Rays owner still distracting press from stadium subsidy demands by wavering on stadium site

The minute that the city of St. Petersburg approved letting the Tampa Bay Rays buy their way out of their lease and seek other stadium sites in the local area, I was worried that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg was going to turn this into a “Where will the Rays’ new stadium go?” debate before anyone considered who was actually going to pay for one. In entirely unrelated news, here’s a humongous article in the Tampa Bay Times all about how Sternberg plans to rank prospective stadium sites now that he’s discovered you can’t just point at them and say “I’ll take that one”:

“We had some ideas on locations that just weren’t available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they’re off the table,” Sternberg said before the Rays’ game at their spring training site in Port Charlotte. “So we’re sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4.”

He likened the Rays’ stadium search to a team setting up its pitching rotation.

“It’s like starting pitchers, you have five of them and sometimes No. 4 is better than No. 2, but rarely better than No. 1,” Sternberg said. “The No. 1 is the No. 1. I hate to be mixing these sort of metaphors, but it sort of works in this case.”

First off: That’s not a mixed metaphor, as it’s perfectly consistent; it’s just a stupid metaphor, as pitching rotations are set up to have five choices because you need five days’ worth of pitchers, whereas you only need one stadium site. Also, you’re required to have some kind of pitcher on the mound every game, whereas if none of the stadium sites work out, Sternberg can simply remain with the status quo at Tropicana Field.

But anyway, what’s still on the table as far as Sternberg is concerned, from the nine sites floated last summer? Not the Heights site in Tampa (the landowners don’t want a stadium there), or the site of Jefferson High School (local elected officials don’t like it), or the sites of Albert Whitted Airport or Al Lang Stadium in St. Pete. Evicting 372 low-income families from the Tampa Park Apartments is still a potential option, and there’s still a few other places in and around Tampa-St. Pete that won’t be underwater for a while, so expect Sternberg to keep looking.

But now I’m falling into the trap: The bigger question isn’t where to put a stadium, but how to pay for one. Sternberg still hasn’t provided much in the way of details beyond the need for “a public-private partnership that would support the construction of the Rays next generation ballpark“; if he’s smart, he’ll keep it that way until he finally settles on a site, in the hopes that everyone will be so relieved about getting to stop debating locations that they’ll be happy to sign a blank check for construction. It’s not a sure strategy, but it’s certainly worked in the past, and it sure appears to be the endgame he’s preparing for — with the aid of the Tampa Bay Times, which assigned five people to work on this story and didn’t bother to quote a single person who wasn’t either a Rays official or a local politician in favor of building a new stadium. Oh, journalism.

Denver Post levies Coors Field upgrade demands, says it only wants to protect taxpayers, really

So this is kind of weird: On Saturday, the Denver Post ran an editorial arguing that in lease renewal talks between the Colorado Rockies and the state-run Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for any renovation costs:

[District chair Ray] Baker said instead he’s hoping to craft a long-term lease that would be in the best interests of taxpayers and protect the asset that is the stadium. He said engineering studies have shown the stadium needs $200 million in infrastructure improvements to last for another 20 to 30 years.

We don’t think taxpayers should be on the hook for those construction needs, given that the initial lease so badly inhibited the stadium authority’s ability to raise long-term capital needs.

What’s weird about that? First off, the Post is actually a minority owner of the Rockies, so it’s more than a little odd to see their editorial board insisting on protecting taxpayers from their own demands. But also, this was the first mention of any potential renovation costs to Coors Field at all — not a peep out of the paper’s news reporters before this, or any other news outlet at all.

Read to the very end of the editorial, and it’s maybe clearer what’s going on:

Significant revenue sources need to be dedicated for the structural, electrical, water and sewer needs of the stadium.Without that, it’s likely voters will be asked to approve a new tax again to fund those needs, and that would be a hard sell this time around.

The bad news is that the Rockies, now an ingrained part of our cultural scene, could pack up Dinger, the dinosaur, and Nolan Arenado, the third baseman, and leave town.

Unlikely as that would be, it’s not unprecedented, and it’d be a sad day in LoDo.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Read between the lines, and it appears that Baker, the Rockies’ landlord, wants more funding to snazz up the stadium he runs in the future. The Rockies could choose to pay for any upgrades, obviously, but Baker wants a dedicated revenue stream — the editorial hints that this should be a cut of ticket sales and concessions — so what better way to lobby for one than to get the local paper to insist that it’s vitally necessary to avoid sticking taxpayers with a bill that doesn’t even exist yet?

The real message here, then, isn’t about urgent lease talks — the Rockies owners can unilaterally choose to renew their current deal for another 15 years — than to put a bug in the public’s ear that Coors Field is in urgent need of repairs, and somebody’s gotta pay for it, or else the team may leave. It’s nice and all that the Post is choosing to side with Baker that that somebody should be the team owners and not general taxpayers, but significantly less nice that the paper is trying to shift the goalposts to “We need $200 million, how are we going to pay for it?” at a time when nobody aside from the stadium manager is saying that upkeep of a stadium will cost almost as much as it took to build in the first place. In fact, that seems like the kind of claim that should be investigated by, you know, journalists. Wonder where the Post could find some of those.

UPDATE: Ah, this makes it all somewhat clearer: Apparently the Rockies owners are refusing to sign their lease extension, trying to use it as leverage to get the state to hand over development rights to the Coors Field parking lot in exchange for the team taking on maintenance and upgrade costs. (Aka “the Los Angeles Angels gambit.”) With this as the backdrop, the Post editorial makes even more sense, if by sense you mean “trying to shift the debate in favor of someone else paying for unneeded upgrades,” which is about as much sense as is on offer today.

Steelers owner: If you won’t pay for my Wi-Fi, maybe I won’t host the Super Bowl, nyah

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II has announced that he’s suspended efforts to get awarded the 2023 Super Bowl, and is blaming it on the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority not giving him enough money for stadium upgrades:

“I don’t know that there’s a real commitment here from our landlord to do what’s necessary and work with us in a way that’s cooperative,” Mr. Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s hard for me to explain what the reason is. It’s been something that’s becoming more difficult as the years have gone on in our lease.”

Rooney’s gripe is that he wants to expand capacity by another 2,000 seats (after already adding 3,000 in an expansion set to be completed this year), build a new scoreboard and expanded museum and concessions space, and pay for new sound and Wi-Fi systems that have already been installed, all using money from a capital reserve fund being paid into by ticket surcharges. The sports authority is pushing back on that, and Mayor Bill Peduto was even more vocal on the subject yesterday:

“What they’re asking for is tens of millions of dollars in public money, out of a fund that doesn’t have nearly enough,” Peduto said. “They want to have a state-of-the-art wifi system for eight games a year. I want a state-of-the-art wifi in every one of my schools for 180 days a year. I want to have the ability to reinvest in neighborhoods, not just reinvest in a Jumbotron.”

That’s a little unfair, as the capital reserve fund won’t be available to pay for schools funding if it’s not used on stadium upgrades. If the capital reserve fund runs dry, though, and the city ends up having to pay for other maintenance costs out of its own pocket because it used all the money on a new Steelers scoreboard, Peduto has a bit of a point. (It would take a deep dive into the Steelers’ lease to determine how exactly the capital reserve fund can and can’t be used, and all I can find at the moment is this summary, which doesn’t go into that level of detail.)

Peduto has played hardball with sports team demands before — he was elected in 2013 after campaigning against public funding being used for the last round of Steelers upgrades, and managed to successfully get the team owners to pay for them with increased rent payments. And the Pirates owners have threatened to sue the stadium authority over a similar issue about tapping a capital reserve fund for improvements to their stadium.

Ultimately, this is a minor squabble that mostly points up the importance of having good lawyers write up your leases so everyone doesn’t end up in court a few years later to determine what the heck they mean. Peduto and the stadium authority, though, are doing their job, which is to protect money controlled by the public from being used on anything that it doesn’t have to be. It seems a little harsh to report on that with headlines about “The dream of holding a Super Bowl at Heinz Field has come to a halt,” but I suppose it could be worse.

AZ legislators not actually all that stoked about approving $1b-plus in sports subsidies

So it turns out that giving Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc $170 million in state tax breaks to move from one part of the Phoenix area to another and also approving as much as $375 million in tax breaks for any other pro sports team that wanted a new stadium isn’t so popular in the Arizona state legislature after all. Or at least, isn’t quite popular enough to get a majority, probably:

A plan that would provide $225 million in public financing for a new $395 million Arizona Coyotes arena likely does not have the votes to pass the state Senate, key lawmakers told The Arizona Republic/azcentral Thursday.

Sens. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said they definitely were going to vote against the plan, while Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said there is little support among the chamber’s 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he had “serious reservations” about the plan that would allow the National Hockey League team to build an arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

The utter stupidity of such a plan aside, this points up the political difficulty of getting state support for the subsidy deal: In addition to it becoming a partisan political issue (the sponsor of the bill is a member of the state’s Republican majority), there are regional splits as well, with West Valley legislators of both parties opposing a bill that would likely be used to subsidize a move of the Coyotes out of Glendale, which is in the West Valley. (Peoria is adjacent to Glendale, though Fountain Hills is in the East Valley.) Add in any legislators who are just opposed on the principle that throwing over a billion dollars at your state’s sports teams for no damn reason is a terrible idea — hey, it’s always possible — and the bill is “on life support,” according to the Arizona Republic.

Not that it won’t eventually happen, in some form. (You know how politicians love to haggle.) But it looks like it’s going to take a few more strands of spaghetti thrown at the wall before one of them sticks.

SF Giants make last stadium debt payment, should have no effect on payroll unless they’re dumb

The end of 2016 marked the final $18 million debt payment that San Francisco Giants had to make on their $170 million loan they took out 20 years ago to help pay for building AT&T Park (then Pacific Bell Park), and there was much rejoicing:

“We had people suggesting we have a loan document burning party, a controlled burn on Mount Tam,” CEO Larry Baer quipped in an interview with The Chronicle. “We decided against that for lots of reasons.”…

Over the years, especially in the early years of the loan, Giants officials pointed to the debt service as a reason the payroll wasn’t as high as it might have been. That wasn’t necessarily the case in recent years, as both revenues and payroll soared.

There is good reason for that not to be the case, and it has to do with sunk costs. When sports team owners consider spending money on a new player contract, they should rationally be thinking of it in terms of whether it will generate a positive return on investment: If I spend $100 million on a new outfielder, is it likely to mean enough new ticket sales, bonuses for playoff appearances, etc., that I’ll come out ahead in the end? On that basis, having an extra $18 million a year stadium mortgage payment — or a bunch of extra debt because you got snookered by a con man — shouldn’t make any difference, since a worthwhile contract is still a worthwhile contract regardless.

Now, there’s plenty of evidence that team owners don’t think rationally about this much of the time — that they instead look in their pockets, see how money is there, and then think, “Time to go shopping!” But it’s also possible that some team owners, like the Giants’, can on occasion get beyond the sunk cost fallacy, which would explain why having to make stadium payments didn’t affect their payroll spending, and why being freed from them won’t affect it now. It’s something to remember the next time a team owner claims that they can’t pay towards their new building because then they wouldn’t have enough left over to field a team — if they truly think that way, it’s because they’re dumb, and if they don’t truly think that way, they’re hoping taxpayers are dumb.

Too bad about the bonfire, though, as that would have been a fun way to celebrate the completion of possibly the fairest all-around stadium deal in recent sports history. Instead Baer had to celebrate with some kind of creepy fist-pumping white guy dance, which just isn’t the same.

MLB commissioner: Diamondbacks stadium “needs work” to be “major league,” capisce?

The Arizona Diamondbacks owners ramped up their war of words this week over their lawsuit to get out of their Chase Field lease unless Maricopa County provides $187 million for renovations, with both team president Derrick Hall and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred saying they would not be shackled to a rusted girder. Hall first:

“Love Chase Field, hope to be there for a long time,” Hall said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Bickley and Marotta show Tuesday. “We just see we’re coming to the cliff that they brought to our attention about four or five years ago … We just need a partner that can truly be a partner and can be there a long time and address the capital needs of that stadium.”

And then Manfred took a break from declaring war on the fundamental rules of his sport to save 14 seconds a game because millennials, man to chime in:

Manfred, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, said that “to be a major league-quality stadium,” Chase Field “needs work.”…

“We take very seriously the obligation to have a major league-quality facility in each and every market,” the commissioner said.

“It’s absolutely clear from the material that’s been made available to me there are serious maintenance needs that need to be met with respect to the stadium.”

Okay, so a couple of things. First off, a lot of the Diamondbacks’ wish list is for things like upgrading scoreboards and refurbishing luxury suites — stuff that is nice, but isn’t exactly a measure of being “major-league quality” — and most of the rest is for annual maintenance costs that the team should be spending every year anyway. (Yes, it’s not major-league quality if there’s no toilet paper in the restrooms, but that’s hardly the building’s fault.) So Hall and Manfred are deliberately fudging the difference between “obsolete” and “needs somebody to buy new lightbulbs.”

But even if the stadium did need (whatever “need” means here) major upgrades, there’s the question of why should this be county taxpayers’ problem? One might think that if a stadium is getting older (every stadium is getting older, as are we all), that’s something for the team to address. Like, say, the owners of the Toronto Blue Jays are looking at:

The retractable roof must also be replaced in the coming years, along with other less exciting upkeep tasks for a stadium that first opened in 1989, which is why [team president and CEO Mark] Shapiro insists the entire project must be viewed holistically.

The Blue Jays have hired a design firm and at this point, “what we do have is themes that through focus groups and through research and through industry trends and analysis provided clear ideas of what we would be looking to achieve in a re-envisioning – and I call it a re-envisioning rather than a renovation – of the stadium.”

“No. 1,” Shapiro continued, “would be to turn the stadium into a ballpark. Very simply that would be a top priority for us, which means (providing) a modern ballpark experience for our fans.

Okay, so the Blue Jays own Rogers Centre, whereas Maricopa County owns Chase Field. But the latter is basically a fiction designed to let the D-Backs out of paying property tax; the team gets all revenues from the stadium, even if it doesn’t have its name on the deed. And besides, that’s what leases are for, to determine who’s on the hook for future maintenance and upgrades — and the lease (which prohibits the team from moving through 2028, by the way) certainly appears to say that it’s up to the Diamondbacks owners to cough up the money in this case.

Determining that for sure, of course, is up to a court to decide, which is what Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick is suing to make happen. Until then, though, there’s plenty of room for negotiating through the media, and that’s what commissioners are for, so hey, why not? If it keeps Manfred from spending his time ruining extra innings, it might even be a mitzvah in disguise.

Angels owner says team will stay through 2029, was totally pwned by Anaheim mayor

This was hinted at last September, but Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has officially thrown in the towel on using his opt-out clause on his lease at Anaheim Stadium, telling reporters that his team will remain there at least through 2029:

”It’s going to take some time to get ourselves prepared to see which direction we’re going to go,” Moreno said of the possibility of building a new ballpark. ”We have flexibility, but acquiring land and getting a proper partner and getting prepared in California is a three-, four-year process.”

This can only be seen as a major victory for Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait (and his constituents), who blocked attempts by Moreno to threaten his way into a major stadium renovation subsidy. The timetable of events, you will recall: The Anaheim council gifted Moreno with a 2019 opt-out for no damn reason, then the owner demanded a whole bunch of free land to compensate for him doing renovations on his own behalf, then Tait conducted an appraisal that pointed out that the land was worth nearly $100 million more than the renovations, then Moreno threatened to move to an air base in Tustin, then nobody in Tustin thought that was a good idea, then Moreno slunk back to Anaheim.

This is exactly how it should work: If a team waves around move threats, city leaders should say, “Yeah, get back to us when you have a real offer, and maybe we’ll talk.” And then if the owner is just bluffing, you get away without having to pay him $250 million in taxpayer cash.

Not that Anaheim Stadium won’t ever need renovations (though recall that it just had renovations 20 years ago, which isn’t a lifetime no matter what some other teams may think). But now both Moreno and Anaheim can sit down and figure out what it makes sense for each side to spend on them, if anything, without worrying about the pretend threat that the owner is going to move to an invisible stadium elsewhere in SoCal or move out of the nation’s second-biggest media market entirely. All of which could have been the case all along if the council hadn’t been daft enough to hand out that lease opt-out clause, but at least victory has been grasped from the jaws of defeat for once.

Arizona senators push to give Coyotes, Suns, D-Backs up to $1.1b for new arenas and stadium

Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc may not have any idea where he wants to build a new hockey arena now that Arizona State University pulled out of a planned venue in Tempe, but that’s not going to stop members of the Arizona state senate from pushing legislation to give him $170 million in sales- and hotel-tax kickbacks to help build one. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s make it easier for the Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns to get state subsidies, too:

The bill would allow creation of “community engagement” districts of up to 30 acres. Within them, up to half of the state’s share of sales taxes generated from retail sales and hotel stays would be dedicated to paying the bond debt for new sports or entertainment facilities. It also would allow an additional 2 percent district sales tax to be applied to all purchases within the district, with those revenues also dedicated to defraying the cost of facility construction.

In the case of the Coyotes, the plan envisions public funding covering 57 percent of a new arena’s cost, with new sales taxes covering $170 million and the host city contributing $55 million. The Coyotes said the team’s portion would be $170 million, amounting to a 43 percent contribution toward the $395 million total cost.

This is a bit of a hybrid bill, combining super-TIFs (where half of existing sales and hotel taxes would be kicked back to pay teams’ construction costs) with a new sales tax surcharge in the area around the new sports venue. The math on how much of a subsidy this amounts to gets dicey — virtually all of a TIF would be cannibalized from sales and hotel tax receipts elsewhere in the state, but a slice of a sales tax surcharge could come out of a team owner’s pockets, depending on how big the surcharge area is — but the vast majority of it would be a straight-up gift to team owners, all to allow cities in one part of Arizona to steal teams from cities in another.

You’ll note that I said “teams,” not just the Coyotes. That’s because the new super-TIF districts could be applied to help build any new sports and entertainment facilities. The only limit is that state money would only be allowed to pay for half of construction costs up to $750 million — meaning that if the Coyotes, Suns, and Diamondbacks all availed themselves of the legislation, as you know they would love to do, Arizona taxpayers could potentially be on the hook for $1.125 billion. (If the Coyotes stick to their $170 million demand, the max would be only $920 million, but as we’ve seen before, sports construction costs only tend to go up, and there’s nothing stopping LeBlanc from revising his ask as time goes on.)

Now, the bill has so far only passed one committee in one branch of the Arizona legislature — Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa used one of those “gut an unrelated bill and insert your own language” tricks to get it on the agenda of his own transportation and technology committee — and none of the teams involved have identified places where they’d like to build new facilities, or how to pay for their halves. Still, it’s a pretty remarkable response to a “crisis” started by the Coyotes’ need to leave their nearly-new arena in Glendale because … hey, Coyotes ownership, why do you need to leave again?

“It does not work in Glendale,” Ahron Cohen,the team’s general counsel, told the Senate panel. “In 2013, our ownership group bought the team. The previous ownership chose to go out there.”

Oh. Well, if it “doesn’t work,” then it doesn’t work. I thought you were going to say something about how you couldn’t bear to be forced to compete for the rights to operate the arena instead of just being handed $8 million a year by Glendale in a no-bid contract. Good thing it’s not that, because asking the state of Arizona to pay you a couple hundred mil to get you out of that pickle would be chutzpah in the Nth degree, and only complete morons in state government would actually consider it.

Loria mulls selling Marlins to Ivanka Trump’s brother-in-law, our dystopian future is now

Miami Marlins fans and baseball followers in general have been waiting for decades to get rid of Jeffrey Loria, the evil mastermind who got Miami taxpayers to give him half a billion dollars for a new stadium so he could afford to buy better players and then said, Crap that, I’d rather keep the new stadium and still get the cheapest players I can so I can collect revenue-sharing checks from MLB. So any deal that removes this guy from the owner’s chair would be good, right? How about if it means Loria walking away with up to $1.6 billion and the team being run by Ivanka Trump’s brother-in-law?

The Kushners — led by Joshua Kushner, a venture capitalist, and Joseph Meyer, his brother-in-law and key lieutenant for the family’s investments — have pursued the Marlins for several months, devising a complicated financial arrangement that would include bringing in partners later, these people said. Mr. Kushner is the younger brother of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law.

Neither Jared Kushner, who married Ivanka Trump in 2009 and is a top White House adviser, nor Charles Kushner, the family patriarch who spent over a year in prison for illegal campaign donations, tax evasion and witness tampering, is participating in the effort, these people said.

While I don’t want to judge the son on the sins of the father, this is a somewhat problematic family to consider inviting into MLB, to say the least. And according to the New York Times, MLB has qualms about it as well:

The deal has already prompted questions within Major League Baseball, according to the people briefed on the conversations, about what kind of relationship Mr. Trump would have to the team and whether that would be a benefit or a disadvantage. Would fans or sponsors boycott or embrace the team or league based on a comment or Twitter post by Mr. Trump? And would Mr. Trump attend games?

(And if he did attend games, would he insist that they were really sellouts? <rimshot>)

The one silver lining of a Marlins sale to the Kushners: Taxpayers would get a cut of any sale price, according to its stadium deal, though given the complex formula for calculating that, Miami Dade County’s chief financial officer says he’d have to figure out what the county would have coming to it, guessing only that it would be “several million dollars.” This does not seem like proper compensation for getting out of the frying pan only to enter the Trump family fire, but the decision is in Loria’s hands. And we know that we can trust him to … okay, never mind.

Braves say their spring-training subsidy demand is a trade secret, because Pitbull

Not content with the $355 million they’re getting from Cobb County taxpayers for their new regular-season stadium, the owners of the Atlanta Braves are also seeking public money to build a new $80 million spring-training complex in Sarasota, Florida. (They apparently gave up on Gary Sheffield’s insane plan for $662 million sports complex just north of St. Petersburg.) As Shadow of the Stadium reports, the Braves are hoping to put in a total of diddly-squat towards the cost, while the city, county, state (using its demented sports tax rebate program that a local legislator is trying to repeal), and a private developer split it four ways.

I’d tell you more about the funding details, but as SoS’s (and WTSP-TV’s) Noah Pransky discovered when he filed a public records request on the proposed deal, both the Braves owners and Sarasota County say they shouldn’t have to tell anyone about it because of the Pitbull Precedent:

When 10Investigates requested the public records that had been prepared to this point, county spokesperson Jason Bartolone responded that the Braves “have asserted confidentiality rights” under Florida State Statute 288.075, which aims to protect proprietary business information and trade secrets in public-private economic development deals.

FSS 288.075 is one of the same exemptions used by rapper Pitbull and public agency Visit Florida to deny 10Investigates’ 2015 public records request into the artist’s taxpayer-funded tourism contract. The secrecy and controversy surrounding the deal, later disclosed to be worth $1 million, wound up costing three of the agency’s top executives their jobs.

If, like me, you didn’t follow the Pitbull scandal at the time, it went like this: Visit Florida, the state tourism agency, hired the Cuban-American rapper to make a promotional video called “Sexy Beaches,” which if you’ve ever heard Pitbull is pretty much his entire musical wheelhouse. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran called the result “reprehensible,” and demanded to know how much the state was paying Pitbull for his services. Pitbull and Visit Florida refused, saying their contract was a “trade secret.” Corcoran sued. Pitbull then tweeted out the details of his contract, which included $1 million in payments for this autotuned slice of hell, among other things.

That went so well that the Braves and Sarasota County have decided that their contract is a trade secret too, even if it doesn’t involve meeting sexy strangers in the lobby. (I mean, I really hope it doesn’t.) It’s not clear yet whether Pransky is preparing a lawsuit, but I’d keep an eye on the Braves Twitter feed just in case.