Latest Texas Rangers’ stadium renderings don’t like geometry any more than last batch

The Texas Rangers released their latest round of vaportecture renderings yesterday, and their new taxpayer-funded building will apparently feature a retractable roof and oh so many power chords. I can’t figure out how to embed the video that the Rangers put together, but please click here to enjoy it on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s site. Then once you’re done with that, let’s spend some quality time with this particular rendering:

Several things about this:

  • Yup, it still looks an awful lot like the Houston Astros‘ stadium.
  • Whoever drew it either thinks stadiums are best viewed through a fish-eye lens or has some funny ideas about stadium geometry. Or maybe thinks the Rangers actually play pesäpallo?
  • For an image supposedly meant to illustrate how close fans will get to the game, “specifically in the upper deck,” this actually shows anything but: The players are tiny flyspecks from this vantage point, which if you look carefully is actually the middle deck — there are two more decks even farther from the action, which are both set back immensely far horizontally from the field and also cast up into the rafters by a big glass wall of luxury suites or restaurants or car dealerships or something.
  • The three levels of seating in left field unreachable by any human means have now been reduced to only one level suspended in midair. Improvement, I guess?
  • Somebody has just gotten their 3000th hit as a member of the Rangers, it looks like. Adrian Beltre already cleared that milestone, so it looks like next in line on the team roster is … Shin-Soo Choo, who is a mere 1656 hits away and on pace to reach 3000 at age 50, in 2033. No wonder beefy-arm dude is so excited!

I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on HKS architects’ illustrators, though. After all, it’s notoriously hard to draw air-conditioning.

This week in boondoggle vivisection: audio edition!

Thanks to my recent Deadspin article on how Seattle may be showing the way to negotiating better sports deals (something Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat agrees with me on, for what it’s worth), as well as all the other stadium and arena news that’s suddenly been exploding, I’ve been on the radio — or podcasts, which I’m going to persist in calling “radio” even if actual radio waves aren’t involved, because who listens to the radio on the radio anymore anyway? — a lot the last week or so. Handy links for those who’d rather get their stadium commentary via their earholes:

This week in boondoggle vivisection: Plenty of good seats available in SF, Cleveland, Ottawa

We’ll get to the weekly news roundup in a minute, but first, I need to mention this editorial from yesterday’s Globe and Mail, which makes several eminently reasonable points about how Calgary shouldn’t capitulate to the Flames owners’ extortion attempts for arena cash (“using past bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions does not qualify as logic,” “arena financing is a hamster wheel, and here is an opportunity to jump off”), and then says this:

Everyone involved should take note of a remark this week by Neil deMause, renowned stadium boondoggle vivisectionist and creator of the fieldofschemes.com website: “The number of mayors who’ve been voted out of office for standing up to sports team subsidy demands remains zero.”

That’s right, I am a major-newspaper-certified renowned boondoggle vivisectionist, y’all. Clearly it’s time to order some new business cards.

Okay, the rest of the week’s news:

  • The Los Angeles Rams aren’t the only California team having trouble getting fans to turn out for games in the September heat: The San Francisco 49ers are seeing so many empty seats on the sunny side of their stadium that they’ve hired architects to see if it’d be possible to add a sun shade. One problem: The stadium can’t get any taller, as it’s in the flight path of San Jose’s airport. Until then, the 49ers are handing out free water bottles and sunscreen to fans on the hot side of the stadium, which is nice and all, but probably isn’t what you want for your big marketing push. This once again points up how smart the 49ers management was to stick fans with PSLs before the team got lousy and people noticed how crappy the new stadium was for actually watching football in.
  • And speaking of empty seats, the Cleveland Indians won their American League–record 22nd straight game yesterday, but they still can’t sell out their ballpark, which not that long ago saw a record sellout streak of 455 straight games. Indians GM Mike Chernoff blamed Cleveland’s small size, the start of the school year, and “weekdays,” three things that apparently didn’t exist in the ’90s. At least he didn’t blame the 23-year-old stadium or demand upgrades as a solution — yet, anyway.
  • And also speaking of empty seats, the Ottawa Senators have begun tarping over part of their upper deck for every game, because they can’t sell tickets there. The Senators owner is already blaming his 21-year-old arena for that one (apparently the last owner built it in the wrong place), so team president Tom Anselmi was left to say: “We just need more of us to come to more games more often.” Can’t argue with that!
  • And also also speaking of empty seats, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have only sold about 5% of available tickets so far to actual fans (ticket brokers have bought up another 18%), with less than five months to go before the games start. If you’re looking to snap up a bargain to watch curling, though, be forewarned: Not all the new hotels planned for the Olympics are finished yet.
  • And speaking of seats that a team hopes won’t be empty, the Oakland A’s will be letting in fans for free to a game next April against the White Sox. Make jokes all you want about how dismal an A’s-White Sox matchup will be, it’s still free baseball, and you never know what you might see that you’ve never seen before.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman declared that that the scaled-down Nassau Coliseum is “not a viable option” for the New York Islanders, two weeks before the team is set to present plans to Nassau County for a new arena near Belmont Park. A total coincidence, I’m sure.
  • The Rhode Island state senate started hearings on a new Pawtucket Red Sox proposal yesterday, with the team owners and their allies noting that “the team’s 54-percent share of stadium costs is the highest portion of private investment in 14 AA and AAA ballparks built over the last decade,” according to the Providence Journal. What was that someone was just saying about using bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions?
  • Deadspin’s Drew Magary has come up with a new nickname for the Atlanta Falcons‘ new iris-roofed stadium: Megatron’s Butthole. Drew Magary needs to be put in charge of all stadium nicknames, starting immediately.

CA legislators reject fast-track bill for Clippers, Olympics, call it “billionaire justice”

The plan to fast-track any environmental lawsuits over any new arena for the Los Angeles Clippers (or transit projects for the 2028 Olympics) got off to a dud of a start last week, as the state legislature did not advance out of committee a bill that would have greased the skids for those projects:

Legislators on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee expressed concerns about giving well-heeled developers special treatment, and the bill failed to get enough votes to advance.

“There’s been a lot of angst as far as big CEQA exemptions for projects with individuals with tremendous means, billionaire justice, whatever you want to call it,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).

Read further in the Los Angeles Times article, and you start to see maybe why the bill had such rough sledding: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti opposed the Olympics provision as unnecessary, and AEG, owner of the Staples Center, opposed the Clippers clause as, well, helping their rivals and current tenants, and we can’t have any of that. The last time we saw two sports giants go up against each other was when the New York Jets and Cablevision, owners of the Knicks and Rangers, went toe-to-toe over a new football stadium in Manhattan. Cablevision ultimately prevailed and the project was killed; it’s way too soon to tell if AEG will pull off something similar over the Clippers arena, but expect an awful lot of lobbying money to be spilled in the interim.

Rams to charge record PSL price, Cavs arena subsidy moves ahead, and other news of the week

It’s Friday again, so let’s go spanning the world:

  • The Los Angeles Rams are considering charging a top personal seat license price of as much as $225,000, just for the right to then buy season tickets for $350-400 per game. This seems like a bit of a reach when the payoff is just that you get to watch Rams games, but I guess Stan Kroenke needs to try to recoup his $2 billion in stadium costs somehow — and at least if it all goes south, he’ll be the one on the hook, not taxpayers.
  • Some Canadian bank bought the naming rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs arena away from some Canadian airline. Is this going to buy it valuable market exposure and name recognition that will justify the $40 million a year expense? Not on this blog!
  • The LED lights at the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium make football look all weird.
  • Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler says spending $30 million on an arena for a minor-league basketball team is a great idea that only “naysayers” don’t appreciate. “I think sometimes we don’t believe in ourselves and some of our urban areas we don’t believe that we are able to make things happen,” she says. If Mayor Tyler needs a reelection campaign theme song, I have a suggestion.
  • “The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that the Oakland Raiders‘ proposed stadium in Las Vegas would not be a hazard to aircraft.” Huzzah!
  • Would-be St. Louis MLS owner Paul Edgerley says he’s still ready to pay $150 million for a franchise, and $100 million toward a stadium, as soon as someone comes up with the other $60 million in construction costs. Noted.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has officially reinstated his plan to do $140 million of renovation work to the team’s arena, with Cuyahoga County paying for half the cost. ”This is corporate welfare at its worst,” said Steve Holecko of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, after his erstwhile coalition partners the Greater Cleveland Congregations withdrew petitions against the arena subsidy after getting a promise of two mental health crisis centers from the county. Holecko’s group doesn’t plan to mount another ballot challenge on their own, though, so construction work is set to begin later this month.
  • Mikhail Prokhorov is ready to sell the Brooklyn Nets, but will hold onto the Barclays Center, after renegotiating the team’s lease so that it will pay less rent to the arena. This … does not seem like the smartest way of going about things, but maybe Prokhorov is figuring he’ll give up future rent revenue in exchange for a higher sale price now on the team? Or maybe he’s just not very smart.

Louisville refinances arena debt, hopes magic TIF beans work out better this time

As noted briefly last month, Louisville is in the process of refinancing its debt on the KFC Yum! Center, which has been hemorrhaging city money since it was built for the University of Louisville in 2010. Now the numbers are in on how much the city will save in annual debt payments, and it turns out it’ll be paying … wait, more?

Even after refinancing a burdensome debt load, the Louisville Arena Authority would pay more per year to retire new bonds for the KFC Yum! Center than under its current plan, according to a WDRB News analysis of documents made public last week.

Arena officials would be on the hook for annual payments averaging $29.3 million through 2045, compared with $25.8 million under current obligations that end in 2042.

What’s actually going on here is simple: In exchange for lots of big payments soon, Louisville has pushed back a bunch of its payments to 2030 and later, by which time surely that whole “wait for tax receipts from new development around the arena to soar” plan will be working out great! Or, at the very least, the people currently running Louisville will be long since retired. It’s a win-win!

(Tl;dr version: Tax increment financing is for suckers.)

Friday roundup: Everybody still has lots of dumb stadium ideas, sun keeps rising in east

And aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers arena subsidy returning from the dead, Mrs. Lincoln, here’s how some of the rest of the week in stadium and arena news went:

  • Chicago is looking at closing some streets to accommodate DePaul University’s new city-subsidized basketball arena, because of course they are.
  • The new arena for the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will have a Kid Rock-themed restaurant, because of course it will.
  • San Diego mayor Kevin Falconer wants to build a professional lacrosse stadium, even though the owners of the city’s newly created lacrosse franchise say they don’t need one, because of course he does.
  • Rhode Island state senate president Dominick Ruggerio says he hopes the state legislature will vote on $38 million in public funding for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium in November, despite not believing the team has a viable threat to move to Worcester if it doesn’t get what it wants, because “You know what, we’ll get criticized for anything.” And you know, he’s got a point: No matter what elected officials do, there’s somebody somewhere who won’t like it, so might as well do whatever they want, right?
  • The Las Vegas Raiders’ stadium construction could be delayed because nobody realized until now that they needed Army Corps of Engineers approval to remove a flood culvert. (The Raiders have agreed to pay the $1 million cost, at least.)
  • Dave Zirin at The Nation has examined how Joel Osteen’s dithering over whether to let Hurricane Harvey evacuees into his megachurch has its roots in the Houston subsidy deal that turned the Rockets‘ old arena into the church in the first place, and I put in a cameo to note that while littering the landscape with redundant current and former sports venues is one way to create a lot of hurricane shelters, it’s probably not a very cost-effective one.
  • Wells Fargo released a report that “real stadium construction spending” on new sports facilities has “climbed 80 percent over the past five years” to $10 billion per … something. And are they counting money committed, or actual construction money spent, and does this count both private and public funds? I guess we should cut Wells Fargo some slack, they have a lot on their minds these days.

Cavs subsidy foes scrap petitions, say “never mind, if we get crisis centers it’s all good”

In an unfathomable series of plot twists yesterday in the Cleveland Cavaliers $70 million glass-wall subsidy saga, this happened:

  • Cleveland city council president Kevin Kelley called for an investigation into primary subsidy foes Greater Cleveland Congregations, on the grounds that GCC … got funding from outside the city, I guess? Which wouldn’t be illegal or anything, but would be bad, because damn meddling out-of-towners?
  • Cavs owner Dan Gilbert tweeted that contrary to what a county lawyer had threatened, “I will never move the Cleveland Cavaliers out of Cleveland. Period. And that’s unconditional.”
  • Four of the five GCC members who’d filed the petitions for a public referendum on the Cavs subsidy deal — which is what had led Gilbert to pull out of the plan — wrote to Cleveland City Council Clerk Pat Britt that they were withdrawing the petitions. In exchange, Cuyahoga County — not Gilbert — had promised to build two mental health and substance abuse crisis centers that the GCC had been seeking.
  • Cavs CEO Len Komoroski declared that the arena renovation deal was back on the table, and that “we are very encouraged by this new development related to the private-public partnership plan to transform The Q for the long term.”

As the Cleveland Scene makes clear in its analysis of the crazy day, what happened here is that the county responded to Gilbert calling an end to the arena renovation plan by contacting GCC and asking if there was anything they could do to get the referendum campaign withdrawn. GCC’s price, it turned out, was the two crisis centers, which will cost the county an estimated $10 million to build, and $2.8 million a year combined to run. Once the county agreed to that — though it doesn’t appear that there’s actually anything more than a handshake agreement — GCC agreed to scrap the entire petition drive.

Of course, GCC was actually part of a broader coalition that had put together the referendum campaign — though GCC had been the ones to file it, so they could withdraw it unilaterally. And as the Scene makes clear, those coalition partners are now pissed:

GCC had been vilified as scheming extortionists by the pro-deal side and will now be vilified as sell-outs by their opposition allies. Members of other opposition groups, like the SEIU and the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, are dismayed, if not furious. Some feel betrayed, sold out.

One activist told Scene that they spent hours collecting signatures for the referendum in order to “kill the deal, not help GCC make a deal.” The county’s commitment to investigating the costs of crisis centers — itself a tiny fraction of what GCC initially hoped to attain — is in any event considered to be vastly less important than the victory for democracy that has been short-circuited.

(Cutting a deal with your opponents without even telling your coalition partners, incidentally, is what really should be known in the community-benefits game as a “Bertha Lewis move.”)

If this is how the Cleveland arena battle ends, and it could well be, it’s a truly incredible result — and one that drives home my longstanding worry about “community benefits agreements”: It makes it relatively easy for a team owner (or, in this case, a local government) to neutralize public concern over a subsidy deal by buying off whatever community groups are spearheading opposition. (For the Brooklyn Nets, it was even simpler: Fund the creation of your own friendly community groups, then cut a deal with them.) It’s nice that GCC extracted something from the county that will actually benefit Cleveland citizens more than arena renovations, I suppose, which wouldn’t have happened without the referendum drive. On the other hand, yeah, democracy sounded like a nice idea for a minute there.

NFL draft generated bajillion dollars for Philly economy, say people who would say that

Oh, look, it’s an article about how much economic impact resulted from a sports-related event, this time the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia. If you were guessing the answer is “gobs and gobs” and that the study was conducted at the behest of the local tourism bureau, you are a winner:

A record 250,000 fans attended the three-day event held along the Ben Franklin Parkway, with $56.1 million spent at the event, resulting in an estimated $94.9 million in economic impact for the city. Initial projections and estimations put the impact around $80 million. The event also created 30,000 jobs during and leading up to the event.

Let’s do a sniff test on this. A quarter-million fans spending $56.1 million over three days is $224.40 per person, which sounds a bit high, but sure, maybe? And spinning that out into $94.9 million in economic impact would then be reasonable, since money gets re-spent through the local economy as sports bar waiters go home and buy groceries with their tip money, etc. As for 30,000 jobs, it sounds like that counts temporary positions, so it could well be true, if not necessarily that impressive.

Except: There’s our old friendly bugaboo, the substitution effect. How many of those 250,000 fans were locals who would have been spending money in Philly regardless? And how many out-of-towners displaced other out-of-towners who steered clear of the city because it was crawling with NFL draft fans? I can’t find the actual study — the NFL didn’t bother to link to it in its press release — but there’s no indication that the study’s authors accounted for any of this. And in fact, not only economists but hotel operators have thrown cold water on these estimates, with the director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association comparing the draft to “a large medical convention that doesn’t quite sell out the city, but does well.”

None of which means that the NFL draft has zero economic impact, or isn’t worth hosting (depending on the price for your city, obviously). But news organizations — I’m looking at you, CSNPhilly, assuming you consider yourself a news organization — do have at least some responsibility to note the caveats that come with tourism-board-issued economic claims. A nice big “RATING: UNCONFIRMED” would do nicely.

MLB commish, guy clinging to sportswriter job agree: Somebody build Rays a stadium already!

One of the problems with the sportswriting business is that too many sportswriters tend to approach everything as a game, and the only thing they’re interested in is who’s winning or losing. Okay, two of the problems with the sportswriting business are that, and also that they know their paycheck comes from people reading about the local teams, so they’ll do anything in their power to protect that. Okay, three of the problems are those, plus that whenever sports officials talk, they’re used to listening, because these are the guys who grant them credentials and — you get the picture, and if you don’t, I wrote about it in detail almost 20 years ago, and not a hell of a lot has changed since then.

Today’s problem sportswriter is Tom Jones, sports columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, who heard MLB commissioner Rob Manfred say he wants the Tampa-St. Pete region to “move [a decision on a new Rays stadium to the front burner,” and thought, hey, yeah, what’s taking so long anyway?

Just spitballing, but here’s a thought: How about we stop talking about a new stadium and start building one…

You don’t need a law degree to know the Rays need a new stadium in a new location. We all know that. We’ve all known that pretty much since the Trop opened for business in the 1990s.

What we don’t know is where it should be and who’s going to pay for it. Meantime, as we talk and argue and worry and plan, we keep flipping over pages in the calendar. One month becomes the next. One year bleeds into another. And here we are, still talking, and it feels as if we are nowhere closer to digging in the dirt…

Most baseball fans in Tampa Bay don’t really care where a new stadium ends up, just as long as it’s not Montreal, Charlotte, Las Vegas or anywhere outside the 727 or 813 area codes.

But most of all, don’t you just want this thing to be over already? Don’t you just want someone, anyone, to pick a spot and start building? And let’s face reality, we can all shake our heads and complain and tell [Rays owner Stuart] Sternberg that if he wants a new stadium, he can pull out his wallet and pay for it, but that’s not how this kind of thing works.

At some point, someone’s tax money is going to be used to help build it, whether it’s ours or our visitors’.

This, this is why commissioners like Rob Manfred make these statements, over and over — in hopes that someone friendly in the media will pick them up and make his talking points for him. Jones’s column hits most of the strategies in the new-stadium playbook — the team “needs” a new stadium (without specifying whether that’s fan-comfort need or insufficient-profit need or what), the team could move without one, everybody spends tax money on stadiums so let’s just do it already and get it over with.

Years ago, I engaged in a spirited, mostly friendly online debate with a New York historian about the legacy of Robert Moses, the power broker who pretty much single-handedly reshaped New York City from the 1930s through the 1960s, building parks and highways and public housing, evicting hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and solidifying the city’s racial and class divides in millions of tons of concrete. (Possibly his most defining moment was his decision to build highway bridges on his Long Island highways too low for buses to fit under them, so as to defend his new public beaches from the people he liked to refer to as “that scum floating up from Puerto Rico.”) My frenemy always insisted, yeah, yeah, but at least he got things done, even if all of it wasn’t that great. My response was: Getting things done isn’t always a plus, if things were better beforehand — or if it forestalls doing things a better way.

Would it be nice if the Rays had a new stadium by now? Sure! (Though I haven’t been to Tropicana Field myself, so can’t actually vouch for how much fans would prefer a new and/or differently located facility.) Is it likely that Sternberg would have built one by now if somebody had thrown a whole lot of public money at him? Indubitably! But every time a city gives in and coughs up public money — whether in the form of straight cash or tax breaks or whatever — that just reinforces the “everybody does it” argument, and precludes the possibility that the public might be able to wait out a team owner until he agrees to stay put and pay for any of his own costs his own self. Which does happen!

You’re reading this website, so I probably don’t need to tell you most of this, but it’s worth restating every one in a while. As is the reminder that even as we can talk about the structural power-dynamics reasons why cities drop billions of dollars a year on subsidies to new sports facilities for the benefit of private team owners, it’s in this kind of everyday battle of public discourse that the power dynamics take shape. Tom Jones is just a guy who’s putting down in electrons his own thoughts and feelings about a new Rays stadium and whether it matters how it’s paid for — as am I, though I do like to think I’ve done a smidge more research on the topic. If Tampa Bay is going to end up with a denouement for the Rays that reflects even in the slightest the needs and desires of actual residents of the region, they’re going to have to shout really loud, because guys like Jones and Manfred are the ones with the bullhorns.