Friday roundup: Remembering Jim Bouton, and the latest in stadium shakedown absurdities

One day maybe 16 or 17 years ago, I was sitting at my computer when my phone rang and a voice at the other end said, “Hi, this is Jim Bouton. Can I speak with Neil deMause?”

Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor that the author of Ball Four (and winner of two games in the 1964 World Series) was calling me, we got down to business: Bouton was in the midst of writing a book about his attempts to save a nearly century-old minor-league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and had some questions about how attempts to save old ballparks (and save the public’s money on building new ones) had gone in other cities. We soon fell to chatting amiably about the nuances and absurdities of the stadium game — I’m pretty sure Jim had only one setting with people he’d just met, which was “chatting amiably” — and eventually ended up having a few conversations about his book and his work as a short-term preservationist and ballclub operator. (The preservation part was successful — Wahconah Park is still in use today — but he was eventually forced out from team management.) I got to meet him in person for the first time a couple of years later when he came to Brooklyn to talk with local residents then fighting demolition of their buildings to make way for a new Brooklyn Nets arena, an issue he quickly became as passionate about as everything else that touched his sense of injustice; when I learned (at a Jim Bouton book talk, in fact) that the initial edition of Field of Schemes had gone out of print, he enthusiastically encouraged me and Joanna Cagan to find a publisher for a revised edition, as he had never been shy about doing for his own books, even when that meant publishing them himself.

The last time I talked to Jim was in the spring of 2012, when he showed up at a screening of the documentary Knuckleball! (along with fellow knuckleball pitchers R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield, and Charlie Hough) to help teach kids how to throw the near-magical pitch. We only got to talk briefly, as he was kept busy chatting amiably with everyone else who wanted a moment with him. Soon after that, he had a stroke, and eventually developed vascular dementia, which on Wednesday took his life at age 80.

I’m eternally grateful to have had a chance to spend a little time with one of the nicest, smartest, funniest world-famous authors and ballplayers you could ever hope to meet, especially when we crossed paths on a topic that was so important to both of us. The image I’ll always retain of Jim, though, was of getting ice cream with him near his home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and him looking at my cup and exclaiming, “Sprinkles! That’s a great idea!” and then sprinting back into the shop to get some added to his as well. To the end, Jim Bouton remained boyishly intense about things that were truly important, whether fighting General Electric to save an old ballpark or eating ice cream, and that’s a rare and precious gift. My sympathies to his wife, Paula, and to all who loved him, which by this point I think was pretty much everybody.

And now, to the nuances and absurdities of this week’s stadium and arena news:

Friday roundup: Rangers fans don’t like nice weather after all, Orlando re-renovating renovated stadium, Dan Snyder has a $180m yacht

Today is site migration day — cue the jokes about how Field of Schemes should be hosted half the time in Montreal and half the time in Tampa Bay — so if things look a bit weird after 2 pm Eastern or so, that’s to be expected. Rest assured that the site will be back to normal soon, hopefully later today but certainly entirely by Monday; or actually better than normal, because the whole point of this exercise is to have a zippier, more reliable platform so that you can get your immediate fix of stadium news without having to refresh or even wait multiple milliseconds for images to load.

And speaking of your immediate stadium fix, here’s the rest of this week’s news:

  • The Texas Rangers are building (read: mostly having the citizens of Arlington build for them) a new stadium just so they can have air-conditioning so that fans will go to games, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out that the team has been winning and the weather has been nice this spring, and fans still aren’t showing up.
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber said that he “could see [Las Vegas] being on our list for future teams,” which is literally the most noncommittal thing he could say, but he still gets headlines for it, so he’s gonna keep saying it.
  • Here’s an article about how building a whole real estate development that will turn a big profit will help the Golden State Warriors make more money, if anyone wasn’t clear on that concept already.
  • The Orlando city council approved the $60 million in renovation money for Camping World Stadium (née the Citrus Bowl) that they said they would last fall. Since the stadium doesn’t even have a regular sports tenant — it is only used for the occasional soccer friendly, college football game, or concert — it’s hard to call this a subsidy to anyone in particular, but it’s still probably a pretty dumb use of money, especially since the stadium was just renovated once already in 2014.
  • There is no actual news in this Page Six item, but if you thought I was going to pass up a chance to link to an article that begins, “Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder roared up to Cannes Lions in his $180 million yacht as ad sources speculated he’s in town to find a title sponsor for the team’s new stadium,” you’re crazy.
  • Construction on the Las Vegas Raiders stadium was momentarily halted last week when it turned out one of the parts didn’t fit, which probably isn’t a big deal in the long run — in fact, the ill-fitting steel truss was adjusted and reinstalled a few days later — but that doesn’t mean we can’t make Ikea jokes.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks owners have hired architecture firm HKS, who designed the Texas Rangers’ new park, to design a new stadium for them if they choose to build one, and you know what that’s going to mean: lots of renderings with Mitch Moreland and his wife in them.

Friday roundup: Raiders’ Oakland deal still not done, A’s stadium plan gets rounder edges, Flames arena vote delayed

Let’s get right to the week’s news roundup:

  • NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Monday that Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis was on the verge of an agreement with Oakland officials to stay put in Oakland for 2019 and possibly 2020, and four days later, they still appear to have moved no closer than the verge. More news as events warrant, if they ever do.
  • We have new renderings for the proposed Oakland A’s stadium at Howard Terminal, and they look slightly less doofy than the old renderings, or at least somewhat less angular. Odds that any ballpark will look remotely like this if a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: two infinities to one. Odds that a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: Somewhat better, but I still wouldn’t hold your breath.
  • The Calgary city council put off a vote on a term sheet for a new Flames arena on Tuesday, after a marathon meeting that the public was barred from. They’ll be meeting in private again on Monday, and still plan not to tell anyone what the deal looks like until they’ve negotiated it with the Flames owners, which Calgary residents are not super happy about.
  • Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer still really really wants a new arena of his own by 2024, and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that he met with Inglewood Mayor James Butts as early as June 2016 to try to get Madison Square Garden to give up its lease on his preferred arena site before they found out he wanted to build an arena there. This is mostly of interest if you like gawking at warring sports billionaires, but if you do you’re in luck, because the battle seems likely to continue for a long time yet.
  • The Miami Marlins are turning the former site of their Red Grooms home run sculpture in center field into a “three-tier millennial park” with $10 standing-room tickets, because apparently millennials are broke and hate sitting down? They’ve gotta try something, I guess, and this did help get them a long Miami Herald article about their “rebranding” efforts, so sure, millennial park it is.
  • Building a football stadium for a college football team and hoping to fill it up with lots of Bruce Springsteen concerts turns out, shockingly, not to have been such a great idea. UConn’s Rentschler Field loses money most years, and hasn’t hosted a major concert since 2007, with the director of the agency that runs it griping, “The summers are generally slow, the springs are generally muddy, and the falls are UConn’s.” And nobody built lots of new development around a stadium that hosts only nine events a year, likewise shockingly. It still could have been worse, though: Hartford could have spent even more money on landing the New England Patriots.
  • Speaking of failed sports developments, the new Detroit Red Wings arena district is “shaping up to be a giant swath of blacktop,” reports Deadline Detroit, which also revealed that the city has failed to penalize the team’s owners for missing development deadlines, and has held out the possibility of more public subsidies if he ever does build anything around the arena. At least the Ilitches are finally paying for the extra police needed to work NHL games, though, so that’s something.
  • Oklahoma City is considering using up to $92 million to build a 10,000-seat USL stadium that could later be expanded for MLS, because of course they are.
  • Here is an article that cites “an economic development expert” as saying that hosting a Super Bowl could be worth $1 billion in “economic activity” to Las Vegas, saying he based this on the results of last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Actual increased tax receipts for Minneapolis during the game: $2.4 million. It took me 30 seconds to research this, but apparently the Las Vegas Review-Journal is too high and mighty to use Google. Do not reward them with your clicks.

Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

Friday roundup: Panthers’ record sale price goosed by public money, Beckham stadium delayed yet again, Rams stadium really will cost $4B-plus

Google looks to have broken all of its RSS feeds, so if I missed anything important this week, drop me an email and I’ll play catchup next week:

Rose Bowl nixes hosting NFL team, L.A. temporary stadium options down to Coliseum or playing in street

The Pasadena-controlled board that owns the Rose Bowl voted this week not to bid to provide a temporary home to an NFL team in Los Angeles, saying they would rather host an annual music festival instead. (The music festival wouldn’t be during the NFL season, but its environmental impact statement requires that the Rose Bowl not host pro football if the festival takes place.)

This still leaves the NFL with a bunch of options, but as the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno report, they’re all problematic. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are baseball stadiums, and not only does the NFL hate playing in baseball stadiums, but baseball teams hate sharing digs with football, which messes up their schedule and tears up the grass. The Los Angeles Galaxy‘s StubHub Center in Carson only holds 27,000 — though NFL stadium consultant Marc Ganis tried to put a happy face on this to the L.A. Times, saying, “There’s something interesting about playing in a smaller facility, to start with creating a scarcity of tickets and increase the level of interest early on,” yeah, right — and is run by AEG, which already has no love for the NFL after having its own downtown L.A. stadium plan shot down.

That leaves the L.A. Coliseum, which would be fine but for two things: First off, USC’s lease on the Coliseum only allows it to host one NFL team, which would be a problem if, say, both the Raiders and Chargers needed temporary homes while waiting for a new stadium to be completed. Second, it’s really hard to get a bidding war going with only one serious bidder, so any team wanting to bunk at the Coliseum temporarily likely just saw its prospective rent go up.

This probably isn’t enough to be more than a speed bump en route to a new L.A. NFL stadium (and team), but given that the finances of such a project already look shaky enough, you never know which is going to be the speed bump that breaks the camel’s back. (Yeah, I know the metaphor doesn’t really make sense, work with me here.) The fight to be the future home of the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams still seems like a battle that no one can possibly win — it’s one reason I don’t expect any resolution soon, but I guess we’ll get some hints, maybe, following the August owners’ meetings.

State-funded Syracuse stadium would cost $495m, plus land and parking lots

Syracuse University has provided more details about its proposed new state-subsidized football stadium, which are:

  • Cost would be $495 million plus parking structures and land acquisition, the cost of which aren’t outlined.
  • The stadium would seat 44,000 (down from the Carrier Dome’s 49,000), with a retractable roof so it could host basketball and other indoor events while also events that need to be outdoors, like, um, professional snowball fights?
  • “Additional development of a 250-room hotel, over 160 apartments and 150,000 feet of retail space.” No word on how that would be paid for, or whether there would be penalties if it didn’t happen; the university said it would require “additional discussions.”
  • “The facility’s operating budget would pay for the extra police, fire and other public services needed.”
  • Whether the site would pay property taxes is undecided, but in any case the university wouldn’t pay any, since it would just be a tenant.

That’s clear as mud, but at least it’s something. Also noteworthy: The SU consultant who wrote the letter demanding public funds is Irwin Raij, the same guy who New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo hired two years ago to be his state stadium negotiations czar. It’s always more profitable when you can work both sides of the street.

Syracuse officials: Stadium may be on back burner, but we still love subsidies, really!

It looks like that $500 million Syracuse University football stadium (with $300 million paid for by New York taxpayers) may be on hold for the moment, as Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner’s public questioning of the project’s funding has led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to put off formally proposing the plan. And this has two Syracuse city councilmembers freaking out that developers might think this means their city isn’t interested in throwing money at them anymore:

“Don’t turn your back on the city of Syracuse just because we weren’t able to launch this project,” Councilor-at-Large Kathleen Joy said today in an hour-long editorial board meeting at syracuse.com / The Post-Standard.

“Take a chance on us,” Councilor-at-Large Jean Kessner said….

Conversations about the stadium may continue, Kessner said, though Joy held out less hope. Moreover, they worry that the lack of agreement among local officials about the possible deal may send a message that Syracuse isn’t ready to take on large-scale developments that could mean new jobs and more property tax payments in the city.

Remember, people: They can smell desperation.

Cuomo to propose $300m in public money for new Syracuse college football stadium

I really do try to steer clear of college sports on this site, because I have to draw the line somewhere, but HOLY CRAP NEW YORK STATE IS TALKING ABOUT GIVING SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY $300 MILLION TOWARD A NEW STADIUM!

[Onondaga County Executive Joanie] Mahoney and other county officials this week expressed dismay that [Mayor Stephanie] Miner would not endorse the project in time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include it in his upcoming state budget, which he will unveil Jan. 21. Cuomo had signaled his willingness to provide some $200 million in state money for the deal, Mahoney said. The county was prepared to provide $100 million or more.

The bulk of the Syracuse Post-Standard article linked above is about a squabble over a feasibility study that Mahoney got a taxpayer-funded nonprofit to do for the university — which Syracuse then refused to share the result of with lawmakers, because they said they were afraid then the public might get to see it. That’s pretty bad in itself, but seriously, $300 million in public subsidies? For a college football stadium? For a private university? I’m not completely sure that’s a record, but I’ll be surprised if it isn’t.

Syracuse University has been talking about replacing the Carrier Dome, which has an old-fashioned inflated fixed roof, with a new 40,000-seat stadium with a totally modern and shiny and stuff retractable roof, for a few weeks now, because, duh, shiny! I haven’t seen a price tag for the entire project mentioned, so it’s impossible to say how much of a share the state and county’s $300 million would kick in, but given that the most expensive college stadium ever cost only $450 million, even adding a retractable roof couldn’t get you much past $600-700 million. So we’re likely talking about New York state taxpayers being asked to put up around half the cost of a new stadium to benefit a private university’s sports teams. Criminy.

Colorado State thinks a $246m football stadium will help balance its budget

I’m not sure what to say about this that isn’t already covered by the included quote from an opponent to the plan: “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Faced with declining state funding, [Colorado State University] is raising money to build a $246 million, 40,000-seat football stadium on its Fort Collins campus. University President Tony Frank says the new facility will help build a winning football team while advancing one of the school’s highest priorities: attracting more out-of-state students paying higher tuition.

You can sort of understand why CSU is desparate: Its state funding has been slashed in recent years, and it now only gets 10% of its budget from the state, so bringing in higher-paying students sounds like a solution. Frank notes that the University of Oregon built a whole bunch of new athletic facilities and doubled its share of nonresident students — though neither he nor the Wall Street Journal article attempts to determine if that’s the main reason, or even whether the increased tuition payments at Oregon have been enough to pay off the athletic facilities (which in any case at Oregon have mostly been funded by donations from Nike founder Phil Knight).

Then there’s this little problem:

No academic research exists to support the notion that a new stadium helps a college football team win, experts say. Nor will it necessarily attract more fans. The universities of Akron and Minnesota both moved from off-campus to new on-campus stadiums in 2009. Both saw initial attendance bumps before attendance dropped below pre-new-stadium levels.

Maybe if Colorado State thinks that out-of-state students will come based on a winning football team, it should skip all this stadium-building nonsense and just pay for some better players. Oh wait.