Is the D-Backs’ proposed ballpark tax a massive public subsidy or none at all? An investimagation

One of the trickier pieces of writing about sports subsidies is determining what, exactly, is a sports subsidy? If a state legislature dropped off a briefcase full of unmarked bills at a team owner’s office, that’s pretty cut and dried. But what about handing over public land at a price that appears to be much less than market value? Or providing tax breaks to a related real estate development that might or might not have gotten tax breaks otherwise? Allowing the team owner to get all the money from naming rights to a public building, because “standard business procedure”? Subsidy math is tough!

All of which brings us to today’s quandary, which involves the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ latest plan to raise money for multi-hundred-million-dollar renovation of Chase Field:

A theme park district created by Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix would be authorized to issue bonds to pay for sports, entertainment and other recreational amenities. The bonds would be backed and paid off with revenue generated from a new 9% tax on sales of tickets, merchandise, food and beverage at the ballpark.

That’s tax money! It says it right there, “9% tax”! And also in the Arizona Republic’s headline, “Get ready to pay a(nother) 9% tax to take in an Arizona Diamondbacks game”!

Except, it sorta isn’t? As we’ve covered before, ticket taxes are a special beast: Since they only apply to items sold by the team itself, and which are already being priced at the maximum the market will bear, most economists will tell you that any ticket taxes end up coming out of the team owners’ pockets: If fans are already paying as much as they’re willing to, and the marginal cost of producing one more ticket is near zero, then it just means the D-Backs will have to lower their ticket prices by 9% from where they would be without the tax.

In fact, I took the trouble this morning to bother one actual economist, Victor Matheson of College of the Holy Cross, to confirm that I was interpreting this correctly. (Which is the reason for this post being posted unaccountably late this morning, OMG, people on the West Coast may already be awake already.) Matheson replied:

There are only two differences between a $60 ticket with $10 being used for stadium construction and a $50 ticket with an additional $10 tax being used from stadium construction — and neither of them affects sports fans in AZ since they are paying $60 either way.
1. The tax allows the Diamondbacks to report a lower revenue figure to MLB which reduces their revenue sharing bill. MLB owners might want to get mad about this but not AZ fans.
2. The tax provides some fairly minor tax benefits to the Diamondbacks. Basically, a tax immediately reduces their tax bill while building the stadium with retained revenues only allows the team to reduce their taxes over time as the investment in the stadium is depreciated over an extended period of time.

These are actually interesting points. On the first one: By shifting a chunk of their ticket revenue from “team revenue” to “state tax revenue,” the Diamondbacks owners could be cutting down on how much revenue they have to share with the rest of MLB. (I think stadium costs are still deductible from revenue-sharing, though, so this might not be as big a benefit as it would be otherwise.) One the second one: The D-Backs get to shift some tax payments from the near future to the far future, which does cost Arizona taxpayers something, but not much.

There’s also the whole issue of whether Arizona just doing the D-Backs owners a favor by lending them the state’s ability to take out low-interest loans counts as a subsidy, or just the kind of solid that friends do for billionaire friends. And the question of how far the “stadium tax” extends: The more non-stadium revenue (such as tax money from a proposed team-owned hotel nearby) gets dumped into the stadium pot, the more the risk that you’ll be cannibalizing revenue that would otherwise go to the state. And from what I can tell from the text of the bill itself, it just adapted some old “theme park district” legislation to let the state set up a stadium district to levy taxes and give the money to the team for stadium work, but doesn’t actually specify who will be taxed for what.

In other words, it’s still pretty much impossible to tell whether this would be a massive subsidy, no subsidy at all, or (more likely) somewhere in between, though the initial signs are somewhat hopeful. Ideally, all the unknowns would be spelled out before the bill gets a final vote, which is coming up — oh jeez, the house and senate already both voted for it, and now it just needs to go back to the house for one more vote on changes the senate made? Maybe it would be a good time to tap the brakes on this, to be sure of just what Arizona is getting itself into.

Friday roundup: Fresh subsidy plans for Titans and WFT, Flames arena “paused” amid overruns, Boston Globe can’t stop clowning on Pawtucket for not wanting to spend $150m on stadium

Happy Friday! I have a ton of week-ending stadium news to bring you today, or at least there’s a ton of news out there whether I’m bringing it to you or not. What is it about that that is confusing?


  • Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, according to DCist, wants to use “some of” the county’s $1.6 billion in state funding this year to build — wait for it — “infrastructure improvements” for the Washington Football Team‘s stadium that would include “restaurants and places to shop.” It sounds like Alsobrooks is only talking about $17.6 million, maybe, but still this earns a Stupid Infrastructure category tag until proven otherwise.
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants to use $2 million a year in state sales tax money (figure roughly $30 million in present value) for upgrades to the Titans‘ stadium, though actually it could end up being more like $10 million a year (figure roughly $150 million in present value) if more development is built around the stadium, plus he wants to give $13.5 million to Knoxville for its Tennessee Smokies stadium. Did Lee call this an “infrastructure” plan? Not that I can find in the Tennessean’s news reporting, but everybody drink anyway.
  • The Calgary Flames‘ $550 million arena plan, which already includes about $250 million in public subsidies, has run into $70 million in unexpected cost overruns and is now “paused” until the team and city can figure out who’ll cover them. Actually, the report is that the Flames owners are demanding $70 million, and previously the city and team agreed to split overruns 50-50, so maybe it’s really $140 million over budget? Either way, there’s already a petition to scrap the whole deal, though “trim a little from the team’s design and both sides kick in a little more money” seems a far more likely outcome, especially with Mayor Naheed Nenshi declaring it “far better to have these issues sorted out at this stage than to have unexpected cost overruns after construction has begun.” (Are known cost overruns actually better than surprise ones? Discuss.)
  • The Boston Globe, not satisfied with its glowing report last month on Worcester’s new stadium for the Red Sox Triple-A team (top farm club of the Boston Red Sox, owner of the Boston Globe), ran two separate opinion pieces this week slagging Pawtucket officials for not offering up $150 million in subsidies like Worcester did and thus losing their team: Dan McGowan, the Globe’s Rhode Island politics reporter, wrote, “Imagine what we could have had if our leaders showed even a tiny sense of vision” and “It too often takes only one politician to spoil a really good idea” while condemning “extremists on both sides of the [stadium] debate” who think a thing can be either good or bad (while also calling the Worcester stadium “great”). The very next day, Mike Stanton, a UConn journalism professor who writes occasionally for the Globe, wrote that former Rhode Island House speaker Nicholas Mattiello “rightly deserves blame for his role in killing the PawSox,” though he also blamed WooSox owner Larry Lucchino for “demanding extravagant taxpayer support for a new ballpark” and harming negotiations for, I guess, less extravagant taxpayer support? Anyway, the Globe wants you to know that Worcester has a shiny new baseball stadium and Pawtucket doesn’t, and let’s not speak of what else Worcester could have done with $150 million.
  • Six Republican Congressfolk — Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Marsha Blackburn, and Rep. Jeff Duncan — have cosponsored legislation seeking to end MLB’s antitrust exemption in response to the league pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new voting-restrictions law. This is part of a long line of proposals to yank the league’s 99-year-old exemption from antitrust laws, which never seem to go anywhere; the last time by my count was when more than 100 Congresspeoples wrote a letter in 2019 threatening to rescind “the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime” if MLB didn’t back down on its plan to eliminate more than 40 minor-league franchises, a letter that was signed by none of Lee, Cruz, Hawley, Rubio, or Blackburn, all of whom were in office at the time. (SPOILER: MLB didn’t back down, and Congress did.) Waving the antitrust-exemption stick has become the standard way for federal representatives to express their anger at baseball over one thing or another, in other words, but actually using it is apparently beyond the pale, either because of partisanship or lobbyists or both, pick your poison.
  • Another U.S. representative, Georgia’s Buddy Carter, has introduced legislation — or maybe just drafted legislation and sent it to Fox News, he doesn’t seem to have actually submitted it to Congress — to block MLB from relocating non-regular-season events except in cases of natural disaster or other emergencies, under penalty of allowing local businesses to sue for damages for lost revenue as a result of the move. Which, as Craig Calcaterra notes, would be hilarious because it would put MLB in the position of having to argue in court that its events have no economic impact, which is pretty much the truth: “The evidence — like, all the evidence from multiple studies — would actually be on MLB’s side in such a case! And it’d likely win! And all it would cost MLB is the ability to continue to lie about how big an impact All-Star Games and stadiums and things have on local economies when it suits its interest.”
  • The Cincinnati Reds are offering discounted tickets to fans who can show they’re fully vaccinated, and Buffalo officials say the Bills and Sabres will be required to limit attendance to the fully vaccinated in the fall, though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’ll be the judge of that. Whatever the eventual admittance policies end up being, having going to things like ballgames (or traveling internationally) be less of a hassle if you wave your vaccine card seems likely to be the best way to encourage more people to get their shots, which is the only way to get to herd immunity, which is the only way to prevent lots more deaths and more re-closings of things like ballgames, so this is good news regardless of whether sporting events turn out to be insanely risky or relatively safe.
  • Finally, I can’t let this week pass without noting that the Buffalo Bisons, who have been temporarily relocated to Trenton to make way for the Toronto Blue Jays, who will be spending the summer in Buffalo thanks to Covid travel restrictions, will be playing their home games as the Trenton Thunder while playing road games as the Bisons. No word yet on how this Frankenstein monster of a franchise will be listed in the (checks revamped minor-league nomenclature) Triple-A East standings, though I wholeheartedly hope the Thunder and Bisons get counted as two different teams, ideally with players forced to wear fake mustaches in New Jersey and go by assumed names. “Marc Rzepczynski? No, he plays for Buffalo, I am of course Shmarc Shmepczynski, would you like my autograph?”

Friday roundup: How to tell a dump of a stadium from a marvel, and why “stupid infrastructure” should become a term of art

I have nothing introductory to say this week other than that I’m wondering if you kind FoS supporters would give me $2 million in 24 hours if I made more robots out of lacrosse masks. So on to the news:

Here is your Texas Rangers opening day superspreader porn

The Texas Rangers held their home opener yesterday, as promised at full capacity at their new (if you don’t count the games last season with no fans or the NLCS and World Series with some fans) stadium. Did every news outlet on earth give it in-depth coverage, so that readers could google in awe and/or horror at Texans packed cheek to jowl watching sports during a pandemic? With sweet, sweet clicks at stake, what do you think?

Let’s start with the New York Times, which used an Associated Press drone (I think) to capture people waiting to get in to the park in socially distanced lines, sort of:

You can’t tell all that much from that image. For one thing, are those fans wearing masks, as the Rangers and MLB said would be required? Or ignoring the mask requirement, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott encouraged them to do? Let’s take a closer look inside the stadium:

That’s not a lot of masks! Of course, there is a loophole to the mask requirement at ballgames this year, which is that you can remove them while actively eating and drinking. This photo, though, as should immediately be apparent, was taken during the national anthem, when presumably most people are not eating or drinking. “Sorry, I can’t put my mask on, I’m busy chewing on patriotism!”

Let’s next try the opposite end of the news spectrum from the New York Times, KULR-TV in Billings, Montana, which was likewise all over the story with an item headlined “Maskless fans pack sold out stadium in stunning display,” though it turned out just to link to a CNN video:

That’s epidemiologist Michael Osterholm in the corner, about to say that “already we’re seeing the surge” in places like Michigan and Minnesota despite those states ramping up vaccinations, saying in the next six to ten weeks, we’re going to have more viral spread thanks to reopenings and not yet enough shots to counter it.

Want your packed-stadium photos in pointless-video form? We got that too:

As we’ve discussed here before, pandemics are not clean-cut moral dilemmas, so there’s no sure way of knowing what the result of the Rangers’ experiment with non-distancing will be. The roof was open, so there was tons of air circulation, but also people were right next to each other largely without masks on, which is pretty much the only good way to get infected while outside:

“The risk is lower outdoors, but it’s not zero,” said Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “And I think the risk is higher if you have two people who are stationary next to each other for a long time, like on a beach blanket, rather than people who are walking and passing each other.”

One recent study found that just talking can launch thousands of droplets that can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes. But the risk of inhaling those droplets is lower outdoors.

We’ll just have to wait and see what happens over the 4 to 14 days before passing judgment on whether the Rangers owners were unthinkably reckless or acceptably reckless here. And even then, it may come down as much to luck as to good or bad planning, as a handful of people shedding virus in the wrong place can easily make the difference between explosive spread and not much. At least Rangers execs limited full attendance to opening day — they’re switching to distanced seating after yesterday’s game — which should make for an excellent controlled experiment in how much difference distance makes in preventing viral spread at outdoor, unmasked events. Those sports team owners, always thinking about the future journal articles!

Friday roundup: NFL to shop for overseas host cities, plus the attack of the no-good, terrible stadium names

How’s everyone doing out there? Did you, like me, spend much of yesterday watching baseball games and wondering why MLB bothers to have mask rules if half the fans are keeping their masks off at any given time, and then wondering if this is really the right thing to be concerned about rather than all the people who are leaving the game and going to indoor sports bars, and then wondering if disregard for mask rules is a reasonable proxy for being careless about going to bars as well? I hope not, because that is very much my job, and the mission of this site remains Thinking Too Hard About Things So You Don’t Have To.

Which is one nice thing about Fridays: No thinking too hard, because all the leftover news gets boiled down to a single bite-size bullet point, ideally with a quip at the end. It’s like pre-wrapped meals of stadium facts, and here’s this week’s assortment:

  • The NFL is adding a 17th game to its season, mostly so it can charge TV networks more for the extra game but also to create more games that can be played outside the U.S. to help increase the league’s international visibility, and the operators of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Vancouver’s B.C. Place have both said they’ll throw their hats in the rings. You can read my thoughts about Olympic Stadium here; suffice to say that it’s simultaneously perfectly serviceable and not at all what sports owners consider state-of-the-art at selling people things other than a seat to sit in. It’ll be very interesting to see whether the NFL makes its international game hosting decisions based on which markets it most wants to break into or which cities offer the snazziest stadiums. (Or which cities offer straight-up cash, that’s always a popular NFL move.)
  • Indy Eleven USL team owner Ersal Ozdemir got his approval from the Indiana state legislature this week to take more time on how to spend his $112 million in state stadium cash, and team officials replied that they will now take their own sweet to to “finalize the site” “in the coming months.” Given that Ozdemir at first asked for the cash so he could get promoted to MLS and then later decided, know what, maybe he’ll stay put in the USL and avoid all those expansion fees but still get the snazzy new digs, there is a non-zero chance that he decides to ask to use the money to build condos or a space laser or something.
  • The Henderson Silver Knights have sold naming rights to their publicly funded and owned under-construction arena (I know it doesn’t make any sense, this is just how naming rights are allowed to work in most of the U.S. with few exceptions) to the payday loan company Dollar Loan Center, which means the arena will now be called … also the Dollar Loan Center? Shouldn’t it at least be the Dollar Loan Center Arena? This seems like very confusing branding, among other things, though I guess it’ll at least be amusing when people use Google Maps to try to find places to get high-interest advances on their paychecks and end up at the Silver Knights ticket window.
  • Also in the terrible names department, we have the Miami Marlins cutting a deal with a mortgage loan company that starts with a lower-case letter, which is going to wreak havoc among sports department copy editors across the land. (Just kidding: All the sports departments have already fired all their copy editors, pUNCtuATE and spel tHiNgZ however U want!!1!)
  • Here’s some video of the under-construction Phoenix Rising F.C. soccer stadium, which when it was announced last December would be ready for 2021 I predicted would be “off-the-rack bleachers that can be installed quickly,” and which indeed looks exactly like that. No robot dog showrooms or giant soccer balls are visible, sadly, but the USL season doesn’t start for another three weeks, so there’s still time to find some off-the-rack robot dogs.
  • And finally, across the pond, Everton F.C. finally had its stadium plan approved by the Liverpool City Council, meaning the £500 million project can move ahead. The city is loaning a little over half that money to Everton’s billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri, but Moshiri is then supposed to repay it in actual cash with interest, so the only real concerns are why Liverpool needs to act as banker for a rich guy, and whether it’s a good idea to build an oceanfront stadium when the oceans are already starting to rise. Those other countries have such quaint problems compared to America’s!

Moving All-Star Game to fight Georgia voting law would mean putting people’s rights ahead of MLB’s profits

The Georgia state legislature yesterday passed SB 202, the voting law that is probably best known as “You can now be arrested in the state of Georgia for giving food or water to people waiting on line to vote.” The law contains a ton of other provisions as well, though, like requiring an ID (rather than just a signature) when voting absentee, limiting the number of drop boxes for placing ballots in, and banning the use of mobile voting sites, among other things. It’s all a pretty transparent move by the Republican-led legislature to make it harder for people to vote who might vote against them, which mostly means African Americans who are more likely thanks to geography or income to be hampered by the new restrictions: The no-food-or-water rule, for example, was apparently inspired by a single white woman with a gun who was outraged that get-out-the-vote groups had been giving free pizza to people who were waiting on line to cast their ballots.

The new law is so restrictive, in fact, and so reminiscent of blatant Jim Crow–era attempts to disenfranchise Black people, that it’s drawn the attention of some in the sports world, who have suggested a boycott of the state along the lines of the actions taken after North Carolina passed its anti-transgender “bathroom law” in 2016 — actions that resulted in that law’s partial repeal one year later, and its eventual complete expiration at the end of 2020. MLB players association president Tony Clark said last week that baseball players were “very much aware” of the Georgia bill and that if there were a chance to discuss moving this summer’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta, he would “look forward to having that conversation.” And yesterday, an even more prominent president chimed in on behalf of that idea:

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would strongly support Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta after Georgia enacted new voting restrictions that disproportionately target Black residents.

“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden said in an interview with EPSN SportsCenter host Sage Steele. “People look to them. They’re leaders.”

Obviously, Biden and other Democrats have a selfish reason to be promoting voting rights in this case: The people being disenfranchised are more likely to vote Democratic, which is the whole point of Republican legislators passing the law in the first place. (I mean, many of them probably also passed it because they just don’t like the idea of Black people deciding who runs their state, but then we’re getting into serious chicken-and-egg territory about the reasons why someone in Georgia would choose to become a Republican legislator.) But something can be in your self-interest and also the right thing to do, and … sorry, what were we talking about? Right, the All-Star Game!

It’s important to remember that MLB did not decide to hold its 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta because they felt the city deserved it or were under the delusion that Georgia would be a pleasant place to spend time in July. They did it because — here, let’s explain by way of a list of the last 10 All-Star Game hosts:

2011: Phoenix
2012: Kansas City
2013: New York City
2014: Minneapolis
2015: Cincinnati
2016: San Diego
2017: Miami
2018: Washington
2019: Cleveland
2021: Atlanta

The common theme here is that the stadiums involved were new — or, in the cases of Kansas City and Cleveland, newly renovated. MLB has long used the All-Star Game as a reward for cities that have coughed up money for new or renovated ballparks; the last time it held the game at a stadium that wasn’t at least freshly refurbished was Yankee Stadium in 2008, and that was meant as a sendoff in advance of the Yankees’ new extremely-publicly-funded stadium opening the following year; before that, you have to go back to Fenway Park in 1999 to find an All-Star Game that wasn’t handed out as a prize for Most Willing To Subsidize League Profits With Public Money.

Moving this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta would no doubt be a logistical pain, though it isn’t all that much shorter notice (four months vs. seven) than the NBA had when it moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina after passage of the anti-trans bill. As we were just discussing here last week, boycotts are strategies, not moral imperatives, and voting rights advocates in Georgia are still split on whether a North Carolina–style boycott is the best way to respond to SB 202. But if pressure builds to pull the game from Atlanta — say, maybe around Jackie Robinson Day, which is just two weeks from today — and MLB owners start to push back on it, that’ll likely less be about having to print up new merchandise or even the personal feelings of the almost uniformly white men who run the league, and more about interfering with sports owners’ underlying business plan of using carrots and sticks to maximize their profits.

Poll of Americans on reopening stadiums shows why not to reopen stadiums based on polls

There is a very dumb journalistic tradition that will not die of “Let’s poll people about what they believe about purely factual things.” So you take a question that should be answered with reporting — say, whether climate change is an imminent crisis, or whether Saddam Hussein really had weapons of mass destruction — and then parse the responses as if they mean anything more than just a reification of the ideas that the media itself has been telling people. It is truly very, very dumb.

Today is Major League Baseball opening day, and so the question the Washington Post chose to ask random Americans is whether they would feel comfortable attending a live sporting event. The answer is a resounding “it depends”:

About two-thirds say they would feel comfortable attending an outdoor event such as baseball (66 percent), but fewer than half as many (32 percent) feel comfortable attending an indoor event such as basketball. Nearly 2 in 3 people (64 percent) say they would feel comfortable if all attendees were required to wear masks, compared with 22 percent who would feel comfortable if there was no mask requirement…

More say they would be comfortable attending a stadium limited to 20 percent capacity (69 percent “comfortable”) than 50 percent capacity (50 percent).

That is simultaneously unsurprising — being outdoors, masked, and distanced makes people feel safer — and utterly meaningless, for a couple of reasons. First off, the questions were all asked separately, so it was either “Do you feel safe at an outdoor event?” or “Do you feel safe if people are wearing masks?” or “Do you feel safe if you’ve been vaccinated?”, with no way to respond “Only if these other conditions are met as well.” If a Washington Post pollster had been unlucky enough to get me on the phone, for example, I would have said, “I feel pretty safe at outdoor, masked, and distanced events right now, and once I’m fully vaccinated would consider indoor events, but not if people are unmasked, unless maybe the case rate is really low by then because so many other people are vaccinated — are you getting all this? Should I talk more slowly? Are you crying?” (This answer would be very hard to fit into a “data visualization,” as fancy journalism types these days call bar charts.)

The poll results are also meaningless, though, because the most reasonable answer would be “You’re the ones with the resources of a giant journalistic enterprise here, you tell me whether I should feel safe.” Doing that would require asking people who actually know things — fancy journalism types call these “experts” — what is and isn’t safe, and then reporting their answers. For example, here’s Anthony Fauci telling the New York Times for its baseball opening day story what he expects to transpire over the coming weeks:

“I would expect that as we get through the summer — late spring, early summer — there’s going to be a relaxation where you’re going to have more and more people allowed into baseball parks, very likely separated with seating, very likely continue to wear masks,” he said.

Stu Sternberg keeps stumping for Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan, but is he serious or what?

Those two lobbyists that Montreal billionaire family scion and private equity goon Stephen Bronfman hired to push for a stadium for a revived Expos are already paying off, whether they’ve even begun work or not: Quebec premier François Legault responded by offering forgivable loans for the project if it could “generate more in revenue than the aid we give the company” (“revenue” carefully not defined here), and  the buzz is still buzzing: Check out this column by Montreal Gazette sportswriter Jack Todd decrying “anti-taxers” and “naysayers” who want to gripe about giving public tax money to a private sports stadium before they even know how much it would be.

Amidst his stadium boosterism, though, Todd questions whether Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s plan to have his team split time between Montreal and Tampa Bay — Todd actually writes that the resulting ballclub would be “likely called the ‘Ex-Rays’,” though he doesn’t go as far as including “Tampontreal” — is something that could really happen, given that building two stadiums in two cities would be even more expensive than building one stadium in one city, and each city would only get half a team. Not only is this not a terrific way to get local legislators on board for handing over stadium cash, it’s gotten the attention of the MLB players union, whose president Tony Clark told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that “there are issues, logistical and otherwise, fundamentally related to the Tampa players, as well as how it would affect any and all the teams that would otherwise be playing Tampa.” Players could be forced to maintain two homes, relocate their kids in school twice a year (depending on when exactly the Ex-Rays switched home cities), navigate two very different health care systems, etc., noted Clark; he didn’t mention, but could have, that they would also have to pay taxes in two different countries, which is the basis for Legault’s entire “revenue generation” plan.

There’s another problem with the shared-cities plan, though, and it has to do with Sternberg’s leverage, and as Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf made clear, for a savvy negotiator, stadium negotiations are all about leverage. Sternberg is trying to get a bidding war going here, which is his right as a mediocre rich white man, but the nature of a bidding war is that you need more bidders than winning slots, and right now the Rays owner has two of each. (At least until Tampa shows an interest in bidding against St. Petersburg for the Florida half of the timeshare, which isn’t going great for Sternberg so far.) So instead he’s trying to get Montreal and St. Pete into a race to first approve their half of a deal that can’t happen without both cities, which has resulted in some bizarre rhetorical contortions:

Sternberg said he feels “much more confident about the Montreal side sort of putting this thing together.”

He said he thinks that will jump-start progress on the Tampa Bay side, where there seems to be little momentum as fans and some leaders have not embraced the split-season concept.

“I think as (the Montreal effort) progresses, I feel pretty confident of us being able to get it done here, too,” he said. “I just happen to feel more so because they’re much further down the road.

“In fairness, whether it’s right or wrong, a.) they don’t have a baseball team, and b.) they lost a baseball team. So they’d like one back.

“Here you have one, and it’s sort of like, ‘It’s here, and, well, why only part of a season? Why not the full season? We have the team already.’ (Montreal is) going at this in a different fashion. They know what the hole of baseball has been. They want another crack at it.”

Yes, if Montreal has “momentum,” then soon Tampa Bay will too, because if they don’t … the team will just play its Florida games at its current stadium? The whole twin-city thing will fall apart and the Rays will stay put? Sternberg keeps insisting that he won’t move the team full-time, so as threats go, it’s a fairly empty one, unless he’s hoping St. Pete officials will be shamed by the accusation that they don’t love baseball enough because they haven’t lost it yet.

All in all, the Madman Theory still makes the most sense here: Sternberg doesn’t particularly care if the two-city solution comes to pass, so long as it enables him to pester two reluctant cities into building him a stadium at once. So far, it seems to be working: We’re here talking about his stadium possibilities, after all, instead of just talking about how SOL he is now that his Tampa stadium plans crashed and burned. Savvy negotiators also know never to pass up a threat, no matter how inane it may sound: Reinsdorf, after all, got his stadium cash from the state of Illinois by pretending he was going to move from Chicago to a little town called St. Petersburg. If there’s one thing sports history tells us, it’s that dumber things have always happened.

Friday roundup: Georgia man holds no truck with numbers, new stadiums falling apart already, plus a guy who spent three years living in a Phillies concession stand

Happy Friday! Still recovering from the double whammy of my second shot on Sunday plus learning that birds aren’t real, so I’ll keep the intro short this week and get right to the news:

Quebec premier says he might spend public money on nouveaux-Expos stadium to “generate revenue”

Would-be Tampontreal Ex-Rays co-owner Stephen Bronfman hired lobbyists this week to ask the province of Quebec for public cash toward a new Montreal stadium, and it sounds like Quebec premier François Legault is willing to listen, on one condition:

“We have an open mind towards the project,” Legault told reporters Tuesday in Quebec City. “There are several business people who are behind this project, and not just Mr. Bronfman. If we are able to bring a baseball club and it can generate more in revenue than the aid we give the company, everybody wins — including Quebecers.”…

“The principles that we will use to help or not this baseball team is to see how much additional revenue do we expect to get from this activity. For example, the baseball players will pay tax in Quebec, so the idea is to give back less than the additional money that we would get.”

The idea here would be to issue “forgivable loans,” which the team owners wouldn’t have to repay if they met certain goals. In the past, these have been used as a way to threaten to claw back subsidies if certain minimal job goals aren’t met — train manufacturer Alstom, for example, is getting $56 million if it promises to maintain at least 350 employees for ten years. But in this case, Legault is talking about ensuring that the province is made whole via new spending.

At first glance, that could be tricky. The average MLB payroll is $120 million, and Quebec taxes local income for high earners like baseball players at about 25%. That would be enough to justify $30 million a year in spending, or maybe $400 million in total outlay — if players paid taxes on that full amount. However, most nouveaux-Expos players almost certainly wouldn’t live in Montreal full-time — aside from those tax rates, it’s damn cold there in the winter — even before you get to the part where they would play half their home games in Tampa Bay. Anyone resident in a Canadian province for less than 183 days in a year isn’t considered a resident, but still has to pay income taxes on money they’ve earned there.

That would get into some weird epistemological calculations: Is a player paid for time they’re living elsewhere during the offseason? What about road games? And, of course, if half the season’s home games are in Florida, how does one assign which salary was earned there and which was earned in Canada?

The nice part about a forgivable loan is that it’s based on actual tax payments: If players end up paying, say, $10 million a year in taxes, then team owners would have to repay everything above that amount. The devil, though, will be in the loan details, which is why it’s especially worrisome that Legault said “for example” about player income taxes: If you start counting additional things like “economic activity” that can be hand-waved into existence whether they’re real or not, then suddenly a lot more in loans would become a lot more forgivable.

Clearly, way more details are needed on what Legault is considering and how any loan agreement would be phrased. Still, this is potentially a large barn door that he’s considering opening, and something that makes the possibility of a new Montreal baseball stadium significantly more likely. If, you know, the developer of the proposed site can be made happy, too. Hey, I bet residents of their buildings would pay taxes, too! This could work out great — everyone gets their income taxes rebated to pay for their new homes, and Quebec still has enough money to pay for all its services because if it were just a vast, empty plain it wouldn’t get any tax revenue at all, and, hmm, there must be a logical flaw in this, but I have too many visions of baseball stadiums dancing in my eyes to be able to see it.