click through:

  • A promise of a link to a time-lapse construction video, though all I could find was a webcam of what the arena looks like right now and a video of the groundbreaking that mostly featured a woman in a bikini and a giant shovel.
  • This wonderfully glass-half-full observation, buried in the final paragraph: “Selling hockey in Las Vegas will present challenges in a city built on gambling and lofty dreams, especially after the novelty of a new franchise wears off, and other professional sports leagues are sure to monitor this venture closely. Las Vegas has always been good at reinventing itself, and transforming itself into a hockey city might be its boldest experiment yet.”

Translation: Hockey in the desert hasn’t worked well before, and Las Vegas is a heck of a lot smaller than Phoenix, but Vegas has shown a propensity for just tearing stuff down that doesn’t work and building new stuff, so sure, why not give it a try? I’m still a bit puzzled why AEG is going ahead with funding a $350 million arena with its own money when it’s only projecting at best 140 events a year at the place, and 200 is the more typical breakeven point, but hey, it’s not my money. So long as they don’t ask for a bailout if and when it doesn’t work, that is.

No, Nationals Park is not an exception to the rule that stadiums don’t do squat for local economies

On Wednesday afternoon, WNYC-FM’s Leonard Lopate Show tackled the topic of “Why Cities Fund Professional Sports Stadiums,” a subject of more than passing interest around here. Guests were investigative tax reporter (and my editor on the inequality anthology Divided, still available from finer internet trading conglomerates near you) David Cay Johnston and Grantland staff editor Andrew Sharp, who wrote a long article last month calling on Congress to address stadium subsidies because local officials afraid of losing their teams sure won’t. (Or mostly won’t, anyway.)

Now, one of the problems of talk radio (okay, talk anything) is that hosts feel obligated to pit guests against each other, so here Sharp ended up cast as the pro-stadium side, or at least Mr. Glass Half Full. After Johnston led off by outlining the billions of dollars in public cash that goes to stadiums as “just a drop in a very large bucket” of ways that the public end up subsidizing billionaires, Lopate turned to Sharp for any silver lining, and got this response:

“One of the reasons that cities sell themselves on these investments is that every now and then, particularly when you invest in a stadium in an urban area, it can help stimulate growth around that area, and it can turn into a win-win situation where the owners obviously get their subsidies, but then also the surrounding businesses around those stadiums can prove pretty beneficial to the city at large.”

As an example of one of these wins, Sharp cited the new Washington Nationals stadium, which he said “helped revitalize the whole waterfront area” — though he immediately added that there are far more examples of failures than successes.

I got dragged into this last night when someone asked about it on Twitter, which led to me questioning why anyone would consider the Nats stadium an economic success, and eventually to one of those Twitter conversations where nobody is quite arguing about the same thing and everyone just feels icky and misunderstood. So let me try presenting my side here, in a bit more detail.

First off, as Johnston immediately noted on the air, sports venues are “human surge tanks” — crowds sweep in and sweep out on game days, but most of the year the place is dark, which isn’t a great anchor for neighborhood development. Sharp countered that there are now more bars and restaurants around the stadium, and “you can’t deny that now and then these things work.”

There are a few problems here. First off, you can absolutely deny that now and then these things work, especially given that economic study after study has found no measurable economic benefit for cities that build new stadium, or get new teams, or get teams back in action after strikes and lockouts. If there really are outliers that are win-wins, they’re awfully well-hidden in the data.

Secondly, have you been to D.C. lately? You can’t go anywhere without seeing construction cranes — it’s one of the hottest real estate markets in the U.S., and that’s true of virtually every neighborhood, with or without a stadium in it. It’s impossible to say what would have happened to the Navy Yard area if the Nats were still playing at RFK Stadium (or in Montreal, for that matter) — and even if that area wouldn’t have been developed to the same degree, might developers and residents and restaurateurs have gone elsewhere in the city instead? It’s a huge “but-for” problem, albeit one that stadium boosters love to overlook, especially when they just built a stadium in a neighborhood that was already starting to take off.

But fine: Let’s grant that the arrival of Nats Park at least prompted a handful of sports bars and the like to locate in the immediate neighborhood. (I wouldn’t dispute that.) The question here is whether the stadium project is “beneficial to the city at large,” and you can’t determine that without taking into account the price tag. As I’ve noted many times before, there’s a price point where subsidizing stadiums makes sense: In most cases I’d be fine with spending $1 in public money towards a new sports venue, and even the $20 million or so that San Francisco put up for the Giants‘ stadium is arguably reasonable, even if the SoMa neighborhood was already going gangbusters before Pac Bell Park was built.

Nationals Park, though, cost D.C. taxpayers something on the order of $600 million. That’s a crazy-high figure to justify with a few sports bars, but on Twitter at least, Sharp said that the cost isn’t the point:

I think I get Sharp’s point: We shouldn’t criticize spending $600 million on a stadium just because there are even better investments a city could be making with the money. But that’s not what I was saying at all — rather, the point is that since doing just about anything with $600 million, including sitting on it or throwing it from a helicopter, would be better for the local economy, handing it over to the owners of the Nationals for a new stadium is a massive waste of taxpayer funds.

Let’s start with the simplest example: What if D.C. simply hadn’t collected the money in the first place? About two-thirds of the money came from a tax on large D.C. businesses, and while I’m not about to start defending them as efficient economic engines, they would have done something else with that cash, whether it was hiring more entry-level staff, giving more perks to corporate bigwigs, or (hahaha) cutting prices for local consumers. Sure, probably only a small share of it would have been spent in D.C. — but it’s still a non-zero cost to the local economy. And if that cost is more than the benefit of those handful of sports bars, suddenly the Nats stadium is a net loss for D.C.

The other third (roughly) of the public cost, meanwhile, came from kicking back sales taxes on money spent at the ballpark — not a sales-tax surcharge, mind you, but refunding to the Nats sales taxes that otherwise would have gone to the district. So if the Nats had been playing at RFK, this would have been money that would have gone into the public treasury — and if the Nats had never come to town, at least some of those sales taxes would have been collected when locals spent at other entertainment options in D.C. Again, it’s not 100% — but you can make an excellent case that even doing nothing would have been more economically beneficial to the D.C. economy than building a baseball stadium.

What we’re left with as a pro-Nationals Park argument, then, is that if a city is going to blow a few hundred million dollars on something, at least putting it in a promising neighborhood downtown might shift a little bit of development to that locale. That’s certainly true — Tim Chapin at Florida State has done some good work in this area — but using it as an argument that some stadiums are good public investments is like saying, “Sure, the Pentagon budget may be bloated beyond belief, but aren’t these some cool hammers?”

I don’t want to get on Sharp’s case too much — he was asked to present a counterexample of a stadium deal that’s worked out better, and he threw out one that seems to have been a relative success, at least on a “look around and see if the surrounding streets are blowing with tumbleweeds” basis. But that’s the problem: Just looking at what is there misses what would have been there — and elsewhere in the city — if the project hadn’t been done. Pointing to a full sports bar is easy; pointing to the bar across town that closed, or was never built, because public or consumer spending was diverted away from there is hard without a time machine. And stay away from those things, man, they’re dangerous.

Milwaukee County sells $8.8m in land to Bucks for one dollar, swears this is best deal ever

So let’s see, anything new with the almost-approved-but-still-t’s-to-be-crossed Milwaukee Bucks arena?

Milwaukee leaders plan to announce that a chunk of downtown land has been sold to the city’s NBA team for $1 as part of the drive to build the Bucks a new arena complex.

The land was appraised at $8.8 million, but Abele’s office says that doesn’t factor in $8.3 million worth of needed demolition and infrastructure work.

Well, okay, that’s not too terrible, right? Sure, it’s free land, but if it would cost almost as much as the value of the land to get it in shape, and now the Bucks will be taking on that cost, then—

But the release left out the fact that the city is on the hook for undetermined costs, as noted by a city comptroller’s report, “Coordination between Bucks, Milwaukee County, the State of Wisconsin, MMSD, and the City of Milwaukee to remove footings in the Park East Land and to relocate a sewer in the Park East Land to Juneau Avenue – A Cost estimate cannot be determined at this time.” But at a celebratory event like this, no one was computing the exact amount this would leave the Bucks to pay for remediation of the land.

No one was computing it! Certainly not any of the journalists writing about the celebratory event, even through the comptroller’s report came out two weeks ago, which is more than enough time to, you know, call some expert in sewer relocation and ask for a ballpark number. Though at least Urban Milwaukee (the second citation above) noted the known unknowns — the Associated Press report, which unless I’m mistaken is all that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published about this land sale, just took Abele completely at his word, which is pretty bad even for a five-sentence article.

Anyway, the deed is now done, so Milwaukee County will be getting a crisp new George Washington, and the Bucks owners will be building an “anciliary development” to include a practic facility, and, um, some other stuff they haven’t actually drawn yet. Or will have an option to do so, anyway, since that’s all that the $1 really secured. But at least everyone concerned knows what they’re getting into, and that any actual development could be a ways off at best—

“This is creating thousands of jobs now. Right now.” Abele said he ran on a program of creating jobs, and now look what we’re getting. “Thousands of jobs now. Right now,” he repeated.

You know what they say: Repetition is the mother of … something.

San Diego columnist blames Chargers stadium situation on Patriots’ cheating, wins sportswriting

I was on deadline yesterday (writing not about stadiums, but a different way wealthy corporations scam people out of money — look for a link at or via my Twitter in a couple of days), which meant I didn’t have a chance to go through all the day’s stadium articles as I usually do. Let’s see, did I miss anything?

So today we must wonder: Did the New England Patriots cheat the Chargers out of a ring, maybe two — or at least a chance at becoming Super Bowl champions?

And, with that, did they cheat them out of a new stadium?

Now, there are several reasonable responses I can think of to that, starting with:

  1. Whaaaaaaa?
  2. No. No, we really mustn’t wonder that.
  3. You know that the NFL doesn’t award new stadiums as a result of winning Super Bowls, right? Yes, it’s possible there would have been more support in San Diego for a new stadium if the Chargers had been champions — though how “support” would translate into finding the hundreds of millions of dollars in missing cash for a stadium project, I’m not entirely clear, but whatever — but then this could as reasonably be put as “Did Spygate save San Diegans from being suckered into paying for a new Chargers stadium?”
  4. Aw, man, who told Nick Canepa his computer login password?

The best part of this insane article, though, is Canepa’s followup to his own question:

Maybe, maybe not.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Newspaper sports columnist is the cushiest job ever. So long as you don’t have any qualms about filling space by just writing whatever pops into your head, you’re golden.

New stadiums are falling apart too, nobody’s calling for them to be replaced (yet)

So a bolt fell off the retractable roof of the Indianapolis Colts‘ Lucas Oil Stadium last night and hit a woman in the head. This came just two years after a railing collapsed at the same stadium, and just a little over a week after a piece of concrete fell in a concourse at the Detroit Tigers‘ Comerica Park.

Now, it’s important to understand that this stuff happens, though obviously it’s not ideal. When it happens at older stadiums, though, it’s taken as a sign that they’re dangerously outmoded and in need of replacement — recall both the falling expansion joint incident that helped launch Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for a new Yankees stadium and the falling Wrigley Field concrete that began talk about replacing or renovating the Cubs‘ home field. When it’s a newer stadium, though — Lucas Oil Stadium stadium opened in 2008, and Comerica in 2000 — it’s just an unfortunate mishap.

Of course, given recent trends in stadium lifespans, it’s probably not all that early for the Tigers to start talking about needing another new stadium to replace Comerica. Anybody spotted Mike Ilitch returning a blowtorch and hacksaw?

Your Labor Day weekend reading: Cost to cities of losing teams, and Calgary’s art of the steal

If you’re looking for some light stadium-subsidy reading to make your blood boil over the last weekend of summer, there were a couple of good ones this week, and I don’t say that just because they quote me a lot:

  • Louis Bien at SBNation has a long piece up about the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders threatening to move to L.A., and the cost on those teams’ fan bases. (I’m not honestly sure what the “you care too much” is about in the headline, as it doesn’t seem to have much to do with Bien’s actual article, but whatever.) Included is a long section on the dubious threat to cities’ well-being that team relocations actually pose, with my favorite line coming from Rick Eckstein of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums fame:

Quality of life improvements claimed by the franchise were “a load of crap,” Eckstein wrote to me. He continued: “Los Angeles has been doing just fine without football for the last decade; there has not been a mass exodus from Seattle after the Sonics left; the Long Island suburbs will not go vacant with the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, just as they survived the Nets leaving; Montreal has shown no ill effects after losing the Expos while the Nationals decidedly did NOT put DC ‘on the map.'”

  • Katie Baker in Grantland has an article that does a really cool thing, taking the “Art of the Steal” chapter from Field of Schemes (and subsequent “Art of the Steal Revisited” chapter from the expanded edition) and applying it specifically to the Calgary Flames owners’ arena demands. Best quote in the piece, though it’s not new and wasn’t particularly said about arena demands (it was about hockey lockouts), is from current Flames president Brian Burke when he worked for the Maple Leafs: “My theory is, make the first meeting as short and unpleasant as possible. Sometimes it’s better to just punch the guy in the face.” Not sure if demanding at least $490 million in taxpayer cash while claiming this would be for the public good quite qualifies as a punch in the face, but it’s pretty close!