Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

A’s, Rays celebrate Wild Card game with dueling move threats by proxy

The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays faced off in the American League Wild Card game last night, before a sold-out crowd at Oakland Coliseum who paid an average of $129 for tickets on the resale market. One might think this would make it harder for the teams’ owners to claim that they’re doomed to failure on and off the field without the new stadiums they’re seeking — which means it’s time to pull out everybody’s favorite entry in the stadium-grubbers’ playbook, the oblique move threat:

Now, you will notice that neither of these threats came explicitly from the teams’ owners: A’s president and de facto stadium campaign spokesperson Dave Kaval limited himself to saying he was “surprised” by the city lawsuit, while leaving the heavy threatmongering to Manfred. And Sternberg insisted that he wasn’t the one who revealed that he bought Wild Card game tickets for Bronfman (they wouldn’t be sitting together, he said), but rather a member of Bronfman’s executive team who tweeted about it.

Still, sports team owners have a long track record of levying move threats by proxy, since it allows them all the leverage benefits while avoiding the nasty bits about being burned in effigy by outraged fans. It’s particularly unlikely that Manfred would be dropping threats in interviews without the explicit permission of A’s ownership, since the 30 MLB owners pay his salary; as for Bronfman, it’s possible that Sternberg said, “Here’s some tickets, now keep it under your hat that I paid for them, it would look really bad if people thought I did this just to rattle sabers about moving to Montreal during my team’s first postseason appearance in six years” and someone in Bronfman’s crew got Twitter-happy and ignored this, but somehow that doesn’t seem the most likely scenario.

Anyway, the Rays drove the A’s out of the playoffs with a pile of home runs, which means now we’ll get to see how attendance at Tampa Bay’s much-maligned stadium looks for games that really matter. Tickets for the A.L. Division Series vs. the Houston Astros go on sale today at 4 pm, and I for one will be as glued to the SeatGeek resale prices as to the start of the N.L. Division Series that’s happening at the same time.

Unnamed “backers” want Islanders arena to lead to redeveloping Aqueduct with casinos and other crap

The New York Islanders‘ new arena at Belmont Park — or The Stable, as some people on Twitter are already trying to get you to call it, which must make the people in charge of selling its official naming rights just thrilled beyond belief — won’t open until 2021 at the earliest even if it survives its multiple legal challenges, but that doesn’t mean its too soon to start planning how it will become the linchpin of a massive strategy to close Aqueduct Racetrack to horse racing and build new casinos and maybe other development there. Allow Newsday to explain:

Redevelopment backers have a grand vision of Belmont becoming a “sports destination” that goes like this:

• Consolidate downstate horse racing by ending it at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, and moving all racing to Belmont. Then promote Belmont as a destination with hockey, horses, hotels and shopping.

• Authorize three new downstate casinos by 2023, or sooner.

• Allow Aqueduct, which already rakes in money from thousands of video slot machines, to become a full-fledged casino, and maybe do the same for Yonkers Raceway.

• Consider selling to developers the acreage at the sprawling Aqueduct facility that won’t be part of a casino. The state owns the land and the horse racing business is just a tenant.

All of which makes some sense, even if the only “redevelopment backer” actually named is the Long Island Association, a business lobbying group: Horse racing isn’t exactly a thriving pastime, and Aqueduct is potentially valuable property, though whether state-run casinos are really the best use of it is extremely arguable.

More to the point, though: What does any of this have to do with a new arena at Belmont? I am far from an expert on horse racing (I owned a horse racing board game at around age 10, I recall), but it seems to me that if Aqueduct and Belmont’s racing schedules can be merged effectively, that can happen with or without a hockey arena next door. The new train station that the Islanders’ developer group is helping to pay for but absolutely not paying for without taxpayer money should help, sure, but is it really vital to the plans, or just a way for these Aqueduct redevelopment advocates, whoever they are, to get the attention of Newsday?

And speaking of which, how did this article end up in Newsday anyway, given that it seems to be just the grand vision of one business-lobby spokesperson accompanied by a bunch of reaction quotes from local elected officials? There’s definitely something happening here, but what it is and who’s pushing it still ain’t exactly clear.

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:

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):

Friday roundup: New sports venues, new sports venue threats, and our dwindling journalistic resources

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko is a national treasure whether he’s writing about sports or movies or punctuation, and his takedown this week of a Fivethirtyeight article that asserts there are too many minor-league baseball teams is very much no exception. Drop whatever you’re doing — which is reading this post, so okay, drop whatever you were going to do after that — and read it now, whether you care about the purpose of sports as entertainment or the role of the media in management-labor relations or the increasing propensity to reduce human beings to measures of technocratic efficiency. With the demise of the alt-weeklies, there are fewer and fewer outlets eager to combine tenacious reporting and big-picture analysis and engaging writing toward the end of helping us understand the world we live in beyond “here are some potentially viral things that happened today,” so we need to cherish those that remain while we can.

And with that, here are some potentially viral (in the not especially infectious sense) things that happened this week:

Friday roundup: Will Royals sale spark new stadium, is Miami asbestos report a Beckham ploy, could developers influence Bills’ future?

Happy last Friday of summer! You’re probably busy getting ready to go somewhere for the long weekend, but if you’re instead staying put (and enjoying the space left by all the people going somewhere for the long weekend), consider spending some time if you haven’t yet reading my Deadspin article on “What’s The Matter With Baseball?“, which interrogates the various theories for MLB’s attendance decline and determines which ones may not be total crap. Do I conclude that it’s all the fault of team owners who’d rather charge rich people through the nose for a lesser number of tickets than try to sell more seats to less deep-pocketed fans? No spoilers!

And now to the news, and lots of it:

  • A new rich guy is buying the Kansas City Royals, and already there’s speculation about whether John Sherman will demand a new stadium when (or before) the team’s Kauffman Stadium lease is up in 2031. The Kansas City Star editorializes that “Kansas Citians should reject any plan that significantly increases public spending for the Royals, either for a new downtown stadium or a ballpark somewhere else,” and further notes that there’s no guarantee a new stadium would even help the Royals’ bottom line (“Winning, it turns out, is more important than a new stadium”), which is all a nice first step; let’s see what happens when and if Sherman actually opens his mouth about his plans.
  • Miami has closed Melreese golf course after determining it had high levels of arsenic and reopened Melreese golf course after environmental officials determined there was nothing “earth shattering” about the pollution levels. And now there’s concern by at least one city commissioner (Manolo Reyes, if you’re scoring at home) that the release of the arsenic findings is part of a ploy by David Beckham’s Inter Miami to get a discount on the lease price of the land, which is still being hashed out. The Miami Herald reports that the team and city are at loggerheads over whether to take environmental remediation costs into account when determining the land value; this epic Beckham stadium saga may have a couple more chapters to go yet.
  • Buffalo developers Carl and William Paladino are really excited about the possibility of a new Bills stadium near land their own, because they could either sell it to the team at an inflated price or develop it themselves once people are excited to live or shop near a new football stadium. (No, I don’t know why anyone would be excited to live or shop near a football stadium only open ten days a year, just go with it.) Carl Paladino once ran for governor of New York, so it’s worth watching to see if he uses his political ties (or skeezy lobbyist friends) to try to influence the Bills’ stadium future.
  • A group trying to get an MLB team for Nashville may not have a stadium or a site or a team, but they do have a name for their vaporteam: the Nashville Stars. Guy-who-wants-to-be-an-MLB-owner John Loar tells the Tennessean he decided on the name “after reading a book on Nashville’s baseball history by author Skip Nipper,” which is presumably this one; the Seraphs, Blues, Tigers, Americans, Volunteers, and Elite Giants honestly all seem like better names than the Stars, which was last used by a franchise in the World Basketball League (the basketball league where tall players weren’t allowed, which, yes, was actually a thing), but it’s really not worth arguing over the name a team that may never exist in our lifetimes.
  • The Richmond city council’s plan to approve spending $350 million on a new downtown arena without consulting the public has hit an apparent snag, which is that four or five members of the nine-member council reportedly oppose the plan, and seven votes are needed to pass it.
  • The editor of the San Francisco Examiner has penned an opinion piece saying the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is overly opulent and expensive — premium lounges feature wine butlers and private dining rooms, so yeah — but is resigned to this as a necessity (or at least the headline writer is) that it’s “the price we pay for a privately-funded arena.” Which, does anyone really think the Warriors owners would have passed up the chance to charge through the nose for wine butler service if they’d gotten public money? This is the price we pay for rampant income inequality, and don’t you forget it.

County approves $125m tax gift to Carolina Hurricanes, city approval next up

Wake County, North Carolina yesterday approved $46.6 million a year in tourism tax spending — money from a 6% hotel tax and 1% restaurant tax imposed in 1991 — and the beneficiaries are set to include the Carolina Hurricanes and the Raleigh Convention Center, though not yet a proposed Raleigh soccer stadium:

  • The Hurricanes would get $9 million a year in tax money for the next 25 years, a present value of about $125 million. The NHL franchise has been looking at an arena renovation cost of up to $200 million, so this would pay for the bulk of that.
  • The convention center would get $3 million a year for maintenance, $2.2 million a year for parking and infrastructure, $19 million flat fee for renovations and new land acquisition, and $17.575 million a year starting in the mid-2020s for an expansion and new music venue.
  • The North Carolina FC USL team didn’t get its proposed $11 million a year stadium grant, but can still apply for part of the remaining funds, where it would compete against other arts groups.

I know that some of you are thinking about now, “But isn’t the whole point of a tourism tax to promote tourism, so the tax money should be spent on things that will bring tourists to town?” Sure, but then it’s important to ensure that the spending will bring tourists to town, and the return on sports and convention spending is historically really awful in that regard: Sports teams only bring in a tiny sliver of new spending compared to what they cost in subsidies, and conventions are equally dismal.

One solution, if you’re really determined to use tax dollars to encourage people to come to your town, would be to demand some kind of direct repayment from the beneficiaries: Sure, we’ll give you a pile of free cash, but then you need to share the resulting increased revenues with the public treasury. But that doesn’t appear to be what’s going on in Raleigh; rather, the Hurricanes and other operators will keep any windfall revenues, and local government will just sit back and hope that the rising tide lifts their fiscal boat as well.

This whole plan still needs to be signed off on by the city of Raleigh, but at this point it looks like all that’s left to decide is which private interests to funnel tax money to, not whether to do it at all. (It’s possible there are some ways that Wake County could use tourist tax dollars to displace other spending that would then be freed up for broader social goods like schools or whatever, as has been the case in other locales, but none of the coverage has addressed that.) If anyone was wondering why somebody would spend $420 million to buy an NHL team with attendance near the bottom of the league, you may have just gotten your answer.

Charlotte Business Journal proposes ways to raise $2B for Panthers stadium before owner has even asked for it

The Charlotte Business Journal has an article (paywalled, but you can find your way around it if you’re clever) speculating on ways that the city could help pay for a new Carolina Panthers stadium, and it comes down to:

  • Sales and property tax revenues are probably off the table, because the city needs those to fund basic services.
  • Hotel and rental car taxes are a possibility, but problematic because they’re already 8% and 16% respectively, and if you raise them much more, people might start booking their vacations (or conventions) elsewhere.
  • Doubling the restaurant tax from 1% to 2% could raise about $40 million per year, and would only hurt people who eat food, and totally wouldn’t reduce sales tax receipts because people would have less remaining spending money as a result or anything like that.
  • Tax-increment financing, because people still think tax revenues from a new project is not real tax money for some reason.

The entire article, of course, is right in line with the traditional local-newspaper tradition of treating team owner subsidy demands as a problem to be solved by looking under the sofa cushions to see where to find a few hundred million dollars, not as a proposal to be analyzed to see if it makes any damn sense. (There is exactly bupkis on what kind of economic impact if any Charlotte would see from gifting the Panthers a new stadium, though the writer did talk to the head of the local restaurateurs’ trade group, who predictably said they would fight against any restaurant tax hike.) You might think reporters should at least wait for the local team owner to actually make a specific ask beyond just saying “hey, the public really should buy me a stadium with a roof, my old one doesn’t have a roof, roofs are cool” before proposing ways to pay for it, but that’s been a problem for a long, long time.

Friday roundup: Saints’ $300m subsidy moves ahead, St. Louis MLS announcement on tap, Richmond council votes no on democracy

Sometimes I feel lucky to cover a topic with so many constant absurdities, and then this happens, and I realize that constant absurdities are just the new normal. Anyway, I did get to edit this this week, which is an excellent look at how this week’s absurdity is having potentially catastrophic impacts on people’s lives, so go read it!

But not before you read these:

  • The Louisiana State Bond Commission has approved selling $450 million worth of state bonds to fund renovations to the Superdome, in exchange for the New Orleans Saints signing a 15-year lease extension. As covered back in May, Saints owner Gayle Benson would cover one-third of the bond cost, leaving Louisiana to pay off $300 million, bringing the Saints’ five-decide subsidy total to a cool $1.442 billion. In exchange, the Saints will sign a 15-year lease extension — with another 15-year option, but there’s no way they’re going to extend their lease again without more subsidies the way this gravy train is rolling — which comes to state taxpayers ponying up $20 million a year for the presence of an NFL team, which is a hell of a lot of money, though not as much as Indiana pays the Pacers, because Indiana.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this week that St. Louis will be announced next Tuesday as the next MLS expansion city, bringing the number of teams in the league to a cool 154. (I think it’s actually 28, but honestly the number changes so fast it’s hard to keep track.) Deadspin read the announcement that there would be no public subsidies for the as-yet-unnamed team’s stadium and excitedly reported that the deal “might not completely fleece the city”; sadly, it will actually involve about $60 million in public subsidies, but since about half of that is coming from the state, not the city, that Deadspin headline is still technically correct, right?
  • The Richmond city council has voted 5-3 against allowing a referendum on the city’s proposed new $350 million city-subsidized arena on the November ballot, because voting is for elected officials, not regular folks. Though regular folks do still get to vote on electing elected officials, something that referendum sponsor Reva Trammell clearly had in mind when she said following the no-voting vote: “I hope the citizens hold their feet to the fire. Every damn one of them that voted against it.”
  • Two-plus years after the arrival of the Hartford Yard Goats in exchange for $63 million in public stadium cash — plus a couple million dollars every year in operating losses — the Hartford Courant has noticed that stadium jobs are usually part-time and poorly paid. Not included in the article: any analysis of how many full-time jobs could have been created by spending $63 million on just about anything else.
  • New Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo said he intends to keep the NHL team in Arizona, but that keeping it in Glendale is a “difficult situation,” at which point a Glendale spokesperson said that city officials would meet with Meruelo “to see how we can help him achieve his goals of success.” Which is all fine and due diligence and all, but given that helping Meruelo “achieve his goals” is likely to mean paying him money to play in Glendale like the city used to do, it’s not exactly promising; if nothing else, Glendale officials would do well to remember that Meruelo currently has exactly zero better arena options elsewhere in the state, so he’s not exactly negotiating from a position of strength.
  • Joe Tsai, who was already set to buy the Brooklyn Nets from Mikhail Prokhorov, has officially exercised his option to purchase the team, plus the Barclays Center arena to boot, for a reported $3.5 billion. Given that the arena is currently losing about $21 million a year, this seems like an awful lot of money even if the team does employ whatever’s left of Kevin Durant. Since Tsai already owns the New York Liberty, though, maybe it at least means that WNBA franchise will finally return to the city from its exile in the suburbs.