Friday roundup: New sports venues, new sports venue threats, and our dwindling journalistic resources

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko is a national treasure whether he’s writing about sports or movies or punctuation, and his takedown this week of a Fivethirtyeight article that asserts there are too many minor-league baseball teams is very much no exception. Drop whatever you’re doing — which is reading this post, so okay, drop whatever you were going to do after that — and read it now, whether you care about the purpose of sports as entertainment or the role of the media in management-labor relations or the increasing propensity to reduce human beings to measures of technocratic efficiency. With the demise of the alt-weeklies, there are fewer and fewer outlets eager to combine tenacious reporting and big-picture analysis and engaging writing toward the end of helping us understand the world we live in beyond “here are some potentially viral things that happened today,” so we need to cherish those that remain while we can.

And with that, here are some potentially viral (in the not especially infectious sense) things that happened this week:

Oakland wins land swap approval for proposed A’s stadium site, actual public cost still clear as mud

The Oakland A’s stadium plan for Howard Terminal may seem like it’s been spinning its wheels forever, but it’s been slowly racking up legislative wins of late: A bill to authorize the city of Oakland to acquire property at the site by swapping other land to the state has now passed the state legislature, and is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing, this after another bill was approved to allow tax money to be used for “infrastructure” on the site.

After the bill passed the Assembly in May, [Assemblymember Rob] Bonta said, “This project is a win for Oakland and the East Bay. It will create strong union jobs that provide good wages and benefits.”

He went on to claim that the ballpark will help alleviate the housing crisis: “It will create badly-needed affordable housing and will keep the A’s rooted in Oakland for years to come.”

A figure denoting exactly how much housing might accompany the ballpark and retail mixed-use has yet to be determined.

“Has yet to be determined” is an apt description for most of the stadium plan, as it’s still not exactly clear who would pay for what (aside from the A’s owners funding construction of the stadium itself), or how much the city will get for its share of the Oakland Coliseum site that the team owners want to build housing on to help fund their stadium costs, or how property taxes will work, or lots of other things including how many shipping cranes will be left to decorate the stadium site. All this was par for the course when the stadium plan was still an abstraction, but now that actual authorizing legislation is being passed, maybe it’s time to actually deliver some hard numbers? Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, your Gang of Four membership is at stake!

Friday roundup: When is a football stadium too old to be a football stadium?

If it wasn’t clear from the photos of devastation in the Bahamas, the death toll from Hurricane Dorian is going to get much, much worse than the official confirmed number (30, at this writing). You can find a list of some organizations raising money to help survivors here; please give generously if you can. And remember as you do that it’s the warming oceans that helped make this so bad.

And with that, on to news that’s marginally less life and death:

  • Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District chair Ray Baker says the Broncos‘ current stadium (which just got a new corporate name, go keep track of these things on your own if you like because I can’t be bothered to remember them) should last “between 50 and 60 years,” at which point Broncos president Joe Ellis replied that “I can’t judge where entertainment venues are going to need to be in the future” and “I can’t tell you whether or not, in 10 years, the city of Denver and our seven-county region has an appetite to host a Super Bowl or an appetite to host a Final Four, which means you need a roof. Or do you need a new stadium?” The new naming-rights deal lasts 21 years, at which point the stadium will be 40 years old; please place your bets on whether it will still be standing by then.
  • RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., will not make it to its 60th birthday in October 2021, which is all well and good as nobody plays there now and it’s costing the city $3.5 million a year for maintenance, landscaping, pest control, security, and utilities. (Note: Yeah, that seems like a lot to me too for an empty stadium.) D.C. officials say they plan to build an indoor sports complex and food market on the site, but have no plans as yet for an NFL stadium, no matter how much Mayor Muriel Bowser might want one.
  • Cleveland Browns COO David Jenkins says team execs still haven’t decided whether to demand a new stadium or a renovated one, but “we’re not far from having those conversations.” Note to Denver: The Browns’ stadium is two years older than the Broncos’.
  • Forbes reports that the value of the Oakland Raiders jumped by $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion after announcing their move to Las Vegas, which is an indication that either there’s something wrong with Forbes’ franchise valuation estimates or there’s something wrong with how much rich people are willing to spend to buy sports teams, or both. Even with the state of Nevada kicking in $750 million, the team will still be on the hook for more than $1 billion in stadium construction costs, which is going to soak up most of the team’s new stadium revenue even if their plan to sell tickets mostly to tourists and visiting fans works out.
  • The Anaheim city council is still squabbling over who knew when that when they voted on a Los Angeles Angels lease extension back in January, they were actually giving team owner Arte Moreno the right to stay through 2029 if he wanted, not just until 2020. (The team owner got a one-year extension of his opt-out clause as well, but the lease is now back in place to its original expiration date set before Moreno opted out the first time last year.) One thing that’s for sure is that this was a major gift to Moreno as stadium renovation talks continue, because “the best friend of a sports team owner is time,” says, uh, me.
  • A bill making it easier for Oakland to create tax districts at Howard Terminal to help raise money for infrastructure for a new A’s stadium passed the California state legislature this week; it’s still unclear exactly how much tax money would be spent on infrastructure, or exactly what “infrastructure” would mean, or even if the stadium will be built at Howard Terminal at all, but that’s one more skid greased, anyway.
  • The new Long Island Railroad station outside the new New York Islanders arena is set to be open by 2022, which only about 90 years faster than these things usually go in New York. It helps to have friends in high places!

 

KC Star to new Royals owner: You’d like a new downtown stadium, wouldn’tcha? Wouldn’tcha?

Now that the Kansas City Star has editorialized against giving public money (at least, not too obviously) to new Royals owner John Sherman for a new downtown stadium, time for the paper to back up and ask whether Sherman is likely even to ask for money, or for a new stadium. Their answer: Nobody knows or has even asked, but maybe!

Could a new owner usher in the possibility of the Royals pursuing a downtown stadium? People close to Sherman say he hasn’t discussed the idea specifically, but clues exist to suggest he might be warm to the idea.

Sherman was part of an investor group that was looking at building a downtown stadium in St. Louis to support an expansion Major League Soccer team, according to a 2016 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The idea cooled when then-Gov. Eric Greitens said he would oppose public funding for the project.

Sherman also sits on and was a chairman of the board of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, a consortium of business people who look to guide the city’s future. The Civic Council is helping fund a new study by the Downtown Council of Kansas City’s urban core, an update to earlier studies referred to as the Sasaki Plan, which in 2001 and again in 2005 served as something of a blueprint for the rejuvenation of the city’s core in the years that would follow.

That’s several steps away from even circumstantial evidence: Sherman once was part of a St. Louis soccer team ownership group that wanted to build a new stadium, and is on the board of a business group that gave money to the downtown business group that is doing a study of things that could help downtown — including possibly a baseball stadium! You can practically see the blueprints dancing before his eyes!

Articles like these are tough: On the one hand, news outlets like the Star should be applauded for trying to get out in front of a story by investigating the new owner’s possible plans before he reveals them. On the other, when the result is just some vague tea-leaf reading plumped up with lots of speculation about possible sites and recitation of how other cities just love downtown stadiums to bits, it starts to feel like less of an investigation and more of a suggestion, along the lines of the Buffalo News’s campaign for a new Bills stadium whether or not the Bills owners even want one.

While the more typical dynamic at play is for news outlets to be overly attuned to the desires of team owners and prominent elected officials — because they’re powerful, because they control access to locker rooms, because they issue lots of press releases that can be written up without taking too much time away from the ten other articles you have to file that day — they can also have other reasons for talking up new stadiums: Because other local business leaders want them, because the papers want something that will grab readers’ attention, because their sportswriters are envious of other cities’ schmancier press boxes. The Star isn’t quite at Buffalo News levels yet, but given that the paper’s editorial board was already talking up the “incredible opportunity” of a downtown stadium months before Sherman started looking into buying the team — not to mention the paper’s scare tactics to encourage K.C. voters to approve public funds for stadium renovations back in 2006 — it’s certainly cause for concern. At least K.C., unlike a lot of other cities, still has an alternative weekly in town, so here’s hoping the Pitch will consider taking a slightly less pre-sold look at the downtown stadium prospects. Better hurry, the Royals’ lease is up in only 12 more years!

 

Friday roundup: Will Royals sale spark new stadium, is Miami asbestos report a Beckham ploy, could developers influence Bills’ future?

Happy last Friday of summer! You’re probably busy getting ready to go somewhere for the long weekend, but if you’re instead staying put (and enjoying the space left by all the people going somewhere for the long weekend), consider spending some time if you haven’t yet reading my Deadspin article on “What’s The Matter With Baseball?“, which interrogates the various theories for MLB’s attendance decline and determines which ones may not be total crap. Do I conclude that it’s all the fault of team owners who’d rather charge rich people through the nose for a lesser number of tickets than try to sell more seats to less deep-pocketed fans? No spoilers!

And now to the news, and lots of it:

  • A new rich guy is buying the Kansas City Royals, and already there’s speculation about whether John Sherman will demand a new stadium when (or before) the team’s Kauffman Stadium lease is up in 2031. The Kansas City Star editorializes that “Kansas Citians should reject any plan that significantly increases public spending for the Royals, either for a new downtown stadium or a ballpark somewhere else,” and further notes that there’s no guarantee a new stadium would even help the Royals’ bottom line (“Winning, it turns out, is more important than a new stadium”), which is all a nice first step; let’s see what happens when and if Sherman actually opens his mouth about his plans.
  • Miami has closed Melreese golf course after determining it had high levels of arsenic and reopened Melreese golf course after environmental officials determined there was nothing “earth shattering” about the pollution levels. And now there’s concern by at least one city commissioner (Manolo Reyes, if you’re scoring at home) that the release of the arsenic findings is part of a ploy by David Beckham’s Inter Miami to get a discount on the lease price of the land, which is still being hashed out. The Miami Herald reports that the team and city are at loggerheads over whether to take environmental remediation costs into account when determining the land value; this epic Beckham stadium saga may have a couple more chapters to go yet.
  • Buffalo developers Carl and William Paladino are really excited about the possibility of a new Bills stadium near land their own, because they could either sell it to the team at an inflated price or develop it themselves once people are excited to live or shop near a new football stadium. (No, I don’t know why anyone would be excited to live or shop near a football stadium only open ten days a year, just go with it.) Carl Paladino once ran for governor of New York, so it’s worth watching to see if he uses his political ties (or skeezy lobbyist friends) to try to influence the Bills’ stadium future.
  • A group trying to get an MLB team for Nashville may not have a stadium or a site or a team, but they do have a name for their vaporteam: the Nashville Stars. Guy-who-wants-to-be-an-MLB-owner John Loar tells the Tennessean he decided on the name “after reading a book on Nashville’s baseball history by author Skip Nipper,” which is presumably this one; the Seraphs, Blues, Tigers, Americans, Volunteers, and Elite Giants honestly all seem like better names than the Stars, which was last used by a franchise in the World Basketball League (the basketball league where tall players weren’t allowed, which, yes, was actually a thing), but it’s really not worth arguing over the name a team that may never exist in our lifetimes.
  • The Richmond city council’s plan to approve spending $350 million on a new downtown arena without consulting the public has hit an apparent snag, which is that four or five members of the nine-member council reportedly oppose the plan, and seven votes are needed to pass it.
  • The editor of the San Francisco Examiner has penned an opinion piece saying the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is overly opulent and expensive — premium lounges feature wine butlers and private dining rooms, so yeah — but is resigned to this as a necessity (or at least the headline writer is) that it’s “the price we pay for a privately-funded arena.” Which, does anyone really think the Warriors owners would have passed up the chance to charge through the nose for wine butler service if they’d gotten public money? This is the price we pay for rampant income inequality, and don’t you forget it.

Anaheim mayor hints at ways he could lowball Angels lease payments

The Anaheim city council met last night to discuss a new lease for the Los Angeles Angels that could include a sale of city development rights to team owner Arte Moreno to fund stadium renovations, but it’s 8:30 am on the West Coast already and nobody seems to be reporting on what happened, not even Twitter. Wake up and type already, Southern California!

In the meantime, though, the Voice of OC’s Spencer Custodio noted yesterday that an op-ed penned last Thursday by Mayor Harry Sidhu contained some clues about his thinking going into lease talks:

As part of the negotiating team, I will insist that any land sales or leases be at market prices, reflecting ongoing baseball use, development we’re likely to see and any requirements we may ask for with the land. You’ll hear some argue for unrealistic prices based on what we might see if we sold all of the land for housing.

That seems to imply that whatever valuation the city places on the land, it will be for its use for the hotel-and-retail development that’s actually planned, not the “highest and best use” test that would result if the whole site were turned over to housing. That’s not necessarily unreasonable — you want to value the land on what it’ll be used for — but it does mean any appraisal should be carefully judged for its methodology, particularly what comparables it uses to get a price per acre.

Sidhu also wrote:

If we see a new lease for a city-owned stadium, it should include annual rent payments, city revenue-sharing or a combination of both. You’ll hear a lot about rent at Angel Stadium. Unfortunately, much of it is misleading.

Those who don’t want the Angels to stay, or only want a deal on their terms, will tell you the team doesn’t pay rent at the stadium. From 1996 to 1998, the team paid $87 million to fix up Angel Stadium, which then was 30 years old.

That was $87 million our residents did not have to pay to fix up our stadium.

Under the team’s current lease, $80 million of that investment counted as prepaid rent, working out to $2.5 million a year for the 33-year life of the lease. But that’s history now.

That’s considerably less reasonable: The $87 million cost wasn’t for necessary repairs to Angel Stadium, it was for stuff the Angels (then owned by Disney) wanted, mostly the removal of the outfield grandstand that had been added for the Rams in the 1970s and its replacement by some bleachers and landscaping. Counting it as “prepaid rent” assumes that these were somehow public expenses for a public benefit that the team was reimbursing the city for, which is only true if Anaheim residents were clamoring for a giant fake pile of rocks.

Anyway, this is all very much the pregame: We’re not going to know what Sidhu has in mind until he lays his cards on the table, first and foremost that land appraisal. One can only hope that it will be revealed sooner than the day of a vote on the new lease, since that seems to be the way some governments operate these days. One councilmember has requested a minimum 30-day comment period, but Sidhu and the rest of the council weren’t having it — “I will not put any timeline,” said Sidhu said, “whether it’s 30 days, 45 days, 10 days, 5 days ”— so be afraid, be very afraid.

UPDATE: Here’s Custodio’s report on the Anaheim council hearing, and it doesn’t look like much of import happened, beyond agreeing that there should be “no public subsidy or giveaway of tax dollars,” which, nobody ever admits that their plan is a “giveaway.” The land appraisal is still being called a “draft” and has no set release date, and several councilmembers said they were against making public any of the proposals before a vote, with Councilmember Lucille Kring saying, “negotiations are done in secret for a reason.” Uhhh, so no one can find out about them and object to them before you vote for them and it’s too late? It’s that one, right?

Friday roundup: News outlets everywhere get pretty much everything wrong

On a tight deadline this week, so let’s get straight to the news:

Anaheim plans public forums on sale of stadium land to Angels, but won’t tell public how much it’s worth

The city of Anaheim finally got back its long-awaited appraisal of the Los Angeles Angels stadium parking lots that Angels owner Arte Moreno wants to develop to fund upgrades to the stadium, and is ready to open negotiations on a new lease. And that appraisal says:

The appraisal, which city officials say is an incomplete draft, has not been made public.

Say what? The city spent nine months getting the property appraised, now has in hand a report that’s good enough to start talks with the team on a development deal, but it’s not good enough to share with anyone outside the negotiating room? Are they still waiting for the soundtrack to be added?

This is, let us say, a disturbing trend. You’ll recall that the state of New York similarly negotiated a land lease to the New York Islanders as part of a development project to fund a sports venue while keeping its land value appraisals secret, only releasing them hours before the final state board vote and even then releasing only summaries that didn’t show how the appraisal figures were arrived at. As things like sweetheart land deals increasingly subsidize sports projects — since handing over piles of cash is increasingly unpopular with the public — it’s vital to know whether a city is getting fair market value or gift-wrapping development rights for a team owner, and it’s hard to do that when the government’s own assessment is kept secret.

Anaheim councilmember Jose Moreno has announced two community forums on August 21 and 29 to answer questions about the Angels’ lease renewal plan; it’s going to be interesting to see how he ducks all the inevitable questions about “So how much is this land worth that you want to give to Moreno, and how much will he be paying us?” (Assuming that the appraisal is still secret by then, that is. We can always hope!)

In related news, it turns out that when Anaheim extended the Angels’ existing lease through the end of 2019 last year, it actually extended it through 2029, while giving Moreno a new opt-out through the end of 2019. This is even stupider than the lease extension sounded at the time — hey, everybody, now that the team owner has opted out of his lease, let’s give him another year to try to extort money from us, but give ourselves no leverage because if it doesn’t work he can just stay put for a decade under the terms of his existing lease where he pays no rent — especially since Anaheim councilmembers apparently didn’t understand that that was what they were voting on at the time.

Anaheim still has some leverage here: Moreno’s only current alternative stadium option is a plan in Long Beach that no one knows how to pay for and is on too small a site to fit a major-league stadium, so if he opts out again this December, he once again will risk making his team homeless. Though if the city plans to keep responding to Moreno’s “send money or I’ll shoot my team” threats by giving him another year of rope, the threats could literally go on forever. I’m starting to think that the Anaheim council could really use some lessons in haggling.

Why is somebody dropping hints the Orioles could move to Nashville?

I missed this on Sunday — probably because it ran in something called the Baltimore Post-Examiner that is run by former daily-paper journalists and is a mix of news reporting, poetry, and song lyrics (?) — but former Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Examiner columnist Michael Olesker claims that unnamed sources tell him that with Baltimore Orioles principal owner (or, as the Post-Examiner spells it, “principle owner”) Peter Angelos now 90 years old, the team could be sold or moved to Nashville, Tennessee:

If the family were to sell, that means another complication: Would they sell to local investors, or to out-of-town owners who might move the team? The lease on Oriole Park, which helps tie the team to Baltimore, ends in 2021.

One rumor has the family retaining ownership but the club moving to Nashville, where [Peter’s son] John Angelos and his wife have one of their homes. That rumor takes on legitimacy mainly because of sinking attendance at Oriole Park.

Okay, so about that “sinking attendance”: While Orioles attendance is indeed in the toilet — third to last in MLB at present, ahead of only the two Florida teams — it was over 30,000 a game as recently as 2014, when the O’s made it to the American League Championship Series. The team currently has the second-worst record in baseball and is playing like it doesn’t even belong in the league, so it really shouldn’t be any surprise that fans are finding other things to do with their time.

A relocation to Nashville might not seem that crazy on mere demographic grounds — Baltimore and Nashville are about the same size in terms of TV households — but there are other benefits to staying put. In addition to a stadium that, at what now passes for the advanced age of 27, is routinely ranked as the most popular in baseball and continues to draw out-of-town fans, the Orioles were granted control of the Washington Nationals‘ TV rights when the former Montreal Expos moved to D.C. in 2005, and reportedly continue to take a cut of Nats’ TV profits before passing along fees to that club. (The issue is the subject of never-ending lawsuits.) Leaving Baltimore would not only mean giving up that tasty slice of TV money, but, as Maury Brown notes in Forbes, possibly paying a cut of Nashville TV revenue to the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds, who currently share the Nashville market as far as TV rights go.

The question then, as it always should be with unnamed sources, is what’s their motivation for leaking this news? It could certainly be people close to the Angeloses trying to drum up enthusiasm for a local buyer to step forward — buy the Orioles or we’ll shoot this team — or even conceivably for a new push for subsidies to improvements to Camden Yards, something that was rumored to be in the works back in 2015 when the Orioles still employed professional baseball players, but hasn’t been heard much about now that Baltimoreans don’t even want to give the O’s their ticket money, let alone cash for stadium upgrades. Or it could just be somebody speculating hey, John Angelos has a house in Nashville (among other places), maybe he’d move the team there? Really hard to say without knowing more about the sources, which is yet another reason why unnamed sources should be used only as a last resort.

Olesker does go on to write that “knowledgeable sources say the family would much rather sell — and keep the club in Baltimore, if a local buyer can be found,” so clearly even the sources are mostly just saber-rattling. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on, especially with that lease expiration coming up: Peter Angelos hasn’t been one to play extortion games with Baltimore, but that could certainly change if ownership passes to his sons or to a new buyer entirely. Stay tuned — but not to Orioles games, unless you like bleak comedy.

Oakland could sue county over sale of its half of Coliseum land to A’s

The proposed $85 million sale of Alameda County’s half of the Oakland Coliseum site to the owners of the A’s is just getting weirder and weirder, with a possible lawsuit now in the offing:

In a letter delivered to county officials Monday, Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and Vice Mayor Larry Reid noted that the deal between the county and the baseball club lacked any provision for building a ballpark for community benefit to be included in the sale.

The letter ends with the request for the county to “clarify” whether it planned to go forward with the A’s sale, so that the city could “determine effective next steps.”

The city’s letter made no mention of what the “next steps” might be, but a separate Aug. 31 email to Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said the letter is for “the purpose of potential litigation.”

(Yes, “August 31.” Either that’s a typo, or Phil Matier has become unstuck in time.)

At issue here is that the city of Oakland wants a shot at purchasing the county’s half-share of the site as well, but hasn’t actually placed a bid, in part because the city of Oakland doesn’t actually have $85 million to spare. Also, some city council members are hoping to have the A’s build a stadium on the Coliseum site rather than their preferred Howard Terminal site, and are hoping that the county will hold off on its sale to help create leverage for that, or for a community benefits agreement, or for something.

The weird part is that the A’s owners’ plan is to develop the Coliseum site and use the proceeds to build a Howard Terminal stadium, which presumably can’t happen unless they control 100% of the land. (At least, that’s how I understand it from following the fairly half-assed media coverage; I’m sure you readers will correct me if that’s wrong.) So this may just be a weird proxy war being fought over the A’s stadium site plans, which could turn into a lawsuit between two government agencies over a financing plan that still no one quite understands. Nobody said this was gonna be easy.