Raiders leave Oakland under rain of nachos, wonder who’ll come see them in Vegas

The Oakland Raiders played their last game in Oakland yesterday, for real this time, and fans celebrated by booing their quarterback, throwing nachos, and running onto the field. This still is far from the worst last-home-game scene of all time — the second departure of the Washington Senators that had to be forfeited when fans ran onto the field and stole first remains unbeaten (you can listen to the radio broadcast here) — but it’s still pretty impressive, and a good sign that Oakland fans aren’t about to welcome the Las Vegas Raiders with open arms.

And what about Las Vegas fans? The New York Times sent the estimable Ken Belson to Vegas to report on how the team is doing at building a fan base, and found:

  • a couple who opened a sports bar and hope that “we’ll definitely draw more people when the Raiders come to town because they can only fit 65,000 people in the stadium and a lot of locals can’t afford tickets”
  • a police officer from southern California who bought season tickets and is happy that Las Vegas is only a three-and-a-half-hour drive when Oakland was six hours
  • a former season ticket holder in Oakland who is angry about the team leaving
  • Jim Nagourney, who said team claims that a ton of fans would arrive each week from out of town was “ginned up to create an illusion of a public benefit”
  • an analyst for the Las Vegas Stadium Authority who says fans will too come from out of town, but provides no source for his projections
  • a helicopter-tour operator who is excited to sell helicopter tours to visiting fans
  • a couple more California ex-pats currently living in Vegas who plan to attend Raiders games, one of whom took out a loan to help afford seat license fees

And it all up, and that … really tells us nothing about what Belson’s central question seems to be, which is whether the arrival of the Raiders will really draw tons of out-of-town fans who’ll fill up the city’s hotels and take helicopter rides and otherwise spend money that will come close to justifying the state’s $750 million expense on a Raiders stadium. Admittedly, it’s hard to figure this out from hanging around in Vegas, because out-of-towners by definition aren’t in Vegas (except for that guy three and a half hours away, who happened to be in town for a concert), but still it’s a disappointingly Belsonesque performance by the Times.

If I’d been assigning an article on the Raiders’ future in Las Vegas, I actually would have sent a reporter to a Los Angeles Rams or Chargers game, which as the most recent example of teams trying to build a new fan base in a new city are probably the best analogue for the Raiders’ move. All evidence there seems to be that they’re doing a better job of drawing fans of out-of-town teams — yesterday’s Chargers game was full of Minnesota Vikings fans, as has become standard at Chargers games in L.A. — than drawing actual out-of-town fans, as there are plenty of fans of other teams living in L.A. both because L.A. draws a lot of new arrivals and because L.A. didn’t have a home team to root for the last 20 years.

Vegas isn’t the size of L.A., but it does meet the other criteria, so will the Raiders just end up playing before a bunch of locals with allegiances to other teams? Roger Noll has said yes, but it would be nice to get some at least anecdotal data by checking in to see where those Vikings fans at yesterday’s Chargers game actually traveled from. Or, you can just send your staff writer to Las Vegas to talk to helicopter company owners about their optimism. They’re both journalism, except for the one that really isn’t.

 

Deadspin editor fired for thinking politics has anything to do with sports

So I was hoping that today I’d be posting about my latest Deadspin article that I filed last week, which is about a topic that FoS readers are particularly passionate about, but that’s probably not going to happen now that my editor was just fired:

If you want to read the whole background of the “stick-to-sports” edict, you can start with this article yesterday from the Daily Beast, though really you should go back to Megan Greenwell’s farewell post as editor-in-chief where she laid out how, as she put it, “the tragedy of digital media isn’t that it’s run by ruthless, profiteering guys in ill-fitting suits; it’s that the people posing as the experts know less about how to make money than their employees, to whom they won’t listen.” (Petchesky wasn’t even editor-in-chief of Deadspin when he was fired; he was just the interim fill-in after Greenwell’s departure.) But if you’ve ever read Deadspin, you’ll know that its entire raison d’etre is the notion that sports and culture and politics and everything else are one big glorious mess, and while sports is the site’s bread-and-butter, digressing occasionally to write about the propriety of hanging out at football games with war criminals or even bizarrely aspirational gift catalogues is all part of the attraction.

I don’t have the slightest idea what happens to Deadspin now — whoever’s next in line to be interim EIC undoubtedly would be at least as hostile as Barry to the “stick to sports” edict, which I guess could lead to a long series of Deadspinners stepping into the role only to be fired in turn, a la the Wobblies’ free speech protests. There’s a good chance there will be unfair labor practice charges, and almost certainly more fights over the private equity takeover of American media. There is almost zero chance that it will mean good things for the future of Deadspin, or of reporting that does political analysis of sports. If you’re a sports owner who depends on doing business beyond the reach of journalistic scrutiny, your job just got a little easier today.

Sacramento is finally granted MLS team, local paper unleashes stored-up flood of soccer metaphors

Sacramento Republic F.C. was officially designated as MLS’s 29th franchise yesterday, and if you were hoping this would unleash a torrent of bad sports plays-on-words in the local media, the Sacramento Bee has got you covered:

Goal! Sacramento is officially a Major League Soccer city

It took years to line up the kick. But Sacramento has scored. It’s now a Major League Soccer city.

…and so on.

Aside from this kind of stuff being the journalism equivalent of dad jokes, it’s also really dangerous for the way it conflates sports fandom (rooting uncritically for your team) with sports business reportage (informing readers about how industry decisions affect them and their pocketbooks). If landing an MLS team is like scoring a goal, then the appropriate response is to throw your hands in the air and cheer, and maybe taking off your pants and putting them on your head, not to ask questions about what the costs and benefits will be of the deal to land the team.

That deal, which involves $33 million in public subsidies plus some free billboards, finally shows up way down in the 28th and 29th paragraphs of the article. The 30th and 31st paragraphs are about how the Sacramento city council may end up fronting the money to the team and letting team owner Ron Burkle “repay” it with his own future property taxes on adjacent development, instead of having to wait and skim off the property taxes himself later — at least I think that’s what they’re about, as the way it’s written (the new “development would produce new property tax revenues that could be used to supplement Burkle’s loan repayments to the city”) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but if you’ve scrolled down this far in the article you’ve probably lost track of anything other than “Wooo! Soccer!” anyway.

This still isn’t the most egregious misplaced sports metaphor headline — that record is still held by the Hartford Courant, for headlining a plan to build a publicly funded stadium to lure the New England Patriots to town with the single word “Touchdown!” — but it’s pretty bad, and also pretty commonplace. There are reasons why news outlets treat sports as the “toy department,” but that doesn’t make it any less aggravating to watch.

Baltimore Sun: Pimlico to receive $200m in upgrades, funded by elfen magic

The city of Baltimore and the owner of Pimlico race track have reached agreement on a deal to keep the Preakness in town, and the Baltimore Sun has all the details! You just have to, you know, search for them a bit:

The Stronach Group has pledged to donate the land to the city or an entity created by the city for development in and around the track. Pimlico’s antiquated grandstand and clubhouse would be demolished. A new clubhouse would be built and the track rotated 30 degrees to the northeast to create nine parcels of land that could be sold for private development.

That’s a whole lot of passive voice — who, exactly, would be building all this new stuff, and who would be selling land for private development? Let’s keep going and see:

In all, Pimlico would receive $199.5 million as part of the project.

From … somebody! No help there.

Crucial to the plan is convincing lawmakers to extend the life of a subsidy for the tracks called the Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account. The state’s casinos each pay a certain percentage of their slot machine profits into the fund, which is used for upgrades at the tracks.

Backers of this new Pimlico and Laurel proposal want to use that money to help pay off $348 million worth of bonds, to be issued by the stadium authority, that would finance most of the $375.5 million redevelopment.

Now we’re getting somewhere, down in paragraph #11. The state casino tax, it turns out, has been going to that Racetrack Facilities Renewal fund, which provides matching funds for upgrades at Maryland racetracks; so far, Pimlico’s owners have mostly been spending the cash on Laurel Park, another track they own. And the tax runs out in 2032, so the state would have to extend it for another 17 years to use it to pay off 30-year bonds to upgrade Pimlico.

Maryland’s casinos also pay taxes to fund education in the state, though the take is less than what was projected and too often lawmakers just use it as an excuse to grab other education funds and redirect them elsewhere, something that Maryland legislators have tried to remedy by setting up a lockbox for education funds. Would extending the racetrack tax cut into education funding, or would it be an additional tax on top of that? The 2,000-word Sun article that took two people to write doesn’t address this.

(There would also be a 30-year lease by Stronach on the racetrack, with the track owners paying a reported $8 million to $10 million a year toward new luxury suites, and if you’re hoping to learn from the Sun whether that’s part of the $199.5 million in reconstruction money or on top of it, don’t hold your breath.)

In short, this looks like it’s probably very bad economic policy — even the racetrack’s owners say it wouldn’t make sense to pour a ton of money into something that hosts just 12 racing days a year, and horse racing overall is plummeting in popularity — but it’s undoubtedly truly terrible journalism, intended to parrot the line being put across by local politicians rather than explain what it would actually mean for the Sun’s readers. Fortunately, Baltimore has another newspaper option, and … what’s that you say, the Sun bought it and then shut it down? Never mind, then.

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:

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.

Coyotes sold to billionaire, Gary Bettman celebrates with arena demand and move threat

The NHL approved a new billionaire to buy a majority stake in the Arizona Coyotes from their old not-billionaire owner, and league commissioner Gary Bettman naturally cited this as a reason why somebody should get the new billionaire guy a new arena:

“I think (Meruelo) is committed to trying to get a new arena in the right location and making it work,” Bettman said. “He is a person of substantial means, and he is very good, if you look at his career, in turning around businesses and making them successful. I think this is an extraordinarily positive step for the Coyotes and their fans in Arizona.”

Alex Meruelo has substantial means! It is entirely possible, of course, that Bettman means that Meruelo has lots of money and will “try to get a new arena” by looking deep within his own bank account and then paying for one, but also this is Gary Bettman so of course that’s not what he means.

Bettman added that while he didn’t want to threaten that the Coyotes would leave Arizona without a new arena, that’s exactly what he was saying:

“I’d rather not go there, because I’m not going to issue threats,” Bettman said. ”(Meruelo) has told us, including in his interview with the executive committee, that he very much likes Arizona. He wants to make it work there, and he’s going to try very hard for that to be the case. Obviously, the club is not viable long-term in Glendale, but hopefully we don’t get to that point.”

The Associated Press then filled out its article on Bettman’s crafted public statement by citing the Coyotes’ low attendance and all the places they could move to if they wanted. There’s a reason why I have a category titled “the sports-media complex.”

Friday roundup: New Coyotes owner could move team (or not), public cost of Panthers practice facility goes up, and fresh Austin FC vaportecture!

If you noticed this site being inaccessible a lot the last two days, hey, so did I! The good news is that a bunch of that time was spent in discussions with the good folks at Pair.com about migrating the site to a more stable hosting platform, which is currently in the works, though it may take a week or so before everything is finalized. In the meantime, if you notice occasional glitches, rest assured it’s all part of the process for bringing you a Better, Brighter Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in the week’s stray stadium news roundup, where the tomorrows never seem to get better or brighter:

  • Billionaire real estate developer Alex Meruelo is set to purchase a majority ownership stake in the Arizona Coyotes, and The Hockey News wonders if this means the team will finally get a new arena or move to Houston, because surely the team’s previous owners never thought of those things. It’s also worth noting, as I do every time Houston gets raised as an NHL team relocation bogeyman, that while Houston is a big market, so is Phoenix, so moving the Coyotes to Texas might not immediately solve the team’s attendance woes as much as you’d think.
  • South Carolina’s $160 million public price tag for a Carolina Panthers practice facility — I know, that dollar figure and that noun phrase make me boggle every time I type it — could go up by an undetermined amount, thanks to road improvements and other stuff the state could be on the hook for. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, and you start to run into some real money.
  • New Austin F.C. stadium renderings! Bonus points for portraying players on the pitch in positions that might actually be possible in a real soccer match; demerits for trying to make the game seem exciting by having a few fans randomly raising fists, and for devoting way too much space to pictures of dining tables instead of showing what the view would look like from other parts of the stadium. (Though there is one renderings of what the game would look like from behind a dining table, which is, you will be surprised to learn, not very good.)
  • The Tampa Bay Rays can’t get people to come to games even by selling tickets for $5, which sounds bleak until you remember that bleacher seats at New York Yankees games went for $1.50 as recently as 1985, which is only $3.55 in 2019 dollars, so maybe the Rays are still charging too much?
  • Here’s an article by CBS San Francisco about the Oakland city council passing two bills in support of a new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal that is entirely sourced to a tweet by A’s president Dave Kaval. Oh, journalism.
  • And here’s an article (on some sports site I’ve never heard of) that declares it a “RUMOR” (in all caps) that MLB is exploring an expansion team in Las Vegas, cited entirely to a tweet by a Las Vegas “news and rumors” site I’ve never heard of, which really only predicts that there will be an announcement after the World Series of a “Major League Baseball plan.” You know who else has a Major League Baseball plan? Portland, Oregon. They don’t have an MLB expansion team either, and all signs are they won’t for a while, but nice to hear they’ll be getting some company in the vaporfranchise competition.

Friday roundup: Red Wings owner touts his “passion” amid sea of parking lots, cities are terrible stadium negotiators, newspapers are terrible newspapers

The cryptocurrency-based journalism startup Civil couldn’t have gone much worse, but it did spawn a couple of successes, none more welcome than Hmm Daily, the news commentary site from former Gawker and Deadspin editor Tom Scocca. Or as I will always think of him, the co-founder of Funny Paper, the now virtually unfindable-on-the-internet weekly(ish) political analysis of daily comic strips that was the greatest such enterprise until the great Josh Fruhlinger elevated it to an even higher art form. I’ve been enjoying Scocca’s excellent columns on the militarization of language and how big a giant bee is for months now, but I didn’t feel compelled to bite the bullet and kick in any money until I spotted this photo caption in an article by Scocca’s Funny Paper co-conspirator Joe MacLeod: “I have no beef with the M&M’s homunculus infesting the menu.” If you know me at all from reading this website, you know that I immediately pulled out my wallet and became a paying Hmm Daily subscriber (at the $5 a month level, though the reward at the $50,000 level is truly amazing).

Anyways, on to the sports stadium and arena newses:

  • The District Detroit development around the new Red Wings arena still consists mostly of some state-subsidized parking lots, but Red Wings exec Christopher Ilitch says that’s okay because “Our timelines may change. Our passion, the energy, the way we feel about this community has not.” And truly, who can put a price on feels?
  • The Voice of OC cites “experts” as saying that Anaheim may not be driving a hard enough bargain with Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno on a price for stadium parking lot development rights, and oh hey look, it’s me. Also Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who says, “Cities tend to be remarkably bad negotiators when it comes to professional sports,” which, yup.
  • Politifact Wisconsin did a fact-check on claims that the state of Wisconsin will get a “tremendous” payback on its Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidies and found that that’s only if you assume the Bucks would have moved without them, and assume that Bucks fans would have all stopped spending their money in Wisconsin without them, and assume that NBA salaries will quintuple by the 2040s, and further found that Villanova sports stadium researcher Rick Eckstein calls the revenue estimates “fantasy figures,” and concluded that this makes the claim Mostly True. It is just slightly possible that having staff members of the local newspaper that has a record of overarching credulity on the arena deal do fact-checking on it might not be the best idea.
  • The people trying to get an MLB franchise in Portland are running out of momentum as MLB waits for the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s to work out their stadium situations before considering expansion, but at least they got a meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred — no wait, the news report has corrected itself, they didn’t even get that. Well, at least they have weirdly non-Euclidean renderings.
  • Speaking of MLB expansion hopefuls, Montreal’s would-be neo-Expos owner Stephen Bronfman has a deal in place on land for a new stadium … not on buying the land, mind you, but with a developer to help develop the non-stadium part of the land once they buy it. This could be a while.
  • And speaking of the Rays and of terrible newspapers, the Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano wants to know when St. Petersburg and Tampa officials will stop bickering and get to work on throwing money at Rays owner Stuart Sternberg already?
  • The New York Times is a significantly less terrible newspaper, but a profile on A’s president Dave Kaval with the headline “Can This Man Keep the A’s in Oakland?” is not only pretty sycophantic in its own right, but it assumes a lot about the team owners moving without a new stadium when they’ve already gone a couple of decades demanding a new stadium and not getting one and still not moving.
  • Henderson, Nevada, is giving $10 million to the owners of the Vegas Golden Knights to build a practice rink, which is dumb but less dumb than some other cities’ expenses on similar projects.
  • The Arizona Coyotes are getting a new majority owner and the Phoenix Suns are up for sale, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, who added, “as one NHL official told me yesterday, when I asked that very question, I said, ‘Does this new owner mean that there’s an arena closer to fruition?’ And the answer was, if you get a new owner, there’s a better chance of a new arena. So you can put two and two together, Steve.” Then the Suns owners and a report in The Athletic on the Coyotes completely refuted what Shannon said, so maybe you’re better off putting two and two together without his help.
  • I was about to write up this news story about a potential rezoning approval for Austin F.C.‘s new stadium, but then I saw that KXAN managed to write “Austin’s Planing Commission” and “this ammendment” in the first three paragraphs, and now I gotta go cry all day about the death of copy editing, sorry.

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.