Friday roundup: Zombie apocalypse in full effect, go and get a late pass

So as you all undoubtedly know by now, everything is shut down. The NBA is shut down for at least 30 days, the NHL is shut down indefinitely, MLB has canceled the first two weeks of the season, MLS is on hold for a month, this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament may be moved to 2021 so maybe the Champions League and Europa League can finish up in June and July, the XFL is shut down maybe for good, and even the Little League is on hold until April 6. And all those dates are just minimum wild-ass guesses: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a calming voice of reassurance as ever, said yesterday that this “could easily be a six-month crisis” — and even if you dismiss him as just a guy who gets his every stray thought printed in the newspaper because he’s an elected official, as I wrote yesterday for FAIR, it’s still very much true that nobody really knows how long this will last, or how to decide (or who will decide) that the curve has been effectively flattened and life can go back to normal(ish) now.

So instead of dwelling on that, let’s dwell instead on another aspect of plagueworld that overlaps somewhat with the mission of this site: the economic impacts of shutting stuff down. I’m sure somebody out there is thinking, “But Neil, you always say that economists say it doesn’t matter much to the economy whether one sporting event or another is played, because people will just spend their money on something else like going out to eat or to a bowling alley instead. So why won’t the substitution effect save us now?”

I am, as I have to take pains to remind journalist quoting me from time to time, not an economist, but I think I can explain this one well enough: There’s a huge difference between one sports team or league shutting down and everything shutting down. Once everyone has completed their panic-shopping therapy and stocked up on a lifetime supply of toilet paper, they’re mostly not going to be looking for other things to spend money on — they’re going to sit at home and watch the Netflix subscriptions that they already paid for. And meanwhile a bunch of them are going to be out of work, and still more will be out of work once restaurants and barber shops and the like have to close for lack of business, and that will mean even less business, and soon enough the entire economy has shut down in a cycle of fear.

I was lucky to get a first-hand example of this in high school, when my U.S. History teacher had each of her classes play a game where each student was one player in late-19th-century frontier society, either a farmer or a railroad company owner or a banker or I forget what else. This made for lots of fun experience with the consequences of unregulated capitalism — I remember one friend of mine contracted to make a loan to another friend, and set the interest rate but not the term of the loan, and our teacher refused to step in and rule on when it had to be paid back because a contract is a contract — but in another class some friends of mine were in, it got even more severe: There was only one banker, and he refused to loan anyone any money at less than usurious rates, and the entire class plunged into an economic depression.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons this is going to be really bad in many, many ways, even if all these closures aren’t too late to avoid the old people being left to die in ERs that has reportedly been taking place in Lombardy. (I do not make a very good voice of calm, either, sorry.) But eventually this crisis will be over, and it’s still worth thinking about what the world will look like when we come out the other side. After all, with no sports to watch we’ve got plenty of time on our hands.

Not that everything being shut down has brought sports subsidy demands to a halt, because some things are just too big to fail:

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Seattle mayor says hosting World Cup should break even, after not looking at actual costs of hosting World Cup

Yesterday’s Seattle Times headline “Hosting 2026 World Cup would cost Seattle millions, but almost all money would be recovered, city says” was bound to catch my eye, especially given that several North American cities had already dropped out of consideration after complaining that FIFA’s demands were too steep. So how does Mayor Jenny Durkan get to a break-even estimate for hosting the World Cup?

Providing stadium security and police escorts, arranging practice fields, holding fan festivals and covering permit fees would eat up about $7.7 million for three games and about $10.5 million for five games, say the projections by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office…

The memo says FIFA would reimburse Seattle for the stadium, police and field costs. That expectation would appear to clash with World Cup 2026 bidding guidelines released last year, which said FIFA would ask the host governments to take responsibility for security costs.

Um, yeah, seriously. Durkan’s office implied that she received assurances directly from FIFA that security costs would be covered somehow, but didn’t provide specifics beyond saying that “the mayor has knowledge of a range of very complex contracts and projects.”

Okay, so what about the pair of 20,000-seat open-air venues for World Cup watch parties that FIFA is demanding? The Durkan memo says that FIFA would allow the city to charge for admission and collect sponsorship money to cover these costs, which, maybe?

And what about the big holdup for cities like Chicago and Minneapolis, which was that FIFA was looking for a full exemption on sales taxes, ticket taxes, and the like on all its activities and that of its contractors for the entire run-up to the 2026 World Cup?

Seattle’s memo doesn’t account for potential costs related to security liability and tax breaks.

In short, it looks like Mayor Durkan’s office didn’t actually conduct a study of costs of hosting the World Cup; it merely conducted a study of costs of holding a big event like the World Cup (“These projections are preliminary and not based on information given to us by FIFA or US Soccer Federation, but rather by reviewing similar historic events using institutional knowledge and estimates for stadium game day operations”) and left it at that.

So the reassuring headline shouldn’t be very reassuring, and Seattle residents should still be concerned about being left holding a large bill for hosting the World Cup. And since Seattle, with possibly the best large stadium in North America for hosting soccer, is uniquely well equipped to be a host city, the other 22 cities on the list should still be afraid, be very afraid.

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FIFA not actually demanding every 2026 World Cup host city have two extra stadiums on hand for watching on TV, phew

So several readers wondered if the line in the Las Vegas Review-Journal article cited in my previous post about FIFA demanding “two outdoor venues — each capable of seating 20,000 people to watch every tournament game on a big screen at no cost” really meant outdoor venues, as I assumed, or just public plazas for fan zones, as has been done for past World Cups. I reached out to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, whose COO Steve Hill was quoted (well, paraphrased) as saying the thing about 20,000-seat venues, and didn’t hear back immediately — their press people are still trying to track Hill down for clarification.

But the Review-Journal’s reporter Rick Velotta did get back to me, and wrote this:

I specifically asked Steve Hill about this because I asked, “What about just opening up T-Mobile and Thomas & Mack?” He said they had to be strictly outdoor venues (which makes little sense to me, considering the tournament is in June/July).

So I asked, “What about Sam Boyd Stadium and maybe the Las Vegas Motor Speedway?” He said FIFA is looking for a new place to set up so that a big screen could be set up at one end. So it’s more like what you suggested … public space where a big screen and seating could be built.

So you’d be talking about not only a lot of space but a place where people could also park their cars.

My apologies, then, for getting anyone in a panic about having to build tons of new outdoor stadiums (or at least rent tons of old ones), as it appears that all FIFA really wants is two big-ass fields and 20,000 folding chairs and big video boards and a few thousand parking spaces. For around 100 games over the course of several weeks. And security for all that, of course. For free. Really, I don’t see what Las Vegas (and Chicago and Minneapolis and Vancouver) was even griping about — that’s nothing more than you’d offer to any multi-billion-dollar company visiting for a few weeks, right?

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FIFA is reportedly demanding every 2026 World Cup host city have two extra stadiums on hand for watching on TV

So it turns out Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vancouver weren’t the only cities to bow out of bidding to be host cities for the 2026 World Cup because the FIFA demands were too rich for their blood; Las Vegas did so as well. And the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has revealed one previously unannounced FIFA demand that is, frankly, jaw-dropping:

The requirements included providing two outdoor venues — each capable of seating 20,000 people to watch every tournament game on a big screen at no cost, [Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and Chief Operating Officer Steve] Hill said.

So if we’re taking this at its word*, every host city needs to have three stadiums — one to play in, and two to watch TV in. And they need to be outdoors, because what kind of crazy person watches games on a screen indoors?

In a lot of the prospective host cities — Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Miami, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, if you needed a reminder — this won’t be too difficult, as there will be MLB and MLS facilities in place that can be used as well. (Or college football stadiums, as in Seattle, where the MLS team already plays in the stadium that would be used for the World Cup.) The bigger problem will be getting them for free: In most cases the local sports teams control the use of the venues, not the cities, which raises the possibility that cities may have to fork over big bucks to rent back the stadiums they themselves helped build in order to hand them over to FIFA to use for rent-free watch parties.

And then, there’s also the problem that the World Cup takes place in the middle of the baseball season, so will the Houston Astros — to pick a team at random — be asked to go on a month-long road trip so that their stadium can be used as a giant open-air movie theater for soccer fans?

The Las Vegas Review-Journal also reports that FIFA is requiring each city to put in place “world-class practice facilities shielded from the public” for teams playing in each host city, which, again, most cities probably have somewhere (depending on what you mean by “world-class”), but may not be able to access for free.

If the “two free bonus stadiums” thing is accurate — it’s not in the FIFA bid book, though really, not much is (the practice facilities are, though) — this is clearly going to be a large issue for many, if not most, of the prospective North American host cities. We have several years of ugly, ugly haggling ahead of us, so it’s important to figure out what the key sticking points are going to be sooner than later, before a whole lot of cities get stuck with some unexpected bills.

*UPDATE: We don’t need to take this at its word, phew.

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U.S., Canada, Mexico Win Right to Host Quadrennial Traveling Soccer Grift

It’s official: The 2026 World Cup has been awarded to a joint bid by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The North American bid won out over one by Morocco by a 134-65 vote of FIFA member nations, if FIFA vote numbers can really be said to mean anything at all.

Anyway, aside from a whole lot of people now making June 2026 travel plans — I personally am torn between wanting to watch top international soccer and wanting to rent out my apartment to a bunch of Icelanders eager to watch their team — the obvious big question is: What will this mean in terms of building and upgrading stadiums? Obviously, the North American nations have a lot more World Cup–ready stadiums than Morocco, which was going to have to spend $15.8 billion on new or renovated stadiums if it had won. But still, FIFA has high expectations — Russia had lots of stadiums already before this year’s World Cup, but still ended up spending $11 billion (not only on stadiums, but mostly) — and even relatively new venues could be deemed in need of upgrades after another eight years has passed, given the way “aging” keeps getting defined down.

The North American bid included 23 cities (deep breath): Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Miami, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle; not all of those will ultimately end up hosting games, even with an expanded 48-team field, but all will be in the running. Several other cities, such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vancouver, bowed out of the running after deciding that they didn’t want to be subject to FIFA’s demands, which can include stadium upgrades, security costs, and tax breaks.

One big issue is bound to be grass vs. turf fields, since a lot of the proposed U.S. stadiums are home to NFL teams and so use fake turf, while FIFA insists that the World Cup — the men’s World Cup, anyway — be played on grass. Obvious candidates for a World Cup final, for example, would be either MetLife Stadium in New York (really New Jersey) or the new Inglewood stadium in Los Angeles (really Inglewood), given the size of the media markets and hotel capacity; however, both have artificial turf, and it’s tough to see the biggest game in international soccer being played on a bunch of grass trays that look like it.

I’ll no doubt be researching this more over the next eight years, so stay tuned. But given that FIFA is involved, as well as U.S. sports team owners who will use pretty much anything at all as a pretext to demand a new or renovated stadium, and this has bad news written all over it for North American taxpayers. Even if the prospect of seeing these guys suit up within driving distance of your home is kind of cool.

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Friday roundup: Rangers to keep empty ballpark, football Hall of Fame seeks bailout, Goodell dreams of a new Bills stadium

Happy baseball season! Unless you’re a Miami Marlins fan, in which case it’s already ruined. But anyway:

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Friday roundup: Why Pistons fans can’t bear to watch, Broncos land grab move, Donald Trump could win Morocco the World Cup, and more!

All evidence to the contrary, spring (and the spring end-of-legislative-session season) must be getting nearer, because the stack of weekly roundup news items in my Instapaper is getting longer and longer each week. Better get down to it:

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Chicago, Minneapolis, Vancouver drop out of World Cup bid rather than grant FIFA a decade-long tax exemption

The leading candidate to host the 2026 World Cup has been a joint U.S./Canada/Mexico bid that would see the tournament take place across a long list of cities. And I put that in the present perfect progressive tense because what seemed a shoo-in looks a bit shakier now that Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vancouver have all removed themselves from the bid, on the grounds that FIFA’s demands for tax breaks and other concessions were just too much:

theBreaker has obtained a copy of FIFA’s requirements for governments bidding for 2026. The Swiss-based organization, still reeling from the FBI’s 2015 crackdown on FIFA’s massive bribery and kickbacks, requires host governments agree to grant it huge tax breaks for an entire decade and allow it to import and export unlimited amounts of foreign currency. FIFA also requires host taxpayers pick up the full bill for safety and security and assume liability should there be any security incident of any size…

For its workforce, FIFA wants a visa-free environment where work permits are issued “unconditionally and without any restriction or discrimination of any kind.”

“It is also requested to grant exemptions from labour law and other legislation for companies and personnel directly involved with the competition, provided that these exemptions do not undermine or compromise the government’s commitment to respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights.”

That is a lot! And it was apparently a take-it-or-leave-it deal: British Columbia tourism minister Lisa Beare explained that her government withdrew from the bid because “there was no interest by FIFA to negotiate or address our concerns, and that the costs still remain unknown”; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that “FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk”; and the Minneapolis bid committee issued a statement that “the inability to negotiate the terms of the various bid agreements did not provide our partners and our community with sufficient protections from future liability and unforeseen changes in commitments.”

The North American bid is still moving ahead with 23 locations — Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto in Canada; Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey in Mexico; and Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle. and Washington in the U.S. — all of which apparently agreed to FIFA’s terms. But it’s still an unexpected hiccup in FIFA’s plans, and shows that at least some governments are willing to turn down a major sporting event if it requires handing over tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues and untold security costs along the way.

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