Friday roundup: Nashville saves (?) $75m by giving Predators $103m, South Carolina offers to give $125m to Panthers practice facility (?!), Oakland A’s shipping cranes are multiplying (?!?)

Since last week I went off-topic to discuss a review (kindly) poking fun at some of the ridiculousness of Marvel movies, I should note that there’s a TV series that manages to create a fun, exciting superhero universe while simultaneously poking fun at the entire genre in ways that expose not just its ridiculousness but also its fundamentally Manichean politics, and which has now been canceled by Amazon, a company that has been at the forefront of scheming to shake down cities for subsidies in exchange for building its own facilities. Coincidence?!?!?!? Well, okay, yes, almost certainly, but here’s hoping The Tick ends up picked up by a less ethically compromised corporate entertainment giant, if that’s even a thing.

Where was I? Oh right, stadiums, what’s up with those this week that we didn’t get to already?

  • The Nashville Predators have indeed agreed to a 30-year lease extension as first reported last week, and how good or bad a deal it is depends on your perspective: The team’s $8.4 million a year in tax kickbacks and operating subsidies will be reduced to just $4.9 million a year in tax kickbacks, which would be $75 million in taxpayer savings but on the other hand the tax kickbacks will be extended to 2049 now instead of 2028, so that’s $102.9 million in additional taxpayer costs. (Neither figure translated into present value.)
  • A South Carolina legislative conference committee has approved $115 million in tax breaks for a Carolina Panthers practice facility in Rock Hill. Yes, you read that right, a practice facility. State officials say that the 15-year tax kickbacks of all state income taxes will pay for themselves, a conclusion that state senator Dick Harpootlian determined was based on, in the words of the Associated Press, “every Panthers player and coach moving to South Carolina and spending their entire paychecks here and the team buying all the material for the new facility from companies in the state.”
  • Speaking of practice facilities, the Washington Wizards‘ new one is costing $1 million more a year for D.C. to run than anticipated, which is not good after the city already spent $50 million to build the thing for the team’s billionaire owner. D.C. officials recently booked three new concerts for the arena, but expects to lose money on each of them; an Events D.C. board member said they would let “people know that they have a place to go, that this is a fun place,” which I guess is another way of saying they’ll make it up in volume.
  • Omaha is spending $750,000 on hosting an Olympic swim meet, which on the one hand is a lot cheaper than $115 million for an NFL practice facility, and on the other is for a one-time Olympic swim meet.
  • Two unnamed sources tell The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal that New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft is “on the brink of securing a stadium site,” which tells us nothing about the state of the Revolution’s actual stadium plans since this could be a planted rumor to try to gain momentum, but does tell us lots about The Athletic’s poor grasp of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics policy on use of unnamed sources.
  • I wrote a thing for Gothamist about how the New York Mets banned backpacks because they have too many pockets to easily search, but not other bags with lots of pockets, pretty much on the grounds of “the light’s better over here.” The best argument either of the security experts could come up with for the policy is that fewer bags means faster lines which means less time queued up outside stadiums as a stationary target for any theoretical terrorists, which is frankly mostly an argument for staying home and watching on TV.
  • Journalist Taylor C. Noakes notes in an op-ed for CBC News that bringing back the Expos might be nice for Montreal baseball fans, but probably won’t do much for the Montreal economy since “the economic impact of a professional baseball team on a given city [is] roughly equivalent to that of a mid-sized department store,” which, yup.
  • The latest Oakland A’s renderings show it still oddly glowing amid a darkened rest of the city. Plus now there are shipping cranes on both corners of the site! I am about to start working on a theory that this entire stadium plan is just a dodge for John Fisher to build lots of shipping cranes.
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Nationals cite “security” to force fans to pay for bag checks and lockers

The Washington Nationals have become one of the few MLB teams to ban bringing backpacks in their stadium, apparently because D.C. has special dangers that require special security theater measures, and also because they can’t figure out how to do a bag search like every other stadium everywhere. But never fear! The Nats will also be offering storage lockers for your verboten bags, at the low, low price of $2 an hour:

Medium lockers (10-by-15-by-22 inches) will be available for $2 per hour, charged in six-minute increments. Large lockers (15-by-15-by-22) will be available for $3 an hour. Binbox’s rental fees will be capped at $10 and $15, respectively, each game. The Nationals will not make money off the locker rentals…

Lockers will be available two hours before the scheduled first pitch until 90 minutes after the game. Reserving lockers is not an option, and every bag will be inspected by a third-party security staffer before being placed in a locker.

Okay, so apparently they can figure out how to do a bag search — so long as it’s by a third-party security officer who is paid by your bag fees.

This is stupid on a great many levels: briefcases and other items capable of carrying contraband are still allowed; security experts point out that creating long security lines outside just creates easier targets for any potential terrorists; the Nats will be giving out drawstring bags, so if you’re really in a pinch it should be straightforward enough to empty the contents of your backpack into one of those, then roll up your backpack and put it in as well. But it’s not stupid on the level of making fans pay the cost of something — bag searches — that normally the team would cover, which is indeed a remarkable innovation. I can’t wait for the first team to announce that all fans who aren’t season ticket holders need to visit the privately run ticket scanning security check station, or that if you want to throw out your garbage at the game, you need to buy access to the waste disposal lounge. The possibilities are endless!

Anyway, Nats fans are really mad, and my guess is it will eventually quietly go away when mass chaos results and nobody can get to their seats (and more important, begin buying hot dogs) until the third inning. Or maybe the Nats will offer fans a way to subscribe to a service that lets them bring in backpacks without being checked based on their fingerprints proving that they’re good people. The possibilities are endless!

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Ariana Grande concert bombing: Was lax arena security really to blame?

Because yesterday’s horrific Ariana Grande concert bombing took place at a sports arena, and because I’ve written about sports arena security, I feel like I should have something to say about it, beyond the obvious fact that it’s horrific. With the sketchy details available so far, here’s what I can think of:

  • The explosion went off in the arena lobby, so the obvious question is how the bomber got the explosives in past security. (Assuming the lobby was inside the arena gates, which isn’t entirely clear from this diagram.) The bomb is described as an “improvised explosive device,” which could be made entirely (or almost entirely) from plastic explosives, and thus be difficult to scan for with metal detectors.
  • The mother of a 19-year-old who was at the concert (and uninjured) said that “although her son had water taken off him, his bags were not searched and security did not check what he was carrying,” something that was echoed by other attendees. That’s dumb security, obviously, but exactly the kind of “security theater” that stadiums and arenas engage in when faced with the dilemma of how to get tens of thousands of fans to their seats while also doing some minimal security search, which means minimal is exactly what you get.
  • This is almost certainly going to lead to increased security measures like more stringent bag checks and more walkthrough metal detectors, neither of which I’m all that confident will do much to prevent future bombings, especially since not only can IEDs be strapped to someone’s body rather than carried in a bag, but a bomber could have done about the same amount of damage standing just outside the arena lobby instead of just inside it.
  • The most effective way to prevent attacks on innocent concertgoers is to get fewer people in the world thinking that that’s an effective way to get their point across. That’s hard.

And that’s all I’ve got. I’d love to be able to blame this on someone (other than the bomber), or suggest an easy fix, but I’m not too hopeful on either count. In the meantime, my sympathies to the families of those killed and injured. What a damn world.

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NFL ramps up security following terror attacks, achieves 1529th consecutive terror-free week

In response to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris (but not in response to Thursday’s terrorist attacks in Beirut, because those weren’t outside a stadium and besides, those people’s lives don’t matter as much), the NFL ramped up security for yesterday’s games. How did they respond to the news that suicide vests, which have been around since the 1940s, are a thing? With bomb-sniffing dogs, increased bag checks, and:

In St. Louis, event staff at the Edward Jones Dome wore red shirts and jackets with the word “SECURITY” in large yellow letters. Previously, their shirts had been a less visible shade of yellow with black lettering.

I don’t want to belittle the desire to show fans that they’re doing something, anything, to enhance stadium safety, really I don’t. But given that the suicide bomber who tried to enter the Stade de France was caught not by dogs or walkthrough detectors but by a simple low-tech patdown — from what I can tell from online research, most explosive vests won’t be caught by metal detectors — that terror groups have shown the ability to learn from the past and choose new targets and techniques to pick the easiest target, and perhaps most important, the bomber still managed to kill people outside the stadium, it definitely feels like this is somewhere between security theater for show and fighting the last war. If the NFL succeeds in ensuring that any future terror attacks take place not inside stadiums but in stadium parking lots or public parks or rock clubs, is that a victory?

Anyway, no one was killed at any NFL stadium yesterday, so hooray for giraffe repellent!

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Louisville Yum! Center to allow bringing guns to shows, will still ban pointy umbrellas

If you’ve been jonesing to see Kid Rock’s New Year’s Eve Bash at Louisville’s Yum! Center but didn’t know what to do with your handgun during the show, there’s good news for you:

The Louisville Arena Authority ended its total ban on firearms and agreed Monday to give promoters and booking agents of events at the KFC Yum! Center the right to decide whether ticketed visitors can carry firearms into the downtown arena.

The new policy is in line with a new Kentucky law that bans public and “quasi-public” entities from restricting people with weapons permits from bringing their guns into venues. Since promoters aren’t quasi-public, the public authority that runs the Yum! Center has decided to kick the decision over to them, which means you’ll have to ask Kid Rock for permission to come packing to his show — something he’ll probably be okay with.

You will still be prohibited from bringing cameras with detachable lenses or umbrellas “with pointed tips” into the Yum! Center, because somebody could get hurt with those.

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Security theater chaos in NY forces Yankees fans to miss seeing team get eliminated from postseason

Last night on the sports security theater front, this happened at the Yankees‘ wild-card playoff game:

The Yankees blamed it on a “medical emergency” closing one entrance gate, but everyone knows that wouldn’t have been nearly so bad a problem if not for the mandatory walkthrough metal detectors the Yankees installed this season. (Or mandatory for anyone who doesn’t want to take advantage of the Yankees’ ridiculous line-cutting workaround, anyway.) There is zero evidence that metal detectors make anyone safer at sporting events, but they make fans feel safer, and that’s what’s important, right?

A fan named John from Astoria said the lines have been a problem all season.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “All MLB has done is create a bunch of bottlenecks that are a target for somebody now. There’s 40,000 people waiting to get into a stadium instead of inside a stadium.

“My first memory of Yankee Stadium is walking into this pristine cathedral. My son’s first memory is going to be walking and getting patted down by security.”

Aw, crap, they’re onto us. In a sane world, everyone would now just scrap the metal detectors and admit they were a terrible idea in the first place, but as recent events have made ever more clear, we’re a long way from sanity about threats of public violence.

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Ballpark security theater has officially gone from tragedy to farce

This is a bit awry of this site’s usual topic, but since I wrote it and some of you may be interested: The New York Yankees instituted a new biometric fingerprint-scanning method for fans to bypass the metal detectors that have made for huge lines at games, and it is as stupid as stupid can be:

Unlike airports, ballparks don’t usually have an ID-checking stage to skip. Security may want to know that you have tickets and that you’re not trying to smuggle in Uranium-235 under your cap, but they don’t give a crap about who you are. So the only way to expedite entry for the biometrically approved is to let them skip the metal detectors, provided they are bag-free—even though all they’ve shown is who they are, not what they’re carrying.

In other words, if you need someone to carry some brass knuckles into Yankee Stadium for your next bleacher brawl, I’m your man. Unless you want to take 60 seconds to join CLEAR Fast Access yourself, and stuff them in your own pockets.

There are differing reports on exactly what the experience has been for Yankees fans (and Giants and Rockies fans before them) who use CLEAR Fast Access to skip the lines: One person on social media claimed he was wanded, which did not happen at the gate I witnessed; another said she didn’t even have to submit to a bag check, which goes against what CLEAR officials told me. But either way, several MLB teams have now gone through the trouble of installing metal detectors at all gates (because the league now requires it, though wands are still an alternate option, and are widely used by the Mets, among other teams, to speed entry), discovered that it creates huge lines, then allowed fans to skip this step entirely just by proving they have a driver’s license and fingerprints.

If the detectors made little sense in the first place other than as security theater, this new wrinkle makes even less sense. But you know what they always say: Two wrongs make a right! Er, that’s how the phrase goes, right?

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Metal detectors at MLB games proving to be just as bad an idea as everyone feared

Lots of coverage today of the crazy-long lines at baseball stadiums on opening day, where fans ran into MLB’s new rules requiring metal detectors at all entrances. Here’s the massive lines at the New York Yankees game, and here’s fans griping about it at ballparks all over. And here’s my photo of the lines outside the Mets‘ home stadium:

image1-1That doesn’t look so bad, until you consider that the Mets weren’t actually playing at home yesterday — this was just the thousand or so people who turned up to watch the broadcast of the game for free on the center field video screen. Admittedly, for actual games there will be a few more entrances (and detectors) open, but I’m still not looking forward to the first time 40,000 people all arrive at the same time for a big game, say against the Yankees.

Meanwhile, what none of the coverage has touched on is that, as I reported for Vice last fall, security experts largely think that metal detectors are useless “security theater” measures that make sports leagues look like they’re doing something but don’t do squat to make anyone safer:

[Alabama economist Walter] Enders says that the main effect of tighter security at stadium entrances will likely be to drive any hypothetical attackers—and let’s remember that no actual terrorists have actually attacked sports venues in America outside of that time Bruce Dern tried it—to set off bombs outside stadiums instead, which would not be a happy outcome: “You’re trying to get in the door, there’s 20,000 people standing around outside. I could do a lot of damage there, just as easily as I could if I brought the thing inside. Maybe even more.” (His students, Enders notes, are constantly wondering aloud why no one ever simply flies an airplane over a stadium and drops an explosive device out the window.)

Besides, if we really cared about safety, Enders says, we’d do things like ensure that bag checks actually check bags, beyond a quick look to ensure that no one is smuggling in unauthorized foodstuffs. “I just went to see Alabama-West Virginia in Atlanta,” he notes. “My wife and I wanted to bring something in to drink. I said, ‘Put it in the bottom of the purse, and we’ll put the binoculars and the program on top, and that’s the end of that.'”

The problem with real bag checks, of course, is that they’re even more time-consuming and labor-intensive. Walk-through metal detectors offer the perfect blend of comforting concern and barely workable efficiency that have made them the go-to security devices at airports everywhere — even if there’s no evidence that they actually keep anyone safer.

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MLB’s metal detector mandate likely to save no lives, ever

And finally, this has nothing to with stadium funding per se, but in case some of my readers might happen to be sports fans with an interest in the experience of attending games (just a hunch), I have an article up at Vice Sports today on how MLB’s new policy of requiring metal detectors at all stadiums isn’t likely to keep anyone safer from anything, ever. Key paragraph:

[Alabama economist Walter] Enders says that the main effect of tighter security at stadium entrances will likely be to drive any hypothetical attackers—and let’s remember that no actual terrorists have actually attacked sports venues in America outside of that time Bruce Dern tried it—to set off bombs outside stadiums instead, which would not be a happy outcome: “You’re trying to get in the door, there’s 20,000 people standing around outside. I could do a lot of damage there, just as easily as I could if I brought the thing inside. Maybe even more.”

Okay, but what’s the harm in added security checks? Aside from giving people a false sense of security, it diverts attention (and resources) from things that actually do kill fans, unlike so-far-mythical stadium terrorists. If you want to pick something that would be a minor inconvenience but would save lives, how about reducing speed limits on streets around sports stadiums by half? Or mandatory breathalyzer tests before anyone is allowed to check their cars out of the parking lot? Or even just MLB using the same money to chip in toward added police to enforce existing laws like speed limits and bans on texting while driving?As Bruce Schneier says in the article, the metal detector dictate is “security theater.” And yes, he says that about most everything, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right.

(P.S. I should probably also remind you of this.)

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