Jacksonville councilmember: We can’t demand Jaguars lease extension for Lot J approval, or how will they hold us up for more subsidies later?


Let’s take a break from trying to make sense of whatever the hell is going on here and instead look forward to the future. Namely, to later today, when the Jacksonville city council gets set to hold its first vote on Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposal for a massive development on his team’s stadium’s Lot J. The Lot J plan, you will recall, would require more than $200 million in city cash, interest-free loans, and tax breaks, but never fear! Some council members are proposing amendments!

City Council member Ron Salem said Wednesday he has worked with the Jaguars on an amendment saying that if the team were to leave Jacksonville before 2034 and Khan’s affiliate Gecko Investments sold its stake in the Lot J development, the city would get 50 percent of the proceeds from such a sale.

Salem said the amendment responds to concerns he’s heard that the Lot J deal should come with an extension of the Jaguars lease for TIAA Bank Field, which currently runs through 2030.

Ummmm, that doesn’t actually respond to those concerns at all, does it? The team could still leave Jacksonville, and so long as Khan held on to his stake in the development, the city would be squat out of luck. Not to mention that it would only cover an additional four years past the end of the existing lease. If the issue is wanting Khan to promise to keep the team in town for longer, why not, you know, make that part of the deal?

He said it’s not realistic to link the lease extension to Lot J because the city and the Jaguars will be talking in the coming years about TIAA Bank Field renovations and the lease extension will be tied to stadium improvements.

I mean. This is really quite something. We’ve seen local elected officials carry water for sports team owners before — lord, have we seen that — but I can’t remember a time previously when one has said, we can’t demand concessions from the local sports baron, because then what will he have left to trade with us when he comes back for more cash? Even if you give Councilmember Salem the benefit of the doubt and think what he really meant was Khan won’t agree to a lease extension now because he’s waiting to use it for Round Two, that’s still pretty remarkable, given that the council is totally within its rights to just sit on its hands and not approve anything until it gets what it wants.

There are other amendments on the table as well:

  • Council president Tommy Hazouri has proposed removing the city’s $65.5 million no-interest loan from the financing plan, which the Florida Times-Union reports “would drop the city’s total commitment to $167.5 million,” though if you look at the numbers the subsidy could still be close to $200 million even without the loan.
  • Hazouri and councilmember Randy DeFoor have proposed an amendment requiring that if the Jaguars leave Jacksonville, Khan would have to pay “liquifidated damages” (no, that’s not a word) of up to $152 million, though that figure would decline over time.
  • Councilmember Rory Diamond is seeking to prevent any city officials involved in the Lot J deal from going to work for Khan or his partners for five years after leaving their city jobs; current “revolving door” laws only prohibit jumping to companies you’ve voted to aid for a span of two years.

Today’s vote is just a committee vote to move the proposal to the floor of the full council, but because it’s the “committee of the whole,” everyone on the council will be voting, so it’ll be a good litmus test of how Tuesday’s final vote will go, if it happens. It’s possible that today’s vote could approve a vote Tuesday but that the one then will fail — Tuesday’s vote, unlike today’s, will require a supermajority of 13 out of 19 councilmembers since it requires a change to the city capital budget in the middle of the budget year. You can watch today’s hearing, starting at 10 am ET, via Zoom using the login information here. If, you know, you don’t have anything better to pay attention to today.

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Thursday roundup: Teams top off 2020 with added public stadium cash, look forward to more of the same in 2021

Welcome to the long-awaited season finale of 2020! What plot twists do you think they have in store for us? I was going to guess some musical numbers, but we already got that earlier in the season, so it’s really anybody’s guess.

One thing never changes year after year, though, even a year filled with unprecedented deaths and huge hits to local government balance sheets, and that’s rich people who own sports teams trying to get public officials to sign large checks to them. How successful were they this week? Let us count the ways:

  • The state of Ohio officially approved $16 million for F.C. Cincinnati‘s new stadium and a $25 million loan to the Columbus Crew for their new stadium, bringing the total public subsidies for those two projects to $97 million and … a loan at 3% interest isn’t actually a significant benefit to the Crew, so that’s probably still around the $98 million it was at before. Both are well short of D.C. United‘s MLS record $183 million in subsidies, but still Ohio taxpayers are looking at some real money here. And don’t forget the Crew owners are still maybe looking for additional tax breaks, so there could be more public costs to come in stoppage time!
  • Elsewhere in MLS, the New York Red Bulls owners may be looking to build a new training facility just seven years after opening their old one (and just expanding it in 2017), either because they need more room or because other teams have glitzier practice fields now, depending on which part of the SB Nation post you want to believe. Team execs have hinted they may be looking at Kearny, the next New Jersey town over from their home stadium in Harrison, but no details yet on where the training center might go or how it would be paid for.
  • Once indoor concerts are a thing again, there could be a short-term boom for venues like Nassau Coliseum that were otherwise having trouble booking shows, notes Newsday, since everybody is going to want to tour at once and everybody can’t play Madison Square Garden at once. The less good news is that this might not take place until 2022; in the meantime, I’m still very eager to see who’s going to get to play on New York City streets this spring and summer, because man oh man do I miss live music.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is allowing the Buffalo Bills to have limited attendance at their home playoff game, and local restaurateurs are griping that they can’t have indoor dining at the same time, even though indoors and outdoors are two different places with two different viral infection rates. (The article also mentions that less than 2% of new infections can be traced to restaurants and bars, apparently based on this spreadsheet released by Cuomo, but since the governor’s office hasn’t revealed whether that’s the percentage of all new infections or just those that can be contact traced — it’s way easier to tell if someone is living with someone who has Covid than if they sat near someone at a restaurant — major grains of salt apply here.)
  • Hawaii is still set to spend $350 million on building a new Aloha Bowl after the old one was condemned. No, I don’t know why Hawaii needs a $350 million football stadium either.
  • Most pro sports teams that applied for Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans back in the spring withdrew their requests when they realized how bad it looked for them to be scarfing up all the money that was meant to keep small businesses afloat, but that’s not the case with the Pittsburgh Penguins owners, who kept their $4.8 million in PPP loan money and say they needed it to pay their arena rent. On the one hand, the rest of the NHL somehow managed to pay rent (where teams are paying any rent) without the need for a government bailout; on the other, most of the PPP money went to places like giant restaurant chains anyway, so if the Penguins are just taking money out of the mouths of TGI Friday’s owners, I guess whatever.
  • The Metro Millers, an indie-league baseball team set to start play in 2022 in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, have hit a couple of roadblocks on their planned $36 million stadium, namely that private investment is “on hold” thanks to the pandemic and crowdfunding only brought in $7,000 of the team’s $600,000 goal. But they’re still planning on opening in 2022, or maybe 2023, or whenever the money materializes. “It needs a lot of work, at least from the funding aspect of it,” Shakopee Mayor Bill Mars said back when the project was first announced in 2019, with a projected opening date of 2021. “It will be interesting to see how they progress over the next six months to a year as far as funding.” Not going too well! Paying for stadiums is hard when you need to do it out of actual venue revenues instead of finding some other sucker to stick with the tab.
  • The Las Vegas Review-Journal has ranked potential NBA expansion cities, mostly to assert that Vegas should be co-frontrunners with Seattle, the end.
  • There was an article earlier this week on how the Jacksonville Jaguars getting the first pick in next year’s NFL draft and the right to take quarterback Trevor Lawrence “could impact NFL and London to tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” which really didn’t make much sense — something about how having a marquee player could give Jags owner Shad Khan more leverage to get stadium money from Jacksonville or move elsewhere, somehow. Instead let’s focus on how the New York Jets somehow fumbled away their near lock on the #1 draft pick by winning two games in a row, because #LOLJets is always fun even for someone like me who doesn’t watch football and thinks it should probably be replaced entirely by video games.
  • The city of Cleveland is tearing down two warehouses new the Browns‘ stadium so the team can have more room for hosting fans at the the 2021 draft in April, even though it’s pretty unlikely that large numbers of fans will be allowed to gather in one place, even outdoors, by April. The city says it’s only keeping “attic stock” in the warehouses, so those can be relocated at a cost of just — whoops, article is over, no time for that detail, sorry!
  • New San Diego mayor Todd Gloria told a radio show that he’d like to see a new arena built in his city, and you can listen to his interview at that link if you want, but meanwhile I’m transfixed by this arena rendering, which I had missed until now:
    What is happening here? Is there some kind of giant glass wall (fringed with plants, because plants) taking up an entire corner of the arena bowl so that people outside can see the people sitting inside and vice versa? Won’t that make it hard for people inside to see whatever is going on on the court or rink or stage, with all the light pouring in from outside? Why is there a streak of light in the foreground that passes right in front of (or through) all the people on the street? If it’s one of those time-lapse things where cars just look like streaks of light, does that mean all the pedestrians have been frozen in place by some calamity? Maybe this is the surprise that the last day of 2020 holds for us: the end of time itself? If so, go listen to that radio clip now, it may be the last thing you ever do!
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The sad story of the stadium named Dr Pepper for no good reason

A reader this weekend sent me this otherwise-innocuous article from 2019, which halfway through veers into discussing a stadium naming-rights deal gone wrong. Or, depending on your perspective, gone very very right:

If nothing changes before opening day on April 4, for the second consecutive season the team will play in a Dr Pepper Ballpark that is no longer technically Dr Pepper Ballpark.

After a 15-year relationship, the Plano-based soft drink company didn’t renew its sponsorship with the RoughRiders when its contract expired Oct. 1, 2017. …

Though it stopped paying for the privilege 16 months ago, Dr Pepper’s signage remains up throughout the RoughRiders’ stadium and the “Dr Pepper Stadium” name and logo is still prominent on the team’s website and promotional materials.

The Dallas Observer omits a few details here, so let’s back up a second. The Frisco RoughRiders of the Double-A Texas League are the former Shreveport Swamp Dragons of the Double-A Texas League, whose owner, then-Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, relocated them in 2003 after getting the city of Frisco to build him a new 10,000-seat stadium. The city put up $67 million in future tax kickbacks toward the project, with Hicks kicking in another $233 million, though a lot of that wasn’t for the stadium but rather for the mixed-use development Hicks built around the stadium. (And was later sued by one of his partners over, before ending up going bankrupt and selling all his sports teams, but that is one if not several other stories.)

Though the city of Frisco helped pay for the park’s construction and owns the building — the better for Hicks not to pay property taxes on it — Hicks kept the revenue for himself, including any cash raised by selling naming rights to the RoughRiders’ new home. (Selling naming rights to buildings you don’t own is standard business practice among sports team owners, apparently for no better reason than that sports team owners tell city officials that it’s standard business practice.) Dr Pepper/Seven Up, which had its headquarters in neighboring Plano, stepped up with a 15-year offer for an undisclosed amount of money to name the new ballpark Dr Pepper/Seven Up Ballpark, which was such a massively stupid name that it was quickly shortened to just Dr Pepper Ballpark.

When that naming-rights deal expired after 2017, the company, by now renamed Dr Pepper Snapple after a series of corporate shenanigans too boring to recount here, decided that maybe having a stadium named after your soft drink wasn’t the best marketing strategy after all, and declined to renew. RoughRiders officials quickly announced that they would be seeking a new $18 million, 12-year deal, and at least one local economist predicted they’d have no trouble finding a company to pay up.

That has not gone so well. Three years later, the naming rights have still not resold, yet the stadium is still called Dr Pepper Ballpark. This is, apparently, because the team can’t be bothered to take down the old signage. As an anonymous former team employee told the Dallas Observer, “It would cost money to pull all those signs down. We know money is pretty tight up there so, congrats Dr Pepper, free advertising!”

For reference, here is a photo of the main stadium signage, which looks like it would be pretty easy to dismantle and take down, or, you know, throw a tarp over:

There is probably much to be said about the shortsightedness of minor-league sports team owners or the effect on naming-rights value of having ingrained one name in people’s consciousness for 15-going-on-18 years, but really I just want to focus on this poor baseball stadium, which not only has to put up with being festooned with drab gray siding and outfitted with a lazy river to coerce people to brave the Texas heat watching Double-A baseball, but is stuck being named after a poorly punctuated soda designed to taste like the inside of a drug store even though no one is paying for it to be called that. This is either an indictment of modern sports or late capitalism or something, but it makes me sad and yearn for simpler times when ballparks were named after racist team owners or something. Allow me some gauzy nostalgia, no matter how ahistorical it may be!

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Roger Goodell presses play on “buffalobillsstadiumdemand.mp3” file again

Oh dear, Roger Goodell is Goodelling again about a new Buffalo Bills stadium:

We all want the Buffalo Bills to continue to be in Buffalo, to be successful. A stadium that is going to be competitive with other stadiums around the league is going to be important in that context, and I think everyone’s committed to that, whether it’s a new significant renovation or whether it’s a completely new facility in a new location.

I think those are things that the group has to settle collectively and address over the next several months, if not sooner.

Yep, that checks all the boxes:

  • Non-threat threat that it sure would be a shame if the team had to leave town.
  • Associated threat that it would be a shame of the team weren’t “successful,” not specifying whether this means on the field or in terms of raking in profits.
  • Leaving open the option of a new renovation or a new building, so long as it’s “significant,” which usually means lotsa public moneys.
  • Two-minute warning that this needs to be resolved soon if not sooner, or else … something.

The Bills’ lease at their current stadium does expire in 2022, but that can always be extended, so there’s really no rush. And Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula have been decidedly lukewarm on demanding a new stadium, because getting a billion dollars out of the city or state would be hard, and lord knows they don’t want to blow their own money on one. (A spokesperson for the Pegulas told WHAM-TV yesterday that they’ve done a study and are “working internally to determine the next steps regarding any future plans for the home of the Buffalo Bills.”)

But commissioners gonna commissioner, and even if demanding new stadium spending for the Bills doesn’t immediately pay dividends in Buffalo, it does keep other NFL cities on their toes that this could happen to you too if you let your stadium get much past drinking age. (It also, to be fair, came in response to a journalist question, but Goodell certainly seemed to have his talking points ready.) And so if it ensures more headlines like “Could Buffalo Bills get a new home?” even when the team owners are showing no interest in beating the drum for a new home, that’s what Goodell is going to do to earn his big, big bucks.

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Wichita may spend way more than $75m on stadium development, but local news has no interest in telling you

The Wichita city council passed its 2%-sales-tax-surcharge district yesterday, in an “emergency declaration” to allow the tax to kick in starting in April, when the new Wind Surge Triple-A baseball stadium it will help fund is set to open. Show of hands, Wichita news outlets, which among you explained why it was an emergency, what the projected $13 million in tax revenue over 22 years will fund, or what would have happened if the tax district hadn’t passed?

  • KWCH-TV: “Mayor Jeff Longwell said it was necessary to pass the 2% sales tax this year. ‘So we can start collecting that tax to potentially use what its intended for which was described today to pay off various different bonds the ballpark, the amenities that are going to be down there,’ he said. Longwell’s last day in office as mayor is next Monday.” No help there, though the non-bylined story certainly implies that the “emergency” was that the mayor wanted to get this done before ending his lame-duck term.
  • KFDI-FM: “The revenue generated from the district will be used to help with the design and construction of the stadium, utilities, parking and improvements along the river corridor, as well as surrounding development on the west bank.” Except the stadium has already been designed and will be almost done with construction by April, so what’s the rush, KFDI reporter George Lawson?
  • Wichita Eagle: “Money from the sales tax hike and the increase in property taxes generated by the new development will be split between the city government and the private-sector developers. The city will get the first $10 million to help offset the cost of the new $75 million ball park. The developers will get the next $30 million to help pay for their project costs. Anything above that $40 million will be split 50-50 between the city and the developers.” So some of the money (from both sales taxes and property taxes) will go to pay for stadium costs, and the rest to subsidize surrounding development — that’s actually potentially a lot more than just the $75 million in stadium subsidies that’s previously been discussed, but it’s hard to tell without projections of how much tax revenue is at stake here, which Eagle reporters Dion Lefler and Chance Swaim don’t provide.

You know, I do my best here to report on and analyze these deals from my apartment in Brooklyn, but ultimately I’m reliant on journalists in local communities to do the initial reporting, since I don’t have the time and resources to do the legwork on basic facts of a stadium plan. In this case, I actually called and emailed the Wichita city council’s press liaison, plus emailed a city councilmember who is a friend of a FoS reader — neither has gotten any response so far, so I’m in the dark as you are on this. (We do know that the stadium is getting $40 million in STAR bonds — essentially sales tax increment financing, where any increase in state sales-tax revenue in the area gets kicked back to the stadium rather than going to public coffers — but the sales-tax surcharge is on top of that.)

Many journalists tend to shy away from running stories that say “Here’s what elected officials claim, but we don’t know if it’s true,” either because they fear it would make them look unduly skeptical or because they don’t take the time to ask the right questions or because they are afraid of challenging assertions that no one else is — but, you know, those are all things that are literally their job. When they don’t do it, we’re left with “Wichita is taking a bunch of tax money, we’re not sure how much, and giving it to somebody for something,” which is not a great way to hold elected officials accountable. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many ways to hold journalists accountable, other than publicly shaming them, so: Hey, Wichita newspeople, you can’t journalism your way out of a paper bag! That’ll show ’em.

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Friday roundup: Missouri gov may okay $30m for St. Louis MLS after all, NYCFC stadium not entirely dead yet, and other end-of-decade hopes and fears

It’s the last weekly news roundup of another year, and another decade, and while I’m not going to do a full 2010s In Review article like some sites, I think it’s fair to say that the big story of the last decade is that we’re pretty much still where we were ten years ago: There’s billions of public dollars being spent each year on new private sports stadiums and arenas, and lots of citizen opposition, but that opposition usually isn’t enough to overcome team owners’ lobbying power or the various ploys that they use to justify demanding tax dollars for their projects — it’s an economic benefit, the team will have to move without it, it’s really about the development that goes along with it, you know the drill. There are certainly some positive signs where teams have paid their own way (or more of their own way) in the face of elected officials holding firm on subsidies, but it’s such extremely incremental progress that it’s almost hard to measure — I was about to say it’s a “glacial” pace, but with glaciers moving really fast these days, maybe it’s time to retire that word.

In any case, thanks to all FoS readers for your generous support this year, monetary and otherwise, and let’s get to the week’s remaining news:

  • Missouri Gov. Mike Parson backpedaled somewhat on opposition to giving $30 million in state tax credits to a new St. Louis MLS stadium, saying he supports the project but “We were asked to make a decision in, like, 10 days on $30 million, and that’s just not the way I do business” and “we need to make sure it’s a good deal for the state of Missouri.” It’s hard to tell from Parson’s statements whether this is genuine reconsideration or just trying to show he’s willing to talk (so long as he isn’t taken to the cleaners), but given that from the sound of things the team is moving ahead with the project with or without the tax credits, one hopes he’ll take a real long look at exactly what the state would be getting for its $30 million.
  • Soccer site The Outfield has dug up some year-old renderings of a proposed NYC F.C. stadium in the Bronx, which make clear how it would require closing a major street that serves as access from an off-ramp off the nearby Major Deegan Expressway. More interestingly, the site also dug up emails indicating that city development officials have been continuing to meet with consultants and the like around the plan, so maybe it’s not entirely dead after all, despite no apparent action since it was first revealed in July 2018.
  • The Los Angeles Chargers‘ problem of having many fans rooting for the opposing team has gotten so bad that their quarterback is complaining that they can’t hear signals from their coaches, adding, “being someone who remembers what it used to be like at home games it’s pretty bad.”
  • Some North Carolina developers bought some land, so Raleigh is totally getting its own MLS team. Ha ha, just kidding, it’s really that everybody is getting their own MLS team! Anyway, local residents are both afraid that they will be priced out of the neighborhood and also looking forward to giving local kids “something to look up to other than gangs and the drugs [and] alcoholism,” according to the local radio station that interviewed all of two people.
  • The head of the Oakland NAACP is also afraid of African-American residents being priced out of the neighborhood if the A’s build a new stadium at Howard Terminal, though his op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News isn’t too specific about what’s at risk other than “thousands of good, high-paying jobs” currently on the site.
  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders are not getting a roof on their stadium even though it was built to accommodate one because roofs are too damn expensive.
  • Here’s another study of the economic impact of a sports event that assumes everyone who traveled to and attended the event was only in town because of the event. I think I need to develop a form letter to the editor about these.


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Friday roundup: Two state legislators call for halt to Angels stadium sale, St. Louis MLS team mum on state tax credit repeal, Tampa mayor still eager to play footsie with Rays

It’s D-Day for the Los Angeles Angels stadium sale plan, with the Anaheim city council set to hold its potentially one and only hearing on the matter today starting at 2 pm Pacific time. I’ll meet you back here then with this window open, but until then there’s lots of news:

  • California state assemblymember Tom Daly and state senator Tom Umberg have written an open letter to Anaheim calling for the vote to be postponed, noting, “Without knowing the final terms and conditions of the eventual sale, including the role the City will play in shaping the development of the land, how can the taxpayers of Anaheim know if the proposed sale achieves the maximum financial value for the City?” and laying out a bunch of as-yet-unanswered questions about the deal, including how the sale price was arrived at, how any deductions for building “community benefits” will be calculated, and how any decision can be reached when key details of the proposed development on the site won’t be finalized for months yet? Daly, you’ll recall, is a former Anaheim mayor who joined with another former Anaheim mayor, Tom Tait, to write an op-ed this week opposing the deal, which raises some important issues, like what’s with all these California politicians named Tom? And which is the best nickname now for the opposition, Band of Toms or Tom Tom Club? Just what we needed, more unanswered questions!
  • The owners of St. Louis’s expansion MLS franchise aren’t commenting on Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to withhold $30 million of requested state tax credits for the team’s stadium project, though they are going ahead with requesting highway ramp closures in February so that construction can begin. Does this mean they’re giving up on the $30 million tax subsidy, meaning it was never necessary to begin with to get the stadium project done? Or that they’re planning to work behind the scenes to get their money from somewhere, and see no point in making a public stink about it? Or maybe they’re just content to sit back and let local sports columnists call the governor “a teammate you can’t count on” and hope that shames him into changing his mind.
  • Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says when she first heard about the idea of the Tampa Bay Rays building new stadiums in both Montreal and Florida and splitting the season between them, she thought “that makes no sense” but now feels “let them explore it. It’s something new.” This is both not a ringing endorsement of the plan while also clearly an attempt to tell Rays owner Stuart Sternberg that she’s open to discussing a new stadium on whatever terms he likes, which coming from someone who showed up at a Rays playoff game in October wearing a team jersey and saying she both wants to help build Sternberg a stadium and also not spend any city money on a new stadium is right on brand in terms of trying to be all things to all people.
  • A Florida state legislator’s bill earlier this year to repeal the state’s sales-tax fund for sports stadium funding didn’t get anywhere, so now a different state legislator has submitted his own version. This is likely going nowhere fast, but given that no sports team has yet managed to tap the fund and none have even applied for money the last two years, this may be an answer to the age-old question of what happens when an movable object meets a stoppable force.
  • Oh yeah, I wrote an essay for Slate about MLB’s minor-league contraction proposal, concluding that while major-league owners may not quite have their brinkmanship ducks in a row — despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s hissy-fit declaration last week that maybe he’ll just stop affiliating with the minors altogether if they’re going to be that way — they do know that they’re going to use their cartel power (and antitrust exemption) for all it’s worth, just like when they colluded in the 1980s to not bid on each other’s free agents and … okay, that didn’t work out so well, but this time it’ll go great, you’ll see!
  • Charlotte is getting an MLS team and Raleigh isn’t, and the Raleigh News-Observer is upset, apparently because they don’t realize that eventually everyone will get their own MLS team.
  • And speaking of Charlotte, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper may be in line to get $110 million worth of public money to revamp his current football stadium for soccer, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on his ultimate goal of “an improved” version of Tottenham Stadium with its retractable field to switch between American football and soccer. Something tells me he’s not planning to agree to a lease extension in exchange for that $110 million, or that being his final ask for public money.
  • NYC F.C. still hasn’t made any announcement about that Bronx stadium that the New York Times reported was in the works a year and a half ago, but they did announce that next year they’ll play four home games at a different baseball stadium than the one they’ve been calling home.
  • The Texas Rangers have released new renderings of proposed office buildings actually within their old stadium, raising a couple of important questions: Could the XFL’s Dallas Renegades still play there, if there’s still an XFL by then? And also, if that’s the new Rangers stadium depicted in the background, why isn’t it on fire?
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Anaheim to spend all of three days reviewing $325m land sale to Angels owner before final vote

There can be a weirdly recursive snake-eating-its-own-tail aspect to this site at times: Because I’m reporting here on stadium deals, mostly via other outlets’ reports on breaking news, and yet also I’m often interviewed by these same outlets as an expert on these deals, it’s not uncommon for me to report on articles that use me as a source. Such is the case today, where I talked to a reporter yesterday about the Los Angeles Angels stadium deal, and am waiting for the resulting article to go up — but thanks to some nonsense about the Earth being round and it being earlier in California than New York, I’m still waiting.

So instead, here’s the latest news that I gleaned from that conversation, and one other with a different source: The Anaheim city council has scheduled a hearing for December 17, at which it will presumably finally give the public (and its own members) a look at the full plan to sell Angel Stadium and its surrounding parking lots to Angels owner Arte Moreno for $325 million or maybe less if he takes deductions for building parks and affordable housing. Then it has scheduled a final vote for December 20 — meaning there will be all of three days to look over the plans in any detail more than the three-page marketing brochure that the city has posted on its website.

This is, and I’m pretty sure I used this word in my interview, bonkers: There’s simply no way to accurately vet a $325 million land sale with this many moving parts in just 72 hours. Plus, apparently some elements of the deal won’t be resolved until after the vote — which as we’ve seen before is a great way to set yourself up for unexpected costs.

The obvious solution is to wait: The Angels’ lease is now back in place through 2029 after a council vote in January (which the council didn’t even realize it was voting on), so there’s no reason not to take the time to actually read the damn plan, not to mention cross all the t’s in it. Instead, though, the council seems set to rush through the process, either because they don’t understand how contracts and leases work or because they do all too well and are just trying to limit time for anyone to take a look at the inner workings of this deal. Either way, it’s the direct opposite of due diligence — something else you’ll probably see me quoted elsewhere as saying, any minute now.

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Friday roundup: St. Louis moves ahead on $51m in MLS subsidies, minor-league cities react to MLB annihilation plan, plus stadium traffic notes from all over

Getting a late start today, so let’s just pretend I had something witty and informative to say in this intro paragraph and get on with the weekly news roundup:

  • The city of St. Louis has officially requested $30 million in state tax credits for the planned $250 million stadium for its expansion MLS team, on top of $21 million from three special taxing districts that will go to the team — all stuff we pretty much knew back in August, but now the paperwork is all being done. Anyway, the state credits are expected to be voted on a week from Tuesday, so if you want to yell at your local elected officials about this, get on the ball!
  • Noah Frank of WTOP has taken a long look at what MLB’s minor-league contraction plan will mean for teams and cities on the chopping block, and it’s not pretty: The Frederick Keys owners are “gobsmacked” to be on the hit list after leading the Carolina League in attendance in 2019, while the Erie SeaWolves got $12 million in stadium improvements last year and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies $5.1 million, and both could see their teams vaporized after 2020. Frank also notes (citing J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, who was the first to uncover this plan) that MLB’s claims that it spends $500 million annually on minor league players is more than a bit disingenuous, since that includes $416.5 million a year in draft bonuses and international signing bonuses that would continue under any contraction plan — the players who’d be cut would be the cheap ones at the end of the draft, so really MLB would only save chump change in this deal.
  • Add New York Congressional Rep. Max Rose (whose district includes the targeted Staten Island Yankees) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (whose state includes the targeted Connecticut Tigers) to the list of elected officials griping about the minor-league contraction plan, not that it’ll do much good unless it threatens MLB’s antitrust exemption. (Rose has a say on that, Lamont none at all.)
  • The California Air Resources Board has okayed the Los Angeles Clippers‘ arena plan’s greenhouse-gas-mitigation plan, saying installing install 1,330 electric vehicle chargers, adding 93 bike parking spaces, buying two electric buses and 10 electric vehicles for they city, and planting 1,000 trees is enough of a measure to reduce carbon output from fans going to the games. (A Natural Resources Defense Council attorney called the measures “pretty much a joke,” noting that most fans will still choose to drive to games as usual.) Once signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the approval means all environmental lawsuits against the project need to be resolved in nine months, which would be more significant if the two main lawsuits still outstanding against the arena had anything to do with environmental impact.
  • A $200 million highway project to make it easier to drive to the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium won’t have its first piece open until 2021, a year after the stadium opens, and won’t be complete until 2024. Meanwhile, if you’re thinking, “Wait, Nevada is spending $200 million on highway improvements on top of $750 million for the stadium?”, rest assured that the Las Vegas Review-Journal says, “The project was in the works even before the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas was whispered about, and it does not create any additional fiscal impact on the state Department of Transportation. But the timeline was accelerated once the $2 billion stadium, near I-15 and Russell Road, became a reality.” And spending money now doesn’t cost any more than spending money later, right? (Also, guess Nevada doesn’t have any laws about trying to reduce the number of cars on roads, huh?)
  • In related (and better?) new, those broken roof support bolts in the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium aren’t actually flawed, they were just overtightened, according to team officials. This project gets more and more like assembling an Ikea cabinet every day.
  • The Cincinnati Bengals suck and no one wants to see them play, and the Atlanta Falcons suck and no one wants to see them play. Apparently we’re going to spend the rest of our lives looking at photos of half-empty stadiums and noting that fans don’t like to watch their teams lose; somewhere Red Barber is looking down and thinking that he was born 50 years too soon.
  • It’s rare that we get a report of how much it costs for local government to provide emergency services for a sports venue (something that would normally be paid for by property taxes, except that most stadiums and arenas don’t pay property taxes thanks to being publicly owned), so it’s interesting to see that the Palm Springs fire and police departments say they’ll need nearly $20 million in new equipment and $3.6 million a year in operating costs to cover services for the city’s planned minor-league hockey arena — sure, it’s their own estimates and they have an incentive to ask for as much as possible, but still it’s probably within an order of magnitude of reality.
  • Here’s a Forbes unpaid contributor article about stadium innovations of 2019 that starts by claiming that private sports venue funding causes “ticket and associated prices” to climb, hurting fans. This is completely wrong in terms of both empirical data and economic theory — does anyone really think that owners with subsidized stadiums pull back on raising ticket prices as much as the market will bear, just because they already have someone else footing their construction tab? — and so I stopped reading there, but if you want to plod ahead to the end, it’s your funeral.
  • The $290 million Calgary Flames arena-subsidy deal is finally signed off on, so forget all your fantasies of taking the money and using it for transit and housing instead.
  • Now that the Los Angeles Angels won’t be moving to Long Beach, the city of Long Beach needs to figure out what to do with the proposed stadium site that was way too small for a stadium anyway, say city officials. And so do development plans spring fully formed from rotting meat.
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Friday roundup: Tax money for A’s “privately funded” stadium, ticket prices to blame for MLB attendance drop, and USL stadiums for everybody!

Running late after staying up reading that damn Rams/Chargers article, so going to have to rush through the week’s remaining news a bit. I’m sure you all will add the requisite snarky remarks in comments:

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