Georgia court rules that baseball stadiums are a public purpose because they just are, duh

The court ruling is in for Cobb County’s use of public bonds for the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, and did the judge buy the team’s argument that stadiums are a public purpose because they just are? Did he ever!

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.15.03 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.15.31 AMIn other words, sports are a public good, and anything that says it will create economic benefits is a public good, so the government has every right to fund it, so there. That’s pretty sweeping, albeit not unexpected. Anyway, if you were hoping that the Braves funding plan would somehow get tossed out by a court, throwing all of sports finance into disarray, the Georgia supreme court isn’t going to give that to you.

Newspaper calls Raiders stadium plan “worst ever” because NFL’s paid stadium consultant says so

Matthew Artz of the San Jose Mercury News revealed some of the details of Floyd Kephart’s Oakland Raiders officially secret stadium plan on Saturday (full plan is here), and immediately turned to stadium experts to evaluate how good a deal it is. Well, one stadium expert. Actually, Marc Ganis, a paid consultant for the NFL who immediately declared Kephart’s plan to be “the worst stadium proposal I’ve seen … by far” — because the Raiders owners wouldn’t get many public subsidies:

The proposed $900 million, 55,000-seat facility adjacent to the O.co Coliseum would be financed entirely by the Raiders, the NFL and future stadium revenues. The Raiders would have to dip into sponsorship revenue and naming rights fees to help repay $300 million in loans needed to offset an estimated funding gap.

And, other than parking garages, the stadium would get no subsidy from the surrounding “live-work-play” technology campus Kephart plans to build on the rest of the sprawling Coliseum complex. The plan includes 4,000 homes, a shopping center, 400 hotel rooms and several office buildings.

“I can’t think of any sports team owner that would take a proposal like this even remotely seriously,” Ganis said, noting that San Diego has proposed a major public subsidy for a new Chargers football stadium. “It’s so one-sided and so bad, that it’s almost as if local leaders are saying ‘we can’t really do anything, so go ahead and leave.’ “

Finally, toward the end of the article, Artz gets around to explaining the Kephart proposal, which is this:

  • The Raiders would pay for a $900 million stadium via $200 million from personal seat license sales, $200 million in NFL G-4 funding, $100 million in cash, $300 million borrowed (from somewhere, paid back somehow, possibly from naming rights and other revenues), and $100 million from the sale of 20% of the team to Kephart for $200 million.
  • Kephart would buy 90 acres of the Coliseum site from the city and county for $116 million, then develop it into apartments, shopping, a hotel, and office buildings.
  • The city and county would spend about $80 million of that on new parking garages, while paying off $100 million in remaining Coliseum debt from … somewhere.
  • $100 million in infrastructure improvements would come from “grants.”
  • The A’s would have space (somewhere) reserved to build a new stadium until 2019.

Admittedly, that’s a pretty bad deal for the Raiders, though not an awful lot worse than the team’s one in Carson, which would likewise require the team to pay for the stadium with its own revenues. (The upside of Carson would mostly be that things like naming rights should bring in somewhat more money in the larger L.A. market.) It would also potentially be a bad deal for Oakland, which would sell 90 acres of land for only a little over $1 million an acre, which Newballpark.org notes is “ridiculously cheap” given how much other nearby parcels have gone for. In fact, the only clear beneficiary of Kephart’s plan would be, let’s see, who would end up with all the proceeds from development on land that he got a dirt-cheap price … oh, right, Kephart!

The real question here is why Oakland and Alameda County thought that a private developer could somehow come up with a way to turn a project with more than $1 billion in costs and nowhere near that much in potential new revenues into a win-win for all concerned, via elfin magic or something. Mayor Libby Schaaf’s whole “have the Raiders and A’s submit bids for the Coliseum site and take whichever one is more” plan is looking better and better.

Ask another architecture critic: Why do Wrigley Field bleachers suck, and how can we fix them?

The assembled architecture critics of Chicago are really not happy with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ renovations of Wrigley Field, and they’re going to let him know about it. First we had Edward Keegan harshing on the blocked views and ugly steel beams in Crain’s Chicago, and now the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamen has gone after the new video boards and what they’ve meant for the old hand-operated scoreboard in center field:

At night, Wrigley Field’s new video boards overshadow the old scoreboard, disrupting the carefully calibrated sense of place that makes the ballpark a national treasure.

In the darkness, the new boards project while the old one seems to recede. Much brighter than the old scoreboard and bursting with statistics as well as brightly colored ads that appear between innings, the new boards invariably draw the eye. The replays on the left-field board, a welcome concession to modernity, give fans another reason to turn away from the old focal point in center.

Together, the new features render the center-field scoreboard more ceremonial than useful, like an old clock on a fireplace mantle.

Ouch. But good point: Video boards are way more garish and in-your-face at night, and after all are designed to distract your attention away from other things (the center-field scoreboard, the game itself, your phone) to get you to look at their ads.

Cubs president Crane Kenney told Kamen that he’s looking at ways of lighting the old scoreboard better at night so that it’s not overwhelmed; Kamen suggests just using a darker green on the video boards at night and turning down their brightness. It’s all very reasonable, and hopefully the Cubs will make some adjustments. But it’s all a reminder that the whole reason for the new video boards isn’t to let fans see batters’ OPS against lefties during home night games, but rather to get fans to look at advertising during games at Wrigley. And if that’s not what you think Wrigley is supposed to be about, you should have gotten elected mayor of Chicago and appointed different people to the landmarks commission.

MLB commissioner: A’s owner wants new stadium on Coliseum site, so we want that too

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred visited Oakland on Friday, grinning terrifyingly and otherwise doing his job of backing up A’s owner Lew Wolff’s company line. Check it out:

“My information is that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to have two facilities on the current Coliseum site,” Manfred said, indicating that a successful Raiders project could preclude the construction of an adjacent baseball stadium.

Despite that, the league is not pushing the A’s to consider alternate locations. Stadiums are a “peculiarly local” issue, and the league leaves decisions involving them to individual clubs, Manfred said.

“The A’s folks have been pretty clear that they believe the Coliseum site is the best site for a baseball stadium in Oakland,” Manfred said.

All of that’s true enough: While there’s plenty of room for both an A’s stadium and a Raiders stadium, there wouldn’t be much land left over for parking and residential development, and that’s the only way this plan has any hopes of paying for itself. (As much as Wolff hates the Oakland Coliseum, a new stadium wouldn’t actually bring in so much more money that it would justify its construction cost.) And Wolff indeed is focused on the Coliseum site, as are the Raiders, because this is fundamentally a battle to the death for who’s going to get development rights to the site.

So mostly what you have here is Manfred saying to Oakland, “Hey, get those Raiders offa the A’s lawn.” Which might actually work, given that the Raiders stadium plan is going nowhere fast and the team has a possible stadium plan in L.A. (or, the Rams move to L.A. instead, possibly the option of moving to St. Louis). But make no mistake: Manfred’s statements were about leverage, not information.

Angels exec: We don’t care about poor fans, because they don’t buy enough hot dogs

You know how often we will talk here about how the modern sports industry is all about selling tickets to rich folks, because that’s where the money is? Meet Los Angeles Angels vice president of marketing and ticket sales Robert Alvarado, who is not afraid to admit that not only does he target deep-pocketed fans, but really he’d just as soon fans without a lot of spending money stay the hell home:

“The conventional wisdom would tell you, ‘Let’s get the bodies in here, because they’re still gonna be spending money on parking, hot dogs, souvenirs, all that stuff.’ But we have not seen that in the past. Drawing in a discount buyer, they aren’t necessarily flipping and buying stuff here.”…

“We may not be reaching as many of the people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, but those people, they may enjoy the game, but they pay less, and we’re not seeing the conversion on the per-caps,” Alvarado said. “In doing so, the ticket price that we’re offering those people, it’s not like I can segregate them, because I’m offering it up to the public, and I’m basically downselling everybody else in order to accommodate them.”

The OC Weekly seems to think that by “segregate” Alvarado means setting up a special poor-only section at the ballpark; I think he actually was complaining that if you offer tickets at a price regular people can afford, then the upper crust will buy them at that price too, and you’re leaving money on the table that you could have effectively extracted from rich folks’ wallets. So better to charge everybody a ton for tickets, and if the “people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder” don’t show up, that’s okay, because the people with money buy more hot dogs.

That’s really no different than teams wanting smaller stadiums so that they can sell fewer tickets at higher prices, but it’s said a bit more bald-facedly. So thank you, Robert Alvarado, for explaining the modern sports industry in simple English. Even if it might not win you many friends among Angels fans who can’t afford as many $4.50 hot dogs.

[UPDATE: Alvarado just resigned. Honesty gets you nowhere these days.]

Ask an architecture critic: Why do new Wrigley Field bleachers suck?

The redesigned Wrigley Field bleachers are finally complete, and architecture critic Edward Keegan is here in Crain’s Chicago to tell you what he thinks of the new design. Perhaps surprisingly, he doesn’t mind the video boards — the new right-field board is “slightly smaller than the old one and comfortably set as far from centerfield as possible,” while the larger left field board he “won’t quibble with as a 21st century necessity.” But he does complain about the new expanded bleachers blocking the views of surrounding rooftops (not from rooftops, mind you, but of them), and the way the new bleachers structure was designed in the first place:

Seldom noted is the essential early 20th century industrial nature that has always defined the construction of Wrigley Field’s grandstands. Columns are small—and created from elaborate confections of even smaller steel elements. Trusses that support the larger structures—the upper deck, the roof, and the old center field scoreboard—are likewise minimal and elegant in their industrial forthrightness. The Landmarks designation ordinance cites the “exposed structural system” as a protected feature and it should have provided the architects with a guide for the new work.

Instead, the new bleachers and video boards are designed with the bluntness of a highway with columns and beams that are immense in comparison to their predecessors. It’s the design equivalent of the Dan Ryan or Kennedy expressways slicing through old Chicago neighborhoods with complete disregard for their surroundings and their visual impact.

I’m having a hard time finding a photo of the new bleachers in their entirety for some reason, but here’s a photo from Bleed Cubbie Blue showing the big-ass video board support girders. It probably wouldn’t be the first thing I’d complain about, but Keegan does have a point:

IMG_1410.0Anyone who’s been to Cubs games this week care to comment, or share photos?

Angels-to-Tustin “on back burner,” front burner now empty and sad

Hey, what’s up with the Los Angeles Angels‘ talk about moving to an air base in Tustin, anyway?

The Angels terminated talks with Anaheim in September, while continuing discussions with Tustin about building a stadium at the former Marine Corps Air Station. But now the Tustin negotiations also appear stalled, with the City Council there last receiving an update in early February.

“It’s been such a desultory thing,” Tustin Councilman Allan Bernstein said. “I thought there was a definite path, but there doesn’t seem to be. It seems to have been put on the back burner.”

Okay, then! It’s almost like the whole Tustin thing was just an idle threat that was dropped as soon as Tustin officials said they wanted to be paid for their land just like Anaheim’s mayor.

Anyway, you can read more in the Orange County Register about all the nothing that’s going on with the Angels’ stadium situation if you want. It has some quotes from me in it, if that floats your boat.

New Braves stadium to hike ticket prices 45%, Braves say this is because seats will be 45% better

The Atlanta Braves have released ticket prices for their new stadium in Cobb County, and fans can expect to absorb a whopping 45% price increase over Turner Field. Also, only a 4.7% price increase over Turner Field. Whaaa?

Turner Field features the third-cheapest price among Major League Baseball teams for non-premium season tickets at $19.14 per game, according to Team Marketing Report of Chicago, which uses data from all 30 MLB teams. The league average is about $29.

The Braves, however, say their average non-premium price is actually higher — $26.48. The Team Marketing Report survey excludes seats near the field and in other prime areas that wouldn’t be considered premium in a modern stadium. That effectively depresses Turner Field’s average.

The average non-premium seat cost at the new Cobb County ballpark is expected to be $27.73, according to a Braves spokeswoman. That would be a 45 percent increase over the Team Marketing Report average for Turner Field, but only a 4.7 percent increase over what the Braves consider their average price.

All of this mostly goes to show how hard it is to define “ticket price” in a 21st-century landscape of amenity-filled club seats and dynamic pricing. (The prices released by the Braves yesterday are just for season tickets; no one knows how individual games will be priced.) TMR divides up its pricing data into “general” and “premium” seating — the latter for “club seats or any section that has special features,” which is clear as mud — which allows teams to claim that a share of a price increase is due to added amenities, kind of the way that poverty isn’t a problem because poor people now have refrigerators.

The Braves, meanwhile, claim that you can’t compare seats at the old and new stadiums at all, because the new one will offer (in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s paraphrase) “

 

Cubs owner buys three more rooftops, has brief respite from “Wrigley Field is health hazard” news

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is continuing to solve his ongoing disputes with neighboring rooftop owners over his video board spite fence by just buying them out: Ricketts picked up another three buildings with rooftop views of Cubs games this month, bringing the total he’s bought to six. (Three holdouts are still suing him over their obstructed views.) As expected, this whole rooftop lawsuit kerfuffle is mostly coming down to how much Ricketts will have to pay to buy everyone out, and as sale terms haven’t been disclosed, we can’t even keep score at home.

Meanwhile, in more Cubsy news, the Cubs’ concession stands have been hit with health code violations, including “MEN’S RESTROOM ON THE LEFT FIELD SIDE IN THE UPPER DECK HAS NO HOT WATER” and “FOUND COLESLAW AT 45F INSIDE THE 1-DOOR REFRIGERATOR.” Which is probably par for the course with these inspections, but Ricketts still must cringe these days whenever he sees a news story with “Wrigley” and “restrooms” in the same sentence.

Cubs took commemorative Wrigley bricks and dumped them in a landfill

Say whatever else you will about the Chicago Cubs‘ Wrigley Field renovations, but they sure are providing some just terrible Internet fodder. Playing Opening Night with the bleachers covered by a giant tarp and not enough working restrooms was bad enough, but now there’s this:

Personalized pavers that once lined Clark and Addison streets near Wrigley Field, home of Chicago Cubs, have been found around Pontiac, purportedly coming from the nearby landfill. The bricks had been billed as “permanent fixtures” by the Cubs organization when they began selling them in 2006.

Yes, the Cubs took several commemorative bricks that fans had bought and paid for, bearing such messages as “NICK BODELL  LOVE FOREVER  GRANDMA 2007,” and threw them in a landfill. And here you thought throwing Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday cake in a dumpster was bad form.

Cubs execs said that they warned purchasers back in March that they’d have to remove some bricks and replace damaged ones as part of the renovation process, which is all reasonable enough. But still, as the kids today say, bad optics, guys.