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

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

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

Yet another Birmingham legislative body approves $250 million college football stadium subsidy, because sidewalks or somesuch nonsense

The Birmingham city council voted 6-3 yesterday to approve spending $3 million a year for 30 years on a new University of Alabama-Birmingham football stadium. I think this was the final vote necessary, and we’ve already covered the total public costs ($15.7 million a year, or about $250 million in present value) and crazy economic arguments behind the plan, so let’s just move ahead with quotes from the four hours of citizen comments that were otherwise ignored by the council:

“It doesn’t benefit us anything to build this stadium here,” [Robert Walker, vice president of the Wahouma Neighborhood Association,] said. “I ask you to do something different. The people don’t want it.”

Edna Freeman, of the Druid Hills neighborhood, which borders the BJCC property, said she doesn’t support the stadium. “It will need parking. People will have to move.

“When you talk about four blocks to build a stadium, where is the parking? They are going to buy property for parking,” she said.

“We don’t need a stadium in our neighborhood,” Freeman added. “It can go somewhere else. We need our houses developed. We need property where people want to move in our neighborhood, not tear it down.”…

The Rev. Gwendolyn Cook Webb said no vote should take place until the people are allowed to be heard. “The people haven’t been heard yet,” she said.

“It is like we are going back to the ’60s,” she said. “‘You do what I say do,’ is what I heard this morning.”

Spending all this money on a college football stadium that will be used a handful of times per year and move games from one part of the city to another will make it easier for the city to spend money on fixing sidewalks, according to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who as a reminder is out of his goddamn mind.

Alabama house overwhelmingly approves taxing rental cars to fund college football stadium, because revitalization!

Birmingham’s $174 million college football stadium (I’m guessing you’ll be able to tell which Birmingham I mean by the rest of that noun clause) took another step forward yesterday, after the Alabama state house approved a 3% car rental tax hike by a 14-3 vote:

The tax has been on the books since 2001, when it was proposed to help build a domed stadium, but has never been collected. The bill would start collection of the tax when the BJCC Authority contractually commits to building the stadium…

The bill, which has passed the Senate, now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey, who could sign it into law.

As a reminder, local taxpayers will be contributing $15.7 million a year — about $250 million in present value — toward a stadium that will mostly serve to allow the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s football team to move from one part of town to another. Or, as Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin put it:

“The action the Alabama House took today puts us one step closer to Birmingham having state-of-the art facilities to better compete for tourism, sporting and entertainment business. In addition, expanding and renovating the BJCC will generate millions of dollars over the next decade for the city that will go to neighborhood revitalization.”

Out of his goddamn mind.

Birmingham residents protest new stadium funding, state senate approves it unanimously anyway

Still on the road, but just wanted to chime in briefly to note these two headlines from Birmingham:

Opposition to proposed downtown Birmingham stadium grows

Car lease tax for BJCC stadium approved by Alabama Senate

In short: Residents of the neighborhood around Legion Field are upset that the city and state would be spending money on building a new stadium, leaving their 90-year-old one pretty much redundant. The state senate, meanwhile, went ahead and voted unanimously to approve a 3% car rental tax surcharge to help pay for the new stadium, which will mostly be used for University of Alabama-Birmingham football and for Birmingham Legion F.C., a USL expansion franchise starting play next year.

A vote on the car tax still needs to take place in the state house, where a bill is being proposed to instead raise it by 6%, with the additional money to go toward tourism and economic development in other parts of the city. That does not necessarily sound like a better idea, and it’s unclear whether it would make Legion Field neighbors happy, but debating over whether to spend a bunch of money on an unneeded stadium or twice as much money on an unneeded stadium and possible other unneeded projects is about par for the course of how I’d expect these things to go.


Friday roundup: Tons of news, but you’ll forget it all once you see that Houston is spending public money on a pro rugby stadium

And in other news that doesn’t involve proposed Tampa Bay Rays stadium sites:

  • United Airlines is spending $69 million on naming rights to the Los Angeles Coliseum in advance of the 2028 Olympics, but IOC rules prohibit corporate names during the Olympics, oops. Hope you enjoy the most expensive college-football naming rights deal in history, United!
  • Hotel revenue fell 16% in San Diego last year after the Chargers left town, but went up 0.2% in St. Louis after the Rams left. I’m not honestly sure what if anything this means — you’d really have to look at hotel revenue on football weekends to do this right, and it doesn’t look like this study did — but feel free to speculate wildly.
  • Did I mention the Yahoo Finance article yet that compares the Amazon HQ2 chase to the competition to host the Super Bowl, and cites me saying that while Amazon will bring more jobs, “that said, there’s almost no way it’s worth the kind of money that cities are talking about”? Well, now I have, enjoy!
  • has recalculated the public costs of a proposed University of Alabama-Birmingham football stadium and come up with a total of $18.2 million a year — $10.7 million from a bunch of county taxes, $3.5 million from a new car rental tax surcharge, $1 million from other county funds, and $3 million from city funds — not the $15.7 million I had previously reported. UAB and a naming rights sponsor and other private contributors, meanwhile, would only put in $4 million a year, and only for the first ten years. Out of his goddamn mind, I tell you.
  • Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report filed a Freedom of Information Law request to see the competing bids for the Belmont Park site that eventually got awarded to the New York Islanders, and was shot down on the grounds that it would “impair present or imminent contract awards.” Wait, wasn’t the contract already awarded? Will it be okay to ask again once it’s too late to do anything about it?
  • The WNBA’s Chicago Sky are moving to the new DePaul basketball arena that the city of Chicago helped pay for, which I guess is marginally good for Chicago in that it gets to steal a tiny sliver of economic activity from Rosemont, screw those guys, right? (Actually, Rosemont is apparently a gated community, so maybe screw those guys.)
  • A New Orleans Pelicans game was delayed because the arena roof leaked. No one is demanding that a new arena be built just yet that I’ve heard, but given that the current one is 19 whole years old, it’s gotta to be a matter of time, even if this one does have a fire fountain.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates are threatening to sue the city-county sports authority over who’ll pay how much for $10 million in improvements to their stadium, because apparently the people who write these stadium leases are idiots.
  • If you enjoy this site but were thinking, “Wouldn’t this be better as a YouTube video with lots of animated charts?”, Vox has got you covered.
  • The Houston city council has approved spending $3.2 million in tax dollars on a pro rugby stadium for the Houston SaberCats, who are a pro rugby team that is going to play in a pro rugby league, which councilmember Jack Christie calls “a beautiful example of public-private partnerships that we ought to look at in the future, because as far as I have heard, there’s not been one city tax dollar used for this development.” I’m done. Have a good weekend.

The mayor of Birmingham is out of his goddamn mind

The Birmingham City Council voted unanimously (with one abstention and one absence) yesterday on a “resolution of intent” to spend $90 million over 30 years toward a new football stadium. That’s along with $11.7 million a year from the state and county, all for a stadium that will be used mostly by the University of Alabama-Birmingham football team, plus a USL franchise.

That’s kind of a lot of money for a less-than-hugely-popular college team and minor-league soccer, but to hear Mayor Randall Woodfin tell it, this isn’t about supporting local sports. No, this is about an investment:

Addressing the council and members of the public, Mayor Randall Woodfin said the city needs to help fund the construction of the stadium to generate new revenue to pay for street paving, demolition of dilapidated houses and rebuilding sidewalks.

He said the city doesn’t currently have the money to pay for those priorities.

Here’s how Woodfin justifies this logic: The city will take $3 million a year that is currently going to pay debt service, and instead give it to the stadium. The stadium, in turn, will — according to a projection by the state-run Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which hasn’t revealed anything about how it came up with this number, to my knowledge — generate $9.9 million a year in new tax revenue for the city.

If that sounds like magic beans, it should, because as we calculated here last week, the stadium would need to consistently draw sold-out crowds of fans, each of whom would have to spend hundreds of dollars per game, and none of whom would have been spending their money in Birmingham otherwise, for those numbers to pencil out. The best you can say about this plan is it comes down to “hey, if the city spends some money on a stadium, the state will spend even more — maybe, if it decides to pass a new car rental tax surcharge — and maybe we’ll end up getting a new stadium on the cheap for city taxpayers.” But that’s not nearly the same as “building a stadium will be a cash cow for the city,” which as Roger Noll noted yesterday, is exactly the reasoning that cities should never be using for building new sports venues.

Fortunately, at least the members of the Birmingham city council seem to have their heads screwed on marginally better:

“None of us think this is a slam-dunk win,” Council President Valerie Abbott said. “The devil is in the details. The details haven’t been worked out,” she said, which is why only a resolution of intent was considered Tuesday.

So… maybe once the council realizes that there’ll be no money raining from heaven if they spend on a stadium, they’ll reverse course and vote against it? Or does this just mean “we’re not approving anything until the state passes that car-rental tax”? Ideally the council would have found a way to express its skepticism some other way than a unanimous “yes” vote, but when Mayor Woodfin is the alternative, I guess you have to take what you can get.

Birmingham considering spending $15.7m a year on a college football/USL stadium because numbers!

One of the first stadium controversies I covered on this site — so long ago that I can only find dead links to it — was the plan to spend several hundred million dollars on a domed football stadium in Birmingham, Alabama, something that voters rejected in a referendum way back in 1998. The dream never died, though, and now local officials are moving full speed ahead on a plan for a $174 million, 55,000-seat stadium that would host the University of Alabama-Birmingham and a USL expansion team and other stuff too, presumably, and really I just need to quote liberally from here:

During a Wednesday afternoon meeting, [Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin] proposed the city contributing $3 million a year for 30 years to the expansion and renovation of the BJCC which includes a stadium and renovations to the Legacy Arena. describes this as “allocating $90 million,” but in present value it’s really more like $45 million. Or to put it another way, it’s the same as taking out a mortgage for $45 million and then paying it off over 30 years.

The city’s contribution would come each year from excess lodging tax and funds that have previously been going to city debt service, the mayor said.

“Excess” would imply here that the city doesn’t need it any more for debt service? So it would be going into the general fund? Doesn’t the city need money in its general fund?

Woodfin said the city doesn’t have the money to fund its priorities such as crime and neighborhood revitalization, but the city can’t afford not to invest in its infrastructure.

The city definitely needs money in its general fund.

The BJCC Authority is committing $10.7 million to the annual debt service on the project. Jefferson County has committed $1 million a year for 30 years.

So that’s $10.7 million a year from the BJCC Authority, $1 million a year from the county, and $3 million a year from the city? UAB is kicking in $4 million a year in lease payments (over the first ten years, anyway), so all that would be just about enough to pay off bonds on a $300 million project, which is what the whole thing is projected to amount to. But where will the rest of that public money come from?

State legislation that would levy an additional 3 percent automobile rental tax in Jefferson County for the support of the BJCC has been advertised for the 2018 legislative session.

This rental sales tax is expected to generate $3.5 million a year for 30 years.

A new car rental tax, if it passes the state legislature. Check.

And why should Birmingham taxpayers want to do all this?

The expansion of the BJCC is projected to generate $9.9 million in additional tax revenue for the city, according to the BJCC.

That’s $9.9 million annually, apparently, which would clearly make this a great investment for the city (if less so for county car renters, who’d bear the bulk of the costs), but which also seems completely implausible. I can’t find whatever study the BJCC is using to support its claims, but we can do the math ourselves:

Let’s say UAB sells out six home games a year — kind of ambitious since this is a football program that actually considered shutting down a few years back out of lack of interest, but let’s go with it. That’d be 330,000 fans a year. Add in 100,000 soccer fans a year, which would be pretty good for a USL team. Birmingham has a 6% local sales tax, so to generate $9.9 million in tax revenue, those 430,000 fans would have to spend $165 million — or $384 apiece, per game. (If we assume, I dunno, ten sold-out concerts and international soccer games a year, which is getting into the realm of wish fulfillment, then you might get it down to $150 in spending per fan, which isn’t much more realistic.) And this would all have to be money that wouldn’t be otherwise spent within Birmingham, so it would entirely depend on local college football and minor-league soccer mostly appealing to fans from outside the city limits.

On the one hand, this is clearly a far better idea than spending half a billion dollars on a domed stadium to lure an NFL team like city leaders were considering two decades ago. On the other, it still doesn’t appear to make a damn bit of sense. quotes Mayor Woodfin as saying, “We can net new revenue (from renovating BJCC and building new stadium) to create fund that will go 100 percent to neighborhood revitalization,” which doesn’t make sense either grammatically or mathematically, but the mayor said it, so it has to go into the newspaper, right? I should stop pretending that journalism is actually a thing anymore, shouldn’t I?

Birmingham domed stadium advocate: “We don’t need public support”

There really isn’t much I can add to this lede from an article yesterday at

Birmingham will get a domed stadium in the next few years whether the public wants one or not. That was the message shared by Gene Hallman, CEO of the Bruno Event Team and Executive Director of the Alabama Sports Foundation at a Birmingham CREW luncheon on Tuesday.

“We don’t need public support,” Hallman said. “I don’t mean to be arrogant, but we aren’t running a campaign like we did in 1998 where we need a vote– we are looking to fund the stadium using existing funds from the city, county or state. The best thing we can do is just get it done and then tell people why it’s a good thing we’re doing it.”

Then, because he couldn’t help himself, Hallman told people why he was doing it anyway:

“Right now we are turning down a number of conventions and trade shows because we have nowhere for them to go,” Hallman said. “It’s shocking the number of associations that exist out there that need a place for their convention or trade show. They need to be able to make Birmingham their destination.”

This, as Heywood Sanders makes clear in his excellent new book Convention Center Follies, is an even worse idea than a city like Birmingham building a domed stadium in hopes of getting an NFL team, because there is at the moment a massive convention center glut in the U.S., to the point where many if not most cities that expand their convention facilities don’t actually get any additional convention business.

As for how Birmingham would fund a domed football stadium tapping only existing public tax dollars — what it would take to do this without a referendum — Hallman didn’t say, because he doesn’t have to tell you, okay? He just knows he doesn’t want any votin’, because last time Birmingham did that people voted the wrong way, and we can’t have that, can we?

Hallman does make one valid point, which is that if Birmingham is going to go after a team in any sports league, it should be the NFL, because “the NFL shares its revenue equally among all 31 teams,” so a small market like Birmingham could legitimately survive. Er, except for the part where the NFL has had 32 teams for the last 12 years. But hey, the guy’s been busy pushing for a domed stadium in Birmingham since 1996, you can’t really expect him to keep up with current events, now can you?