Yankees try to get more fans to games by ripping out worst seats, adding “patio bars”

The owners of the New York Yankees, facing slipping attendance during the team’s 4th-place finish and a growing acknowledgement that their new stadium is kind of crappy in many ways for watching baseball, have announced some tweaks to the building for next year, including replacing some of the notorious obstructed-view bleacher seats with new “patio bars” and adding a kids’ play area in right field similar to what the Mets have:

Three other lounge and patio areas will also be built. All the additions will be open to all ticket-holders.

The team also said it would make available about 2,500 seats per game at $15 or less.

This wouldn’t normally be big news — offering some discounted seats and additional amenities is common for a team seeking to boost attendance during a rebuilding phase on the field — except that it’s the Yankees, who have traditionally stuck to the line that such niceties as entertainment areas and being able to see the game from your seat are amenities that are beneath them. (The last major change at the stadium prior to this was to remove seats and add tables for rich fans to rest their beers on.) There was no immediate clarification as to which seats will be available for $15 (I wouldn’t hold your breath about “for less”), but at least some of the crappiest views will now come without quite such crappy price tags.

The Steinbrenners will presumably be paying for the renovations out of their own pockets, though again given that it’s the Yankees, we can’t entirely rule out them somehow trying to wheedle a tax break of some kind out of this. More news if and when it becomes available.

St. Louis Cardinals owners to build more “ballpark village,” demand tax kickbacks to pay for it

The owners of the St. Louis Cardinals announced a second phase to their “Ballpark Village” development across the street from their stadium yesterday, and blah blah, $220 million, 550,000 square feet of new construction, “mixed-use neighborhood where people live, work and play,” okay, here we go:

St. Louis Alderman Jack Cotar will introduce legislation to amend an existing development agreement that enabled the first phase of Ballpark Village on Tuesday…

According to the announcement, the “development team is proposing to use a portion of the new tax revenue generated solely within the Ballpark Village project area, including an additional self-imposed 1 percent TDD sales tax, to underwrite the bonds issued to support project infrastructure costs. Only taxes generated by the Ballpark Village project itself, as well as private equity and debt investments by the development team, will be used to finance Ballpark Village.”

This should come as no surprise, as the first phase of the Ballpark Village — a bizarro grandstand-slice-themed shopping mall with an equally bizarro racially coded dress code — got $116 million in subsidies back in 2006, mostly from tax-increment funding: i.e., kicking back property and sales taxes to the developers, who can then use them to pay off their own construction costs. It’s unclear exactly how much Cotar’s bill will propose handing over to the Cardinals owners — that “TDD” is a sales tax surcharge in the ballpark area, which if it’s narrowly drawn could just come out of the team’s pockets, but property taxes or existing sales taxes would just be a straight kickback. The original Cardinals stadium deal wasn’t too bad for the public as these things go — about two-thirds of the cost was shouldered by the team owners — but they’re making up for lost subsidy time with all the additional development across the street. Excellent job on the bait-and-switch, Bill DeWitt and friends!

Angels owner okays development next to stadium, doesn’t even have to sue anybody first

After complaining about the new development project proposed for next door and threatening to sue to stop it, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno gave his blessing to LT Global’s mixed-use project this week. This happened because they were … bought off? I’m going with bought off:

“We are pleased that LT Global worked with us in a timely and collaborative effort to address the impacts of their development on our fan experience,” Angels President John Carpino said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the city to finalize details on important transportation improvements for the Platinum Triangle in the coming weeks.”

LT Global spokesman Steve Greyshock wouldn’t elaborate on how the company and the Angels were able to amicably resolve their differences but did say the company looks forward to working with the team.

“We spoke. It was neighbors talking with neighbors,” Greyshock said. “They had some operational concerns, but overall the goal is to have a long, constructive relationship with the Angels.”

That’s playing it extremely close to the vest in terms of what the price was for the Angels ownership’s cooperation — it could have been anything from cash to a parking-sharing agreement to promising to buy the Angels’ stock of leftover Josh Hamilton jerseys — but the point is, they worked it out. And without Moreno being able to demand that Anaheim give him a huge swath of development rights for cheap, as was his original plan.

In all, Moreno seems to be following a new tactic of playing good cop, backing away from threats to opt out of his lease early and reopening lease extension talks with Anaheim. This is what you can make happen when you have a mayor who is a tough negotiator, a team that reaps huge benefits from playing in a major metro area, and city officials in other nearby locales also not willing to throw money at a stadium. Not saying it’ll work every time, but it is a little glimpse into a happier world where move threats are met with “Ha, yeah, that’s a good one” rather than “How many zeroes should we put on the check, Mr. Moreno?”

Arlington evenly split on $500m Rangers stadium subsidy, Trump meltdown could sway vote

There’s a new poll out on the Texas Rangers‘ stadium subsidy vote in Arlington, and it implies that the vote could be defeated by, of all things, Donald Trump.

Bear with me here: The polling is evenly split, with 42% of Arlington voters saying they support the plan, an equal number saying they oppose it, and 16% not sure. But there’s a significant demographic skew to the results: Democrats oppose the plan 50-31%, people of color 52-32%, women 41-36%, and young voters 48-39%. Aside from young voters, who are more likely to stay home on election day because they’re disgusted by the available options, those are exactly the voters who are more likely to show up to the polls on November 8, since they won’t be at home trying to ignore the fact that their preferred party’s nominee is this guy.

Also interestingly, the WFAA poll finds that voters overwhelmingly don’t think that the Rangers need a new stadium (57-36%) and also largely don’t believe that the Rangers would move to Dallas if Arlington didn’t build them one (51-33%). So at least 10-15% of Arlington voters think that the Rangers don’t need a new stadium and don’t have leverage to demand one, but that Arlington taxpayers should give them half a billion dollars anyway because … maybe like their mayor, they can’t think of anything else to spend it on? The poll didn’t ask, so your guess is as good as mine.

Meanwhile, WFAA has another report out on hidden public costs of a Rangers stadium, and just like their last report, it’s well-researched but inflates its numbers way more than is really warranted:

The actual cost and lost revenues to the city of Arlington may be closer to $1.675 billion over 30 years — at least three times more than the $500 million price tag that city officials have told citizens.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll have no doubt already noted one problem with the sentence quoted above: “$1.675 billion over 30 years” isn’t actually three times more than $500 million right now, any more than making $1.675 million in mortgage payments over the course of three decades would be three times as expensive as paying $500,000 for a house right now. (Money in the future costs less because you can invest present money now and earn interest on it to make future payments.) To compare apples to apples, economists will use present value, which depending on how you calculate interest rates would come to around $700-800 million in actual costs today.

Why is that more than the $500 million the Rangers owners are claiming this will cost taxpayers? In part because WFAA is including an anticipated $10 million a year in naming-rights fees that the team owners would keep (about $150 million in present value) and $2.5 million a year in personal seat license sales (about $37.5 million in present value). It’s legit to look at naming rights, at least, as money that Arlington is giving away to the team despite owning the stadium — PSLs are more dicey, since they’re really a function of ticket sales, which are part of the team’s usual revenue stream — but it’s more fairly looked at as an unequal share of revenues from the new stadium, not an additional cost.

For now, I’ll still stick with “more than $500 million” as the taxpayers cost, which has the advantage of being unassailably true which still being one of the largest MLB subsidy requests in history, all to replace a 22-year-old stadium because it doesn’t have air-conditioning. Which is no doubt why this vote is looking to be much closer than past stadium subsidy measures in Arlington, regardless of how much Trump continues to implode between now and election day.

Rangers owners outspending stadium opponents 264-to-1, with $500m at stake it’s chicken feed

The Dallas Morning News reports that proponents of a $500-million-plus subsidy for a new Texas Rangers stadium so they can have air-conditioning have raised 264 times as much money as opponents, largely by cashing checks from the Rangers owners:

Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers raised $617,707 and spent $564,479 in this latest campaign reporting period.  Of that amount, the Rangers donated $550,000, accounting for 89 percent of the campaign’s income in this latest reporting period. That was slightly more than the team paid this year for either closer Sam Dyson and second baseman and playoff scapegoat Rougned Odor. …

Stadium opponents Citizens for a Better Arlington reported $7,687.50 in donations and spent $2,264.04, according to the new campaign filing.

This is important not for what it says about levels of support for either side — it’s a lot easier to raise money when you can get $550,000 with one phone call — but because past experience has led to a rough rule that stadium referendums only pass when proponents outspend opponents by 100-to-1 or more. This doesn’t guarantee that Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson will be able to buy themselves an election — and generate a 1,000% return on their campaign spending in the process — but they’ve certainly given themselves a nice head start.

Manfred says he hopes for A’s stadium site plan soon; Laney College fields could be option

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said a bunch of stuff yesterday about the Oakland A’s stadium plans, none of it earth-shaking, but here you go:

  • “I hope the first piece of news will be a decision as to which site will be the focus of their effort to get their plan and finances together.” That sounds like A’s owner Lew Wolff is going to pick a site first and then figure out how to pay for a stadium, which is kind of what’s been assumed all along. But anyway, now we know Manfred assumes it, too.
  • “The Mayor in Oakland has made it clear to me that baseball is her first priority. She would like to keep both teams, but baseball is her first priority. And I think that’s a good spot for baseball to be in.” This could mean that Mayor Libby Schaaf is in “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” mode with the Raiders (which would make sense, as Raiders owner Mark Davis is so far the one asking for a lot more public money for a stadium that would be in use about 12% as often), or it could mean that she tells all the sports team owners that they’re her favorite.
  • “I do believe that John Fisher and Lew Wolff are committed to the idea that they need to get something done in Oakland. I’ve told them. They understand that it is my strong preference that the team stay in Oakland.” Fisher and Wolff have said for years that they want to stay in the Bay Area (though they would include San Jose, which isn’t an option given the territorial rights squabble with the Giants), and sports league commissioners always say that they’d rather see teams stay put, even if only as a veiled threat. But it can be a true sentiment and a threat all at once — that’s the beauty of the move-threat game.

Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News (citing “a source close to the A’s”) says that a previously unreported site could be in play for the A’s: a parcel near Laney College off Lake Merritt, which I’m guessing refers to this:


(The Merc News report says that “one plan at Laney would call for the college to tear down some of their relatively new athletics facilities.”)

That would be a tight squeeze — here’s an overhead view of the current Oakland Coliseum site at the same scale:

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-35-19-amBut, hey, I’m an avowed fan of baseball stadiums in constrained spaces, since it can require designers to come up with interesting solutions and not just create a giant shopping mall with a ballfield in the middle. Laney College is owned by the local public community college district, so there would certainly be concerns about Fisher and Wolff paying fair market value for the site, but … you know, let’s cross this bridge when we come to it.

Fun fact: The Laney College site is also the where the Raiders played in the mid-’60s while the Coliseum was being built, at a temporary facility called Frank Youell Field. (Okay, fun if you’re into American Football League trivia. Are you saying you’re not? I thought so.)

D.C. council brags on Twitter about how much stadium money it threw at Nationals owners, um

Thanks to Deadspin (and a couple of Twitter followers) for pointing this one out:

Boom! Nice snappy comeback, D.C. city council social media person, noting how your local politicians gave MLB everything it asked for in stadium funding without even trying to negotiate a better deal, then kept ladling on more and more money as costs went up, eventually arriving at a figure of more than $700 million, then the largest MLB stadium subsidy in history (but since surpassed by the New York Yankees, depending on how you count federal tax breaks). Now that’s something to brag about.

Adds Deadspin:

This past weekend, the District handed over city land to D.C. United, as part of an agreement for a new soccer stadium that will see the city shell out $150 million.

The D.C. council hasn’t tweeted proudly about that one yet, either because D.C. United is in fifth place and may miss the playoffs, or because the councilfolk are just so darn humble.

MLB commissioner again says Montreal expansion possible, if they make it worth his while

Speaking of hinting around, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred mentioned Montreal as a possible league expansion site this week, which got lots of still-bereft Expos fans excited. Sure, he mostly did so by listing all the things that have to happen before a new franchise could get bestowed upon the city, but that’s at least a start:

“There are two stadium situations, Tampa and Oakland, that need to be resolved before I believe the owners have any appetite for thinking about expansion,” Manfred said. “Hopefully, we’re going to make good progress on both of those stadium situations in the relatively short term.”…

“And then we would begin, first, with an internal debate as to whether baseball wants to go to 32 [teams],” Manfred said. “Assuming the owners make that decision, it would then begin the process of selecting two cities.

“I will say, in terms of schedule format, 32 teams is a nice number for us.”

That’s all pretty unremarkable — if we were going to expand, we’d have to talk about it first, and then we’d need to pick two cities — and Manfred has said this sort of thing before, and it  leaves out the elephant in the room: Montreal would need a stadium for its team to play in, and somebody to pay for it. And Manfred also said this:

“Obviously with the way the economics operate in our game, that’s a very, very significant economic decision because it means that 1/30th owned assets and revenue streams become 1/32nd.”

Read between the lines, then, and it comes down to “Sure, Montreal sounds great, as soon as someone comes up with stadium cash and one of those crazy-high expansion fees that the NHL just got from Las Vegas, then we’ll be happy to listen, maybe.” Can’t get if you don’t ask, right?

Two polls on Rangers stadium plan show definitively that polls are garbage

And speaking of using math for bad purposes, a new poll of Arlington voters shows that they support the Texas Rangers‘ $500-million-plus stadium subsidy proposal by a 54-40% margin, while another poll shows that Arlington voters oppose it by a 47-39% margin. Care to guess which poll was conducted by the Vote Yes! Keep The Rangers PAC, and which by Save Our Stadium?

The two polls had a combined margin of error of 8.7%, which isn’t enough to explain a 15% swing in the results. So either polling is garbage (which it sort of is, but let’s set that aside for the moment) or something about the way the two sides asked the question inspired widely skewed results. Let’s start with the pro-stadium poll:

“Now I am going to read you some more details about the proposition, and please tell me, if the election were held today, would you vote YES, IN FAVOR or NO, AGAINST the proposition? The Rangers and the city of Arlington would contribute equally for the one billion dollar ballpark, with both paying five hundred million dollars. The city’s portion is capped at this amount with any additional costs being paid for by the Rangers. The stadium would be a state‐of‐the‐art, air conditioned ballpark with a retractable roof, comfortable seating, and real grass. There will be no new taxes and no increase in taxes to pay for the ballpark. The Arlington portion of the funding would be paid for by the existing half cent sales tax, the existing two percent hotel occupancy tax, and the existing five percent car rental tax that were used for the current Rangers ballpark and are currently being used for the Cowboys stadium. The new stadium would open in five years and keep the Rangers in Arlington until at least 2054.”

That’s a lot of information to absorb before answering, much of it skewed toward the Rangers ownership’s message (comfortable seating, no new taxes, keep the Rangers in Arlington). It’s not quite a push poll — where the goal is less to gauge public opinion than to sway it with the content of the questions (“How do you feel about my opponent beating his wife?”) — but it’s headed in that direction.

And how about the anti-stadium poll?

Proposition 1 on the November ballot is a proposition that will allow the city and the Rangers to levy taxes to pay for the new stadium. Press 1 if you plan to vote yes, press 2 if you plan to vote no, press 3 if you are undecided.

That’s less push-y, certainly, though the pro side would probably gripe that “levy taxes to pay for the new stadium” doesn’t accurately describe the plan, which would actually extend existing taxes. The anti poll excluded cellphones, though, which is increasingly unreliable in a world where so many people don’t have landlines.

In short, we have no idea how Arlington voters feel about the Rangers stadium proposal, other than “it depends on how you ask.” Me, I would have gone with “Do you think it’s worth $500 million in tax money so that Rangers fans can sit in air-conditioning?”, but nobody ever asks me.

Exec says Angels could leave Anaheim in 2029, maybe hopes new metropolis has arisen by then

Los Angeles Angels president John Carpino spoke out about the  over development rights to the team’s Anaheim stadium parking lot yesterday, and said if things can’t be worked out the team might just leave — 13 years from now.

Carpino spoke after the developer of a large-scale project next to Angel Stadium agreed Tuesday to postpone an Anaheim City Council vote on the project for three weeks, in the hope of resolving the team’s objections to the development…

Although the Angels’ current lease extends through 2029, the team can opt out no later than Oct. 16, 2018, which would terminate the lease after the 2019 season.

Carpino said the Angels have three options: move, renovate Angel Stadium, or play out the current lease.

So… that doesn’t actually quite make sense as written. What the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin appears to be trying to say is that the Angels may not use the opt-out clause in their lease in two seasons, in which case their next opportunity to leave Anaheim would be in 2029. It’s not entirely clear whether that’s meant to be a promise or a threat, but there it is.

Of course, the reason that Angels owner Arte Moreno might not use the opt-out clause is because he has nowhere to go that’s still in the super-lucrative Los Angeles (plus Orange County) market, especially since his attempts to get a stadium out of Tustin went nowhere. That’s not likely to change by 2029 — yeah, Las Vegas is growing, but not that fast — so this would seem to be a coded admission of “Yeah, we’re stuck here whether we like it or not, thanks to the SoCal cable riches.” I mean, maybe by 2029 cable has ceased to exist and some new MLB model makes it feasible for teams to play in places like Green Bay, like the NFL’s does? Maybe by then Halifax has become bustling with American climate refugees? Or maybe Moreno has really decided he’ll settle for selling another 13 years worth of Mike Trout jerseys and figure out the whole stadium thing later. If so, well played, Tom Tait.