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.

Wisconsin TV station reports “immense” Bucks arena windfall after talking only to guy who cut Bucks arena deal

And now for your periodic reminder in how to read a news article. First, the headline:

‘UPFRONT’ recap: Return on Fiserv Forum will be immense for state taxpayers

Seeing as this appears on the website of the Milwaukee TV station WISN, “UPFRONT” is likely some TV news program. Fiserv Forum is the name of the new Bucks arena. And “immense” means huge, so presumably WISN reporters took an independent look at the return on state spending on the arena and found a lot of money coming back. Or, you know, not:

Fiserv Forum, the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks, will return a “tremendous” amount of money to state taxpayers who helped fund it, said Scott Neitzel, the former administration secretary for Republican Gov. Scott Walker who helped craft the arena deal.

Yes, WISN left out the part where the immense return (actually the quote was “tremendous” but apparently they were trying to cut characters) is entirely according to the guy who negotiated the deal, and who now runs a consulting firm for local businesses, another tidbit that WISN left out. In fact, the entire report was based solely on a single interview with Neitzel, who asserts that the state of Wisconsin will take in $600 million in income taxes for its expenditure of $80 million in tax money. (Plus “the pride of now having a potential championship team here,” because apparently the Bucks owners would have traveled back in time to 2013 and not drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo if they hadn’t received the arena subsidy.)

This is actually something that has already been researched, and Neitzel’s claims, it turns out, are somewhere between overblown and completely fraudulent:

  • The state’s own earlier estimates were for $299 million in new income taxes over the next 20 years, not $600 million. Neitzel gave no explanation for the doubling of his projections.
  • $169 million of that $299 million would come from projected increases in NBA salaries over coming years, something that would only work out if average player salaries rise to $33 million a year.
  • Even that remaining $130 million in state tax receipts assumes that 1) the Bucks would have left without a new arena and 2) people who would have spent money on Bucks games would then take their money and spend it elsewhere. The latter of these has been shown by studies to be categorically untrue, though the presence of an NBA team can move some spending from the suburbs to the city — which benefits Wisconsin state tax coffers, needless to say, not at all, unless you’re luring tons of fans from across the Illinois border.

All of which leaves, well, who knows? But it’s certainly a lot less than a “tremendous” or “immense” windfall, as a call to any independent sports economist, or even a quick googling, would have confirmed. WISN, though, didn’t have time for that, so it was left to viewers to figure out for themselves whether Neitzel was telling the truth or some other thing. And really, isn’t that what journalism is all about?

Friday roundup: Worcester stadium subsidy snowballs, Rochester Rhinos look to abandon 12-year-old stadium, old rich white guys continue to control the media

TGIF, but please cut God some slack for this week in stadium facepalms:

  • Members of the Worcester city council say they won’t rush to rubber stamp city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.’s proposed $100 million stadium subsidy deal for the Pawtucket Red Sox, with public hearings scheduled for next Tuesday and September 5. Augustus, though, says he won’t accept proposed amendments to the deal, only a straight up or down “yes” or “no” vote, because any changes “would significantly impact our ability to deliver this project on time and could lead to unintended consequences.” So, basically, he’s asking for a rubber stamp, though the council still always has this one available.
  • Worcester city councilmembers might also want to check out this article from WBUR about how throwing large sums of money at minor-league baseball stadiums has worked out in other cities like Nashville, Durham, and El Paso. Representative quote, from Nashville City Councilor John Cooper: “Our overall success as a tourist destination is clearly not part of this baseball project. Nobody here thinks of the minor league baseball park as driving much of that.”
  • Meanwhile, the Worcester stadium deal has already created a cascade effect, with the owners of the Boston Red Sox‘ single-A team, the Lowell Spinners, asking when they’ll get some public money too. “I love Lowell, and I believe in Lowell,” Spinners owner Dave Heller said after meeting with Massachusetts state economic development officials. “I’m excited about the future in Lowell and investing here. I want to make sure we can take advantage of any incentives that are available from the state.” Spoken like a true Vercotti brother.
  • The GM of the New York Islanders and the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers both say they’re optimistic about getting the arenas built that they are lobbying to get built, and they both got articles in major news outlets (Newsday and CBS Sports) about their optimism. Normal non-rich humans who would like to express their pessimism about the arena projects can write a letter to the editor — ha ha, just kidding, CBS Sports doesn’t publish letters to the editor, go write an angry tweet or something.
  • The former owners of the USL Rochester Rhinos got $20 million from the state of New York for a new stadium in 2006, but now the new owners say they’re looking to move to a newer stadium in the suburbs, because people would rather watch the Premier League on TV than sit in a 12-year-old stadium or something? (And this after they narrowly avoided getting evicted!) Anyway, what the hell is it with upstate New York cities not thinking to lock their minor-league teams into long-term lease deals? Is it something in the water?

Are sports leagues trolling Arizona media by refusing to release full economic impact studies?

Emerging briefly from my travel-imposed radio silence to note that Arizona tourism officials are once again talking up how sports is a mammoth contributor to the state’s economy, to the tune of $1.3 billion over the last three years. That’s according to figures come up with by the Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, and since they go against pretty much every other study conducted of sports economics ever — which conclude that most sports spending just displaces other spending, whether it’s by locals or tourists — I heartily pooh-poohed the latest of those studies when it came out last month, noting that a previous enthusiastic study of spring-training impact in Florida turned out not even to have been conducted by an economist.

After I wrote that, I got a very friendly under the circumstances email from one of the Arizona State economists, who assured me that the people behind the report had degrees and everything. He also indicated that the study had tried to avoid crediting sports with economic activity from visitors who would have come to Arizona anyway by asking survey respondents, “How strong a factor was the 2018 Cactus League in your decision to visit Arizona?”

This was very interesting, I told my correspondent. Where could I find the complete study, so I can see the full methodology?

Sorry, I was told. These reports were commissioned by the sports leagues (MLB, the NFL, and NCAA), and they were only releasing summaries, not the full reports.

This, needless to say, is a problem: Without seeing the methodology, there’s no way to tell if these studies truly show something unprecedented is going on in Arizona, or if every other study is correct that one-time and seasonal sports events don’t have any measurable economic benefit. So instead we just have the sports leagues picking and choosing which numbers to put in their press releases, with no way to tell how those figures were generated.

And if the notion of sports leagues deliberately trolling the media with cherry-picked stats is bad enough, one has to ask: Why the hell are Arizona media letting themselves get trolled? Pretty much every news outlet in the state has been running these stories at face value, without ever noting that there’s no way to evaluate the claims. That’s a dereliction of duty way worse than anything the leagues (who only have obligation to profit, not to truth) or the economists (who are just doing what their clients ask of them, though I suppose they could always refuse to take on projects with secrecy clauses on the grounds of academic openness) are doing.

Anyway, sports leagues are devious and secretive and news outlets are lazy and eager to suck up to the sports industry that provides them with many of their dwindling number of readers. Glad to see nothing has changed in my absence, in other words.