Boston columnist compares Red Sox playing in Fenway to baseball’s history of segregation

I’ve been a newspaper columnist myself, so I get what they’re for. At their best, they combine insightful reporting with the kind of personable, entertaining writing that isn’t usually allowed on the news pages. (I’m not sure that distinction will hold up in the age of blogs, but it’s been useful for newspapers.) At their worst, they’re just people who are paid a lot of money to gush opinions that aren’t any more sensible or well-researched than those held by any random person on the street, but which for some reason go out to millions of readers.

The Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley, at least, is up-front about what his opinions are: This is a guy who last summer called himself “the cranky guy who screams that Boston needs a new baseball park.” So we shouldn’t be surprised that with Boston talking vaguely about somehow building a stadium for the 2024 Olympics if it gets them, Buckley, who doesn’t want Boston to get the Olympics, has nonetheless turned it into an opportunity to scream that Boston needs a new baseball park:

Fenway Park isn’t going to last forever. As Red Sox principal owner John Henry said last spring, the aging ballpark has “an expiration date.”

When?

“I think we’re several decades away, a good 30 years,” Henry said. “Hopefully we’ll still be around, but we’ll leave that for the next ownership group. Someone at some point in the decades ahead will have to address the possibility of a new ballpark.”…

But if we left all our problems to be solved by future generations, we’d still be dumping raw sewage in the Charles River. Jackie Robinson never would have gotten into Ebbets Field without a ticket.

And there you have it, the kind of opinion trap that columnists all too often find themselves building and then falling into: The Red Sox continuing to play in Fenway Park is like swimming in filth and segregation. I really doubt that Buckley sat down to write that yesterday, but eventually he got to a point where he needed to figure out how to argue that the third-most-valuable team in baseball can’t live without a new stadium, just because the team’s owner said Fenway should be structurally sound for another three decades or more, but three decades isn’t until the end of time, now is it?

This is the kind of logic that an editor really should catch and send back for rewrites, but opinion columnists don’t generally have their ideas rejected just because their editors think they’re screwy. Unless somebody powerful objects to it, that is, in which case it’s bound for the circular file. Some ideas are more unacceptable than others.

Credit card company issues lame-ass report on Super Bowl spending, gets name in headlines (but not this one)

First Data, which processes credit and debit card payments, has put out a press release about spending at last Sunday’s Super Bowl in Glendale, and Darren Rovell is ON IT:

Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona, resulted in no significant consumer spending growth to the greater Phoenix area, according to an analysis of consumer spending patterns from payments technology company First Data, which says it annually handles 60 billion credit and debit card transactions.

The company’s data shows spending growth from the two weeks surrounding last Sunday’s game was only 3.1 percent better than average compared to the same time period a year before when the spending in the area grew 6.4 percent.

This is along the lines of what actual economic studies have found, so it’s tempting to take this as confirmation that the Super Bowl doesn’t do squat for local spending, because it mostly just displaces visitors who steer clear of town because they don’t want the hassle of dealing with the Super Bowl. First Data, though, didn’t exactly do an exhaustive study: It only looked at credit card and debit card charges, obviously, and just compared spending in the Phoenix area to the same time period the year before without controlling for any other factors. In other words, this could be an actual sign of something, or it could just be a random fluctuation that means zippo.

Also, Rovell doesn’t bother to calculate what a 3.1% hike in spending (compared to “average” — average over the whole year, average for February, what?) means in actual dollars, though presumably he has the First Data report (he didn’t link to it) and a calculator. But, you know, ESPN isn’t paying him to think, just to reprint press releases, and there’s another one on the pile, so no time to lose!

Milwaukee sportswriter says good thing Bucks owners are so rich, or we couldn’t give them tax money

I know that you guys must be tired of me harping on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff press statement transcriber Don Walker, but seriously, what’s with this guy? One day after writing an article on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to give the Bucks owners $220 million that consisted entirely of quotes from one of the Bucks owners (he’s surprisingly in favor!), Walker followed up with an article arguing that giving the team only makes sense because they’re richer than ever:

The dramatic increase in the rights deals between the league and the broadcasting companies ensured franchises in the leagues that revenue would at least double over the nine-year term of the deal. That means both teams and their players are in line for fatter bottom lines and bigger paychecks.

The prospect of increased revenue gave Walker assurances that capturing the new income-tax growth from visiting NBA players, members of the Milwaukee Bucks and even the team’s employees would be enough to pay the debt service on state-backed bonds.

There is a kind of logic here, which is that because the Bucks are projected to be raking in the simoleons in coming years, Walker can point to all the income taxes they’ll have to be paying, call that found money, and offer to hand it right back to the team. But still, the crux of the argument remains: Good thing the Bucks owners are even richer than ever, or we might not be able to give them tax money!

This is a point that you would expect someone critical of the arena plan to make somewhere in the article, probably down around the 15th paragraph, but Walker doesn’t usually play that way. Here’s who’s cited in the piece, in order of appearance: the state’s chief economist (helped come up with the arena subsidy plan), the governor (helped come up with the plan), the state assembly speaker (helped come up with the plan), state finance committee co-chair (likes the plan), state finance committee member (calls the plan “somewhat of a good plan”) — and finally, in paragraph #20, we have someone actually critical of the deal:

Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) acknowledged in a statement that salaries of pro athletes had increased dramatically. “As those salaries rise, so too does the income tax collected by the state from those players. These revenues currently go into the state’s general fund and are used to for general operations, which includes everything from education to roads.

“The governor’s proposal would divert these increased tax dollars, which are included in future revenue projections, away from taxpayers to the owners of the Bucks to help fund the Milwaukee arena.”

The practical impact, he said, “is that all state taxpayers would be funding the new arena. The total cost, using average assumptions and including interest payments, could range from approximately $300 (million) to $400 million.”

This is now the second time that a Walker article has had a tacked-on quote at the very end that subverts the main point of the article, and the second time that Journal Sentinel statehouse reporter Patrick Marley has been credited as “contributing” to the piece. Which makes me wonder why the Journal Sentinel doesn’t just assign Marley to write about the Bucks arena controversy, since he clearly knows how to use a telephone, but I guess we should just be happy he’s involved at all.

No, there’s still no Super Bowl windfall for cities, no matter what you read in the paper

If you haven’t gotten enough of me griping about media coverage of sports economic reports here — or just want to read about it all in one place — hie thee to FAIR.org’s newly expanded website, where I’ve written all about how the media all too often parrot claims of economic windfalls from sports without even checking if they have any basis in fact.

There are occasional exceptions, obviously (I cite several), but as one journalist who has done time fact-checking his peers says:

“For every one good article you see, there are ten others that don’t bother to do it, and the good ones just get lost,” says Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV in Tampa Bay, who also reports on sports economics at his own website, Shadow of the Stadium. “An industry joke is that reporters have always been mathematically challenged, but the problem has been magnified in recent years by the 24-hour news cycle and staff depletion at traditional media outlets.”

Remember, kids: Just because you read it in the newspaper doesn’t mean it’s true! Blogs, though, are 100% accurate. I read a study that said so.

Warriors: We need a new $1B arena because we don’t like the restaurant manager at the old one

The San Francisco Business Times has a report out on the pressing matter of “Why the Raiders, A’s and Warriors want new homes” (verbatim headline), and the answer is: They all need to tear down their old venues and build entirely new ones at a cost of billions of dollars because they don’t like the concessionaires, duh!

Consider the recently opened BMW Club at Oracle Arena. BMW is a Warriors sponsor, but the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority contracts arena operations to Anschutz Entertainment Group. AEG, in turn, contracts arena restaurant management to Levy Restaurants.

“It’s a little bit of a challenge” to make customer service part of the overall game experience when food service and stadium operations aren’t in the Warriors’ control, team President and COO Rick Welts said.

Here’s a crazy idea: If your main complaint is the guys the county hired to run the arena operations, why don’t you offer to buy the arena operations rights from the county, and then pick your own operator? Sure, it might cost you something, but less than the billion dollars it will cost for a whole new building.

The real answer, of course, is that this is about the 74th most important reason for these teams wanting out of their old stadiums, but it’s what the Warriors president told the Business Times, so it’s what they’re going to report, dammit. Remember, kids: Friends don’t let friends read news stories that only include sports team execs and stadium developers as sources!

Two Milwaukee polls show pretty much squat, can’t we have some real Bucks arena reporting already?

It’s mediocre coverage of crappy poll day in Milwaukee today! First up, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, the right-wing think tank run by a former newspaper columnist and which includes rabidly pro-Bucks arena subsidy chamber of commerce president Tim Sheehy on its board, asked a whole 600 people scattered throughout the state of Wisconsin if they approved or disapproved of “public support” for the state’s sports teams. (Margin of error: ±5%.) Verdict: A narrow majority opposed giving public subsidies to sports teams in general (51.3% to 39.5%) and a narrow plurality opposed public aid to the Bucks in particular (39.3% to 36.1%); the Packers fared better, earning 43.1% to 39.7% support, though the Packers aren’t the ones actually asking for money. And only the overall opposition to subsidies clears that margin of error, anyway.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker’s verdict on this: “sharply divided opinion,” which I guess refers to the fact that most people were “strongly” opposed to or supportive of subsidies? Except for those who had no opinion, that is, though maybe they strongly had no opinion. Verdict: Not untrue, though “Why are we even covering this lousy poll when there have been so many better-worded ones?” would have been more accurate coverage.

Next up: The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance conducted an unscientific email and Facebook poll of members and, it sounds like, friends of members, and asked whether people wanted more public dialogue on a Bucks arena. Amazingly, 77% said yes! Even more amazingly, 23% of respondents actually went through the trouble of clicking on an email or Facebook page to say “No, we don’t want to hear anything more about a new Bucks arena,” which is either a sign that some people are so “strongly” opposed or in favor that they feel the matter is closed, a sign that people’s clicking skills are terrible.

Don Walker wrote about this, too, noting that it was an informal, unscientific survey, which means the numbers are completely meaningless even if the question itself weren’t more or less meaningless. Verdict: What, the first lousy poll didn’t get you enough pageviews for the day?

I pick on Walker a lot, deservedly so, for writing articles that parrot the press statements of Bucks execs and their political allies without even bothering once to call up someone who might disagree, or citing any actual facts to leaven the steady stream of pro-arena-subsidy opinion. But really, the worst of it isn’t the individual articles, but that they’re never leavened with any dissenting views or actual investigative reporting: Instead, on days when nobody from the team has anything to put in the paper, we get rehashes of polls that even the people who conducted them admit are meaningless.

So, Don. (May I call you Don?) You’ve retweeted me, so maybe there’s a chance you’re actually reading this. Since you have all this time on your hands and space to fill, how about devoting some of it to the actual real news that needs to be covered regarding the Bucks arena plans, and not just all this he-said-she-said and rehashing unenlightening poll results? Here, I’ll start you off with a list of story ideas:

  • How much public money are the Bucks owners likely to be asking for, including any tax breaks, free land rights, etc.? And where would the Bucks owners get their supposed $300 million in private funds, what revenues would they be giving up in return, and why can’t some of that go to help repay the public’s share?
  • What would replacing the Bradley Center actually mean to the Bucks owners financially? If it’s enough to pay off the construction costs, why can’t they fund it themselves out of new revenues? If it’s not enough, would it be more cost-effective for the team to make do with their old building, possibly renovated?
  • How serious is the threat that the NBA will sell the team to new owners if a new arena isn’t approved? What did Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens agree to in their purchase of the franchise, and did they authorize the league to play bad cop for their arena demands?
  • What would the fiscal and economic impact be for the state of Wisconsin to kick back income taxes on team employees to the Bucks owners, as has been proposed? How have other states fared that have passed similar measures?

I could probably think of a few more (and I’m sure my commenters will, so check down there as well), but that’s plenty for now. Even tackling one of these topics every week or two would be a huge benefit to the public debates around the arena plan. And I hear that unscientific surveys show that people want more informed public debate, so get cracking!

Bucks exec gives speech on arena subsidies, Milwaukee paper straight-up summarizes it, calls this journalism

Of all the advantages that powerful people have — the ability to get meetings with any elected officials they want, the money to spend $240 for eight pieces of sushi, that whole droit du seigneur thing — the most valuable might be the power to get their opinions printed in the paper at the drop of a hat by amenable reporters. And since there’s no one more amenable than the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker, we have today’s masterpiece, an alleged news story that quotes or paraphrases Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin in a mind-boggling 16 out of its 18 paragraphs. Here, let’s arrange it as free verse:

The new president of the Milwaukee Bucks said Tuesday

Peter Feigin said

Feigin said   Feigin said   Feigin said

Feigin said   Feigin said

He said

Feigin said   Feigin said   Feigin said   he said

Feigin said

he said

Feigin also said

Feigin spoke at the War Memorial Center at a luncheon sponsored by the Rotary and the Milwaukee Press Club.

If you’re wondering what Feigin talked about, it was the usual stuff: He thinks the government should spend public money on his team’s stadium, he wants to create “economic growth,” etc. But really, this article is remarkable less for the content of Feigin’s talk than for the fact that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel now appears to be paying someone to take dictation on the local sports team’s advertorial copy.

When something like this comes up, I immediately think of the story that Frank Rashid of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club told me about his interaction with one of the local Detroit papers over an article regarding subsidies for a new stadium for the Tigers, which the TSFC opposed. Here’s how we recounted it in chapter six of Field of Schemes:

On one occasion, Rashid recalls, he wound up calling the Free Press to complain about an inaccurate story about the Fan Club. He pointed out to a city desk editor that the reporter had printed inaccurate statements by the group’s opponents about the Fan Club, statements that the reporter himself had to have known were untrue.

The editor, according to Rashid, replied with indignation, “What do you expect? [Then-Detroit Tigers owner] Tom Monaghan has made money. He’s paid his dues. Who are you guys?”

“I really appreciated the honesty,” says Rashid. “But, damn! None of us is disreputable. We’re all people who are solid citizens, but we don’t have money. Solid citizens without money don’t count as well as somebody who’s got a big corporation.”

 

L.A. stadium to create 40,000 jobs, says pro-stadium ballot measure that probably doesn’t actually say that

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times headline may have been a bit overexcited, but it was basically grounded in fact: St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke does indeed have “plans” to build an NFL stadium in Inglewood, though you know what they say about plans.

Today’s Los Angeles Times headline: oy.

NFL stadium in Inglewood could mean a billion dollars, 40,000 jobs
If Rams owner Stan Kroenke has his way, an NFL stadium will be built in Inglewood.

What would that mean for this L.A. County city, a mostly low-income area where the majority of residents are African American and Latino?

A billion dollars per year for the local economy plus 40,000 new jobs — many of those in Inglewood — are just two of the benefits, according to the text of a ballot initiative.

So a new stadium in Inglewood would create 40,000 new jobs — “many” in Inglewood! According to the text of a ballot initiative presumably written by the project’s sponsors. (“Presumably” because the Times doesn’t provide a link, and though the initiative was filed on Friday, Inglewood hasn’t posted it on its website.)

That’s massively out of scale with the typical job creation figures for sports stadiums, which is more typically a couple thousand. Presumably again, the initiative (though not the headline) includes jobs that would be created by the rest of the “retail, office, hotel and residential space” planned for the adjacent Hollywood Park racetrack site, which was already in the works before Kroenke’s stadium plan. And does this number include some jobs that would be merely siphoned off from neighboring areas? Presumably.

In any case, this is the kind of claim that we rely on journalists to try to evaluate, by speaking to experts in the field and advocates on various sides of the issue. The Times talks to, let’s see: There’s the mayor of Inglewood, who says this is an indication of how “we’re a good place to be”; there’s a paraphrase from Kroenke and his real estate partner Stockbridge; there’s another quote from the initiative; there’s Curbed LA naming Inglewood its “Neighborhood of the Year”; and that’s the end of the article. Oy.

Not that things are a whole lot better today elsewhere in the sportsbusinesswriterverse: Everyone’s favorite San Antonio Business Journal project coordinator W. Scott Bailey not only spends an entire article speculating on what the Rams’ possible move to L.A. would mean for the Oakland Raiders‘ imaginary move to San Antonio, he manages to spell Kroenke’s name wrong. Four times. The St. Louis Business Journal, at least, has actual news, albeit without much in the way of specifics: The two-man task force assigned by Gov. Jay Nixon to come up with a Rams stadium plan will deliver its report on Friday, though no details are yet available.

If someone wants to bring the not-as-mighty-as-once-but-still-substantial resources of the mainstream media to bear on this story, there are tons of angles to be explored: What is the actual scope of the Inglewood project, and what would it mean for the city? How much would get built even without the stadium? And, most important, can Kroenke really pull off building it as promised with no public money (not even tax breaks or free development rights) without taking a massive bath on the construction costs?

All this is vital not just for readers and political leaders in southern California, but for those in St. Louis, which needs to know just what they’re bidding against in the attempt to keep the Rams. Not that that’s the only criterion, mind you — if L.A. is really such an amazing NFL market that it’s worth Kroenke’s while to build a stadium there on his own dime, then it’d be foolish for Missouri officials to try to outbid it, unless they think keeping the Rams is so important that it’s worth risking a repeat of the worst lease in sports history. But to go into a bidding war without some intelligence about who else is involved is a recipe for bidding against yourself, and nothing good has ever come of that.

 

NY Times real estate section says exactly what it always says about everything, everywhere

The New York Times real estate section has a long piece up today about plans for a new D.C. United stadium, because … actually, I’m not sure why. The New York Times real estate section usually focuses on, you know, New York, and even if the D.C. council is voting on the United stadium plan today, it seems a bit outside the usual bounds, but, you know, whatever.

The article itself interviews the owner of D.C. United, the owner of the development company that owns the stadium land, D.C.’s planning director, D.C.’s incoming mayor, and one woman who lives in the planned stadium neighborhood, presumably for local color. My Vice Sports colleague Aaron Gordon has put together a Storify detailing all the flaws in this piece, but seriously, people, it’s a New York Times real estate section article. This is not, and never has been, journalism; it’s a service provided to realtor advertisers that dutifully identifies which neighborhoods real estate professionals are trying to hype as up-and-coming, enabling them to sell more housing there at inflated prices, and thus plow more money back into ads in the Times real estate section. It’s a win-win! Unless you 1) rent in a neighborhood thus targeted or 2) prefer to have news in your newspaper, but those people will be crushed like grapes by the tide of history, right?

Anyway, if you insist on reading the article beyond the “Real Estate” slug at the top, Gordon’s Storify is a worthwhile corrective. But really, you have better uses for your time. How about this article on how economic inequality is helping to drive the Uber economy? Or one about how ground squirrels are accelerating global warming? I never did like the look of those guys.

Missouri governor to announce task force to decide how much ransom to pay Rams not to move

After months of silence on both sides, Gov. Jay Nixon will hold a media conference call Wednesday to discuss the Rams’ stadium situation and the next step towards keeping the team in St. Louis.

Oh boy oh boy I can hardly wait—

Expectations are that there will be no specific details on the stadium plan discussed in the conference call, but according to sources familiar with the situation, such plans will be made public by the end of the calendar year.

It is expected, however, that Nixon will talk about formation of a committee or task force to deal with the stadium issue.

Aw man, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, come on, spoilers!

There’s actually been relatively little action on the Rams stadium front since the city/county/state-controlled tourism board decided to tear up the team’s old lease the summer before last rather than give the franchise $700 million in required improvements, the legacy of the worst lease ever. (You can either interpret that as team owner Stan Kroenke waiting on public officials to make him an offer, or on him biding his time until he can move to Los Angeles, take your pick.) If nothing else, Nixon’s announcement is expected to kick off the official start of stadium dickering season, marked as always by a long, pointless Ken Belson article in the New York Times.

(For those new to this site and unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Ken Belson: Here, read up.)

The latest exercise in Belsonism wanders around through the obvious (Kroenke wants a new stadium, stadiums are expensive, voters don’t like spending money on stadiums), before arriving at what could be a point, kind of, about the possibility of the Rams relocating to L.A.:

“If they do it properly, it’s hard to see how the Rams would qualify to relocate under existing league rules,” Marc Ganis, a consultant to several N.F.L. teams, said of the governor’s task force.

The league’s relocation guidelines designed to prevent teams from moving willy-nilly are extensive. When other owners consider whether to let a team move, they look at whether a team is profitable, received public financing and made credible attempts to build or refurbish its stadium. According to Forbes, the Rams are worth $930 million, the least of any N.F.L. team, yet they generated $16.2 million in operating income last year. At least three-quarters of the owners must approve any relocation.

Yes, the NFL has rules on the books saying that it has to give existing home cities a chance to keep the team, but be serious — this is mostly just an exercise in butt-covering, so that they can justify any relocations on the grounds of “The old city didn’t mount a serious offer.” (Or to help shake down cities for serious offers. Take your pick.) If the other NFL owners decide that it’d be a good thing for Kroenke to move the Rams to L.A. — which will mostly depend on whether Kroenke thinks it’s a good idea to move the Rams to L.A., which will depend on whether he can get a better stadium deal in L.A. than in St. Louis, which right now looks doubtful but it depends on what kind of St. Louis offer has to be beat — they’re not going to let any stinking bylaws get in their way. C’mon, Marc Ganis, you’re the next best thing to an official NFL economic consultant, you should know that.

If nothing else, at least this article adds to our long list of crazy things Ken Belson has put into print, with:

The owners will have to weigh many other factors, including whether a team in Los Angeles will hurt the Chargers in San Diego, and whether abandoning St. Louis, the country’s 21st-largest television market and home to several big sponsors, will hurt the league.

That’s right, the New York Times’ chief sports business writer has wondered aloud whether leaving St. Louis for Los Angeles will hurt TV contracts and sponsorships. It is truly a strange and wonderous world we live in.