In almost but quite entirely unrelated news, today my publisher Second System Press and I announced that my book The Brooklyn Wars will be available for purchase starting Tuesday, September 27. This is somewhat related because one-quarter of The Brooklyn Wars is dedicated to a recounting of the planning, construction, and aftermath of the Brooklyn Nets’ Barclays Center and its surrounding Atlantic Yards development project — any Field of Schemes readers who are members of the press and would like an electronic review copy right now, drop me an email and we’ll talk. Kickstarter funders, meanwhile, should check their email inboxes for immediate download codes. For everyone else, cool your jets for another 15 days.
If you’re looking for some light stadium-subsidy reading to make your blood boil over the last weekend of summer, there were a couple of good ones this week, and I don’t say that just because they quote me a lot:
Louis Bien at SBNation has a long piece up about the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders threatening to move to L.A., and the cost on those teams’ fan bases. (I’m not honestly sure what the “you care too much” is about in the headline, as it doesn’t seem to have much to do with Bien’s actual article, but whatever.) Included is a long section on the dubious threat to cities’ well-being that team relocations actually pose, with my favorite line coming from Rick Eckstein of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums fame:
Quality of life improvements claimed by the franchise were “a load of crap,” Eckstein wrote to me. He continued: “Los Angeles has been doing just fine without football for the last decade; there has not been a mass exodus from Seattle after the Sonics left; the Long Island suburbs will not go vacant with the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, just as they survived the Nets leaving; Montreal has shown no ill effects after losing the Expos while the Nationals decidedly did NOT put DC ‘on the map.'”
Katie Baker in Grantland has an article that does a really cool thing, taking the “Art of the Steal” chapter from Field of Schemes (and subsequent “Art of the Steal Revisited” chapter from the expanded edition) and applying it specifically to the Calgary Flames owners’ arena demands. Best quote in the piece, though it’s not new and wasn’t particularly said about arena demands (it was about hockey lockouts), is from current Flames president Brian Burke when he worked for the Maple Leafs: “My theory is, make the first meeting as short and unpleasant as possible. Sometimes it’s better to just punch the guy in the face.” Not sure if demanding at least $490 million in taxpayer cash while claiming this would be for the public good quite qualifies as a punch in the face, but it’s pretty close!
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!
When you’re done reading up on this morning’s stadium news here, hie thee to Vice Sports, where I’ve just published a historical overview of sports team move threats, and which ones to take seriously. (Spoilers: The Milwaukee Bucks maybe more than the St. Louis Rams, though there’s reason to question both.)
And while we’re at it, in case you’ve missed any of my other recent articles for Vice, you can find links to all those (and more!) at demause.net, your one-stop shopping for all Neil deMause writing that can’t be contained within the walls of this blog.
I know I already ask my readers here to become Supporters of this site (which reminds me, I need to set my next members-only chat date soon), but I do want to alert you to another project I’ve just launched that may be of interest: “The Brooklyn Wars,” a book drawing on my decade-plus of reporting on the massive changes that my home borough has undergone.
I’ve launched a Kickstarter site where you can preorder the book and win fabulous rewards. (One FoS reader has already availed himself of the “Go to a Nets game with Neil and have him complain about the terrible sightlines the whole time” level.) And yes, there will be sports subsidy content: One of the four main sections will focus on the machinations behind the construction of the Brooklyn Nets arena and what it’s meant for its Prospect Heights neighborhood and Brooklyn as a whole since.
Please check it out if you’re interested — and given the way nearly every city seems to have its own burgeoning mini-Brooklyn, or at least is trying to create one by force of will, it’s a story that should have relevance far beyond the confines of one borough. Besides which, everybody is fascinated by Brooklyn, right?
The 121 sports facilities in use during 2010 cost taxpayers about $10 billion more than is commonly reported, thanks to hidden subsidies for things like land, infrastructure, operations, and lost property taxes.
Once hidden costs are taken into account, the average sports facility split is 78% public, 22% private.
The worst deals for the public include stadiums for the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, and Milwaukee Brewers, each of which managed to rack up more in subsidies than the stadiums themselves cost to build. Best deals include venues for the Columbus Crew, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ottawa Senators.
Arenas are generally better deals than stadiums, because they cost less to build. And small cities tend to get get worse deals than larger ones, since they have less leverage to keep a team in town without large payoffs.
If you’re not familiar with Long, she’s been a favorite reference of FoS ever since she first started publishing her “Full Count” data on the true costs of sports facilities close to a decade ago. (At one point her book was also going to be called “Full Count,” I believe, but it ended up with the slightly less pithy title “Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities.”) Until Long came along, for example, it wasn’t clear that the Minneapolis Metrodome was actually one of the best deals for the public, thanks to a lease that forced the teams to actually share revenues; you can read more about her work in a profile I wrote of her for Baseball Prospectus back in 2005.
Needless to say, I’ll have much more to say about this once I’ve actually gotten my hands on a copy. (Which will have to wait until Routledge starts sending out either review copies or e-books, because $125 isn’t in my research budget.) But suffice to say that this is big, big news, and will be a huge boon to anyone trying to suss out the true public costs of stadium and arena deals after all the parts have stopped moving.
For any readers here who are subscribers to The Nation magazine, I have an article in the just-out sports issue on why cities persist in chasing stadium and arena deals, when so much evidence shows that they’re usually a waste of money. (It’s online, but for subscribers-only.)
Of course, if you’re a Nation subscriber you probably already know that. So if you’re not a Nation subscriber, you can sign up in various formats here, or just buy a copy at your local store that sells magazines, if you still have one of those. (I’m trying to find a way to order a single copy of the sports issue online, but the closest I’ve come so far is a Nation baseball cap.)