People love living near stadiums, says paper devoted to saying people love living places

The New York Times real estate section chimes in on stadiums today, which is great news, because it means we can explore the bastion of weirdness that is the New York Times real estate section. First off, let’s hit the checklist: Does the article boast of a hot new neighborhood or neighborhoods that savvy buyers should be aware of? Check!

Once considered neighborhoods to avoid, property around many of Europe’s great soccer stadiums is growing more popular these days, as cities grow more expensive and teams build new facilities. Home buyers are finding bargains near stadiums and developers see opportunities to create new urban communities.

Does it do so by exclusively quoting realtors, developers, and happy residents of these areas? You bet it does: five realtors, one developer, and two residents. Does it describe the featured neighborhoods of having some nebulous trendiness that can’t be measured, only felt? Of course!

“There is a buzz about the place,” Mr. Spooner said. “People come here to have a good time.”

And most of all, does it eventually undermine its own premise with counterevidence, but bury that way at the end of the article so that readers (and the headline writer) can ignore it? You betcha! First it notes that “prices are often lower than in other neighborhoods” (which is noted as an attraction, but is also an indication that living near a stadium isn’t actually seen as that desirable), then the whole premise comes crashing down when the scene shifts to Barcelona and Rome:

Barcelonians are fanatical for Barça, but they are not necessarily eager to live near Camp Nou, the team’s stadium, said Joan Canela, of the Engel & Völkers Barcelona office.

“None of our clients demand to be near the stadium,” he said. The stadium “hurts value, because it is an area that becomes very crowded when there is a match, is complicated to park and the neighbors may have problems to access to their homes,” Mr. Canela said…

Barbara Maravalli, 42, rents a three-bedroom apartment with her husband and two children about half a mile from [Rome’s] Stadio Olimpico. “It played absolutely no role in my choice,” she said. “I wanted to be close to the center and surrounded by green areas.”

On game days there are “crazy” traffic jams in the area, Ms. Maravelli said. Her 20-minute drive to work can take an hour if she does not plan carefully. “I would rather they move the stadium, but I love this area so much that I would keep on staying here,” she said.

Add it all up, and you have: A bunch of realtors trying to sell or rent apartments around some of Europe’s big soccer stadiums say they’re a great deal; as for actual residents, some like being near stadiums, some don’t. That’s not actually a story at all, but in Times Real Estate land, it’s more than enough to warrant a headline like “Stadium Neighborhoods Are Becoming Magnets for Home Seekers,” which who knows, might even help stoke interest in those areas, as a Times R.E. mention has been known to do. It happened to Bushwickit’ll happen to you!

 

West Ham owner: Be glad we’re paying anything to rent London’s “ridiculous” Olympic stadium

Here in the U.S., we’re used to sports team owners justifying public stadium subsidies as a boon to taxpayers because they will create umpteen billion dollars in economic activity or whatnot, usually backed up by studies of dubious parentage. In the case of West Ham United owner David Gold, though, stung by criticism that his lease on London’s former Olympic stadium will cost the public so much in maintenance and operations that it could eat up any rent he’ll pay, he has a somewhat different argument:

“We built a stadium that was built by a number of very arrogant people that had no foresight for the future. They built a ridiculous stadium but we have made the best of it.

“It’s just ill-informed judgments and opinions. I get that. Sometimes a newspaper will pick out and its headline will be: ‘Taxpayer paying for the flags and the goalposts.’ What a fantastic headline. It gives everybody a misinformation. It sends out the wrong information that they believe the taxpayer is paying for everything and they get nothing in exchange.

“That’s ridiculous. The taxpayer is going to make a profit. It wouldn’t make a profit if you tore down the stadium and put it into a 25,000-seater, would it? Come on, how many people are going to watch the world championship hop, skip and jump?”

What Gold seems to be saying here is that London was dumb enough to spend £701 million (a little over $1 billion) on a stadium that would only be used for three weeks, so hey, at least West Ham is letting them earn something back on it. As lessons in sunk costs go, I still prefer this one — but apparently the kids today need all the help with this that they can get.

West Ham’s Olympic stadium lease sticks London with cost of everything from heating to corner flags

I don’t follow English Premier League finances as closely as those on this side of the pond, so I honestly couldn’t tell you whether the £2.5 million a year in rent that West Ham will pay for use of the 2012 London Olympic stadium as its home pitch is a huge sweetheart deal or not. I’m leaning yes, though, if only from this extraordinary statement put out by the London Legacy Development Corporation, the team’s new landlord:

“We were concerned that the publication of this contract and the precedent it may set for future agreements could make it harder to do this. However, we have decided not to seek leave to appeal, and have today made the contract available on our website.”

That sure sounds like, “No, don’t let it out that we gave West Ham such a great deal, now everyone will want one!”

The big giveaway here, as with many modern stadium leases, is the degree to which taxpayers will be on the hook for stadium operations: The public body will have to pay for all policing, stadium heating, lights, goalposts and even corner flags, which could easily eat up the entire £2.5 million. Nice negotiating, London Legacy Development Corporation!

D.C. zoning commission likes United stadium, just wishes it looked less like a prison

The D.C. Zoning Commission held its first hearing on D.C. United‘s new stadium being built with the help of $183 million in city money, and the commissioners didn’t sound too thrilled with the team’s bait-and-switch stadium design:

“I actually looked at it and it and I thought, this reminds me of a prison, the facade,” [commissioner Marcie] Cohen said. “I think we need to get a little bit more, maybe a little bit more friendly to the neighborhood, because if I’m looking at the facade, I wouldn’t be too happy with that view.”

What Cohen was talking about was presumably this, which, yeah, she has a point:

dc-united-pressNot to mention: Ghost balloons! Eeeagh!

The good news for United owner Erick Thohir is things like spiffing up the exterior are relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, so they should be able to make the commissioners happy with a few tweaks. And if not, well, Thohir is only on the hook for half of the first $20 million in cost overruns, so it’ll be more the city’s problem than his.

Speaking of Thohir, he also owns Italian soccer giant Inter Milan, and had this to say yesterday about that team’s new-stadium campaign:

“If you look at future revenue, the stadium is very important, just look at what Juventus make with ticket sales. Both Milan clubs are working to improve the stadium, otherwise we’ll lose €20m in profit.”

Lose €20m in profit compared to what exactly? Compared to what they make now? Compared to what Juventus makes now? Compared to what they’d make in a new stadium? How does Thohir know what his profits would be in a new stadium when he doesn’t even know how much he’d have to spend on it? Do sports team owners even think before saying these things, or is it like those “You’re going to be grounded for the next six months!” threats that parents blurt out before thinking what they’re saying or how they’ll enforce it? Anyway, nice to see that while Europe may be far behind when it comes to lavishing public money on its sports teams for no good reason, America doesn’t yet have a monopoly on stupid.

F.C. Barcelona is spending $711m on stadium upgrades, and it’s probably actually not crazy

I don’t usually try to cover all of European soccer stadium news, both because there’s so much of it and because the stadium swindles that typify North American sports are largely unheard of there, for varied reasons having to do with government attitudes toward corporate subsidies, team ownership structure, and the way the leagues themselves are organized. (Real oversimplified version: It’s hard to shake down your city for stadium money by threatening to leave if your city can just start a new minor-league team and have it play its way up to the majors in a few seasons.) But I’m going to make an exception for F.C. Barcelona‘s $711 million stadium expansion plans, not just because we’re a Barça household here, but also it reveals some interesting things about how stadium finance works these days.

The renovation plan, which has been in the works a couple of years, would expand the already 100,000-seat Camp Nou by 5,000 seats, something that SB Nation latched onto as an excuse for talking about just how decadent this is. (That’s $142,243.29 per seat! Which is … a lot!) The changes to the seating bowl, though, are relatively minor (a roof will be extended over all the seats, and the lower and upper decks will get rejiggered somewhat, ostensibly for better sightlines). Much of the expense, it looks like, will go into creating this on the outer side of the stadium:

FOTO_C_-_Detall_Fa_ana-Optimized.v1457473248Aside from providing exciting new ways for Barça fans to fall to their deaths, apparently, that’s a whole lot of room for new places to sell stuff to fans. And indeed, a “new zone of restaurants” is one of the things the club has planned as a revenue generator for the redone space, as well as doubling the number of VIP seats to almost 8,000, and selling “partial” naming rights to the building, which probably means something like MetLife Stadium’s corporate sponsored entrances, though without the corporate stadium name since that wouldn’t fly well with Barça fans.

It’s all a lot like the $1 billion in upgrades that the owners of the New York Knicks and Rangers undertook to Madison Square Garden a few years back: A fabulously wealthy franchise spending a bunch of money in the hopes of making more money in the future. The parallel even goes as far as F.C. Barcelona (along with three other Spanish clubs) getting special tax breaks like MSG, something the European Union keeps threatening to rule on the legality of — though also like MSG, they get the tax breaks regardless of what they spend on stadium upgrades, so this expansion really is coming out of the team’s own pocket, even if that pocket has been previously bulged a bit with cash at public expense.

The other difference, of course, is that those Barça fans are the team’s owners — it’s that ownership structure, in fact, that is getting them (plus Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, and Osasuna, who despite the extra cash are mired down in the second division) the special tax treatment. And the fan-owners actually voted on the Camp Nou renovation (vs. another proposal of building a whole new stadium), so arguably you could say that this is an example of fans just wanting a snazzier place to watch the game (and buy things), and tapping the team’s deep pockets to pay for it.

So what does this — along with other new team-funded stadiums like Chelsea‘s, which recently got the ultimate in vaportecture videos, a series of renderings created by a season ticket holder who responded to a team request for design proposals — say about how stadiums should be built, renovated, and funded in North America? That if you’re popular enough, obviously, there are certain cases where spending hundreds of millions of dollars in team money on upgrades can make sense, both financially and (one hopes, if the Barça voters were smart) in terms of actual fan enjoyment. For the vast majority of teams, though, in a saner world it would be more about smaller, incremental upgrades as the fan base grows — like, for example, the expansion that newly first-division Eibar is undertaking to expand its teeny 6,000-seat stadium (better photos here).

That’s also pretty much how the U.S. stadium and arena world worked for the first half of the 20th century, before the threat of moving teams and mayors who thought their job was to throw “development incentives” at private companies and professional economic impact studies changed the world and made it necessary for Joanna Cagan and I to write a book and start this website. We might get back there again someday, maybe, but in the meantime I think I’ll be renewing the fieldofschemes.com domain name just the same.

NFL to play two games a year on Tottenham Hotspur’s crazy hidden turf field

Looks like that Tottenham Hotspur retractable field — which would apparently actually be a retractable grass pitch over permanent fake turf, something that’s hard to picture, especially since there’s no obvious place for it to retract to, but anyway — has done the trick, as the Premier League club announced a deal yesterday to host two NFL games per year at its new London stadium, once it opens in 2018.

In exchange, Tottenham will get … hang on, there’s got to be something in the long NFL.com statement that says what the NFL will be paying in rent or revenue sharing … nope, apparently not. But the NFL will provide Tottenham with something, in addition to the warm glow of hosting the kind of football that people in the UK don’t actually care about. (As my Vice collleague Aaron Gordon discovered last year, the Super Bowl got beat in the British TV ratings by both The Simpsons and a competitive tourism reality show called “Coach Trip.”)

Meanwhile, the new Tottenham deal has lots of folks speculating that this is the precursor to a full-time London NFL team soon, which it really isn’t, for all the reasons I went over back in April. For now, Tottenham just gets a bit of undisclosed cash, and the NFL gets some more chances to beat out Harry Shearer for the hearts and minds of the British public.

Tottenham Hotspur proposes retractable field for NFL, London still isn’t getting NFL anytime soon

Tottenham Hotspur‘s owners have another idea for luring an NFL team to London, which involves a retractable fake-turf field and is only probably going to lead to London even further becoming L.A.’s eventual successor as idle relocation threat target for NFL teams, as I discuss in my debut for the Washington Post’s PostEverything op-ed site:

Without L.A. in play, NFL team owners would need to find a new bogeyman. Enter London. If the league plays its cards right, it can spend the next two decades dangling London as a threat to silence any U.S. stadium naysayers — while still using the distant promise of a team to plump up British interest in the NFL, in a kind of “watch us and we will come” strategy aimed at the 64 million bereft souls who have never known the joy of buying a $10 foam finger.

The rest of the essay explains why I don’t think London is an alluring target for NFL owners, and includes all the digs at American football culture and links to comedy routines that you’ve come to expect from posts here, only I actually get paid for it. So go read it already!

Liverpool gets approval to expand stadium after wrecking neighborhood, crying blight

Speaking of Vice Sports, Aaron Gordon has a good piece up on Liverpool F.C. getting approval last week to expand its stadium’s capacity by 14,000 seats, and how it did so by secretly buying up houses in the neighborhood around the stadium, leaving them to rot, then getting the Liverpool city council to approve tearing them down as an anti-blight measure:

As of last year, Liverpool F.C. owned 150 homes around their historic stadium, Anfield. Almost all of them were vacant. “There are thieves ripping the lead off people’s roofs,” Chris Coyle, whose mother lived among the vacants, told the Liverpool Echo at the time. This was just the tip of the iceberg: the Guardian reported that over the past decade, miscreants lit some of the blighted houses on fire, threw bricks at the few remaining residents, and in 2001 a woman using one of the vacant homes was murdered. In what one resident called “dereliction by design,” Liverpool was accused of buying properties just to let them rot, driving prices down and residents out so they could more cheaply expand Anfield.

Gordon acknowledges that it’s not clear whether this was the original plan or just a lucky outcome — as he puts it, “t would be far too generous to credit Liverpool with carrying out a nefarious, coordinated plot across three ownership groups when it demonstrated so much incompetence on and off the field.” Either way, though, it’s a new twist on stadium shenanigans — I’ve seen a lot of crazy tactics over the years, but this is the first time I’ve seen a pro sports team accused of blockbusting.

Barça fans to vote on team funding own remodeling of Camp Nou, because Europe

European soccer remains generally outside the scope of this site, but I think I can make an exception for freakin’ F.C. Barcelona, which has announced it will conduct a major remodeling of its historic Camp Nou stadium rather than replacing it. The cost will be about $800 million, will run from 2017 through 2021 while the team still plays there, and will include added seating, new restaurants, and a new roof.

The cost will be covered entirely by Barça’s cash reserves, bank loans, and naming-rights fees, and as if that’s not enough to create culture shock for U.S. sports fans, check out this quote from team president Sandro Rosell:

“The option of building a new stadium on a new site has been rejected as the final cost could have saddled the club and its members with debt and tied the hands of future boards of directors,” added Rosell.

That’s eminently logical, and of course not at all the way we do things here, where fears of saddling teams with debt are typically used as a reason to demand public subsidies, not to scale back costs.

In other we’re-not-in-Kansas news, the Camp Nou remodeling will be voted on by Barcelona’s 222,000 members, since these fans are effectively shareholders in the team. I can’t even imagine what this system would look like if it were implemented here, since as we all know, voting on things is un-American.

Tottenham said to be considering NFL-ready stadium, according to legendarily unreliable newspaper

This was reported in the Daily Mail, the British tabloid that once won an award for “worst misrepresentation of a scientific article in a national newspaper,” so major grains of salt, but: The owners of the London-based Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly looking into building a new 65,000-seat stadium that would be able to be converted to football, thus giving them the ability to play host to a London NFL franchise.

The Mail reports — citing “sources” — that “it is understood that plans being drawn up for the Premier League outfit may include a sliding pitch to protect the playing surface for when it is used for NFL matches.” Which is pretty handwavy even for unattributed stadium plans, but given that we’re talking about an NFL team that so far exists only in the mind of London NFL boosters, it’s probably about as should be expected.

In the meantime, let’s just enjoy this awesome rendering of now-scrapped earlier plans for a Tottenham stadium, just because a building with “NAMING RIGHTS” stenciled on the roof is the perfect image for our sports era.