Bucks exec threatens move to “Vegas or Seattle,” er, that is, NBA would move team, yeah, those guys

Ooooh, he said it!

At an informational hearing held by the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, [Milwaukee Bucks president Peter] Feigin said the Bucks owners’ purchase agreement for the team includes a provision that construction of a new arena start in 2015. If that does not occur, he said the NBA will buy back the team for a $25 million profit and move them to “Las Vegas or Seattle.”…

“The window is closing,” Feigin said. “We can’t wait months, even weeks to start the public process.”

This, of course, has been the threat behind the arena demands of Feigin’s bosses, Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, ever since they bought the team early last year with the provision that the NBA could buy it back and move it if there was no deal in place for a new arena by 2017. (Whether this meant a new arena in place by 2017 or a deal in place by 2017 has been a topic of some debate, though Lasry himself seemed to indicate it was the latter.) But this is, I’m pretty certain, the first time that a Bucks exec has come out and said “Approve this deal now or the NBA shoots this team,” and absolutely the first time that anyone has dared name specific cities, which comes awfully close to a straight-out threat by the owners, even if the NBA is still cast in the role of the big bad.

So how real is the threat? The buyback clause is obviously there for a reason, and Seattle is both a TV market twice Milwaukee’s size and the home of a guy willing to both build a $500 million new arena and pay $625 million, plus relocation fees, for an NBA team to play in it. (Las Vegas is a tiny market, and its main association with the NBA is of an All-Star Game that everyone involved would seemingly rather forget.) That would represent a $50 million profit for the NBA if it bought the team off Lasry and Edens for $575 million (which would in turn be a $25 million profit for Lasry and Edens), and if that’s a crazy amount of money for Chris Hansen to be putting up for a team and arena — or more accurately, for an as-yet-unidentified Steve Ballmer 2.0 to be putting up — that would be Hansen’s problem, not the NBA’s.

On the other hand, this is the same decision that the NBA faced two years ago with the Sacramento Kings, and the league decided then to give Sacramento some more rope to get an arena deal finalized, even though that deal wasn’t any more approved at the time than Milwaukee’s is now. Plus, that was before Chris Hansen was revealed to have secretly funded a petition drive to keep the Kings from getting their Sacramento arena, which undoubtedly didn’t win any friends in NBA offices.

Still, that isn’t going to stop the NBA from using Seattle as a threat, because that’s what it’s there for. As to whether it would go ahead and consummate a deal if its bluff is called by the Wisconsin legislature — that’s a tougher guess, but I’d recommend putting your money on Milwaukee getting at least a couple more drop-dead deadlines if this one doesn’t work.

I went to see a sporting event at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and it wasn’t bad at all

So as part of my vacation last week, I got to attend the Women’s World Cup semifinal in Montreal between the U.S. and Germany, which was kind of a good game. Since the Women’s World Cup isn’t nearly as big of a deal as the Men’s World Cup (because, duh, girls), the tournament isn’t occasioned by the construction of massive new stadiums that nobody will ever use again, but rather is played in whatever stadiums the host nation already has available.

For the U.S.-Germany semifinal, this meant Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the erstwhile Big Owe that helped drive the Expos out of town. I’d been there once before in 2001 for an Expos game, and found it to be a weird place to watch baseball, though mostly because baseball in a cavernous indoor space with only a couple thousand fans is always going to be weird. Since the Expos left, it hasn’t been used for much — Alouettes playoff games, Impact spring games when the weather is too awful to go outside, occasional concerts.

Packed with 50,000 screaming (mostly) USA fans, though, it proved to be a great place to watch soccer. (Albeit soccer on fake turf, but that’s an issue with all the venues for this World Cup.) Olympic Stadium is a “concrete donut” era big oval, which is okay for soccer, and the sightlines seemed fine, though given that we were right behind one goal our sightlines would have been fine regardless:

bigopano

freekickWhat was less fine was the scene outside the stadium when we (and a couple hundred other USA fans) showed up at 2 in the afternoon, two hours before gates opened, hoping to find some souvenirs or food to buy or other cup-related activities to take part in:

outsideoNow, I honestly don’t know whether the near-complete lack of activities (a feeble fanfest finally opened a couple of hours before the game) was because FIFA doesn’t care about women soccer players unless they’re wearing hotpants, because vendors were all busy with the Jazz Fest across town, or because of some traditional Quebecois aversion to providing timely service. But the point is that there was nothing wrong with Olympic Stadium that some better concessions options (and turning over more of the washrooms to women — predictably at a women’s sporting event with half men’s rooms, the women’s room lines were appallingly long) wouldn’t have fixed. Some renovations and a more attentive concessionaire (there were no USA player t-shirts on sale anywhere, which at most stadiums would be enough to get your marketing director fired, then rehired just so that you could fire him again), and Olympic Stadium would still be far from modern, but would be a perfectly okay place to watch a sporting event.

And that’s at a stadium that is perpetually ranked among the worst ever. Consider, then, to what degree bad management and disinterest in upgrading a facility that you want out of anyway contributes to the flaws that are being perpetually trotted out in support of arguments that pretty much any stadium over 15 years old is ready for the junkpile. The fact of the matter is that if the game is fun, it’s going to be fun pretty much anyplace; and if it’s not fun, a ride on a baseball-shaped Ferris wheel can only do so much to save it.

Anyway, soapbox off. Suffice to say that I went to a soccer match at what is rightfully considered one of the worst stadiums ever built, and had a great time. It seems like there should be some kind of lesson in that.

Stadiums can be anchors for related development, say newspapers in search of cheap headlines

You know what I missed while I was away? Having the time to read long, misinformed articles about new stadium projects and how they’re just totally different from those old bad stadium projects of a couple of decades ago. Got anything like that for me, Google News?

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.

The article in question is from the Tampa Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell, and argues that this newfangled stadium-plus-other-development model being used by teams like the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings (or “Redwings,” as he calls them) could be used by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium as well. It ignores the fact that these stadium-plus projects aren’t especially new, going back well over a decade (the St. Louis Cardinals‘ “ballpark village” was one of the earlier ones, but I’m sure I’m forgetting others), and mostly ignores, aside from a comment by stadium architecture consultant Philip Bess (who O’Donnell calls “Phillip” — fired all the copy editors, did you, Tampa Tribune?), the problem that if development around a stadium were profitable enough to pay off a stadium, teams would be able to pursue this strategy without public subsidies. Not to mention that if stadium-related development is profitable it could be pursued without the money suck of a new stadium attached, that it could just end up displacing development that otherwise would have taken place somewhere else in town, that development around stadiums has typically appeared years late when it shows up at all, etc., etc.

Anyway, good to see that these articles still pop up every once in a while for me to throw rocks at, and — whoa there!

The new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, to be completed a year from now, is helping draw nearby office towers, upscale housing and other developments, according to its supporters.

Guys! One article at a time, please! I’m still getting back up to speed here.

Newspaper calls Raiders stadium plan “worst ever” because NFL’s paid stadium consultant says so

Matthew Artz of the San Jose Mercury News revealed some of the details of Floyd Kephart’s Oakland Raiders officially secret stadium plan on Saturday (full plan is here), and immediately turned to stadium experts to evaluate how good a deal it is. Well, one stadium expert. Actually, Marc Ganis, a paid consultant for the NFL who immediately declared Kephart’s plan to be “the worst stadium proposal I’ve seen … by far” — because the Raiders owners wouldn’t get many public subsidies:

The proposed $900 million, 55,000-seat facility adjacent to the O.co Coliseum would be financed entirely by the Raiders, the NFL and future stadium revenues. The Raiders would have to dip into sponsorship revenue and naming rights fees to help repay $300 million in loans needed to offset an estimated funding gap.

And, other than parking garages, the stadium would get no subsidy from the surrounding “live-work-play” technology campus Kephart plans to build on the rest of the sprawling Coliseum complex. The plan includes 4,000 homes, a shopping center, 400 hotel rooms and several office buildings.

“I can’t think of any sports team owner that would take a proposal like this even remotely seriously,” Ganis said, noting that San Diego has proposed a major public subsidy for a new Chargers football stadium. “It’s so one-sided and so bad, that it’s almost as if local leaders are saying ‘we can’t really do anything, so go ahead and leave.’ “

Finally, toward the end of the article, Artz gets around to explaining the Kephart proposal, which is this:

  • The Raiders would pay for a $900 million stadium via $200 million from personal seat license sales, $200 million in NFL G-4 funding, $100 million in cash, $300 million borrowed (from somewhere, paid back somehow, possibly from naming rights and other revenues), and $100 million from the sale of 20% of the team to Kephart for $200 million.
  • Kephart would buy 90 acres of the Coliseum site from the city and county for $116 million, then develop it into apartments, shopping, a hotel, and office buildings.
  • The city and county would spend about $80 million of that on new parking garages, while paying off $100 million in remaining Coliseum debt from … somewhere.
  • $100 million in infrastructure improvements would come from “grants.”
  • The A’s would have space (somewhere) reserved to build a new stadium until 2019.

Admittedly, that’s a pretty bad deal for the Raiders, though not an awful lot worse than the team’s one in Carson, which would likewise require the team to pay for the stadium with its own revenues. (The upside of Carson would mostly be that things like naming rights should bring in somewhat more money in the larger L.A. market.) It would also potentially be a bad deal for Oakland, which would sell 90 acres of land for only a little over $1 million an acre, which Newballpark.org notes is “ridiculously cheap” given how much other nearby parcels have gone for. In fact, the only clear beneficiary of Kephart’s plan would be, let’s see, who would end up with all the proceeds from development on land that he got a dirt-cheap price … oh, right, Kephart!

The real question here is why Oakland and Alameda County thought that a private developer could somehow come up with a way to turn a project with more than $1 billion in costs and nowhere near that much in potential new revenues into a win-win for all concerned, via elfin magic or something. Mayor Libby Schaaf’s whole “have the Raiders and A’s submit bids for the Coliseum site and take whichever one is more” plan is looking better and better.

If I miss any stadium news, please slip it under my door for when I get home

Almost forgot to mention that I’m heading out of town, um, about twelve hours ago, and will remain on my travels for the rest of this week. I still have internet connectivity (obviously), so I’ll still be chiming in on the most important issues of the day when possible. But if I go a couple of days without reporting on the latest twists and turns in your favorite lawsuit, say, don’t worry, we’ll all catch up when I return.

In the meantime, feel free to consider this an open thread for comments on news that I haven’t gotten to yet. Regular programming will return July 6.

NHL to take expansion bids from Vegas, Quebec, Seattle, etc. because MONEYYYYYY

The NHL is taking bids on expansion franchises starting July 6, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to expand, but does mean it’s testing the waters. And given the price tag, it’s easy to see why:

That’s kind of aggressive, considering that Forbes estimates the average NHL team to be worth $490 million, and given the markets we’d be talking about here (more on that in a minute), these teams would be below average. But then, the magazine’s team value figures always seem to lag a bit behind actual sale prices — as Forbes notes, there’s a bit of a bubble thanks to the fact that “Wall Street guys like Joshua Harris (New Jersey Devils) and Andrew Barroway (trying to buy a controlling interest in the Arizona Coyotes) are willing to pay a lot of money for hockey teams that lose money.” (It also doesn’t hurt that they can get huge tax breaks on their purchase price.)

The next question, obviously, is where, and everybody from Deadspin to the New York Times is assuming that one of the cities will be Las Vegas. This seems pretty daft from here — Las Vegas would be the second-smallest NHL TV market (ahead of only Buffalo), it’s in the middle of the Sun Belt where hockey franchises go to die, and it has a relatively poor permanent population. (A proposed Vegas team has managed to get $150 deposits on 11,500 season tickets, though those are refundable if there’s no team starting in 2016.) But it does have a new arena going up, and those things are guaranteed gold mines, right?

If Vegas were one team, the other would likely be either Quebec (where telecom giant Quebecor is almost certain to throw its hat in the ring) or Seattle (which has interest but still no solid NHL arena plan). Quebec would actually be the smallest media market in the NHL (smaller than Flint, Michigan!), but it’s in Canada, so maybe that compensates? Also, new arena!

If nothing else, all this means that Glendale should probably feel relatively secure in playing hardball with the Coyotes owners over their lease, since the NHL is unlikely to encourage the team to move to a new city if that would jeopardize a half-billion dollars in expansion fees. And with that, let’s go look as some photos of the under-construction Las Vegas arena:

Yeah, that, um, looks like an arena. With two levels of luxury suites, which I guess is standard these days, but makes for just awful views from the top deck. But hey, not like anyone’s likely to be sitting up there anyway, amirite?

Sacramento says giving parking, billboards to Kings cost nothing, because they were just lying around

Testimony has begun in the Sacramento Kings arena hidden-subsidies lawsuit, and we’re already deep into “it depends on what ‘is’ is” territory:

[State assemblymember Kevin] McCarty said he felt the city should have told the public more about the dollar value of two other elements of that deal – several thousand underground parking spots the city agreed to let the Kings operate, and the right to build six billboards on city property…

[Assistant City Manager John] Dangberg said the city did not assign a value to those assets because, even if they are of value to the Kings, giving them away did not cost the city any money. He did acknowledge a potential “opportunity cost” on future revenues for the signboards.

Needless to say, Dangberg’s argument is what economists call “stupid” — there are any number of assets that a city could give away that don’t cost money yet that have significant value (unused land, taxes on projects that haven’t been built yet, the right to sell advertising space on the mayor’s suit jacket). Eye on Sacramento previously estimated the present value of the parking at $57.8 million, and the billboards at $18 million.

The court won’t be determining whether the city included hidden subsidies, though, but rather whether it committed fraud in doing so, which is a stickier legal wicket. In the court of public opinion, however, we are free to issue a verdict of liar, liar, pants on fire.

Missouri won’t disclose possible illegal Rams spending on grounds it’s getting sued for illegal Rams spending

What did St. Louis, which already has more Rams stadium lawsuits than anyone can keep track of, need most? Why, another lawsuit, of course:

The suit says the Dome authority is “attempting to avoid disclosure of records that would indicate the nature of planned public expenditures for a new football stadium,” and asks the court to force the Dome to hand them over.

The backstory, as explained in the above-linked St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: law professor John Ammann and former state rep Jeanette Mott Oxford, who are already suing over a bunch of other things around the proposed Rams deal, got curious as to whether the state-run dome authority was illegally spending money on a new stadium plan without a public vote. So they filed a public records request for all communications surrounding the stadium plan.

At which point the dome authority said it couldn’t turn any of them over because of — you can’t make this stuff up — “pending litigation,” citing one of the other suits it’s facing, this one from several state legislators, over illegally spending money on a Rams stadium. And promptly got sued again, this time by Ammann and Oxford. It’s not quite the classic definition of chutzpah, but it’s close.

 

Angels exec: We don’t care about poor fans, because they don’t buy enough hot dogs

You know how often we will talk here about how the modern sports industry is all about selling tickets to rich folks, because that’s where the money is? Meet Los Angeles Angels vice president of marketing and ticket sales Robert Alvarado, who is not afraid to admit that not only does he target deep-pocketed fans, but really he’d just as soon fans without a lot of spending money stay the hell home:

“The conventional wisdom would tell you, ‘Let’s get the bodies in here, because they’re still gonna be spending money on parking, hot dogs, souvenirs, all that stuff.’ But we have not seen that in the past. Drawing in a discount buyer, they aren’t necessarily flipping and buying stuff here.”…

“We may not be reaching as many of the people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, but those people, they may enjoy the game, but they pay less, and we’re not seeing the conversion on the per-caps,” Alvarado said. “In doing so, the ticket price that we’re offering those people, it’s not like I can segregate them, because I’m offering it up to the public, and I’m basically downselling everybody else in order to accommodate them.”

The OC Weekly seems to think that by “segregate” Alvarado means setting up a special poor-only section at the ballpark; I think he actually was complaining that if you offer tickets at a price regular people can afford, then the upper crust will buy them at that price too, and you’re leaving money on the table that you could have effectively extracted from rich folks’ wallets. So better to charge everybody a ton for tickets, and if the “people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder” don’t show up, that’s okay, because the people with money buy more hot dogs.

That’s really no different than teams wanting smaller stadiums so that they can sell fewer tickets at higher prices, but it’s said a bit more bald-facedly. So thank you, Robert Alvarado, for explaining the modern sports industry in simple English. Even if it might not win you many friends among Angels fans who can’t afford as many $4.50 hot dogs.

[UPDATE: Alvarado just resigned. Honesty gets you nowhere these days.]

In America, we build things then tear them down then get sad about the ruins

It’s stadium demolition porn day at Deadspin, with photos of the ruins of Candlestick Park and a link to not-actually-all-that-new-but-still-cool photos of the ruins of the Pontiac Silverdome. They are sad and oddly beautiful.

Since we’re on the subject, one piece of the stadium debate that seldom comes up is that of waste. Not waste of money — that comes up all the time, of course — but waste of resources, of labor power, or energy, of carbon footprint, of all the stuff that you use more of by tearing down an existing building and erecting a new one. Not that nobody should ever build anything — and I’ll happily admit that the San Francisco Giants‘ new stadium is an awful lot nicer than the ‘Stick, for example — but there’s a predisposition in American political culture in particular to think of new development only for the jobs and economic activity it creates, without wondering if constantly building structures and then tearing them down again is the most efficient way to run a society.

Anyway, lookit the pretty pictures, but allow yourself a moment to think about the cost of constant upgrades to people’s sports experience, when it even can be considered an upgrade. Had your moment yet? Okay, we’re done.