Former Marlins exec gives fans the finger (literally, not figuratively) as he brags of profits from stadium ripoff

Former Miami Marlins president David Samson was never the smoothest in the PR department, what with the way he upstaged the opening of his own team’s stadium by calling Miami residents and legislators “stupid” for giving his ex-stepdad Jeff Loria public money to build it. But this really takes the cake:

Samson showed up in a shiny rich-guy sport coat and dress shirt. He walked onstage to a hail of booing from the sort of drunk bros who would hang out at a Dan Le Batard event…

So how did Samson respond to angry fans? He flipped them off and bragged that he and Loria’s cartoonishly evil antics helped the owner sell the team for $1.2 billion…

“Thank you so much; thank you very much,” a drunk-sounding Samson stammered into a microphone as Le Batard lumbered behind him. “Here’s why I love when you guys boo me. Right. I want you to keep booing me. Because guess what? One-point-two billion. Fuck you!”

Yes, a former sports executive actually bragged about how he didn’t care if people hated him, because he and his boss/stepdad walked away with piles of moneybags thanks to public largesse, and literally said “Fuck you!” while literally giving the audience the finger. If this seems way too on the nose to possibly be true, here is video evidence:

I guess this is just the way things are going to go from now on. I look forward to Henry Kissinger’s upcoming memoir, Yeah, I Helped Send Three Million People to Their Deaths, What Are You Gonna Do About It, Assholes?

Friday roundup: Potential Raiders homes for 2019, ranked (okay, actually not ranked)

Man, who opened the stadium news floodgates this week? Here it is almost noon on Friday and I still haven’t gotten to the news roundup — okay, know what, less whining, let’s just get right to it:

  • The city of Oakland filed its antitrust suit against the Raiders as promised this week, which means it’s time for a list of places the Raiders could play next year if they are forced to leave Oakland in a huff. “Do a multi-week residency in London and play the rest of the season on the road” is one I hadn’t heard before, anyway.
  • New York’s Empire State Development Corporation approved its draft environmental report on a new New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park, and it basically comes down to “yeah, traffic is already bad and it’s going to get worse, we’ll try to figure something out but don’t hold your breath.” The state will also provide a whole two Long Island Rail Road trains to take fans to and from games, which will require new switches to deal with the massive mess that is that train interchange, for which “it is also expected that [the arena developers] will contribute to LIRR and MTA funding,” which isn’t exactly the same as saying the developers will pay for it.
  • Tottenham Hotspur‘s long-delayed stadium is still delayed, but at least now fans can enjoy drone footage of the place they’re not being allowed to set foot in.
  • The National Parks Conservation Association was “shocked” to learn that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to take 300 acres of federal parkland to use for a new Washington NFL team stadium. “I have talked to lower-level Park Service employees who are just as shocked as I am about this,” said the organization’s Chesapeake and Virginia programs director, Pam Goddard. “We are vehemently opposed.” Hogan has said that no public money would be used for the stadium plan, but public land and building out sewer and power lines into federal parkland, now that’s another story.
  • Residents of South Boston want the New England Revolution to stay offa their lawns with any stadium plans.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants more NBA-ready arenas in Latin America so the NBA can play occasional regular season games there, but didn’t offer to help pay for any, that’d be crazy, and does he look crazy?

 

Amazon subsidies and sports stadium subsidies are each terrible in their own special way

If you didn’t already get enough links to read from today’s weekly news roundup, and didn’t hear enough of my thoughts on Amazon’s $4 billion payday as it compares to sports subsidies, I’ve elaborated on my thoughts at length in an article that just went up this morning at Deadspin. Some sample takeaways:

  • Jeff Bezos will be getting more public cash than any single sports venue, but at least he’ll be employing actual full-time workers, so the cost-per-job ratio won’t be as dismal as in sports deals (though it’s still probably pretty bad).
  • Just like we’ve seen in sports deals, here are tons of hidden costs to the Amazon agreements, from infrastructure slush funds paid for with public tax dollars to federal tax shelters set up by Donald Trump that will cover Amazon’s New York headquarters, even though they were supposed to be for impoverished areas and Long Island City is decidedly not.
  • As in many sports deals, Amazon’s subsidies will evade most public oversight (in New York, anyway), and were arguably unnecessary at this level given that the company, like sports teams, undoubtedly ended up locating in the market that it wanted to anyway.

Or if you want to skip to the ending: “The Amazon deal is ultimately another step in the legitimization of government by extortion, where the nation’s richest men can withhold ‘job creation’ as a condition of not having to pay taxes, or commute without a helicopter.” But go read the whole thing, it’s way more entertaining than the bullet-point summary above, or at least way more packed with pop-culture references.

Calgary voters tell city to take its Olympic bid and stick it where the sun never rises

Well, well, well: Turns out after Calgary city officials rescued the city’s 2026 Olympics bid from the brink of death with a last-minute renegotiation with the Canadian federal government, city residents voted to send it right back to the grave yesterday, delivering a 56-44% verdict that the city should not offer to host the Games.

While technically the city council could still move ahead with the bid, since federal and provincial funding was contingent on a “yes” vote, that’s not going to happen:

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said “The people have spoken in big numbers, and have spoken clearly.”

When asked if the bid is dead, the Mayor said “Yeah, it’s very clear.”

With just seven months to go before the International Olympic Committee makes its decision on a 2026 host, this leaves only Stockholm and a joint bid by the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina in the running. And Stockholm’s new city government has declared itself opposed to using any public funding to build Olympic facilities or cover cost overruns, while the Italian national government has said it won’t contribute “one euro” to Milan-Cortina costs.

None of this is likely to turn out to be the long-awaited collective global middle finger to the IOC’s host city demands — either Stockholm or Milan-Cortina will likely figure out a way to host the 2026 Winter Games. But it is absolutely a sign that more and more cities are pushing back on the IOC’s insistence that host cities foot the bill for the Games — and cover any shortfall if they lose money, which they almost always do. It’s the reason why the IOC picked 2024 and 2028 Olympic hosts (Paris and Los Angeles) at the same time, and why the committee is constantly touting its promises to cut costs and reduce the number of white-elephant velodromes left scattered around the countryside in a Games’ wake. Push may not have come to shove just yet, but it seems to be heading there, and if it does it’ll make for some very interesting negotiations around the 2030 and 2032 Olympic bid races.

Amazon just walked away with maybe $4B in public cash for doing what it was going to anyway

In case you somehow missed it, Amazon made it official this morning that its new 50,000-person second headquarters was going to be split into two 25,000-person sites, one in the Long Island City section of New York City and one across the river from Washington, D.C., in Arlington, Virginia. (Nashville, Tennessee, will also get an “Operations Center of Excellence,” which is maybe not the name you want to give your corporate outpost if people are already worried your company is an Orwellian nightmare.)

Attached to its press release, Amazon included the full memoranda of understanding for the New York, Arlington, and Nashville deals — since my purpose in life somehow seems to have evolved into reading these damn things and figuring out what’s hidden in them, I sat down to write up an analysis of the New York deal for Gothamist. The upshot: Between the city and the state, Amazon will cash in at least $2.5 billion in checks from the public (and probably more like $3 billion — see update below) in the form of tax breaks and other goodies. With Jeff Bezos in line for about another $1 billion from Virginia and a pittance of $60 million from Nashville — hardly worth counting the bills, honestly — that’s about $4 billion that America’s richest man will be raking in for the trouble of holding a year-long bidding war before doing whatever he wanted anyway.

A few further notes on this, from our usual perspective of sports subsidies:

  • Damn, that is a chunk of change. Yes, an Amazon headquarters is arguably more valuable than a sports stadium — there’s no way even the busiest sports venue will employ 25,000 workers, and those it does employ only be there a few hours a day during the season of whatever sport it hosts — but even the Steinbrenners have never managed a $4 billion payday. Neither did Elon Musk. (Though Boeing did, and celebrated by laying off workers.)
  • Modern subsidies are really hard to keep count of. Amazon’s press release fessed up to $1.5 billion in subsidies from New York and $573 million from Virginia, but that didn’t count $200 million from each state for bonus jobs created over 25,000, nor a $300 million infrastructure fund in Arlington, nor about $1.3 billion in off-the-rack tax breaks from New York City (I included $900 million of those in my Gothamist article, the New York Post’s Nolan Hicks found another $386 million), nor an additional infrastructure slush fund that will be created in New York from payments in lieu of property taxes. I’ve been staring at this thing all day and I still don’t feel 100% confident there aren’t additional hidden costs lurking about — which is par for the course for both sports and non-sports subsidy deals.
  • Subsidies aren’t what determine location decisions. We’ve seen this before in sports, where team owners have used the threat of going elsewhere to shake down the cities they already want to be in for cash. But it’s especially bald-faced in this case, where other states offered as much as $8.5 billion for Amazon’s hand, only to have Bezos say, Sorry, our first love is big cities where techies want to live. At which point you have to wonder: If Amazon was going to go to NYC and D.C. anyway, why did those locales bother coughing up so much public money? As with sports venues, cities could be thinking, “These people on the other side of the table need us more than we need them” — but they’re largely not.

Anyway: New York just threw a giant wad of cash at Amazon, Arlington can comfort itself that its wad is at least a bit smaller, and all the cities that missed out don’t get the new jobs, but do get to keep their money. There’s probably a lesson in here somewhere, but given that everyone involved is steadfastly refusing to learn it, it’s hardly worth spelling it out.

Calgary votes today on Olympics bid, as mayor says, “Hey, it’s not my money”

It’s nonbinding Olympic referendum day today in Calgary, and New York Times sportswriter Michael Powell marked the occasion by flying all the way to that city to write about what a boondoggle the Olympics are on a Canadian typewriter. Though he also got the time for a sit-down with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who shared a bit more of his thoughts on why he’s supporting the 2026 bid even though he generally pooh-poohs sports subsidies:

Mayor Nenshi said Calgary’s share would come in at a touch more than $400 million. The provincial Alberta government would fork over $700 million, and the federal government in Ottawa has promised a barrel of money, too.

“This is almost a tax rebate,” the mayor said.

Yep, it’s as suspected: Nenshi is for the Olympics because the vast majority of the money would come from the federal and provincial governments, so if he can land the Games and all of its associated infrastructure spending for just $400 million from his own budget, that’s a deal he’ll take. There’s a certain logic to it in an extremely parochial way, but really, “If my stupid colleagues in Ottawa are gonna blow a lot of taxpayer money on the Olympics, I want them to blow it in my town” is a disappointing position, to say the least, from a guy with a reputation for forward-thinking governance.

Powell also took advantage of those long Canadian nights to google Ernst & Young, who conducted the rosy study about a Calgary Olympics, and found this tidbit:

I nosed about afterward on the internet and noticed that Ernst & Young served as a richly compensated “exclusive provider” to the Rio Olympics. Previous Olympic cities, Ernst & Young noted in a news release, had seen arenas turn into white elephants. Not Rio, no no. “We have established sustainable postgame use for facilities” through a regimen of good governance and finance, the release said.

Two years later, Rio de Janeiro is stuck with a rumbling herd of white elephants, Olympic pools filled with rat feces, and a burned and collapsed velodrome and wrecked arenas.

At a bargain price of $400 million, who wouldn’t want that? Polls close at 8 pm Calgary time, and it’s likely to be close, so we may not know until morning whether Milan will win the 2026 Games by default.

Friday roundup: Skip right past the first four items and go directly to the hidden-camera video on the Austin soccer-vs.-soccer beef, you know you wanna

This was feeling like a long week even before Americans with guns decided to make a late rush to break last year’s record for most people killed in major mass shootings. Fortunately, we have news in the field of whether to devote scarce public resources to boosting the profits of professional sports team owners to amuse us! Ha ha! Are we amused yet?

  • Los Angeles has been selected as the host of next year’s inaugural World Urban Games, a thing that is like the Olympics only it involves sports no one cares about, like three-on-three basketball. (Though admittedly, the Olympics also involves plenty of sports no one cares about.) L.A. had to offer no actual money to be the host, just use of its sports venues, so if anyone actually travels to L.A. to see these things, there’s an actual chance this might work out to the city’s economic benefit! Crazy talk!
  • The group that wants to bring an MLB team to Portland has pulled its offer to buy the city’s school headquarters to build a stadium on the site, saying it would be better used for affordable housing. (Read: The community hated the stadium idea, and they didn’t want to fight about it.) The group will reportedly announce a new site by the end of the month, but it’s not worth holding your breath over because MLB isn’t giving Portland a team in the immediate future, if ever.
  • Saskatoon city officials are looking into building a new downtown arena for about $175 million because … they didn’t actually say why. The old one is old? Mark Rosentraub sold them on a new one? Not that a new downtown Saskatoon arena is necessarily a terrible idea, especially if the city can collect rent and other revenues from it, but an even less terrible idea would be focusing on “Do we need a new arena?” before jumping straight to “How can we build one?”
  • There’s a new pro-ticket tax group in Columbus calling itself Protect Art 4 Columbus that describes itself as “a group of art enthusiasts, sports fans and other community members,” and if this isn’t an Astroturf group, they really needed to come up with a name that made themselves sound less like one.
  • I do not have the energy to explain the beef between the wannabe Austin MLS team owner and the wannabe Austin USL team owner and how they’re both building stadiums and supporters of one stadium are accusing supporters of another stadium of lying about their ballot petitions by saying “we’re trying to build a soccer stadium” when it’s really to stop the other guys from building a soccer stadium, so just watch the video, it’s blurry and confusing and shot in portrait mode, just like the kids today all like!

Friday roundup: Election Day could have big consequences for Rays, Blue Jackets, Clippers

Happy last week before Election Day! Unsurprisingly, we lead off with a bunch of vote-related news:

  • Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld says he’s confident team execs will be able to meet a December 31 deadline for stadium funding without having to ask for an extension, even though right now there’s currently a $300 million funding gap. Frequent FoS commenter Scott Myers has theorized that the Rays ownership is hoping Hillsborough County voters will pass a 1% sales tax hike for transportation on Tuesday, which would free up other public money to pay for transportation improvements for a Rays stadium; that doesn’t seem like it’d provide $300 million, but every hundred million dollars counts, so everybody watch the ballot results carefully. (Which you should be doing anyway. And voting!)
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets owners, who have been criticized for being the main beneficiaries of a proposed 7% ticket tax in the city because their arena would get the lion’s share of the proceeds, surprised everybody this week by coming out against the tax, saying it “would materially harm our business.” Maybe this is reverse psychology to get residents to vote for the bill, since they’ll no longer think it’s a sop to the hockey team? Okay, probably not.
  • Madison Square Garden has given $700,000 to the campaign of the chief challenger to Inglewood Mayor James Butts in an effort to block plans for a new Los Angeles Clippers arena that could compete for concerts with MSG’s Forum, and the Clippers have fought back with $375,000 in spending to support Butts’ campaign. Poor grass.
  • In non-electoral news, the University of Connecticut is building a $45 million hockey arena on campus even though its team will continue to play most of its games in Hartford’s XL Center, just because its new NCAA conference requires an on-campus arena. (It also requires that the arena have at least 4,000 seats, but UConn got a waiver to only build 2,500 seats.) Since UConn is a public university, this technically means that public money will go into the project (though the university says it can pay for it from its own reserves), but mostly it’s bizarre to see an entire arena being built just to meet a technicality — what do you think the carbon footprint will be for this?
  • Transit experts are worried that the 2020 Olympics will overwhelm Tokyo’s already-crowded subway system, though they may not be anticipating how much the Olympics tend to cause anyone not interested in the Olympics to stay the hell out of town. The government has been encouraging local businesses to stagger work hours and open satellite offices to accommodate Games traffic, since “everybody call in sick for three weeks” would be anathema to Japanese work culture.
  • Opponents to Nashville SC‘s stadium plans are seeking a court injunction to block construction of a new expo center to replace the one that would be torn down to make way for the soccer stadium on the grounds that it would interfere with parking for a flea market, which is a first in my book.
  • Louisville is officially not bidding for an MLS franchise (yet), which unofficially makes it the only city in the whole U.S. of A. that isn’t. How is MLS ever going to meet its dream of a franchise for every individual person in North America if these keeps up?

That’s all for this week — go vote! And try to fight your way past the journalism extinction event to educate yourself about all those downballot races and initiatives and such, since as we cover here every week, they can have huge consequences.

Calgary Olympics public vote to go ahead after council narrowly fails to block it

The Calgary city council voted 8-7 yesterday to pull the city’s 2026 Olympic bid off of the November 13 ballot in the wake of controversy over who’ll foot the Games’ multi-billion-dollar bill — but as a ten-vote supermajority was required to pass the measure, the plebiscite will go ahead as scheduled.

And check out who cast one of the two deciding votes:

Yep, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, scourge of sports subsidies, voted to move ahead with plans to spend at least $2.325 billion in public money, and more likely $3 billion, and more likely than that upwards of $4 billion given how cost overruns usually go with these things, on hosting the 2026 Winter Games. Why, Mr. Nenshi, why?

“Over the next few days I will be trying to explain this deal to people, but I’m now at the point where I can actually say to people ‘this is a great deal we’ve negotiated’ and I’m encouraging people to vote yes.”’

Well, that’s unspecific but certainly enthusiastic. Presumably Nenshi’s argument is that Calgary’s share — $370 million under the new plan — is a good investment in exchange for the federal and provincial governments building more than $2 billion of stuff in Calgary. But while that’s certainly better for the city than where the deal stood over the weekend, city taxpayers are also provincial and federal taxpayers, and anyway is “Ha ha we’re sticking people in Moose Jaw and Thunder Bay with most of the bill, this’ll be great” really good public policy? And, for that matter, is spending even $370 million for a projected $200 million return a good idea? Plus, who’s going to pay those cost overruns?

Eight city councillors were concerned enough about these questions to vote no, including Evan Woolley, chair of the Olympic assessment committee, who told CBC News, “I personally will not support a deal that’s not in the best interests of Calgarians. We do not have the deal in front of us today.” The question now will be whether more Calgary voters share Nenshi’s excitement or Woolley’s qualms. If they do, then it should be smooth sailing once — sorry, what’s that?

Calgary 2026 highlighted one budget line that called for the city to purchase a contingency insurance policy, valued at $200 million, for $20 million of city funds. The organization said that will leverage $200 million matched by the federal government.

When questioned, however, it became clear there was no insurance policy identified as yet and if none could be found, Calgary 2026 just said it would find more cuts in their budget.

Friends, don’t let friends bid on the Olympics.

Calgary, Canada work out Olympic compromise but math doesn’t really work and council is still mad and luge fans are madder ARGH

Sorry to be late with the posting today, but I had a morning appointment and time got away from me and anyway Calgary and Alberta and the Canadian government have apparently settled their $430 million difference over paying for a 2026 Winter Olympics bid, meaning the plan will now go to a public vote on November 13 as previously scheduled.

How on earth did this happen, after just the night before everything seemed to be headed for the bid to be pulled amid a budget stalemate? Partly by some sleight of hand: The total projected bid cost is now just $2.875 billion, down from $3 billion, but given that the typical Olympics goes 156% over budget, both those numbers should be treated as fictitious anyway. As for who’ll pay for what share of that:

  • From the City of Calgary, $370 million in cash, plus another $20 million to cover a premium on a $200-million insurance policy against cost over-runs, for a total of $390 million.

  • From the City of Calgary and Government of Alberta, $150 million in pre-authorized improvements to Victoria Park and access to the Calgary Stampede grounds.

  • From the Government of Alberta, $700 million in cash.

  • From the Government of Canada, $1.423 billion, which matches the amounts committed to the core event costs by the province, city and Town of Canmore; also, $30 million in “leveraging initiatives” which the letter said are identified in the hosting plan.

So basically Calgary and Alberta put in an extra $170 million, the feds put in $47 million less, and the total public contribution ($2.69 billion) is nearly $200 million short of the actual total public cost. Numbers are fun!

The numbers work out better if the $200 million insurance plan is counted as a city expenditure toward the $2.875 billion cost. But if it’s part of the cost, it’s not for overruns — you’re really saying that the projected cost is now $2.675 billion, plus have an insurance policy for the next $200 million. Seriously, did somebody major in doubletalk here?

Furthermore, an insurance policy against $200 million in cost overruns doesn’t do much good if the overruns are more than $200 million — which, as noted above, they’re almost certain to be — so who covers any additional costs?

Interestingly, as of last night one important decisionmaker hadn’t officially signed onto the deal:

It was signed by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, federal Minister of Sport Kirsty Duncan and included a space for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s signature.

Nenshi was “not available for comment” today according to several news outlets, and hasn’t tweeted in a while, so your guess is as good as mine what’s actually been agreed to and by whom. The city council is set to vote on a proposal to deep-six the Olympic bid entirely today, but presumably this announced agreement is set to forestall that, but councilmember still sounded unhappy about the new deal but they were being yelled at by angry luge fans NO SERIOUSLY ANGRY LUGE FANS and I need to go have a lie down right now. Let’s all tune in again tomorrow morning — morning, I promise this time — and see where the chips have fallen.

[UPDATE/CORRECTION: The $150 million Victoria Park money was actually already allocated, it’s just being newly counted as Olympic spending to qualify for matching funds. That’s good in that the city will just be on the hook for the $20 million in insurance premiums; it’s bad in that the only money actually committed to Olympic costs now comes to $2.325 billion, which is a lot less than the $3 billion originally projected. Basically, the feds seem to be dealing with the funding gap by saying, “Let’s shift $675 million from the ‘spending’ category to the ‘overrun’ category, and hope that we get lucky and it costs less than we expected!” This is not likely to go well.]