Newly renovated Nassau Coliseum dies of arena glut, after short illness

So this happened, or is happening, or is reported to be happening based on “people familiar with the matter”:

The Nassau Coliseum, the Long Island arena that hosted professional hockey games and rock concerts, is turning off the lights.

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment, which operates the arena under a lease from Nassau County, is planning to shutter the venue indefinitely while it seeks investors to take over operations and pick up the remaining debt on the building, according to people familiar with the matter.

Onexim has told potential investors that it would turn over the lease in return for assuming roughly $100 million in loans on the property, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. The firm, which is laying off arena employees, could also surrender the lease to its lenders, the person said.

Onexim released a statement saying that the Coliseum’s value “will be best realized by other parties” and blaming the Covid pandemic for the move, but the Coliiseum has other, much bigger problems: It just underwent a $180 million renovation to modernize it so it could compete with other New York–area venues for concerts, then saw a whole new arena start construction at nearby Belmont Park. The last time something similar to this happened, it was Newark opening the Prudential Center just down the turnpike from the Meadowlands Arena (or whatever it was called right then), which resulted in the latter arena closing and turning into a state-subsidized movie soundstage, because there really aren’t enough events to go around in the tristate area to fill five arenas. Prokhorov clearly saw the writing on the wall then — he put the arena up for sale right after the Islanders arena was approved — so declaring Operation Shutdown is the next logical step, even if maybe loudly declaring that your arena can’t make any money is not the absolute best way to find buyers for it.

The immediate impact, of course, is that the New York Islanders now have nowhere to play (once having a place for sports teams to play becomes a thing again), as the team had only just announced earlier this year that it would be playing the 2020-21 season in Nassau after giving up on Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. (Okay, also it may mess with this summer’s planned drive-in movies in the arena parking lot, but I’m guessing somewhat fewer people will be concerned about that.) Newsday speculates that the team would have no choice but to return to Brooklyn for a season if the Coliseum remains shuttered once the next NHL season starts up sometime next winter, because its old lease says it has to play games at either the Coliseum or Barclays, but it will likely take lawyers with a fine-tooth comb to determine what that means if Nassau remains padlocked. Not that the Islanders would have many other options, though I suppose if pandemic-related bans on fans are still in effect come January 2021, they could always play at some college rink or in Iceland or something.

While the pandemic didn’t create venue glut, it certainly seems to be forcing some hard reckonings with it: The Rose Bowl is also reportedly trying to figure out how to stay afloat amid tons of other Los Angeles–area stadium options, with everything on the table from adding miniature golf to shutting down entirely, though the latter would be a last resort. (The Rose Bowl is also getting $11.5 million in emergency cash from its owner, the city of Pasadena, which is not going to help with Pasadena’s massive schools budget gap.) There’s been an awful lot of blinkered optimism about letting a thousand sports venues bloom and crossing fingers there’ll be enough events to go around; that was never going to work, and the pandemic is quickly making clear that the resulting shakeout is likely to hit the oldest venues the hardest, even if they’ve been recently renovated. Score one for the investors who rolled the dice on building the new Belmont Park arena, I guess, since they’re effectively grabbing a slice of a limited market by driving a competitor out of business — though New York state might want to revisit its economic impact projections for the public money it’s pouring into the Belmont site, now that it turns out it’s just likely to end up replacing one Nassau County arena with a shinier one.

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.

Rumors and the report of rumors in California NFL stadiums

Lots of news today among the various California locales considering new or renovated NFL stadiums — though actually, “news” might be pushing it. Here, you decide for yourself:

  • Majestic Realty, the developers who want to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry, now say they’ll redesign their stadium to be able to fit World Cup soccer there. “Because we’re building a new stadium, we could incorporate anything FIFA could want,” Majestic stadium architect Dan Meis told the Associated Press. Or to put it another way: This is still vaportecture for now anyway, but we can change it round if you like.
  • The Oakland Raiders are talking to city officials about a new stadium on the site of the Oakland Coliseum that would be, according to team CEO Amy Trask, “an anchor for, or a catalyst for, an urban redevelopment that provides economic stimulus for the whole region.” From the sound of it, this is code for “ballpark village,” but Trask didn’t provide specifics.
  • NFL commissioner Roger Goodell chimed in that he’s concerned about low attendance at Raiders games, and that he’d like the Raiders and San Francisco 49ers to consider a shared stadium. (Oakland claims it can build an $880 million stadium with no public money, though it apparently doesn’t count property and hotel taxes as public money.) He also said that the NFL needs to do a better job selling the stadium experience compared to staying at home and watching on HD TVs,, and specifically cited how great it is to watch in person at … a Raiders game: “It’s a great experience being there feeling that passion and excitement. It’s something you don’t get at home.” (Make your own joke about how “at home, it’s more crowded.”)
  • The city of Pasadena, meanwhile, actually made real news, approving a $152 million renovation of the Rose Bowl to take place over the next three football offseasons. The Pasadena Star News reports that “the project is expected to generate enough revenue to cover the debt service 1.475 times,” though it doesn’t provide details of whether this is via a more lucrative lease with UCLA or higher ticket prices or added tax revenues or what. The project would also be subsidized by the use of federal stimulus bonds, so taxpayers across the U.S. will each be tossing in a few cents for the Rose Bowl’s newly widened access tunnels.

Rose Bowl renovation: your tax dollars at work?

For those of you angered that our folks in Congress meet every so often to discuss the college football championship fiasco, consider that one reason a $163 million renovation of the Rose Bowl is being pushed forward is the possibility of tapping stimulus funds as one reason for doing so. The Rose Bowl with its huge capacity will host this year’s college football championship game on January 7.

A New York Times report on New Year’s Day suggested that Rose Bowl folks fear going in the same direction as the Orange Bowl (the wrecking ball) if something is not done, but Times reporter Billy Witz explains that plans to merge renovations with an NFL team met with a variety of obstacles. Among them, community opposition, with many having recollections of Raider fans converging on LA in strange and intimidating costumes before Al Davis took his ball and moved back to Oakland, as well as concerns that a Soldier Field-style renovation might occur. In that instance, the historic facility lost its landmark status, and rightfully so.

To avoid that problem, the Rose Bowl’s general manager, Darryl Dunn, has brought in Janet Marie Smith, best known for Camden Yards planning and Fenway renovation. As for why stimulus funds might be needed, Dunn indicated that they’d go after donors and look to events, but said, “We’re a stadium….We don’t have an alumni base.” The Rose Bowl currently owes $43 million on earlier renovation projects, so the $163 million renovation, if it moved forward, would push the renovation costs well above the $200 million mark. It is still small compared to the high price of recent professional sport venue construction, but 200 million bucks isn’t chicken feed either.

For those who are outraged by this, consider that you can fire up your TV this evening and watch the GMAC bowl, sponsored by a recipient of federal bailout money, and a few days later enjoy the Citi BCS Championship Game, sponsored, once again sponsored by a beneficiary of bailout funds. The Rose Bowl hopes to sponsor many more BCS games after renovations take place. If taxpayers seem to be funding the college football championship tournament both directly and indirectly, maybe we ought to have a little more of a role in fixing the mess!