Stadiums can be anchors for related development, say newspapers in search of cheap headlines

You know what I missed while I was away? Having the time to read long, misinformed articles about new stadium projects and how they’re just totally different from those old bad stadium projects of a couple of decades ago. Got anything like that for me, Google News?

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.

The article in question is from the Tampa Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell, and argues that this newfangled stadium-plus-other-development model being used by teams like the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings (or “Redwings,” as he calls them) could be used by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium as well. It ignores the fact that these stadium-plus projects aren’t especially new, going back well over a decade (the St. Louis Cardinals‘ “ballpark village” was one of the earlier ones, but I’m sure I’m forgetting others), and mostly ignores, aside from a comment by stadium architecture consultant Philip Bess (who O’Donnell calls “Phillip” — fired all the copy editors, did you, Tampa Tribune?), the problem that if development around a stadium were profitable enough to pay off a stadium, teams would be able to pursue this strategy without public subsidies. Not to mention that if stadium-related development is profitable it could be pursued without the money suck of a new stadium attached, that it could just end up displacing development that otherwise would have taken place somewhere else in town, that development around stadiums has typically appeared years late when it shows up at all, etc., etc.

Anyway, good to see that these articles still pop up every once in a while for me to throw rocks at, and — whoa there!

The new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, to be completed a year from now, is helping draw nearby office towers, upscale housing and other developments, according to its supporters.

Guys! One article at a time, please! I’m still getting back up to speed here.

Clock running out on Minnesota United tax breaks, but pols lay groundwork for future deal

Today’s lesson in how to read newspaper journalism, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Negotiators in Minneapolis may be making progress on a menu of mostly local tax breaks for a Major League Soccer stadium, even though the proposal appeared dead Monday in the closing hours of the legislative session.

On the face of it, that’s … what? A Minnesota United stadium tax-break deal “may be making progress,” but also “appeared dead.” That is not a particularly useful diagnosis, unless you’re Erwin Schrödinger.

If you read a little further, you find a bunch of stuff on how city officials and United execs are pushing for a package of tax breaks — a freeze on property taxes on the stadium site (which isn’t a full tax exemption, but given that it’s currently undeveloped land, it’s pretty close), plus extending the city’s 3% entertainment tax liquor/restaurant tax (thanks to longtime Minneapolis journalist David Brauer for the correction) to the stadium district and kicking that money back to pay for the arena — and then reporting on how nobody thinks there’s time to get this done before the state legislature, which would have to sign off on the breaks, adjourns on Monday.

What seems likely to have happened is that the Star Trib’s reporters collected a bunch of info on how United is preparing a new tax-break plan, but then got word that it probably couldn’t pass this session, so had to hurriedly piece together something that indicated both. So you get this mashup of a story, under a headline that doesn’t do a great job of explaining to anyone what’s going on (“Mpls. negotiates MLS stadium subsidy as lawmakers adjourn”).

A better way of putting this would be: “Clock running out on Minnesota United tax breaks, but pols lay groundwork for future deal.” In fact, I think I’ll use that one myself.

WI officials still meeting on Bucks arena, still “hopeful,” still not asked much by WI media

Wisconsin’s top political leaders held another Bucks arena funding get-together yesterday, and how did it go?

“Every meeting we get a little more information and get a little closer,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said.

Anyone else?

“I’m hopeful and optimistic, but there’s still work to be done. There’s absolutely still work to be done,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

“I’m hopeful in the next week or two the discussions we had today will lead to a positive outcome for the arena. We think it’s important for the state as a whole, not just for Milwaukee and the Bucks,” Gov. Scott Walker said.

Okay, guys, I know that your job is to write down whatever Important People say, even if it’s essentially meaningless, but seriously, you can’t do better than this? At the very least, ask the people coming out of these meetings about specifics of what’s being considered in terms of public money for a Bucks arena — no, they’re probably not going to tell you, but then at least you can print “those at the meeting declined to provide funding details,” instead of just writing “everyone is hopeful!” every few days.

The only journalist to break out of the stenography trap, it looks like, was actually our old pal Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who got someone to go off the record about what was actually being discussed behind closed doors:

“Everything about money was talked about in ranges,” said one person who was briefed on the meeting. “The sides spent a lot of time going over the same material.”

That’s not much, but it’s something, and it at least tells us that contrary to what the pols are saying, they’re actually a long way from hammering out specific details of who’ll provide how much of what.

Right now, we mostly know what we knew a couple of weeks ago: the state would borrow an undecided amount of money from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands and repay it by siphoning off Bucks player state income taxes; the city would kick in $25 million in infrastructure work and some free land; and there could be a tax-increment financing district to kick back property taxes on the Bucks’ adjacent development site. Plus, of course, the arena would get a full property-tax exemption, worth about $180 million. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine, unless you’re actually one of those people in the negotiating room, in which case your guess is significantly better than mine.

The assembled journalists of Wisconsin can make up for this somewhat if, once the plan is finally released, they subject it to a tough critical analysis to determine whether all the dollars being shuffled around make any sense for taxpayers’ interests. I’m anticipating something more like this, though, which makes it all the more important for hard questions to be asked now, when there’s plenty of time and column inches to fill. It’s almost like the elected officials are just holding these meetings to give reporters something else to write about — hey, wait a minute…

Wisconsin voters back Bucks arena, so long as it costs them nothing and they all get free ponies

There’s a new poll out on what people in Milwaukee think of helping fund a Bucks arena with public money, and it shows the exact opposite of the earlier polls:

The biggest backer of a new Milwaukee arena — besides the Milwaukee Bucks — released a poll Monday that found 67 percent of Wisconsin voters support building a new arena when presented with “a full proposal.”…

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) issued its poll results that stand in stark contrast to a Marquette Law School Poll released April 16. The Marquette poll found that 79 percent of registered voters oppose the state borrowing $150 million for the proposed arena project.

That would be a bit of a discrepancy, yes, and seems like it could only be a function of the wording of the two polls. We know that the Marquette poll asked residents whether they support or oppose the state “borrowing about $150 million to support a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks,” among other budget options. But what’s that “full proposal” that was presented by the MMAC poll?

As it so happens, respondents were first told that the Bucks would leave Milwaukee without a new arena, then were told that this would cost Wisconsin hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, then told that “there would be no new statewide taxes, and revenue generated by the NBA team will more than repay the public investment.” After hearing all that, respondents overwhelmingly thought this was a good idea.

Now, some critics might quibble that not all of that is technically “true”: Countless economic impact studies have shown that sales tax revenue isn’t much affected by a sports team leaving town, and that “revenue generated by the NBA team will more than repay” claim is extraordinarily dodgy as well. But, yes, if you tell people in Milwaukee that you have a plan where they’ll get all their arena money back and will lose the team if they don’t approve it, lots of them will say okay.

What this likely is, as the Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse blog notes in an excellent summary of the conflicting polls, is a “push poll,” where the real goal of the exercise is to feed residents a lot of pro-arena propaganda in the asking of the questions, both to get the Bucks owners’ side’s line out there, and to test how well it goes over with the populace. That this gets them headlines saying “people support Bucks arena funding if they know the full proposal” is a nice bonus, though it depends on the local media not actually reporting, let alone questioning, what proposal was presented by the poll — fortunately for the MMAC and the Bucks owners, the only sites that actually explored the poll language appear to have been a right-wing political blog and a blog by an economics teaching assistant, so the poll’s secrets are safe with Milwaukee journalists. Or “journalists.”

Shed a tear for Milwaukee journalists, for this is their job

Milwaukee and Wisconsin leaders met for a second straight day yesterday to discuss funding plans for a Bucks arena, and how’d that go?

“We are continuing to talk about a solution,” Bucks President Peter Feigin said.

Yup, yup, I expect you are. And are you getting anywhere?

“Another productive working session. Everyone is continuing to operate in good faith and there’s a lot of issues that need to be worked out, but I think I think that people want to work these issues out. So, there’s no announcement whatsoever. We’re going to continue to meet. Staff are going to be exchanging numbers and we’re just going to continue to work,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

If printing that sort of PR pablum — along with a summary of all the different arena funding proposals floated so far, to fill out space — seems like a thin excuse for an article, such is the lot of the daily journalists now covering the Bucks arena closed-door meeting beat. In fact, it gets worse than that: Check out the reporting that’s gone on before each of the meetings, when elected officials didn’t even have anything new to refuse to comment on. From yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website:

Shortly before attending another meeting to discuss cost-sharing for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, Mayor Tom Barrett was circumspect about where the talks stand…

“We had a good working session yesterday in Madison and we’re going to continue the discussions today (in Milwaukee). I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of moving pieces right now. I think that everyone who is involved in this is operating with goodwill. And it’s a challenging issue,” Barrett said.

Now there’s a nothingburger of a quote, but the mayor said it, so it’s news, right? And it’s still better than the report that poor Rich Kirchen of the Milwaukee Business Journal filed on Wednesday, as all the politicians filed into a room at the governor’s office and shut the door behind them:

The key players arrived Wednesday afternoon for a closed-door summit on possible public funding of a new arena in downtown Milwaukee but nearly all of them declined to comment as they entered the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol in Madison….

“I’d be thrilled if something was (agreed to),” [Milwaukee County Executive Chris] Abele said. “We’ll do whatever we can to get there. We have a number of parties so I don’t speak for anybody else.”

It’s hard to say who’s to blame for this kind of on-the-scenes information-free reporting — the journalists involved no doubt figure it’s what their editors want, editors figure it’s what readers want, and readers probably click on it eagerly, even if there’s no metric in Google Analytics for “disappointment at finding nothing of interest after clicking on a promising headline.” (Man, can you imagine if there was? BuzzFeed would go out of business overnight.) But it has to stop, because, well, it’s hurting America.

What else could Milwaukee’s assembled journalistic corps be doing instead of chasing elected officials around for non-quotes, you ask? Well, they could be analyzing the likely funding options left on the table, like Milwaukee Magazine did the other day. Or read Gov. Scott Walker’s actual arena proposal to find that if the Bucks owners were to break their lease, they’d have to repay the state’s costs, but not the city’s or county’s, as reported by Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy yesterday. Or, really, pretty much anything that requires actually researching facts and reporting them to readers, rather than just being a quote-harvesting service for people with fancy titles.

Not that the daily journalists never do this — they do, every once in a while. But it’s way too infrequent an occurrence, especially when they have yards of column inches (or column pixels) to fill each month. There’s an incredible story unfolding in Milwaukee right now, about how two rich guys bought the local NBA team and are, with the help of a move threat deadline set by the league, trying to extract $250 million in public money to replace a 27-year-old arena from a state that may soon have trouble paying for its schools and highways. Instead, we get this:

“We understand the importance of it. We understand the impact on the state of Wisconsin, on the community here, on the region here, and I understand that all of us have an obligation to our taxpayers. So, it’s very much a work in progress, but I’m glad that we’re working.”

Is it any wonder that people think this stuff can be done equally well by robots?

Bucks exec debates self on arena deadline in poet-journalist’s latest tour de force

Aw, man. Here Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sportswriter/poet Don Walker had gone and written the long-awaited sequel to his epic work consisting solely of quotes from Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin; the new one was all about how Feigin had declared that a new arena plan would have to be finalized in the next ten days, or else. And while it may not have had the stylistic purity of the original’s incessant repetition of the phrase “Feigin said,” it was still a worthy successor, outlining the team exec’s ultimatum without once asking anyone else if it was for real.

But now it’s gone, flushed down the internet’s memory hole, not even a ghost surviving on the Wayback Machine. And the culprit is none other than Feigin himself, who ruined everything by turning around and insisting that there is no deadline, and there never was a deadline:

Late in the afternoon — and three hours after his comments were posted online — Feigin released a statement from the Bucks that attempted to backtrack.

“There is no immediate deadline for a financing plan and we’re not creating one,” it said. “We’re simply hopeful that progress continues with our partners and throughout the legislative and political process.”

Bucks’ spokesman Jake Suski said Feigin misspoke. He said Feigin didn’t want to leave the impression that the Bucks were imposing their own deadline. “That wasn’t his intent,” Suski said.

Earlier, however, the Bucks president had been quite clear, saying if an arena financing deal doesn’t get completed, “the Bucks will be gone from the state of Wisconsin.”

The resulting revised article still only quotes Feigin (and Suski), but the magic is gone. Though come to think of it, maybe what Walker and Feigin are doing here is trying to elevate stenography journalism by subverting it: In the future, newspapers will just reprint what powerful people say without question, but the powerful people will make up for it by debating themselves on the topic. It’s a whole new paradigm of checks and balances, and you’re reading it first in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Might as well try something, because journalism sure isn’t going to save itself.

Pulitzer-winning newspaper asks if Rays fans are staying home out of anger that owner can’t break lease

The Tampa Bay Rays are terrible, and the New York Yankees shortstop is Didi Gregorius, so you might expect that attendance for a Rays-Yankees matchup in April might be lower than usual. Or, if you work for the Tampa Bay Times, you can use it as an excuse to write an article titled “Smaller crowds against Yankees at Trop: Are fans tiring of stadium stalemate?” that features lines like these:

But, still, the crowds for the Yankees games were small. Does the stalemate between the city and the team have anything to do with it?

“It certainly may, but I don’t think there is any way to find out,” said council member Bill Dudley.

Now, there are two ways we could approach this. We could look at attendance in past years that the Rays were lousy when there was no stadium controversy, and see that they’re actually drawing better than in the bad old Devil Rays days (though this year’s average is admittedly goosed a bit by having one of their seven home games be opening day). Or we could just try to picture a Tampa Bay baseball fan thinking, “Hey, the Yankees are in town. Could be a good night for a ballgame — but damn, I sure am tired of the city council not letting the Rays owner break his lease and try to get a new stadium built somewhere else. Why, it’s a veritable stalemate! Stalemates are like ties, and ties are for soccer. Hey, I wonder if there’s any soccer on TV? Do I even like soccer? Where did I leave the remote?”

The Tampa Bay Times, interestingly, filed this not under “sports” but “human interest,” presumably because they don’t have a category tag for “clickbait.” Give them another few months, they’ll get with the program.

SD columnist says Chargers deal needs Hail Mary off flea flicker [metaphor overflow, please retry]

Last week we had the perfect example of an “assuming the premise that funding a new arena is the public’s problem” article, and this week it’s the archetypal “using sports metaphors to paint building a stadium as victory” piece, courtesy of “star” UT San Diego sports columnist Kevin Acee. I mean, this guy really emptied the sports metaphor bowl:

[Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group] Adam Day is the Doug Flutie in this stadium game.

He and his team were handed the ball in the fourth quarter and told to win with a Hail Mary off a flea flicker.

But how much time is left in the fourth quarter, Kevin?

As the seconds trickle off the clock, with no timeouts remaining, San Diego’s only hope is a delay of game being called and eventually getting to overtime.

This metaphor is getting confusing. Who would call a delay of game, exactly?

For the Chargers to not make that request [to relocate for 2016], they are going to need to get their way. They are the clock operator, the referee and quarterback.

I’m … pretty sure that’s against the rules? Also, wasn’t Doug Flutie the quarterback? Help!

Anyway, the guy that UT San Diego kept as sports columnist over the guy who actually asked questions wants you to know that San Diego has to meet the Chargers’ demands, and soon, or else, and is going to use every football reference in his arsenal to drive this home. It’s still not quite the time Connecticut approved funding a new stadium to lure the New England Patriots and the Hartford Courant reported on this by splashing “Touchdown!” across their front page, but it’s a valiant attempt nonetheless.

St. Pete council still not willing to let Rays go for cheap, local paper decries this as “stalemate”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said yesterday that he still doesn’t have the votes to pass the bill the city council rejected in December that would have let the Tampa Bay Rays look elsewhere for a stadium site in exchange for a sliding scale of buyout payments, depending on when the team left. This is unsurprising, though it’s slightly surprising that Kriseman was willing to propose having the Rays give up any proceeds from redeveloping the Tropicana Field site — something Rays owner Stuart Sternberg had previously said he wouldn’t consider — and councilmembers still said no:

Kriseman’s proposal, which could earn the city as much as $20 million, inadequately compensates the city and county for what they have spent on the Trop over the years, [councilmember Steve] Kornell said. “I could not in good conscience vote for that deal.”

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley also said the proposed compensation payments are too low. “We’re just not getting enough,” he said, “and the vast majority of my constituents agree with me on this.”

In other words: We have a lease with you, and you have to live by it, and if you want to get out of it you have to pay our price or else lump it until 2027, pal.

That’s a perfectly reasonable negotiating position for the council to take, and thus makes it more than a bit screwy that the Tampa Bay Times chose to lead their article on this with the sentence: “Tampa Bay’s five-year stalemate over a new baseball stadium continues — with no obvious end in sight.” That implies that you have two sides trying to reach agreement on a shared goal, but which just can’t find a way to come to terms. What’s happening here is something different: Sternberg wants to break his lease and seek a new stadium elsewhere, and the St. Pete council is saying, “Not unless you make it worth our while.”

A more honest lede, then, would have been something along the lines of “The Tampa Bay Rays’ search for a way out of their Tropicana Field lease continues — but the St. Petersburg council isn’t going to let them go cheap.” But then, the Tampa Bay Times has a track record of trying to make St. Petersburg seem like it’s on the clock here, even when it isn’t.

TV station lands interview with Indy Eleven exec, forgets what “interview” is supposed to mean

Is this WRTV6 report on the proposed Indy Eleven stadium perfectly inept? Let’s count the ways:

  • Parrots the team owner’s claims about how much money will come from stadium ticket taxes, even though the team’s own projections contradict that? Check!
  • Talks to only one source, a team exec wearing a team scarf? Check!
  • Video of a stadium rendering flyover, plus video of exciting soccer footage? Check!
  • Softball questions about “Should we trust you?” followed by the interviewer himself opining that any claims that the team isn’t trustworthy “are just not true”? Check!
  • Interview subject claims that unlike other projects, this one has assurances in place that it “will not fall on the public’s shoulders,” and the interviewer then ends the segment without even asking what those assurances are? Check!

That, my friends, is some bad alleged journalism. Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt must have gotten lots of high fives on returning to the office, for putting across the team’s media message perfectly without having been challenged at all. Not that any of it will likely sway the state senate, but free televised PR time is never something to turn up your nose at.