Friday roundup: Rattling sabers for Panthers stadium, leagues large and small seek bailouts, and a very large yacht

So how’s everyone out there, you know, doing? As the pandemic slowly feels less like a momentary crisis to be weathered and more like a new way of living to be learned (I refuse to say “new normal,” as nothing about this will ever feel normal), it’s tempting to occasionally look up and think about what habits and activities from the before times still make sense; I hope that FoS continues to educate and entertain you in ways that feel useful (or at least usefully distracting) — from all accounts the entire world being turned upside down hasn’t been enough to interrupt sports team owners’ important work of stadium shakedowns, so it’s good if we can keep at least half an eye on it, amid our stress-eating and TV bingewatching.

So get your half an eye ready, because a whole bunch of stuff happened again this week:

St. Louis Cardinals get $1m from big-business pandemic relief program you’ve never heard of

There are an awful lot of government programs to provide financial help to both individuals and businesses during the pandemic crash, and the nooks and crannies of the multiple relief bills passed by Congress contain even more. A bunch of these are “small business” programs, and as we’ve seen before, the feds define a whole lot of things as small businesses, including sports teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, whose owners applied for $4.6 million in refundable loans via the Payroll Protection Program before giving it back when they realized it looked bad. And now, hey look, the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals have found another program that they can get cash from!

It turns out that our beloved baseball team has also discovered a way to help itself to a share of the very same federal CARES COVID-19 relief dollars, but under a separate tax credit provision established for companies that don’t qualify for the PPP.

The tax credits portion of the CARES act has flown under the radar. Under it, a qualified company can receive taxpayer dollars indirectly through a reduction of its employer-match share of social security (FICA) payments. A company gets forgiven up to $5,000 per employee in taxes it would normally have owed, in exchange for maintaining a certain level of its workforce.

The Riverfront Times’ Ray Hartmann goes on to note that while the Cardinals wouldn’t divulge the total tax credit it was applying for, with 280 non-player employees listed on their website, they’d likely be looking at “substantially more than $1 million in CARES tax savings.” Further investigation reveals that while the Employee Retention Credit, as it’s known, is technically formulated as a “tax credit” on FICA payments (likely in order to make it non-taxable income), as a refundable tax credit it can be more than a company is actually paying in FICA — so in practice it’s just a $5,000 check for every employee earning at least $10,000 between March 12, 2020 and January 1, 2021, making “more than $1 million” a decent ballpark figure.

So, how evil is this, on scale of 1 to Sauron? From what I can tell, the ERC isn’t a set pool of money like the PPP; any employer is eligible, and it’s not first-come-first-served. So at least the Cardinals owners getting cash isn’t denying funds to some other more needy recipient. (Unless you count future Americans as a whole as needy, since we’ll be the ones ultimately paying off the trillions of dollars being borrowed to pay for all this.) And while Hartmann writes:

This is not just a case of a company taking all the normal tax breaks to which it is entitled. Everyone has a right to do that. No one needs to tip the government. This is about a professional sports franchise actively pursuing tax breaks expressly meant for folks who are suffering.

…that’s not exactly true, because this is actually a tax break expressly meant for businesses, the bigger the better. While you can make a case that this is encouraging companies to retain employees — hence the name of the provision — you could also argue that since employers are unlikely to keep on unneeded workers just to get a $5,000 tax break, it seems likely to result in a lot of businesses just getting subsidies to retain people they’d be keeping on anyway.

In fact, the bigger concern here is the construction of the Employee Retention Credit in the first place, which seems geared to benefit large corporations the most, given that it’s available to businesses of any size but not to self-employed individuals, even though the self-employed do pay the employer portion of business taxes. If a billionaire sports team owner takes advantage of a government program designed to take advantage of a global crisis to funnel money to billionaires, who is really to blame here? Crony capitalism? The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling? Society as a whole? This fighting evil business really would be a whole lot easier if you could just drop a magic ring into a lava vent to solve all your problems.

Here’s a bunch of ways rich sports owners are looking to get pandemic bailouts

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers have voluntarily returned $4.6 million in refundable government loans they received as part of the Payroll Protection Program—

Hold up, let’s try that again.

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers, a sports franchise worth an estimated $4.4 billion that turns an annual $178 million profit, asked for and received $4.6 million in federal government loans as part of its Payroll Protection Program for small businesses. (The loans convert to grants if recipients keep their current employees on payroll through the end of June.) Like other prominent companies that took advantage of the PPP program — Shake Shack, Potbelly, Ruth’s Chris friggin’ Steakhouse — the Buss family that owns the Lakers chose to return the money “so that financial support would be directed to those most in need” once they realized they’d bum-rushed the subsidy line and edged out actual small businesses, and also probably realized that the PR hit from doing so would have been worth way more than a relatively piddling $4.6 million in government grants.

That a billionaire sports family got approved for small-business loans should be alarming, but not surprising: The federal government has already approved more than $2 trillion in spending to help Americans hit by the coronavirus-spawned economic crash, and it’s all but inevitable that some less-needy Americans would put in applications as well — the feds define “small businesses” based in part on how many employees they have, and sports teams don’t employ a ton of people on payroll. And it’s also inevitable that they’d also be among the first to be approved, since programs like PPP are first-come first-served and rich folks are more likely to have lawyers on staff who know how to file paperwork fast, as well as established bank connections that made them more likely to get approved.

In fact, sports team owners are working many angles to get a cut of the Covid stimulus bailout cash, just as less-deep-pocketed individuals are as they try to figure out whether to consider themselves unemployed gig workers or entrepreneurs in need of cash to keep themselves on payroll. Among the ways:

  • The Sacramento Kings owners are renting out their old empty arena in Natomas for $500,000 a month to the state of California for use as a field hospital, which is the same rent the state is paying for other temporary facilities, but maybe a tad disingenuous given that Gov. Gavin Newsom previously praised Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé as “an example of people all stepping in to meet this moment head-on” without mentioning that he’d be getting paid for his selflessness.
  • The owners of the D.C. United MLS team are part of DC2021, an advocacy group of Washington, D.C. business leaders lobbying the district for “a massive new tax relief program” to help the local restaurant, hotel, and — apparently — soccer industries survive the economic shutdown.
  • The stimulus measures approved by Congress weren’t all expanded unemployment benefits and checks with Donald Trump’s name on them; they also reestablished a tax loophole involving what are known as “pass-through entities” that will allow mostly wealthy people to save $82 billion on their tax bills this year. The biggest beneficiaries will be hedge-fund investors and owners of real estate businesses, a list that obviously includes lots of sports moguls: Just owners of hedge funds who also control sports teams include Milwaukee Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik, and a pile of others.

Now, not all of this should be considered a fiasco: In the case of the PPP in particular, Pat Garofalo notes in his Boondoggle newsletter that the money is intended to keep low- and moderate-income workers from being laid off — the reimbursements top out at $100,000 per employee — and people who work for sports teams or chain restaurants are just as deserving of keeping their jobs as those who work at genuine small businesses. The main problem with PPP is that Congress massively underfunded it, then made it first-come first-served, then left it up to banks to decide who to approve — okay, there’s actually a lot here to consider a fiasco, but sports team owners deciding to fill their wallets at the same firehose of cash as everyone else is far from the worst part of it.

As for some of the other bailout proposals, though, sports owners come off looking a lot less innocent. That DC2021 plan pushed by D.C. United owner Jason Levien, for example, includes such things as tax holidays for corporate income taxes and property taxes, which Garofalo notes won’t help most small businesses that don’t turn large profits or own land.  (Levien, you will not be surprised to learn, is not just a sports mogul but also a real estate investor.) And the pass-through tax break is almost entirely a sop to millionaires and the Congresspeople who love them, which though it doesn’t single out sports team owners, certainly helps many of them given that they’re far more likely to invest in pass-through companies than you or I.

I’ve said this before, but it really is worth harping on: The recovery from the pandemic is already involving a ton of government spending, and will unavoidably involve a ton more, since the feds are pretty much the only institution that has the power to keep food in people’s mouths during this crisis. (At least until the U.S. Mint is deemed a non-essential business.) This will invariably create winners and losers, both in terms of who gets what money and in terms of who ends up paying off the government debts that are being racked up now. There’s no way to avoid this involving subsidies — pretty much the whole idea of government spending to prevent an economic crash is about creative use of subsidies — so what you want to shoot for is fairness, where you have the most money going to companies and individuals who were most hurt by coronavirus shutdowns, and the least to companies and individuals that just were able to lawyer up the fastest.

Individuals who were most hurt except, of course, for Miami Heat and Carnival Cruises owner Micky Arison, who may have lost more than a billion dollars thanks to the collapse of the cruise industry, but who also lobbied the Trump White House to let them keep sailing even after it was clear that cruise ships were perfect Covid incubators. The cruise industry was notably left out of the stimulus bills, and while that’s more about the fact that they all registered as foreign businesses in order to duck U.S. taxes than their owners being money-grubbing jerks who prioritized profits over public health, I think we can all agree: Screw those guys.

Friday roundup: Cincy official wants soccer subsidies back, Hartford mayor wants arena spending now, and why billionaires are jealous of other billionaires

Just how far have we fallen in the last few weeks? Far enough that I wrote an article on how New York City is managing to feed at least a few of its millions of suddenly hungry people, and I considered this a positive article. I promise we’ll get back to more analysis of how rich sports people are attempting to steal a few billions in taxpayer money in short order, but right now it’s a little hard to focus on run-of-the-mill horrors when there are so many new ones every day.

But there was some news this week, not all of it pandemic-related! Enjoy, if enjoying is still a thing we do:

  • Cincinnati city councilmember Chris Seelbach says that in light of crashing city budgets in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, he plans to introduce a bill asking F.C. Cincinnati to return 25% of its $33 million public stadium subsidy, the same percentage that city social service agencies are being asked to cut. The bad news: City officials say it would be up to the team to voluntarily accept the funding reduction, so maybe don’t hold your breath on that.
  • Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says it’s a great time for a $100 million renovation of his city’s XL Center since the arena is just sitting there right now doing nothing but losing money, so it’s a great time for construction! Connecticut is currently facing a projected $1.9 billion loss of tax revenues from the pandemic, in case you were wondering.
  • The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers would each lose more than $300 million in revenues if no fans were allowed to attend games in 2020, according to Forbes’ Mike Ozanian, while other teams like the Miami Marlins would lose only $47 million, since nobody goes to Marlins games anyway. But Ozanian notes tha teams would also cut back on their revenue sharing expenses, and while he doesn’t do the math on this, we can: With revenue sharing running at about 48% of local revenues (actually slightly less since even the Yankees get back a small share of the overall cut), this means those teams’ bottom-line losses will only be about half what Forbes is reporting. In other words, coronavirus will likely be only slightly more of a disaster for the Yankees than signing Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • Delaying the Tokyo Olympics for a year is expected to cost organizers $2.8 billion for things like additional rental costs on private venues and the athletes’ village — which already has private buyers who were expecting to move in in September — and the International Olympic Committee isn’t exactly saying whether it will cover these costs or the Tokyo organizing committee will be stuck with them, though you can certainly guess, based on past IOC behavior. And that’s assuming that the 2020 Olympics can take place in 2021, which is still not a sure thing.
  • And speaking of coronavirus shutdowns possibly lasting into 2021, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has told city agencies that “large gatherings such as concerts and sporting events may not be approved in the city for at least 1 year.” That doesn’t rule out TV-only sports with no fans, and also it’s important to remember that memos like these are just contingency plans, and no one knows what things will look like this fall (or, for that matter, in fall of 2021). Maybe hold off on buying your 2020 NFL season tickets, though, just to be on the safe side.
  • Amazon is reportedly considering bidding for naming rights to Tottenham Hotspur‘s new stadium, which given that naming rights are mostly good for boosting brand recognition and Amazon is already the world’s biggest brand is kind of weird. Though given that the company is now making $11,000 in sales per second what with everyone trapped in their homes, maybe they can afford to blow some money on something stupid.
  • And speaking of Amazon, Bloomberg reports that Jeff Bezos only asked for billions of dollars in subsidies for a new second headquarters because he was jealous of Elon Musk getting billions of dollars from Nevada for a new Tesla plant. Which we pretty much knew was Bezos’s inspiration, but it’s still a worthwhile reminder that corporate barons are just as much driven by envy of the next corporate baron down the block as they are by any rational economic motivations.
  • Here are some photos of the early years of the original Yankee Stadium, which are being reported as a sign of the team’s impact on its surrounding Bronx neighborhood, which is probably wrong since it’s more likely the impact of the new elevated subway line that opened in 1918 (and helped inspired the Yankees to move to the Bronx). Though they do give a sense of how teams used to build stadiums in phases — expand by a few thousand seats, then once those sell out use the proceeds to add a few thousands more — to make them more affordable with private cash, something you usually only see now in European soccer stadiums, which is surely just coincidental to the fact that European soccer stadiums mostly don’t get huge public subsidies.
  • And speaking of European soccer stadiums, here are some photos from what is described as an “insane new video” of Real Madrid‘s proposed $625 million stadium renovation, which leads me to believe that SportsBible, whatever that is, has never seen a truly insane video.  I do like the news, though, that “the capacity of the iconic venue will be reduced by one to 80,242,” which leads me to believe that at least the stadium architects have a sense of humor.
  • Since we haven’t featured any dumb sports news articles yet this week, how about this one from the New York Post that claims the New York Islanders moving to Brooklyn worked out well because it kept the team from moving to Quebec? Asked and answered, people!
  • Superstar Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout has declared MLB’s Arizona biodome proposal to be “pretty crazy” since it would keep players away from their families for months, but the Arizona Republic’s editorial page editor says there are “scientific reasons” for doing it like “MLB players are already guinea pigs” and “there is always risk in life” and anyway baseballllllllllllll! More science to drop soon on this, I sorely hope.

Friday roundup: Zombie apocalypse in full effect, go and get a late pass

So as you all undoubtedly know by now, everything is shut down. The NBA is shut down for at least 30 days, the NHL is shut down indefinitely, MLB has canceled the first two weeks of the season, MLS is on hold for a month, this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament may be moved to 2021 so maybe the Champions League and Europa League can finish up in June and July, the XFL is shut down maybe for good, and even the Little League is on hold until April 6. And all those dates are just minimum wild-ass guesses: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a calming voice of reassurance as ever, said yesterday that this “could easily be a six-month crisis” — and even if you dismiss him as just a guy who gets his every stray thought printed in the newspaper because he’s an elected official, as I wrote yesterday for FAIR, it’s still very much true that nobody really knows how long this will last, or how to decide (or who will decide) that the curve has been effectively flattened and life can go back to normal(ish) now.

So instead of dwelling on that, let’s dwell instead on another aspect of plagueworld that overlaps somewhat with the mission of this site: the economic impacts of shutting stuff down. I’m sure somebody out there is thinking, “But Neil, you always say that economists say it doesn’t matter much to the economy whether one sporting event or another is played, because people will just spend their money on something else like going out to eat or to a bowling alley instead. So why won’t the substitution effect save us now?”

I am, as I have to take pains to remind journalist quoting me from time to time, not an economist, but I think I can explain this one well enough: There’s a huge difference between one sports team or league shutting down and everything shutting down. Once everyone has completed their panic-shopping therapy and stocked up on a lifetime supply of toilet paper, they’re mostly not going to be looking for other things to spend money on — they’re going to sit at home and watch the Netflix subscriptions that they already paid for. And meanwhile a bunch of them are going to be out of work, and still more will be out of work once restaurants and barber shops and the like have to close for lack of business, and that will mean even less business, and soon enough the entire economy has shut down in a cycle of fear.

I was lucky to get a first-hand example of this in high school, when my U.S. History teacher had each of her classes play a game where each student was one player in late-19th-century frontier society, either a farmer or a railroad company owner or a banker or I forget what else. This made for lots of fun experience with the consequences of unregulated capitalism — I remember one friend of mine contracted to make a loan to another friend, and set the interest rate but not the term of the loan, and our teacher refused to step in and rule on when it had to be paid back because a contract is a contract — but in another class some friends of mine were in, it got even more severe: There was only one banker, and he refused to loan anyone any money at less than usurious rates, and the entire class plunged into an economic depression.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons this is going to be really bad in many, many ways, even if all these closures aren’t too late to avoid the old people being left to die in ERs that has reportedly been taking place in Lombardy. (I do not make a very good voice of calm, either, sorry.) But eventually this crisis will be over, and it’s still worth thinking about what the world will look like when we come out the other side. After all, with no sports to watch we’ve got plenty of time on our hands.

Not that everything being shut down has brought sports subsidy demands to a halt, because some things are just too big to fail:

Friday roundup: New stadium demands in Calgary, 90% shortfall in promised Raiders jobs, corporate subsidies found (yet again) to do squat-all to create jobs

Happy Friday! Is Australia still on fire? (Checks.) Cool, I’m sure we’ll be ready to pay attention to that again as soon as there are some more images of adorable thirsty koalas.

In the meantime, news on some slightly less apocalyptic slow-moving catastrophes:

  • CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the Calgary Stampeders deserve “a state-of-the-art, beautiful stadium” but he’ll “take my queues [sic, seriously, Montreal Gazette, you’re supposed to be an English-language paper]” from team execs for when “they think it’s time for me to be a guy who makes a little noise and tries to stimulate a positive discussion.” Yep, that’s a sports league commissioner’s job! Why a new stadium is Calgary’s job and not the Stampeders owners’ job is less clear, but given that the team owners did such a good job at extracting public money for an arena for the Flames (which they also own), you know they’re going to be jonesing for a sequel. (In fact, a Stampeders stadium was originally part of the Flames plan before Mayor Naheed Nenshi rejected it as too expensive and only would approve the Flames part, so maybe this is just a case of a team owner deciding it’s easier to get sports projects approved in serial rather than in parallel.)
  • It’s now been 100 days since Nashville Mayor John Cooper called a halt to Nashville S.C.‘s stadium construction, and Cooper is still not answering questions about when it may resume. Previous indications were that he’s refusing to issue demolition permits in order to renegotiate who’ll pay for cost overruns, but it would be kind of cool if he’s just realized that he can take advantage of MLS having approved a Nashville expansion franchise before everything was signed off on regarding public stadium subsidies by just declining to build the stadium and keeping the team. (Nashville S.C. will have to play in a 21-year-old NFL stadium until then, boo hoo.)
  • Las Vegas Raiders stadium proponents promised it would create 18,700 construction jobs, and now it’s only creating 1,655 jobs, and the stadium boosters say this doesn’t count off-site workers like “support staff at construction companies, architects and engineers, and equipment and service suppliers,” but really it’s more about how most of those 18,700 jobs were never full-time anyway. At least state senator Aaron Ford can sleep at night knowing he didn’t deny a single construction worker a job; guess he isn’t kept up by thinking of any of the people who were denied jobs by virtue of the state of Nevada having $750 million less to spend on other things.
  • 161st Street Business Improvement Director Cary Goodman has a plan for a new NYC F.C. stadium in the Bronx to benefit the local community by having it be owned by the local community, so that “when naming rights are sold, when broadcast fees are collected, when merchandising agreements are made, or when sponsorships and suites are sold, revenue would pour into the [community-owned] corporation and be distributed as dividends accordingly.” This sounds great, except that broadcast fees don’t go to a stadium, they go to the team that plays in a stadium, and also things like sponsorships and suites and naming rights are exactly the kind of revenues that the NYC F.C. owners would be building a stadium in order to collect, so it’s pretty unlikely they’d agree to hand it over to Bronx residents. We really gotta get over the misconception that stadiums make money, people; playing in stadiums that somebody else built for you is where the real profit is, and don’t anyone forget it.
  • Reporters in Kansas City are still asking Royals owner John Sherman if he’d like a downtown baseball stadium, and Sherman is still saying sure, man. (See what I did there? Huh? Huh?) This article also features a quote about how great a downtown ballpark would be from an executive vice president of Vantrust Real Estate, which owns lots of downtown properties; it must be nice to be rich and get to have your Christmas present wish lists printed on local journalism sites as if they’re news.
  • A new study of business tax incentives found that state and local governments spend $30 billion a year on them, with no measurable effect on job growth. Also, most of the benefits flow to a relatively small number of large firms (good luck getting a tax break for your pizzeria), and some states spend more on corporate tax breaks than they collect in corporate taxes, with five (Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming) spending an average of $44 per resident on tax breaks even though they have collect no state corporate income tax at all. (The biggest spenders on a per-capita basis: Michigan, West Virginia, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.) Surely local elected officials will now take a hard look at the cost of these subsidies and ha ha, no, even when tax breaks are proven failures it takes decades before anyone might notice and do anything about them, so don’t hold your breath that anyone is going to see the light just because of one more study, at least not unless it’s accompanied by angry mobs with pitchforks.

Friday roundup: Lots more fans showing up disguised as empty seats

Is public financing of sports venues worth it? If you’ve been noticing a bit of a dip in the frequency of posts on this site over the past few months, it’s not your imagination: I had a contract job as a fill-in news editor that was taking up a lot of my otherwise FoS-focused mornings. That job has run its course now, which should make it a bit easier to keep up with stadium and arena news on a daily basis going forward, instead of leaving much of it to week-ending wrapups.

That said, you all do seem to love your week-ending wrapups, so here’s one now:

Yes, Graceland actually threatened to move to Japan to get $194m in subsidies from Memphis

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on Sunday that began like this:

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—The Memphis City Council will vote this month to complete new tax breaks for Graceland to fund a $100 million expansion, a peace offering in a nearly two-year war that included threats of Elvis’s estate leaving his adopted hometown.

I don’t know precisely what the rest of the article says, because the Journal will only let me read it if I give them either $187.20 for a year’s subscription or $1 plus my credit card number so they can charge me $187.20 when I forget to cancel, neither of which is appealing. Fortunately, though, the uncopyrightable nature of information has led to lots of other news sites reporting on the Journal’s reporting, which means we can learn things like this for significantly less than $187.20:

“We had an offer ten days ago to move Graceland to Japan,” Joel Weinshanker, managing director of Elvis Presley Enterprises, said. “We had two offers to move to the Middle East and one [to move] to China. They offered us more profit than we could ever make in Memphis.”

It should go without saying — oh, I so hope it should go without saying — that Graceland is a place (“the place Elvis called home,” as Graceland’s own website touts it, complete with “the gardens where he found peace”), and you can’t move a place, though obviously you can move all the stuff that’s in the place. Whether people will still go visit the stuff if the stuff isn’t in the place is an open question, but apparently not one that Memphis wanted to consider too hard, because city officials approved giving Graceland several briefcases full of money in order not to go through with moving overseas.

How much money precisely? Slate reports that Graceland would get “a bigger cut of city and county property and sales tax revenues for a new expansion project,” and that the expansion project would cost $100 million, but that the new property tax kickbacks would “add up to between $194 million and $269 million in reduced taxes for Graceland.” And that the local economic development corporation president “stressed the expansion would not have happened without those incentives, and would be a net gain for the city and county on tax revenue alone.”

So to recap: A tourist attraction based around Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis threatened to move to a place that Elvis never lived, until the local government agreed to give them at least $194 million to pay for a $100 million expansion, which the local economic chief claims will leave the city and county turning a profit. 2019, people.

 

Friday roundup: Neo-Expos seek public land for stadium, Hawaii mulls new stadium to host nothing, D-Backs spend bupkis fixing supposedly crumbling stadium

So very, very much news:

  • Would-be Montreal Expos reviver Stephen Bronfman has reportedly settled on federally owned land in Peel Basin near downtown as a prospective stadium site once a franchise is obtained, through expansion or relocation. Mayor Valérie Plante called the idea “interesting”; other than that, there’s been no word of what Bronfman would pay for the land or how the stadium would be paid for or really anything involving money, so sure, “interesting” is a fine evaluation of this news.
  • Charles Allen, the D.C. councilmember whose district includes RFK Stadium, calls the site “a very wrong choice for an NFL stadium,” and instead would like to see housing and parks there. Mayor Muriel Bowser disagrees, so this is going to come down to a good old council fight. Too bad Marion Barry isn’t around anymore to make things interesting.
  • Hawaii is considering spending $350 million in public money on a new football stadium to replace Aloha Stadium because, according to state senator Glenn Wakai, “It’s kind of like driving a Datsun pickup truck that is just being run into the ground. At a certain point, time to get a new pickup truck.” Given that Aloha Stadium currently hosts nothing much at all other than University of Hawaii football, it’s more like spending $350 million to replace your pickup truck that just sits in the driveway with a new pickup truck, but far be it from me to interfere with Sen. Wakai’s attempts to bash Datsun for some reason.
  • Halifax is still considering whether to spend $120-140 million on a stadium for an expansion CFL team, maybe via the magic of tax increment financing; University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe points out that a TIF isn’t magic but just “makes the subsidy less transparent, less obvious that it indeed even is a subsidy” — but then, pulling the wool over the public’s eyes is a kind of magic, no?
  • The Oakland Raiders have a “very real” chance of playing 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum, according to … this Bleacher Report headline, but nothing in the actual story? What the hell, Bleacher Report?
  • Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has claimed that the team’s stadium would need $8 million in upgrades over the winter, but has only spent $150,000. Which isn’t totally a gotcha — team execs say they’re conserving the stadium maintenance fund to spend on future repairs — but it does poke a bit of a hole in their argument that the stadium is in such bad shape that MLB could order the Diamondbacks to leave Arizona.
  • Austin residents will get to vote in November on whether the city can give public land to a pro sports team owner without a public vote, but it’ll probably be too late to affect the deal to do that for Austin F.C. owner Anthony Precourt. It’ll come in handy next time Austin is in the market for a pro sports team, I guess, though then the owner will probably just figure out a different way to ask for subsidies. “Better late than never” doesn’t work that well when it comes to democracy.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s “not sure that there’s much space for public consultation” on a redevelopment project to include a Flames arena, though he added that “it would be very interesting to hear from the public on what they think the right amount of public participation in this should be, and certainly there will be an opportunity for the public to have their voices heard but it might not happen until there’s something on the table.” It’s hard to tell whether that’s a justification or an apology — and keep in mind that Nenshi was deliberately shut out of the committee negotiating any deal — but there you are.
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber just got a five-year extension, and — quelle coincidence! — the league is now talking about expanding to 32 teams by 2026. Whether this is really a Ponzi-esque attempt to paper over weak financials with a constant influx of expansion fees won’t be entirely clear until the expansion finally stops and we see how the money looks then, but one thing is increasingly clear: It’s kind of crazy to throw stadium money around in hopes of landing an MLS franchise when it’s increasingly clear every reasonably large city in the U.S. is going to get one sooner or later.
  • And finally, Amazon pulled out of its $3 billion tax break deal with New York yesterday, and it sounds like it’s because its execs were tired of taking a PR beating around the company’s anti-union stance and contracting for ICE. Some New Yorkers are celebrating victory, others are retreating into the Casino Night Fallacy, and as always, The Onion has the final word.

Friday roundup: Don’t subsidize bad people, XFL to pay St. Louis more in rent than Rams did, unscientific poll on Suns arena is unscientific

Happy first Friday roundup of 2019! I could add a whole lot of thoughts on lists I’ve read and haven’t made of the best of this and that of last year, but to save time let me just stick with saying that this song is pretty damn excellent and get right to the news of the short week:

  • Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote a column about how Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder is a bad person and a terrible owner and should never get a dime of public stadium money because that’d be “a bailout, welfare,” none of which I can disagree with, but at the same time I’m a bit uncomfortable with the implication that if Snyder were less unpleasant, he’d then be deserving of public largesse.
  • The XFL may still be considered a bit of a joke league, but at least it can pay the city of St. Louis a decent stadium rent, unlike the Rams ever did. (Of course, the “joke league” bit is exactly why they are being required to pay real rent whereas the Rams could refuse to; there’s not much advantage to being an 80-pound gorilla.)
  • This essay responding to Amazon’s tax breaks is pretty excellent, though it’s still a half-notch below this classic Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon.
  • An opposing team manager has demanded that Tottenham Hotspur be required to play the rest of their season at Wembley rather than moving into their much-delayed stadium, because … teams that got to play them while they were adjusting to their new grounds would have an advantage somehow? From what I’ve been able to tell, most of home-field advantage in soccer comes from home fans booing (or whistling) at refs to intimidate them into making calls that go their team’s way, but the last time I tried reading the literature on this it quickly went deep into the weeds, so I won’t belabor the point.
  • “Fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena” were “surprisingly” in favor of spending public money to renovate the Phoenix Suns arena, according to Fox10 Phoenix, compared to “the online response” which was more “mixed.” This is both an impressively off-label use of “surprisingly” and an impressively lazy attempt at polling Phoenix residents — two impressively lazy attempts, even — so fine job, Fox10 Phoenix!