Wrigley rooftop owners say Cubs execs punishing them for refusing to enter into price-fixing scheme

The Wrigley Field rooftop owners have filed yet another lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs, adding to their previous suits over landmarking violations and violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by placing signs to block views of rooftop owners they didn’t like. The new charge: price-fixing!

On May 8, 2012, at least nine owners met with Ricketts and Cubs executives. They said that demand for tickets inside Wrigley was declining because the rooftop businesses’ offered discounted tickets, sometimes through Groupon, and game-day tickets. The team asked them to “agree with the Cubs on setting coordinated, minimum ticket prices.”

Ricketts later threatened to block the views unless they agreed to a “price-fixing scheme, stating, ‘whatever you give us is in return for not being blocked.’ ”

The suit also includes charges of fraud and defamation, and probably puppy-kicking for good measure. All of which could conceivably be true, but it’s clear that the rooftop owners’ legal strategy has gone in record time from “threatening to sue but not ever actually doing so” to “throw everything at the wall at once and see what sticks.”

Warriors: We need a new $1B arena because we don’t like the restaurant manager at the old one

The San Francisco Business Times has a report out on the pressing matter of “Why the Raiders, A’s and Warriors want new homes” (verbatim headline), and the answer is: They all need to tear down their old venues and build entirely new ones at a cost of billions of dollars because they don’t like the concessionaires, duh!

Consider the recently opened BMW Club at Oracle Arena. BMW is a Warriors sponsor, but the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority contracts arena operations to Anschutz Entertainment Group. AEG, in turn, contracts arena restaurant management to Levy Restaurants.

“It’s a little bit of a challenge” to make customer service part of the overall game experience when food service and stadium operations aren’t in the Warriors’ control, team President and COO Rick Welts said.

Here’s a crazy idea: If your main complaint is the guys the county hired to run the arena operations, why don’t you offer to buy the arena operations rights from the county, and then pick your own operator? Sure, it might cost you something, but less than the billion dollars it will cost for a whole new building.

The real answer, of course, is that this is about the 74th most important reason for these teams wanting out of their old stadiums, but it’s what the Warriors president told the Business Times, so it’s what they’re going to report, dammit. Remember, kids: Friends don’t let friends read news stories that only include sports team execs and stadium developers as sources!

Rebuilt Wrigley bleachers won’t reopen until mid-May at earliest, Cubs fans emit “collective groan”

Remember those reports that the Chicago Cubs‘ renovations to the Wrigley Field bleachers might not be quite ready by Opening Day? Well, it is so, so much worse than that:

The left-field bleachers won’t open until May 11 at the earliest while late May is the target for the right-field bleachers, according to Crane Kenney, the Cubs president of business operations. Safety issues will prevent the center-field section from being open before May 11.

Kenney blamed delays in final approval of the renovations, which pushed back the date on which the team placed its steel order, which meant they couldn’t pour concrete as early as they wanted, which meant that they’d have to wait for temperatures to be warm enough to start putting railings and such in place … actually, you’d think that Cubs execs would have remembered that it’s bitterly cold all winter in Chicago, so it’s not clear how they thought they were going to have this ready for Opening Day even if the steel had been ready months ago. Maybe this was a way of making fans give them credit for trying, even if it was just forestalling the inevitable? Maybe this is just the Cubs being the Cubs?

Either way, anyone with bleacher season tickets will now have the choice of getting refunds for the first few weeks of the season, or getting relocated to the grandstand. At least those who get relocated will get to stare at those new video boards starting with game one: Those will be ready to go as scheduled, because they don’t need to wait for any concrete to dry.

So the vision of the Wrigley outfield walls in the spring will likely be bare brick (since the ivy won’t have had time to grow back) with a bunch of empty poured concrete behind it, and then towering scoreboard/ad boards behind them. And likely rooftop owners with flaming torches behind those. Time to re-up my MLB.tv subscription, because I don’t want to miss a minute of this.

Oakland mayor wants A’s, Raiders to go head-to-head for Coliseum land

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is reportedly about to sign a one-year lease extension at the Oakland Coliseum, which has to be considered a bit of a win for him as Coliseum officials were reportedly looking to force him to agree to a multi-year deal or make the Raiders go play in the street. But if so, any joy in the Davis camp had to be tempered by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s announcement that she plans to have the Raiders and A’s submit competing bids for redeveloping the Coliseum site.

This isn’t a terrible idea, as it at least forces both Davis and A’s owner Lew Wolff to put their money where their mouths are, and for the city to compare apples to apples in terms of who’s offering the best development-rights-funded stadium proposal — the last Raiders plan involved giving the team hundreds of millions of dollars of free land, so a little competitive bidding couldn’t hurt. Admittedly, developers who don’t want to use the land for a stadium should probably be included as well, even if only for due diligence, but baby steps, here.

Alameda County, which runs the Coliseum Authority in tandem with Oakland, still needs to sign off on Schaaf’s plan, so it’s entirely possible it won’t happen. But as former A’s exec Andy Dolich told the San Jose Mercury News, at least it’s some kind of attempt to assess the city’s options:

“This could very well be a circumstance where the mayor understands the clock is ticking,” he said. “You can’t wait forever. You’re going to have to push people in a way that they don’t want to be pushed to see what is reality and what is fantasy.”

The danger here, on the other hand, would be that the public debate will end up coming down to “Which stadium plan is better?” even if both of them suck from the public’s perspective. But still, getting two sports magnates to fight for your affections isn’t the worst way of trying to get a better deal, even if the deal that results may just be the lesser of two evils.

 

 

Braves argue in court that stadiums are “public purpose” because they just are, duh!

Lawyers the Atlanta Braves have filed a brief responding to the lawsuit charging that Cobb County’s issuance of stadium bonds is illegal because it’s not a “public purpose,” and oh, it is an awesome brief. The reason why stadiums are a public purpose, it turns out, is that everybody knows they are, duh!

The government’s “ability to issue bonds for recreational purposes is broad and well-settled,” the Braves’ brief says. “In the 20th and 21st centuries, financing and constructing sports stadiums and related facilities has repeatedly been held to be a public purpose.

“Opponents of stadium bond financing often point to private benefits in an attempt to undermine the public purpose — and ultimately the constitutionality — of the bonds that have been used. Courts have routinely rejected those arguments because the existence of private benefits is not dispositive — in fact, it is expected.”…

“Each municipality may have its own reasons — economy, tourism, public desire, or city profile — but the end result is almost universally a finding that a public purpose is served …. as long as a recreational benefit of a reasonably general character is conferred on a significant part of the public.

“Any other arguments are simply beside the point.”

 

So there!

I could line up a long list of economists, urban planners, and even sports fans to testify that building new sports stadiums — especially when you’re just replacing an 18-year-old one a few miles away, as the Braves are — is solely for private profit, not public benefit. But that’s beside the point, as the Braves ownership is clearly staking its defense on the fact that courts have ruled in favor of stadium bonds being a public purpose before, so clearly they must have been right, right? Not any Georgia courts, apparently — the Braves lawyers didn’t cite any Georgia case law despite this being a state supreme court case, as the attorneys for the plaintiffs quickly pointed out — but lots of other courts. Are you saying that you think you know better than other states’ supreme courts, Georgia, hmm? Now just kick these nuts in the butt and let us get on with our stadium-building, okay?

Appeals court bounces San Jose antitrust case to Supreme Court, A’s aren’t moving anywhere anytime soon

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the city of San Jose’s claim that MLB’s refusal to allow the Oakland A’s to move to the South Bay is a violation of antitrust law. The Supreme Court giveth baseball its antitrust exemption wrote the judges in a unanimous verdict, and only the Supreme Court can take it away or modify it:

(Thanks to Newballpark.org for the screenshot.)

Sports law experts were split on the viability of San Jose’s case, you may recall, with Stanford’s Roger Noll saying it might have a shot, while NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra snorted in derision. I haven’t seen any comments yet from Noll (and it’s 6:30 am in California, I’m not gonna be the one to wake him up), but Calcaterra draws a pretty devastating conclusion after reading the verdict:

It’s a just full-fledged Heisman at San Jose, citing the three big Supreme Court cases giving MLB its antitrust exemption — most recently the Curt Flood case — and saying that San Jose doesn’t even get past the first threshold. MLB’s exemption from the antitrust laws, while not absolute, certainly covers franchise relocation, the court ruled, thus kicking this one to the curb as a matter of law.

San Jose can go to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has itself ruled that it will take Congress acting to change the law as it applies to Major League Baseball in order to have the exemption removed or modified enough to cover cases like this. So, sorry guys.

In short: If you’ve been holding out hope of a court ordering MLB to let the A’s move to San Jose, don’t hold your breath. The only real chance of a move is if A’s owner Lew Wolff decides to pay the San Francisco Giants‘ territorial ransom once the legal options are extinguished (not likely, considering that the Giants can and will ask for the moon) or that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is more eager to lean on the Giants owners to cut a deal than his predecessor Bud Selig was (also not likely, if he wants to keep his job). We’ll find out after the Supreme Court acts, I guess.

Wrigley rooftop owners charge Ricketts with placing signs to block views of owners who won’t sell

The rooftop owners across from Wrigley Field have filed a new court challenge against this winter’s changes to the ballpark’s bleachers, claiming that — stay with me here — the real reason Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts agreed to move some ad boards was not because he needed to in order to get federal historic preservation tax credits, but because he wanted to in order to punish rooftop owners who wouldn’t sell out to him:

 “Shortly after the commission announced its July 10, 2014 decision, the Cubs told the rooftops they could either sell their businesses to the Cubs at a fraction of both cost and fair market value or have their businesses destroyed when the Cubs block their views,” according to the complaint.

Facing this threat, several non-plaintiff owners allegedly sold their businesses to the Cubs during summer and fall of 2014…

“The National Park Service objected to the outfield signs approved by the Commission because the excessive size and number of outfield signs would adversely affect the historic and architectural features of Wrigley Field,” the complaint states.

“Instead of substantively modifying the outfield sign plan, the Cubs reconfigured the outfield signs so as to completely block the views of the rooftops the Cubs were unable to purchase and to restore the views of the rooftops the Cubs contracted to purchase,” it continues.

Of course, both explanations could be true: Ordered by the National Park Service to scale back his signage plans or lose the tax credits, Ricketts could well have thought, “Okay, if we can only keep a few signs, let’s keep the ones blocking the views of the rooftops we don’t own.” I’m not exactly sure what would be illegal about this — the rooftop owners are seeking an injunction under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, but Ricketts isn’t a government agency — but we’ll see what a judge says when the rooftop owners’ request for an injunction lands on their desk, I guess.

Tiger Stadium preservation plan could replace grass field with fake turf

Just ran across a bit more news on the proposed Tiger Stadium field preservation, courtesy of Anna Clark of Next City:

As it stands, the plan will privatize the baseball field. Only PAL teams will play on it, in contrast with the open-door policy of the Navin Field Grounds Crew. It is reasonable for PAL teams to have priority on the redeveloped field, but the public should be able to enjoy it in off hours.

PAL may change the grass of the original field to artificial turf. This follows the model of the recently restored League Park in Cleveland, baseball’s oldest existing Major League ballpark. But artificial turf on the Detroit field plays too casually with the idea of “preservation” and subtly insults the people who have been caring for the natural grass for free for years now — and will continue to do so for the next year, possibly two, before building begins. It should also not be taken lightly that at least a dozen people have had their ashes scattered on this grass.

Those are indeed concerns — with the artificial turf being especially pointless, since studies have found that fake turf doesn’t save any money over a well-maintained grass field when used for baseball. (Soccer, which delivers way more of a pounding, is another story.) If you want to chime in on any of this, the proposed developers have a comment site up at Popularise, so have at it.

Sternberg’s development rights on Trop could be worth as much as he’d pay St. Pete to break lease

When I reported Friday on the St. Petersburg city council refusing to go along with the Tampa Bay Rays‘ lease-breaking deal if they’d have to give Rays owner Stuart Sternberg a cut of development rights to the Tropicana Field site, I didn’t have a figure for how much those rights would be worth. Noah Pransky of Shadow of the Stadium did, however, and helpfully pointed it out:

When the team pitched a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg in 2008, a developer bid $65 million to buy the Trop property and load it up with $1.2 billion of mixed use construction. Property taxes and fees for the city were estimated at $7.5 million a year, with a like amount for county government and schools.

Okay, that’s 2008, and a lot has changed since then. Still, if we take that as a reasonable guesstimate of what the Trop property is worth, then giving half of that to Sternberg would be worth $32.5 million — or nearly as much as St. Pete would be getting from the Rays owner as a payment for breaking his lease. It’s starting to become clearer why this became a major sticking point — though when you consider that even $32.5 million is just equal to three years of James Loney and two of David DeJesus, it’s slightly possible that Sternberg got a bit greedy here.

St. Pete council calls Rays’ bluff, rejects lease buyout unless team coughs up development rights

If yesterday’s news had you thinking that city councils were just mindless automatons who would inevitably rubber-stamp any stadium deal set before them, then the St. Petersburg city council had a surprise for you: That body voted 5-3 yesterday afternoon to reject the proposed deal in which the Tampa Bay Rays could buy their way out of their Tropicana Field lease to move to a new stadium elsewhere in the bay area for a payment of at most $42 million.

Given that as recently as a week ago, all signs were that the council was going to approve the plan that Mayor Rick Kriseman had worked out with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, this was a bit of a shocker. But according to the Tampa Bay Times, Rays execs shot themselves in the foot with their answer to questions about whether the team would agree to forgo a split of profits from development of land on the 85-acre Tropicana Field site if they were in the process of leaving anyway:

Council member Darden Rice, who voted for the agreement, said the Rays blew the deal with their presentation.

“I think at one point we had five votes,” Rice said. “But I was very disappointed by Auld’s response to Karl Nurse’s question about development rights. It was either tone deafness or arrogance.”…

Nurse had asked Kriseman earlier in the week to change the agreement so the city could retain all development rights in that situation. But the Rays declined to make any substantive changes to Kriseman’s deal.

Nurse still voted for the deal in the end, but this did not go over well with several other members of the council:

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley said he felt like the Rays were making ultimatums. “I don’t like arrogance,” he said.

“The deal breaker for me was the idea that they want us to abide by the use agreement for redevelopment purposes, where they can benefit,” [councilmember Amy] Foster said, “but they didn’t want to abide by the use agreement” by staying at the Trop.

“This is a common strategy,” she said. “They use their mobility in order to threaten cities in order to get more.”

Yep, that they do. But in most cases they don’t have an ironclad lease like the one that the Rays are locked into in St. Pete, which currently doesn’t allow the team owners to buy their way out, or even talk about leaving, until 2027. That’s a hefty piece of leverage that the council has at its disposal, and they just used it.

For Sternberg, the logical next step in this situation is to haggle: If the council wants a bigger share of development rights, throw them a bigger share of development rights. Or kick in an extra million or two a year in lease-breaking payments. But it seems like the council isn’t opposed to the principle of the deal, just the specifics, so the usual strategy would be to pick off a couple of councilmembers and find out what their price is.

Sternberg, however, has already declared that he won’t negotiate any more changes to the lease buyout, saying last week, “If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave.” This kind of paints him into a corner, with his only obvious options being:

  • Try to pretend he never said anything about no further negotiations, and quietly resume talks in a few months. This would not only require swallowing a lot of pride at this point, but also leave him with a weakened negotiating position, since clearly his ultimatums wouldn’t be worth squat.
  • Sit tight and wait — if not 13 years, then at least for a new city council to be elected next fall. And then hope like crazy that the new folks are more willing to give you anything you want.
  • Sell the team and make it someone else’s problem. Forbes, which tends to underestimate team values, has the Rays worth $485 million, which would be a nifty 142% profit on what Sternberg bought them for in 2002. But presumably the Rays would be worth an awful lot more if they had a shiny new stadium to play in (especially if the shiny new stadium debt could be fobbed off on taxpayers), so Sternberg would be leaving a lot of hypothetical money on the hypothetical table if he took this route.
  • Call Bud Selig and ask him to threaten to blow up the team on his way out the door, and hope that the courts will protect them from the inevitable antitrust lawsuit that would result.

So far, the Rays have just responded with a generic “You’re a bunch of poopyheads” statement:

There’s still plenty of time — until 2027, really — for a deal to be worked out, so there’s no reason to start freaking out about the Rays moving to Montréal (unless you’re the Tampa Bay Times editorial board). The St. Peterburg council did send a message, though, that they’re at least aware that, as Jonah Keri puts it:

Public officials trying to negotiate better deals in the public interest. What’ll they think of next?