Ariana Grande concert bombing: Was lax arena security really to blame?

Because yesterday’s horrific Ariana Grande concert bombing took place at a sports arena, and because I’ve written about sports arena security, I feel like I should have something to say about it, beyond the obvious fact that it’s horrific. With the sketchy details available so far, here’s what I can think of:

  • The explosion went off in the arena lobby, so the obvious question is how the bomber got the explosives in past security. (Assuming the lobby was inside the arena gates, which isn’t entirely clear from this diagram.) The bomb is described as an “improvised explosive device,” which could be made entirely (or almost entirely) from plastic explosives, and thus be difficult to scan for with metal detectors.
  • The mother of a 19-year-old who was at the concert (and uninjured) said that “although her son had water taken off him, his bags were not searched and security did not check what he was carrying,” something that was echoed by other attendees. That’s dumb security, obviously, but exactly the kind of “security theater” that stadiums and arenas engage in when faced with the dilemma of how to get tens of thousands of fans to their seats while also doing some minimal security search, which means minimal is exactly what you get.
  • This is almost certainly going to lead to increased security measures like more stringent bag checks and more walkthrough metal detectors, neither of which I’m all that confident will do much to prevent future bombings, especially since not only can IEDs be strapped to someone’s body rather than carried in a bag, but a bomber could have done about the same amount of damage standing just outside the arena lobby instead of just inside it.
  • The most effective way to prevent attacks on innocent concertgoers is to get fewer people in the world thinking that that’s an effective way to get their point across. That’s hard.

And that’s all I’ve got. I’d love to be able to blame this on someone (other than the bomber), or suggest an easy fix, but I’m not too hopeful on either count. In the meantime, my sympathies to the families of those killed and injured. What a damn world.

Cincy mulls convention center redo to lure new visitors, since that worked so well last time

Cincinnati tourism officials are pressing for a major renovation of the city’s Duke Energy Convention Center, and construction of a big new hotel next door, arguing that the city would otherwise see a big drop in visitors. Mike Latsch of the Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau says without the project, the city could lose 100,000 annual hotel room nights by 2022.

But the last time the city expanded the convention center, it literally had to scrape up the $140 million cost, using naming rights from Duke Energy and millions in contributions from local corporations in addition to local hotel tax revenues. The 2006 expansion actually did little to boost the city’s convention business. And in the decade since, Cleveland opened a new center, Columbus expanded its center, and Indianapolis opened a major expansion, increasing competition for scarce convention dollars.

Now, any expansion plans will have to compete for hotel tax dollars against renovations to the US Bank Arena — proposed in order to ready the venue for hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tourney in 2022 — as well as plans for a new Major League Soccer stadium. All this in a city and county that have already managed to pour an immense amount of public money into stadiums.

Washington Post reporters stick heads up NFL team president’s butt, call it journalism

Yeah, that about sums it up:

The Washington Post article in question is about the Washington NFL team‘s president, Bruce Allen, and can be summed up thusly:

  • People like sports!
  • Allen is a sports guy, his dad having been Hall of Fame coach George Allen! And a political guy, his brother being former Virginia governor George Allen!
  • His boss, team owner Daniel Snyder, is campaigning for a new stadium that he can point to and brag about — “not the hand-me-down venue he acquired from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke” — and needed a guy to spearhead it! You can see where this is going!
  • Fans hate Allen because he fired the team’s popular GM, but he doesn’t hold that against them!
  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is friends with both Allen and Snyder!
  • Virginia offers non-union labor!
  • Bruce Allen is shorter than his brother George!

If you’ve managed to keep reading to this point, you’ll have gotten the idea that this is a kid-gloves profile of the team president trying to shake down Virginia for a new stadium, so it should come as no surprise that it concludes with the paragraph quoted by Burneko in his tweet (and elaborated on in a longer Deadspin WTF reaction piece), which makes total journalistic sense if journalism consists of viewing the world entirely through the subject’s eyes. (And assuming Allen drinks his own Kool-Aid.) It’s slightly more surprising that this is co-bylined by the Post’s NFL reporter and its former business editor — it took two people to write this crap, and one of them maybe even knows how money works — but given my past experience with the Post, maybe somebody high up the editorial chain is still determined to buy local sports teams’ PR line about economic benefits of stadiums at all costs.

Cincy arena owner: NCAA wants snazzier locker rooms, might as well tear the whole place down

The NCAA has awarded a round of its 2022 basketball tournament to Cincinnati, for the first time in 30 years. Yay, Cincinnati! But this is conditional on Hamilton County making $200 million in upgrades to its arena. Boo, NCAA! But actually the NCAA’s upgrade demands aren’t that major or costly, it’s just the arena’s owner/operator who’s trying to leverage this into a major upgrade:

U.S. Bank Arena needs to add two locker rooms and greatly expand media space below the seating area if it’s going to host the first- and second-round games, Ray Harris, CEO of Nederlander Entertainment, which operates and is majority owner of the arena, told me on Wednesday…

Harris is shooting to make those changes as part of a planned massive overhaul of U.S. Bank Arena that would likely cost anywhere from $200 million to $350 million, he said.
“We’d certainly advocate the major renovation that addresses what the NCAA needs and provides additional amenities as opposed to losing events,” Harris said. “That’s certainly our hope. We think this is a great time to address all the shortcomings of this facility. It would put Cincinnati on the map to be competitive with all the major cities around us.”

Well, sure, you’d advocate that the city chip in on $200 million to $350 million of upgrades to your arena, rather than just adding two locker rooms and some media space. And what would that greater renovation entail, exactly?

[Harris] said Wednesday that the current plan to prepare for the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball championship includes tearing down the arena and building a new, larger arena in its place.

Okay, then!

Some backstory: Harris has been proposing a major overhaul of the arena for two years now, with the minor snag that he wants the county to help pay for it, and after coughing up big bucks for new stadiums for the Reds and the Bengals, spending nine figures on an arena whose highest-profile tenants is a minor-league hockey team isn’t exactly likely to be a priority. But if it’s about making the NCAA happy, and “putting Cincinnati on the map” — hey, sure, maybe somebody will buy it. Not anyone on the county commission, admittedly — commissioner Todd Portune replied yesterday, “Go do it. It’s your arena. We’ll be happy to help with permits and zoning, but don’t think that the county has a pot of money over here that we’re waiting to make available” — but maybe somebody somewhere.

Baltimore Sun claims Camden Yards pays own way, can’t even keep up pretense for whole article

And hey, look, another major media article that can’t do basic math! Let’s start with the headline:

Orioles payments to stadium authority exceed original cost of Camden Yards

Wow, that would indeed be impressive. Is perhaps Camden Yards one of those rare examples like the Minneapolis Metrodome, of a stadium where the public put up a bunch of money up front but then was repaid in full and more by lease payments over time? Spoiler: no.

Documents show the authority has received an average of $6.4 million in annual rent from the team, plus $4.1 million a year as its share of state admissions taxes. The total, through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, is $255 million.

That compares favorably with the stadium’s original $225 million price tag, including $100 million for land acquisition and $125 million for the stadium.

Yeah, no, that’s not how money works. Even if you count state admissions taxes as new state revenues (the Orioles would have been paying them if they’d stayed at Memorial Stadium, too), $10.5 million a year over 25 years is only worth about $140 million in present value, still far less than the $225 million price tag. Or if it helps, you could flip it around the other way and see if $10.5 million a year is enough to pay off the state’s annual debt payments — oh, look, the Sun actually did that:

The stadium authority said it pays about $15 million a year in debt service — principal plus interest — on the 30-year bonds issued to pay for Camden Yards.

So by the Sun’s own calculations, Maryland is actually losing money on Camden Yards. Anything else?

The debt service, however, is paid with Maryland Lottery proceeds appropriated each year by the General Assembly. The authority uses the team’s rent money for ballpark operations.

Oh, right, ballpark operations costs. So really the Orioles’ rent payments pay nothing towards the public’s debt on Camden Yards. Lovely headline, though — beautiful plumage.

Top Florida economic advisor lacks econ degree, avoided using real data because it’d look bad

I’ve made fun of Florida’s propensity for giving its sports teams lots of money based on doofy economic impact studies before, such as when Pinellas County moved forward with a plan for giving the Toronto Blue Jays $65 million for a new spring training facility in Dunedin based on an economic report that assumed that every single ticket sold went to a different person who traveled to Florida just for that game. But this, this, from WTSP’s Noah Pransky, takes the damn cake:

10Investigates found the author of so many economic impact reports that support public sports subsidies may not be the expert economist state leaders believe he is.

The resume of Mark Bonn, Ph.D., a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, boasts of dozens of reports compiled for municipalities all across Florida, including some statewide organizations.

Bonn’s side company, Bonn Marketing Inc., recently received $23,000 from just one study, commissioned by the Toronto Blue Jays and city of Dunedin to show the economic impact of spring training…

Nobody on the committee questioned Bonn’s qualifications.

But 10Investigates did, asking if Bonn considered himself an economist.

Yard Goats stadium sparking literally dozens of hotel-room conversions, yay?

Next in today’s rundown of questionable media spin, the Hartford Courant is reporting that “the city’s shiny new minor league ballpark has dramatically transformed what for decades was a just barren stretch of land north of downtown.” How dramatically? This dramatically:

The owners of the nearby Radisson Hotel are combining guest rooms on the top nine floors of the 18-story hotel into apartments. The $19.5 million project will create 96 rentals, some of which will overlook Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The first apartments are expected to be ready by this summer.

Hotel owner Inner Circle U.S. said the apartment project was planned prior to the plans for the stadium, but the ballpark helped sell the idea of rentals to Inner Circle’s lenders.

VERDICT: I do not think that word “dramatically” means what you think it means. Building a new sports facility may not have the kind of economic impact that sports team owners pretend it does, but it does have some, and “making the hotel-to-rental-apartment conversion that developers already had in the works marginally more marketable” is just about perfectly the size of it. Downtown Hartford is starting to draw more interest from renters with money, but that’s thanks to the Great Inversion, not anything to do with sports, and certainly not a minor-league baseball stadium that until recently wasn’t certain ever to open.

That said, I am eagerly awaiting the chance to take in a Yard Goats game this summer. I will almost certain make it a day trip from New York City, and will probably stop for pizza or falafel in New Haven. My footprint on the Hartford economy will be exceedingly light, but if some millennials want a view from their apartments of my car pulling in and out of the stadium parking lot, more power to them.

Only thing standing between Indianapolis and MLS is meeting league’s stadium extortion demands

It’s a hectic Monday morning, and time for a quick game of “What have been newspapers been spinning inappropriately this weekend?” First up, the Indianapolis Star:

Unless the General Assembly finds surprise funding for a new stadium in the coming days, Indy Eleven has no discernible path to join America’s premier professional soccer league.

VERDICT: Yes, but… There’s no reason MLS can’t approve Indy Eleven as an expansion franchise without a new stadium — as recently as two years ago there was talk about the team owners settling for upgrades on their current stadium — except that the league is dedicated to a business model based on “bring us a $150 million check and some new stadium blueprints, and you’re cool.” A more accurate report would have been something along the lines of “Indy Eleven is ready to make the leap, but MLS is holding out for stadium subsidies” — but that would have made the sports league the bad guys instead of the politicians, and this is a business column and team owner Ersal Ozdemir is a major local businessman, so.

St. Louis mayor says Blues arena needs $70m to keep wrestling finals, but what does math say?

I spend a fair amount of time here ragging on media outlets that go out of their way to parrot the arguments made by sports team owners and their political allies on behalf of stadium and arena subsidies. But it’s also instructive to stop and take a look at a more routine kind of media bias: the kind where journalists do their basic job of reporting the facts, but stop short of the most important step, actually explaining to readers what those facts mean.

For today’s punching bag, I present reporter Austin Huguelet of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose entirely competent article on St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay asking the state of Missouri for subsidies to his city’s hockey arena (or the Blues‘ hockey arena that is on the city’s books, if you prefer) included the following:

A proposal from Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, would allow the state to contribute up to $6 million per year to upgrading the St. Louis Blues’ 23-year-old home ice, which officials say needs urgent fixes if it is to continue attracting top-flight sporting events and concerts…

Without the money, Jack Stapleton of St. Louis Sports Commission said Scottrade could lose out on events like the wrestling championships to better equipped facilities with better public support.

“The competition is stiff,” he said. “We are going to up against a lot of cities with newer buildings with public funding.”

He listed Louisville, Chicago and Oklahoma City as examples.

Proponents also offered an array of statistics to support the bid. A report prepared by Johnson Consulting and given to legislators said Scottrade has generated nearly $170 million per year in spending from visitors and an average of about $11 million in annual tax revenue for the state.

So far, so good, though it’d be nice to explain who Johnson Consulting is or what their track record is for economic projections for their other consulting projects. (One example from this site’s archives: Johnson’s prediction of hotel stays due to Austin’s new convention center ended up being overly optimistic by more than 25%.) But more to the point, let’s connect the dots between the first and last figures in that story: The state is being asked for $6 million a year in subsidies in order to avoid hurting an arena that produces $11 million a year in state tax revenues. Unless the wrestling championships are a huge chunk of the arena’s business, that seems like a pretty terrible return on Missouri’s investment — taxpayers would be far better off letting Louisville have the damn wrestling and keeping their $6 million a year for other, more economically productive uses.

Sure, there are other benefits to having the shiniest arena on the block. (Though there are also other downsides that aren’t reported here, like the roughly equal amount of money that the city of St. Louis would be putting up under the Blues owners’ proposal.) But still, this is one of the huge drawbacks of a media industry that sees its job merely as accurately reporting what elected officials and business leaders say, not exploring whether it makes any damn sense. Doing basic math isn’t bias, and neither is investigating the bona fides of the institutions you’re reporting on — though both take time, something that’s increasingly in short supply at newsrooms stripped to the bone in response to declining revenues (and demand for higher profits). So my sincere sympathies to Huguelet and his ilk, but if you have a moment to spare, please try to up your game some next time, okay? Little things like an informed public and the fate of democracy depend on it.

 

Maple Leafs ticket prices aren’t part of a grand conspiracy, except for the usual ones

A headline like “Why are NHL tickets expensive in Toronto? Because they’re cheap in Phoenix” has got to be pretty much irresistable if you’re an editor at the Globe and Mail. But does columnist Tony Keller actually make that case? Let’s follow the bouncing argument:

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs can charge through the nose for tickets because demand for hockey in Ontario exceeds the supply.
  • The Arizona Coyotes can’t charge squat for tickets because demand for hockey in Arizona is a sad joke.
  • If the Coyotes moved to Toronto or even Hamilton, it would cut into the Leafs’ market, and they’d be forced to lower ticket prices.
  • Since the Coyotes don’t make money, they have to be subsidized by revenue sharing from teams like the Leafs.
  • “The MLSE golden goose helps subsidize a squad of American lame duck franchises; those lame ducks, stuck in dry ponds, make necessary a golden goose in Toronto.”

All of this is technically true, but there are some leaps of logic here: There’s no reason to think that the NHL would allow the Coyotes to move to within spitting distance of Toronto if they left Arizona, and that Toronto “golden goose” is something the league presumably would want to keep around (and the Leafs owners would absolutely want to keep around) with or without the Coyotes’ revenue issues. There’s a difference between “the Maple Leafs owners are willing to send some money to the Coyotes’ owners to maintain their monopoly” and “this is all part of a grand conspiracy to screw hockey fans both coming and going.” (Except inasmuch as trying to use your monopoly power as the only major pro league to jack up ticket prices is the plan for pretty much every sports league that doesn’t have open promotion and relegation.)

That said, it is undeniably true that if territorial rights were eliminated and teams could move wherever they wanted, it would be arguably good for hockey fans (except those in lousy hockey markets like Phoenix) and maybe even good for the league as a whole — just the same as it would be for MLB if the Steinbrenners and Wilpons didn’t have monopoly rights to New York City. But then, sports leagues aren’t really monolithic corporations, but rather cartels of individual business owners, each in it for themselves. The only conspiracy at work here is the profit motive combined with the failure to enforce antitrust laws, which is a bigger problem than just for hockey.