Friday roundup: Skip right past the first four items and go directly to the hidden-camera video on the Austin soccer-vs.-soccer beef, you know you wanna

This was feeling like a long week even before Americans with guns decided to make a late rush to break last year’s record for most people killed in major mass shootings. Fortunately, we have news in the field of whether to devote scarce public resources to boosting the profits of professional sports team owners to amuse us! Ha ha! Are we amused yet?

  • Los Angeles has been selected as the host of next year’s inaugural World Urban Games, a thing that is like the Olympics only it involves sports no one cares about, like three-on-three basketball. (Though admittedly, the Olympics also involves plenty of sports no one cares about.) L.A. had to offer no actual money to be the host, just use of its sports venues, so if anyone actually travels to L.A. to see these things, there’s an actual chance this might work out to the city’s economic benefit! Crazy talk!
  • The group that wants to bring an MLB team to Portland has pulled its offer to buy the city’s school headquarters to build a stadium on the site, saying it would be better used for affordable housing. (Read: The community hated the stadium idea, and they didn’t want to fight about it.) The group will reportedly announce a new site by the end of the month, but it’s not worth holding your breath over because MLB isn’t giving Portland a team in the immediate future, if ever.
  • Saskatoon city officials are looking into building a new downtown arena for about $175 million because … they didn’t actually say why. The old one is old? Mark Rosentraub sold them on a new one? Not that a new downtown Saskatoon arena is necessarily a terrible idea, especially if the city can collect rent and other revenues from it, but an even less terrible idea would be focusing on “Do we need a new arena?” before jumping straight to “How can we build one?”
  • There’s a new pro-ticket tax group in Columbus calling itself Protect Art 4 Columbus that describes itself as “a group of art enthusiasts, sports fans and other community members,” and if this isn’t an Astroturf group, they really needed to come up with a name that made themselves sound less like one.
  • I do not have the energy to explain the beef between the wannabe Austin MLS team owner and the wannabe Austin USL team owner and how they’re both building stadiums and supporters of one stadium are accusing supporters of another stadium of lying about their ballot petitions by saying “we’re trying to build a soccer stadium” when it’s really to stop the other guys from building a soccer stadium, so just watch the video, it’s blurry and confusing and shot in portrait mode, just like the kids today all like!

Tampa voters approve sales tax hike but elect new anti-subsidy commissioners, this is probably a wash for the Rays’ stadium plans

One more election result from Tuesday, and it’s a mixed one for the Tampa Bay Rays, who saw voters approve a sales tax hike for transportation project that could benefit a baseball stadium, but also elect new county commissioners who may be more opposed to sports subsidies.

The sales tax hike first:

While money from the newly-approved new one-cent sales tax for transportation cannot be used to construct a stadium, it could provide much-needed funds for infrastructure around the stadium. It could also free up other county money to fund stadium-related expenses.

I’ve discussed previously here how broad tax pools can serve as slush funds for development projects, and there’s some concern here that this could happen with the transporation fund as well. Still, it would be tough to use either the money itself or other moneys it freed up for anything more than infrastructure, and a new Rays stadium would need a lot of money for things that weren’t infrastructure, so we’ll see.

Then there are the new Hillsborough County commissioners:

In District 5, Mariella Smith bounced Republican incumbent Victor Crist, who had been open to Hagan’s stadium dealings. Smith told 10News no general revenue funds should be used for a new Rays stadium but kept other possible funding mechanisms on the table.

She has also been critical of the secrecy surrounding the stadium talks.

In District 7, Democrat Kimberly Overman defeated Republican Todd Marks, who said he opposed subsidies for the Rays. Overman seemed more open to the possibility but said it wasn’t a “core issue” to her campaign.

It won’t be easy to get four commission votes to approve a new stadium deal if it involves any county money; conservative Republican Stacy White won re-election Tuesday in District 4, and several sitting commissioners have expressed hesitations about spending money from a tight county budget on a new Rays ballpark.

tl;dr version: Hillsborough may have a bit more money to spend, but it’s also likely to be less inclined to spend it. That December 31 deadline for Stuart Sternberg to opt out of his Tropicana Field lease is getting more and more interesting.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for MLB’s 20-year expansion drought to end anytime soon

In the midst of yesterday’s Election Day excitement, Deadspin ran my latest article for them, on what’s up with MLB’s much-rumored expansion plans. And though, as I tried to make clear in the article, where baseball expands and when will likely have less to do with what cities are “deserving” and more to do with the sport’s internal finances — in particular how much of an expansion fee they can demand, how adding new small-market teams will affect revenue sharing, and how adding new teams would affect existing team owners’ leverage to extract stadium subsidies — the comments section quickly filled up with debates over which cities should get new teams, and even how MLB divisions should be realigned once this happens.

All of which is still way more constructive and less pathetic than the Cincinnati Enquirer’s response to a throwaway line of mine about how small cities like Cincinnati probably wouldn’t be at the top of the expansion list if they didn’t already have teams:

As FoS correspondent David Dyte immediately pointed out, good thing I didn’t insult their chili.

Friday roundup: Election Day could have big consequences for Rays, Blue Jackets, Clippers

Happy last week before Election Day! Unsurprisingly, we lead off with a bunch of vote-related news:

  • Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld says he’s confident team execs will be able to meet a December 31 deadline for stadium funding without having to ask for an extension, even though right now there’s currently a $300 million funding gap. Frequent FoS commenter Scott Myers has theorized that the Rays ownership is hoping Hillsborough County voters will pass a 1% sales tax hike for transportation on Tuesday, which would free up other public money to pay for transportation improvements for a Rays stadium; that doesn’t seem like it’d provide $300 million, but every hundred million dollars counts, so everybody watch the ballot results carefully. (Which you should be doing anyway. And voting!)
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets owners, who have been criticized for being the main beneficiaries of a proposed 7% ticket tax in the city because their arena would get the lion’s share of the proceeds, surprised everybody this week by coming out against the tax, saying it “would materially harm our business.” Maybe this is reverse psychology to get residents to vote for the bill, since they’ll no longer think it’s a sop to the hockey team? Okay, probably not.
  • Madison Square Garden has given $700,000 to the campaign of the chief challenger to Inglewood Mayor James Butts in an effort to block plans for a new Los Angeles Clippers arena that could compete for concerts with MSG’s Forum, and the Clippers have fought back with $375,000 in spending to support Butts’ campaign. Poor grass.
  • In non-electoral news, the University of Connecticut is building a $45 million hockey arena on campus even though its team will continue to play most of its games in Hartford’s XL Center, just because its new NCAA conference requires an on-campus arena. (It also requires that the arena have at least 4,000 seats, but UConn got a waiver to only build 2,500 seats.) Since UConn is a public university, this technically means that public money will go into the project (though the university says it can pay for it from its own reserves), but mostly it’s bizarre to see an entire arena being built just to meet a technicality — what do you think the carbon footprint will be for this?
  • Transit experts are worried that the 2020 Olympics will overwhelm Tokyo’s already-crowded subway system, though they may not be anticipating how much the Olympics tend to cause anyone not interested in the Olympics to stay the hell out of town. The government has been encouraging local businesses to stagger work hours and open satellite offices to accommodate Games traffic, since “everybody call in sick for three weeks” would be anathema to Japanese work culture.
  • Opponents to Nashville SC‘s stadium plans are seeking a court injunction to block construction of a new expo center to replace the one that would be torn down to make way for the soccer stadium on the grounds that it would interfere with parking for a flea market, which is a first in my book.
  • Louisville is officially not bidding for an MLS franchise (yet), which unofficially makes it the only city in the whole U.S. of A. that isn’t. How is MLS ever going to meet its dream of a franchise for every individual person in North America if these keeps up?

That’s all for this week — go vote! And try to fight your way past the journalism extinction event to educate yourself about all those downballot races and initiatives and such, since as we cover here every week, they can have huge consequences.

Pittsburgh and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sports team impact study

Check it out, the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates, seeking $800,000 a year in county money for a slush fund for improvements to their venues, have teamed up to pay for a study showing how much the teams contribute to the city’s economy, and their hired hands have determined: a hell of a lot! $6 billion over five years’ worth of a lot! Do we dare try to analyze their methodology without actually seeing the report itself, because the teams haven’t released that? I’m game if you are! Let’s begin with this from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article on the report:

They commissioned accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce an economic impact study that measures their value on several fronts, including direct and indirect spending, tax revenue and jobs.

That’s not a good sign: PwC is an accounting firm, not an economic analysis firm, so it’s unlikely they tried to account for the substitution effect whereby if Pittsburgh residents didn’t have pro sports to spend their money on, they wouldn’t just stuff it under their mattresses instead. A serious economic impact study would look at, say, spending during years when there’s a labor stoppage vs. spending during years when all the teams are playing, but we can probably safely assume that didn’t happen here.

[Penguins CEO David] Morehouse said the teams brought nearly 4 million people, counting concerts, to the city in 2017 to eat at restaurants, to stay at hotels, and to partake in other activities.

“Counting concerts”? How are the teams credited with people in Pittsburgh going to concerts? (People even go to concerts in cities with no major-league sports teams! It’s a true fact!) And the total attendance of the three teams in 2017 was only about 3.2 million, so clearly a lot of these people “brought to the city” were already in the city, which makes bringing them there not such an impressive accomplishment.

“You can’t just talk about Pittsburgh’s revitalization and then say these greedy sports bastards over here. I mean, if you’re going to tell the positive story about what’s happening in Pittsburgh, we’re part of it and we shouldn’t be the ones having to say it,” [Morehouse] said.

“But if we’re going to have to say it, we’re going to say it with the largest numbers we can possibly justify! Wait, did I say that last part out loud?”

Frank Coonelly, the Pirates president, doubts Pittsburgh would be one of 20 finalists for Amazon’s second headquarters if it did not have pro sports teams. Only one finalist for the online retailer’s new location — Austin — is without at least one pro sports team in its region.

This is not actually true: Montgomery County, Maryland, isn’t home to any pro sports teams either, nor is northern Virginia, though I suppose one could squint and give them credit for the teams nearby in D.C. But mostly, this is selection bias: Amazon is looking for a major urban area to put its new headquarters in, and there simply aren’t that many major urban areas without major sports teams: There’s Greenville and Grand Rapids, I suppose, but somehow I don’t think they would have made the cut even if they had acquired teams. (Oklahoma City and Buffalo, which are similar sized, didn’t.)

The GumGum analysis found the three teams generate 513.3 million in “combined impressions” a year, whether through TV broadcasts, social media, or print publications.

To get that kind of “postcard” exposure — whether it’s shots of the city skyline, the bridges, or other local landmarks — through paid advertising would cost nearly $41.5 million.

So basically the teams want to be credited for every time they got the name “Pittsburgh” mentioned in the national media, regardless of whether it was in a positive or negative light. I could note that there are other things that got Pittsburgh mentioned nationally lately that you really don’t want to start crediting for ad impressions, but I probably shouldn’t go there.

When the Penguins were fighting for a new arena a dozen years ago, a move to Kansas City made more sense — the deal was better and the city had a larger population, Mr. Morehouse said.

But, but, your own owner said it was a bluff! Get on the same page here, guys!

Friday roundup: Terrible concerts, new Yankees garage costs, and why Phoenix’s ex-mayor is glad he didn’t build a Cardinals stadium

Welcome to the first-ever weekly stadium news roundup to kick off with a review of a terrible Ed Sheeran concert:

  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ $1 billion stadium still sounds like crap for concerts, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune in its review of an Ed Sheeran show last Saturday: “Anytime Sheeran slapped out a beatnik-funky drum beat on his guitar and put it on repeat, such as ‘New Man’ or the pre-encore finale ‘Sing,’ it sounded hopelessly mucky and un-funky, sort of like a kitchen-sink garbage disposal trying to clear out gallons of half-dried concrete.” Time for Zygi Wilf to demand a new one yet? Only 28 years to go on their lease!
  • Speaking of concerts, CBC News has a chart of top touring acts that have skipped Saskatoon while playing in other cities in recent years — ostensibly because Saskatoon’s arena is too old (30 years! even older than Ed Sheeran!) and too far out of the center of town and has too antiquated a rigging system — but mostly it’s a reminder of how many arena acts are on their last legs: Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand and Black Sabbath all played other Canadian cities but not Saskatoon? How will the city ever prepare for the future! (Also, Saskatoon’s bigger problem might just be that it’s Canada’s 19th-largest city — I bet Paul and Barbra didn’t play Lubbock, Texas, either, which is about the same population.)
  • The Miami Dolphins stadium’s revenues were up 39.7% last year, and expenses were only up 31%, so guess owner Stephen Ross’s $350 million renovation is paying off (though a large chunk of that was actually paid for by Miami-Dade County and by the NFL). It makes it all the more puzzling why the county handed over additional subsidies last summer that could be worth as much as $57.5 million, but actually, since the stadium renovations were already done and paid for by then, it would be puzzling even if Ross were losing money on the thing. Florida, man.
  • Here’s a fun Guardian article on what makes a good soccer stadium. Not sure there’s one takeaway other than “Design them to be good places to watch the match with seats close to the action, and try to make them fit into their immediate surroundings,” but that’s more than most U.S. stadium designers do, anyway.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores still want an MLS expansion team in Detroit, and while they’ve determined that removing the Lions stadium’s fixed roof and building a retractable one like MLS asked would be prohibitively expensive, they have offered to spend $95 million on a training field and other soccer fields throughout the city, though Crain’s Detroit notes that it’s “unclear” if that spending “would use any public funding.” If it would, this will be an interesting test in how badly MLS wants its teams to play in soccer-friendly outdoor stadiums, and how much it just wants new owners who’ve shown they can extract cash from their local municipalities.
  • Hey, check it out, it’s an NPR report on how Worcester, Massachusetts has been undergoing a boom in development and influx of new residents thanks to its cheap rents compared to nearby Boston, to the point where some locals are worried that they’ll be priced out. Is it too late for Worcester to take back that $100 million it’s spending on a Red Sox Triple-A stadium that was supposed to be needed to put the city on the map?
  • Who says that new stadiums don’t transform the areas around them? Why, the SkinnyFats restaurant near the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium just added a new craft beer tap room! That’s gotta be worth $750 million.
  • The deal for the new New York Yankees stadium included new parking lots that were mostly to be paid for by a nonprofit shell corporation that was to own them and collect parking revenues, but now that it turns out nobody wants to pay $45 to park for Yankees games when there are plenty of cheaper parking options plus multiple subway and commuter rail lines nearby, the company is $100 million in default on rent and taxes to the city, with no real hopes of ever paying it back. I should probably add this to the “city costs” section of my Yankee Stadium subsidy spreadsheet, but I don’t have time this morning, so just mentally note that city taxpayers have now put up almost $800 million toward a stadium that was sold as involving “no public subsidies,” with state and federal subsidies putting the total taxpayer bill at nearly $1.3 billion.
  • Former Phoenix mayor Skip Rimsza says one of his proudest accomplishments is not building a downtown stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, since instead the city got to use the land to build a biomedical campus that provides way more jobs and economic activity than a football stadium. Opportunity cost in action! I’d love to write an article on all the things that cities didn’t get to build because they focused on erecting new sports facilities, but sadly my Einstein-Rosen Bridge portal is on the fritz.

MLB commissioner admits Rays “have some work to do” to pay for new stadium

Have I mentioned lately how much I love MLB commissioner Rob Manfred? While he, like his predecessors, understands that the reason he’s being paid the big bucks is to serve as the lackey to MLB owners’ desires for more filthy lucre, he somehow lacks either the rhetorical savvy or the cutthroat mentality to pull off any kinds of threats, so he ends up mumbling ineffectually about “viable alternativesagain and again while everyone else stands around wondering, Is he threatening something? What happens if we don’t meet his demands? Is that a B?

All of which leads us up to yesterday’s latest Manfredism, regarding the Tampa Bay Rays‘ stadium push:

“I think we have some work to do in terms of getting a financing plan together that will get that stadium built. But I remain confident if anybody can get it done in Tampa Bay, it’s Stu [Sternberg]. Nobody is working harder at it.”

“Some work to do” — gee, ya think? Just because there’s at minimum a $300 million funding gap, and right now the plans to fill it mostly involve leaning on local business leaders to throw more money in the Rays’ tip jar?

The Tampa Bay Times goes on to report that Sternberg has until the end of the year to inform St. Petersburg whether he will be opting out of his Tropicana Field lease early. That’s not entirely true — he can always try to negotiate an extension to his opt-out period, though it might take paying St. Pete some more money in exchange — but clearly it would be optimal for the Rays to have a new stadium deal in place by then.

That is almost certainly not going to happen, though, which is why we have Manfred expressing generic “confidence” without actually saying anything at all, as he does best. It looks like it’s going to come down to Sternberg (or, more likely, his friends at the Tampa Bay Times) to start making some threats as the end of the year approaches, though who he’d even threaten isn’t clear right now, since Hillsborough County is tapped out for available tax money and local business leaders are unlikely to come up with $300 million even if he does threaten to move the team to Montreal.

Honestly, staying put at the Trop and developing the land around it is looking better and better as a pure business move, though Sternberg would have to eat some serious crow to do so. Maybe he can get Manfred to do it for him; that seems like a task the commissioner could probably handle.

Friday roundup: Nobody wants the Olympics, nobody wants the Marlins home run sculpture, nobody wants the Chargers (but L.A. is stuck with them through 2040)

So what else happened this week? Glad you asked:

  • Stockholm’s new city government said it won’t provide any public funding for a possible 2026 Winter Olympics. That would leave only Milan and Calgary as bidders, and the former hasn’t committed to public spending either, while the latter is set to hold a public referendum next month on hosting in the midst of complaints that no one knows how much it would cost. It’s still a longshot, but there’s a real chance here we could see our long-awaited “What if they held an Olympic bidding war and nobody showed up?” moment, or at least that the IOC will have to consider bids that don’t include its usual requirement that local government promise to backstop any losses.
  • “Several dozen” Long Island residents marched in protest last week against the New York Islanders‘ proposed arena near Belmont Park, saying it would create too much traffic and construction noise. Those aren’t the best reasons to be concerned about it in my book — I’d be more upset about the crazy discount on land New York state is giving the team, if I were a New York taxpayer, which I am — but maybe the protestors are worried about that too but it didn’t fit easily on a sign.
  • The owners of the Miami Marlins (i.e., Derek Jeter and the money men behind him) are going to have to pay $2.5 million to Miami-Dade County for moving Red Grooms’ home run sculpture outside their stadium, since relocating it means that Grooms will disavow the work and make it worthless. They should’ve just traded it to Milwaukee for some lousy prospects.
  • Oklahoma City is looking for capital projects to spend the next iteration of its sales-tax hike on, and Mayor David Holt says if a maybe-MLS-caliber soccer stadium isn’t included, “the Energy won’t be here forever.” The Energy, if that name draws a blank for you, is the city’s beloved USL franchise that’s been there since … 2014? It’s only a matter of time before teams start threatening to move before they even exist, isn’t it?
  • Bwahahahaha, the Los Angeles Chargers are reportedly locked into their lease at a new Inglewood stadium through 2040, so there’s no way they’re moving back to San Diego or elsewhere no matter how terrible their ticket sales are. Dean Spanos is so screwed! Uh, until he sells the team for a multibillion-dollar profit, but he’ll be crying the whole way to the bank, I promise you!

Angels opt out of stadium lease, prepare to threaten to make themselves homeless in 2020

Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has opted out of his stadium lease, meaning the team is free to leave Anaheim after the 2019 season. This is very interesting, though probably not in the way that you might at first assume.

First off, the Angels are almost certainly not going to leave Anaheim after next season, if for no other reason that there’s nowhere to go. None of the other MLB-less options (Montreal, Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, etc.) are appealing demographically compared to Orange County; and it would take way more than a year and a half to get even a temporary stadium ready elsewhere in Southern California. (Talks about a new stadium in nearby Tustin collapsed in 2014 after Tustin officials realized how crazy much it would cost.) The only reason Moreno pulled the trigger now, team officials made clear, was that this was the only window the team had for opting out and renegotiating its lease, since the team’s lease said it was either yesterday or wait till 2028.

Just last year, though, Moreno had said that he wouldn’t trigger the opt-out now. So what changed?

“We’ll sit down with the new mayor and city council,” [Angels spokesperson Marie Garvey] said. “We also are going to look at all our options.”

Ah yes, the new mayor. Tom Tait, who has been the main obstacle to giving Moreno a whole mess of land that he can develop and use the proceeds to renovate his current stadium, is term-limited out after this year. So presumably the Angels owner smelled a better negotiating environment around the corner with a new mayor (and three new councilmembers) and figured he’d roll the dice.

That new mayor and council, though, would be well-advised to consider that Moreno isn’t in all that great a negotiating position himself. In opting out, he’s left himself without a guaranteed place to play in 2020, which means Anaheim elected officials would be fully within their rights to say, “How about you pay us more, and sign a lease extension to boot? If you don’t like it, I’m sure there are some lovely high school ballfields you can play on the season after next.”

That almost certainly won’t happen, if only because the “Anaheim council tells Angels to move out” headlines would look terrible. (Though maybe less terrible if the Angels finish in fourth place again.) But it is important to remember that lease leverage works both ways, and as we’re seeing with the Oakland Raiders mess, it’s not always easy for a team owner to follow through on threats to take his ball and go home. Garvey said yesterday that “we do have options” for a new home, but wouldn’t elaborate, which is a pretty transparent bluff after the Tustin debacle.

Anyway, the council has no one to blame for this opt-out but themselves, since they (or their predecessors, I guess) gifted Moreno with this option back in 2013 in exchange for absolutely nothing. One hopes at least they won’t double down on the stupid by negotiating themselves into a corner the minute the team owner points a gun at his own head and says, “Give me a new stadium or I’ll shoot!” It’s going to be a very interesting day after election day in Anaheim.

Diamondbacks switch to fake turf so they can crank their a/c, Rangers may follow suit

Also on Friday, the Arizona Diamondbacks owners, who have been shopping around to get a new stadium to replace 20-year-old Chase Field since negotiating an out clause to their lease back in May, have announced that they’ll be switching their current stadium to artificial turf next year, as they apparently just discovered after two decades that grass needs sunlight and water:

The decision to swap live grass to turf, of course, came after failed attempts at finding grass that grew well in the desert. The team would keep the Chase Field roof open during the day, allowing the sun in, but even closing it in the late afternoon before night first pitches made for a hot game-viewing experience with the air conditioning cranked up.

Arizona tried a new strain of grass this past season, and while it looked better than in years’ past — when the outfield would develop brown, dry spots where outfielders stood — it still played hard.

“It looked good and when you talk players, when you talk to our facility staff, it still didn’t play well and still wasn’t very healthy out there,” [Diamondbacks CEO Derrick] Hall said…

The move to synthetic turf will save the team money on its water bill and electric bill.

The team expects a 90 percent savings, or two million gallons, in water consumption.

The irony here, of course, is that the Diamondbacks demanded a pricey retractable roof when it got its stadium built back in the ’90s in large part so it could open it to the elements to allow natural grass to grow. (The Houston Astrodome famously had to turn to newly invented artificial turf — dubbed Astroturf as a result — after its initial plan to grow grass under a roof with glass windows turned out to be a disaster.) Of course, they didn’t know then how much fans would demand that the roof be closed as much as possible to let the air-conditioning kick in, or for that matter how crazy hot it would get in Phoenix now that we’ve broken the earth’s climate. But still, irony.

Notably, the Texas Rangers owners still haven’t announced whether their new retractable-roofed stadium will feature grass or artificial turf, and team officials there may keep a close eye on how the D-Backs’ new turf plays next spring before making a decision. Given that the whole point of the Rangers’ new stadium is to have air-conditioning, though, and that Texas occupies the same Anthropocene climate as Arizona, you have to think they’ll be leaning hard toward plastic grass. Which makes you wonder why anybody bothers with moving roofs anymore anyway — they’re crazy expensive and hardly ever opened to the elements in warm-weather cities — but I guess it’s hard for even sports team owners to pass up stuff that looks so cool from passing airplanes.