Become a Field of Schemes Supporter to help keep the stadium news flowing, this is how journalism works now

Hey, FoS readers, it’s that time again — the one (or two per year, tops) where I ask you to become a Field of Schemes Supporter so that I can continue to devote time to this website every day. I’ve considered switching to a Patreon or setting up a members-only newsletter like all the kids are doing these days, but for now I’m sticking with the tried-and-true membership system for a couple of reasons: One, you all seem to like it well enough, and two, I want all the information here reaching the widest possible audience, not reserved for a special few.

As for you special few who help make this site possible for the others to freeload on, you do get some exclusive rewards. First off, refrigerator magnets!

If you’re thinking, “Big deal, I already got two of these the last time I donated,” understand that there are three more variations that your fridge is currently bereft of, and they will wing their way to you upon receipt of your donation, whether Mini-Supporter or regular Supporter size. Make your kitchen the envy of other kitchens!

Second, as always, full Supporters get to place an ad of their choice in the top-right banner space on every page of this site. If you don’t have an ad but have an idea for an ad, I’ll help design one; if you don’t have anything to advertise but want to promote a worthy cause, that’s fine too.

And finally, you will get my heartfelt thanks, and, I hope, the heartfelt thanks of all those who read this site and can’t or don’t choose to donate. I continue to be amazed at how many people value the news and analysis on offer here, more than two decades after this site started, and there is absolutely no way I would have been able to keep it going without your financial support. To all present, past, and future supporters: You are the best, and you can tell your friends that I said so.

Thanks, and donate early and donate often!

Neil


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Friday roundup: Team owners rework tax bills and leases, Twins CEO claims team is winning (?) thanks to new stadium, and other privileges of the very rich

Tons more stadium and arena news to get to this week, so let’s dive right in without preamble:

Pimlico upgrade money would come from Maryland schools budget, why wasn’t this the headline in the first place?

Finally, there’s an answer to the burning question of whether the casino tax money that the owners of Pimlico racetrack want to use to pay for renovations would come from additional casino taxes or money diverted from education funding. It’s hidden halfway down through a followup article in the Baltimore Sun, but there it is:

Under current law, when the 16-year window ends, the casinos would keep paying the money, but it would go to the state’s Education Trust Fund.

Supporters of the plan say they aren’t worried about diverting money to the tracks that otherwise would go to education.

“There are any number of significant policy issues a state has to wrestle with. Education is among them,” Rifkin said. He noted the plan has support from Baltimore’s mayor and county executives in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, who are all pushing for more money for schools.

Well, that’s just splendid! The state of Maryland is looking at shifting $375 million from future schools funding to subsidizing horse racing tracks, but you know, it’s a big state and there are a lot of things to be funded, so why worry about what money is exactly being siphoned off from where?

Sean Johnson, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Education Association, did say that he’s “confident there’s enough space to accomplish both our goals on fully funding our schools and the General Assembly’s goals on any number of things,” which implies that he’s maybe been promised the state legislature will backfill the lost casino tax revenue somehow. (Or else he’s just very, very bad at his job of trying to ensure that state money is spent on education.) But even if the money will be replaced from somewhere else, it still has to come from somewhere — and it’s either going to be a new tax or reduced spending on something else, because those are the only two ways that budgets work.

This is something you might think would be important to call out for Sun readers, but instead it comes up in paragraph #16 of an article titled “Before deal to keep Preakness in Baltimore reaches finish line, it will face jostling in the General Assembly.” Because why mention anything about schools funding when there’s a racing metaphor to be had! Clearly that plan of laying off newsroom staff to pay for the cost of their colleagues being murdered is working out just great for the Sun.

Baltimore Sun: Pimlico to receive $200m in upgrades, funded by elfen magic

The city of Baltimore and the owner of Pimlico race track have reached agreement on a deal to keep the Preakness in town, and the Baltimore Sun has all the details! You just have to, you know, search for them a bit:

The Stronach Group has pledged to donate the land to the city or an entity created by the city for development in and around the track. Pimlico’s antiquated grandstand and clubhouse would be demolished. A new clubhouse would be built and the track rotated 30 degrees to the northeast to create nine parcels of land that could be sold for private development.

That’s a whole lot of passive voice — who, exactly, would be building all this new stuff, and who would be selling land for private development? Let’s keep going and see:

In all, Pimlico would receive $199.5 million as part of the project.

From … somebody! No help there.

Crucial to the plan is convincing lawmakers to extend the life of a subsidy for the tracks called the Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account. The state’s casinos each pay a certain percentage of their slot machine profits into the fund, which is used for upgrades at the tracks.

Backers of this new Pimlico and Laurel proposal want to use that money to help pay off $348 million worth of bonds, to be issued by the stadium authority, that would finance most of the $375.5 million redevelopment.

Now we’re getting somewhere, down in paragraph #11. The state casino tax, it turns out, has been going to that Racetrack Facilities Renewal fund, which provides matching funds for upgrades at Maryland racetracks; so far, Pimlico’s owners have mostly been spending the cash on Laurel Park, another track they own. And the tax runs out in 2032, so the state would have to extend it for another 17 years to use it to pay off 30-year bonds to upgrade Pimlico.

Maryland’s casinos also pay taxes to fund education in the state, though the take is less than what was projected and too often lawmakers just use it as an excuse to grab other education funds and redirect them elsewhere, something that Maryland legislators have tried to remedy by setting up a lockbox for education funds. Would extending the racetrack tax cut into education funding, or would it be an additional tax on top of that? The 2,000-word Sun article that took two people to write doesn’t address this.

(There would also be a 30-year lease by Stronach on the racetrack, with the track owners paying a reported $8 million to $10 million a year toward new luxury suites, and if you’re hoping to learn from the Sun whether that’s part of the $199.5 million in reconstruction money or on top of it, don’t hold your breath.)

In short, this looks like it’s probably very bad economic policy — even the racetrack’s owners say it wouldn’t make sense to pour a ton of money into something that hosts just 12 racing days a year, and horse racing overall is plummeting in popularity — but it’s undoubtedly truly terrible journalism, intended to parrot the line being put across by local politicians rather than explain what it would actually mean for the Sun’s readers. Fortunately, Baltimore has another newspaper option, and … what’s that you say, the Sun bought it and then shut it down? Never mind, then.

Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

A’s, Rays celebrate Wild Card game with dueling move threats by proxy

The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays faced off in the American League Wild Card game last night, before a sold-out crowd at Oakland Coliseum who paid an average of $129 for tickets on the resale market. One might think this would make it harder for the teams’ owners to claim that they’re doomed to failure on and off the field without the new stadiums they’re seeking — which means it’s time to pull out everybody’s favorite entry in the stadium-grubbers’ playbook, the oblique move threat:

Now, you will notice that neither of these threats came explicitly from the teams’ owners: A’s president and de facto stadium campaign spokesperson Dave Kaval limited himself to saying he was “surprised” by the city lawsuit, while leaving the heavy threatmongering to Manfred. And Sternberg insisted that he wasn’t the one who revealed that he bought Wild Card game tickets for Bronfman (they wouldn’t be sitting together, he said), but rather a member of Bronfman’s executive team who tweeted about it.

Still, sports team owners have a long track record of levying move threats by proxy, since it allows them all the leverage benefits while avoiding the nasty bits about being burned in effigy by outraged fans. It’s particularly unlikely that Manfred would be dropping threats in interviews without the explicit permission of A’s ownership, since the 30 MLB owners pay his salary; as for Bronfman, it’s possible that Sternberg said, “Here’s some tickets, now keep it under your hat that I paid for them, it would look really bad if people thought I did this just to rattle sabers about moving to Montreal during my team’s first postseason appearance in six years” and someone in Bronfman’s crew got Twitter-happy and ignored this, but somehow that doesn’t seem the most likely scenario.

Anyway, the Rays drove the A’s out of the playoffs with a pile of home runs, which means now we’ll get to see how attendance at Tampa Bay’s much-maligned stadium looks for games that really matter. Tickets for the A.L. Division Series vs. the Houston Astros go on sale today at 4 pm, and I for one will be as glued to the SeatGeek resale prices as to the start of the N.L. Division Series that’s happening at the same time.

Unnamed “backers” want Islanders arena to lead to redeveloping Aqueduct with casinos and other crap

The New York Islanders‘ new arena at Belmont Park — or The Stable, as some people on Twitter are already trying to get you to call it, which must make the people in charge of selling its official naming rights just thrilled beyond belief — won’t open until 2021 at the earliest even if it survives its multiple legal challenges, but that doesn’t mean its too soon to start planning how it will become the linchpin of a massive strategy to close Aqueduct Racetrack to horse racing and build new casinos and maybe other development there. Allow Newsday to explain:

Redevelopment backers have a grand vision of Belmont becoming a “sports destination” that goes like this:

• Consolidate downstate horse racing by ending it at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, and moving all racing to Belmont. Then promote Belmont as a destination with hockey, horses, hotels and shopping.

• Authorize three new downstate casinos by 2023, or sooner.

• Allow Aqueduct, which already rakes in money from thousands of video slot machines, to become a full-fledged casino, and maybe do the same for Yonkers Raceway.

• Consider selling to developers the acreage at the sprawling Aqueduct facility that won’t be part of a casino. The state owns the land and the horse racing business is just a tenant.

All of which makes some sense, even if the only “redevelopment backer” actually named is the Long Island Association, a business lobbying group: Horse racing isn’t exactly a thriving pastime, and Aqueduct is potentially valuable property, though whether state-run casinos are really the best use of it is extremely arguable.

More to the point, though: What does any of this have to do with a new arena at Belmont? I am far from an expert on horse racing (I owned a horse racing board game at around age 10, I recall), but it seems to me that if Aqueduct and Belmont’s racing schedules can be merged effectively, that can happen with or without a hockey arena next door. The new train station that the Islanders’ developer group is helping to pay for but absolutely not paying for without taxpayer money should help, sure, but is it really vital to the plans, or just a way for these Aqueduct redevelopment advocates, whoever they are, to get the attention of Newsday?

And speaking of which, how did this article end up in Newsday anyway, given that it seems to be just the grand vision of one business-lobby spokesperson accompanied by a bunch of reaction quotes from local elected officials? There’s definitely something happening here, but what it is and who’s pushing it still ain’t exactly clear.

Friday roundup: Lots more fans showing up disguised as empty seats

Is public financing of sports venues worth it? If you’ve been noticing a bit of a dip in the frequency of posts on this site over the past few months, it’s not your imagination: I had a contract job as a fill-in news editor that was taking up a lot of my otherwise FoS-focused mornings. That job has run its course now, which should make it a bit easier to keep up with stadium and arena news on a daily basis going forward, instead of leaving much of it to week-ending wrapups.

That said, you all do seem to love your week-ending wrapups, so here’s one now:

Friday roundup: Lotsa soccer news, and oh yeah, saving the world

Happy global climate strike day! As kids (and their adults) take to the streets today, it’s important to keep in mind two not-contradictory-though-they-may-seem-so things: We are seriously screwed even if we act now, but there’s still a lot we can do to keep ourselves from being even more seriously screwed. (And by “we” here I mostly mean governments, because it’s almost impossible for individuals alone to significantly impact carbon emissions just by shutting off lights and avoiding air travel, not that those aren’t important things to do, too.)

Anyway, enough about the fate of humanity, let’s talk about sports venues (and not even about the carbon footprints of building new ones and flying teams from city to city, which would be a whole other article):

Friday roundup: New sports venues, new sports venue threats, and our dwindling journalistic resources

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko is a national treasure whether he’s writing about sports or movies or punctuation, and his takedown this week of a Fivethirtyeight article that asserts there are too many minor-league baseball teams is very much no exception. Drop whatever you’re doing — which is reading this post, so okay, drop whatever you were going to do after that — and read it now, whether you care about the purpose of sports as entertainment or the role of the media in management-labor relations or the increasing propensity to reduce human beings to measures of technocratic efficiency. With the demise of the alt-weeklies, there are fewer and fewer outlets eager to combine tenacious reporting and big-picture analysis and engaging writing toward the end of helping us understand the world we live in beyond “here are some potentially viral things that happened today,” so we need to cherish those that remain while we can.

And with that, here are some potentially viral (in the not especially infectious sense) things that happened this week: