Friday roundup: New sports venues, new sports venue threats, and our dwindling journalistic resources

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko is a national treasure whether he’s writing about sports or movies or punctuation, and his takedown this week of a Fivethirtyeight article that asserts there are too many minor-league baseball teams is very much no exception. Drop whatever you’re doing — which is reading this post, so okay, drop whatever you were going to do after that — and read it now, whether you care about the purpose of sports as entertainment or the role of the media in management-labor relations or the increasing propensity to reduce human beings to measures of technocratic efficiency. With the demise of the alt-weeklies, there are fewer and fewer outlets eager to combine tenacious reporting and big-picture analysis and engaging writing toward the end of helping us understand the world we live in beyond “here are some potentially viral things that happened today,” so we need to cherish those that remain while we can.

And with that, here are some potentially viral (in the not especially infectious sense) things that happened this week:

Diamondbacks courted Henderson, Nevada for a $1B stadium (then stopped, but still)


Last year, Henderson [Nevada] officials quietly began a push to lure the Arizona Diamondbacks from the team’s Phoenix home to their city, records obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal show.


According to the presentation, Henderson hired a consultant to conduct a financial analysis, assuming the ballpark would have 32,000 seats and space for 4,000 standing-room-only ticket holders. The Diamondbacks would serve as the primary tenant for a 30-year term and the stadium would be publicly owned and exempt from property tax.

The consultant estimated the ballpark would cost about $1 billion to construct.


On Jan. 4, [Derrick] Hall, the team’s CEO, sent Derrick an email with the subject line, “Have not forgotten you!”

“Hopefully there is still strong interest there as we go through the MLB motions,” he wrote.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Given the relative sizes of their media markets, the Arizona Diamondbacks owners are extremely unlikely to leave Phoenix for the Las Vegas area anytime soon. (The last contact between the two parties was apparently in February.) But that doesn’t mean they won’t play footsie with Nevada as a way of scaring Phoenix into coughing up that new stadium that they badly want it to, just as it won’t stop Henderson — a small city near Las Vegas that is best known for paying to build a Vegas Golden Knights practice facility and previously suing a developer who promised to build an NFL stadium there but didn’t — from getting free media impressions by exchanging a few emails with an MLB team exec.

Still, it’s another sign that there are still plenty of cities out there eager to fill the threat gap that MLB has had ever since putting a team in Washington, D.C., and that MLB teams are happy to have them do so. The D-Backs’ stadium demands have been in a bit of a holding pattern of late, but I’ve got a feeling they’re likely to heat up real soon now.

Friday roundup: Rangers fans don’t like nice weather after all, Orlando re-renovating renovated stadium, Dan Snyder has a $180m yacht

Today is site migration day — cue the jokes about how Field of Schemes should be hosted half the time in Montreal and half the time in Tampa Bay — so if things look a bit weird after 2 pm Eastern or so, that’s to be expected. Rest assured that the site will be back to normal soon, hopefully later today but certainly entirely by Monday; or actually better than normal, because the whole point of this exercise is to have a zippier, more reliable platform so that you can get your immediate fix of stadium news without having to refresh or even wait multiple milliseconds for images to load.

And speaking of your immediate stadium fix, here’s the rest of this week’s news:

  • The Texas Rangers are building (read: mostly having the citizens of Arlington build for them) a new stadium just so they can have air-conditioning so that fans will go to games, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out that the team has been winning and the weather has been nice this spring, and fans still aren’t showing up.
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber said that he “could see [Las Vegas] being on our list for future teams,” which is literally the most noncommittal thing he could say, but he still gets headlines for it, so he’s gonna keep saying it.
  • Here’s an article about how building a whole real estate development that will turn a big profit will help the Golden State Warriors make more money, if anyone wasn’t clear on that concept already.
  • The Orlando city council approved the $60 million in renovation money for Camping World Stadium (née the Citrus Bowl) that they said they would last fall. Since the stadium doesn’t even have a regular sports tenant — it is only used for the occasional soccer friendly, college football game, or concert — it’s hard to call this a subsidy to anyone in particular, but it’s still probably a pretty dumb use of money, especially since the stadium was just renovated once already in 2014.
  • There is no actual news in this Page Six item, but if you thought I was going to pass up a chance to link to an article that begins, “Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder roared up to Cannes Lions in his $180 million yacht as ad sources speculated he’s in town to find a title sponsor for the team’s new stadium,” you’re crazy.
  • Construction on the Las Vegas Raiders stadium was momentarily halted last week when it turned out one of the parts didn’t fit, which probably isn’t a big deal in the long run — in fact, the ill-fitting steel truss was adjusted and reinstalled a few days later — but that doesn’t mean we can’t make Ikea jokes.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks owners have hired architecture firm HKS, who designed the Texas Rangers’ new park, to design a new stadium for them if they choose to build one, and you know what that’s going to mean: lots of renderings with Mitch Moreland and his wife in them.

Diamondbacks execs still can’t decide what kind of stadium to request for their 21st birthday

Exhibit A in evidence that the Arizona Diamondbacks owners are still trying to figure out exactly who they want to shake down for what in terms of stadiums:

“It’s been limited to this point just because we haven’t felt an urge or a need at this point. So, [I] see it maybe accelerating a bit in the near future, but we also have to focus on downtown, too, which we haven’t done enough of, to see if it’s a viable option to stay. There’s still a lot of work to do there. What it would look like if we were to retro or refurbish [Chase Field] and if there’s any sort of development opportunities around it. But I think the day of standalone stadiums is not nearly as popular a move or model as what we see now with mixed use and with multiple acres. We just have to see what’s out there – you know, land availability, proximity, partnership opportunities, what the abilities are downtown. There’s a lot for us to do.” —Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall last week

And Exhibit B:

“Once the agreement was reached — how the Diamondbacks decided what needed to be done … I just wouldn’t know the facts,” [MLB commissioner Rob] Manfred said during a spring training media event last week. “I have every confidence that Chase Field will be in condition to be a major league facility this year.”

The commissioner said he would leave it up to the Diamondbacks to comment on whether the team has begun talks for a new stadium site.

“It really is a local matter,” he said.

“It’s a local matter” is what commissioners say when nobody is asking them to use their muscle to extract stadium concessions — or when the league as a whole is cutting loose an unfavored owner to drift in the wind, but given that Manfred already used his bully pulpit on this subject two years ago when he said the team’s current stadium wouldn’t remain “major league-quality” without significant upgrades, that’s clearly not the case here.

What seems to be going on is that now that Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has successfully used the threat of a lawsuit over stadium maintenance to get out of his lease five years early, he’s now taking his time figuring out what his next move should be. The key phrase in Hall’s statement then becomes “We just have to see what’s out there” — there are a bunch of municipalities in the Phoenix area that team execs could try to play off against each other, as well as deciding whether to try to leverage the lease expiration to get a whole new stadium or maybe a renovated one with new development rights or whatever. Being a kid in a candy store is fun, but if you can only choose one multi-hundred-million-dollar jumbo box, you’re going to want to think carefully about your decision.

Reminder: All this is about replacing or upgrading a stadium that just turned 20 years old last year. Please, everybody, stop asking me if the stadium shakedown business is fated to slow down soon now that “everyone already has a new stadium.” Rod Fort’s old observation remains astute: There’s no reason for a sports team owner not to want a new stadium every year, so long as he’s not the one paying for it.

Friday roundup: Neo-Expos seek public land for stadium, Hawaii mulls new stadium to host nothing, D-Backs spend bupkis fixing supposedly crumbling stadium

So very, very much news:

  • Would-be Montreal Expos reviver Stephen Bronfman has reportedly settled on federally owned land in Peel Basin near downtown as a prospective stadium site once a franchise is obtained, through expansion or relocation. Mayor Valérie Plante called the idea “interesting”; other than that, there’s been no word of what Bronfman would pay for the land or how the stadium would be paid for or really anything involving money, so sure, “interesting” is a fine evaluation of this news.
  • Charles Allen, the D.C. councilmember whose district includes RFK Stadium, calls the site “a very wrong choice for an NFL stadium,” and instead would like to see housing and parks there. Mayor Muriel Bowser disagrees, so this is going to come down to a good old council fight. Too bad Marion Barry isn’t around anymore to make things interesting.
  • Hawaii is considering spending $350 million in public money on a new football stadium to replace Aloha Stadium because, according to state senator Glenn Wakai, “It’s kind of like driving a Datsun pickup truck that is just being run into the ground. At a certain point, time to get a new pickup truck.” Given that Aloha Stadium currently hosts nothing much at all other than University of Hawaii football, it’s more like spending $350 million to replace your pickup truck that just sits in the driveway with a new pickup truck, but far be it from me to interfere with Sen. Wakai’s attempts to bash Datsun for some reason.
  • Halifax is still considering whether to spend $120-140 million on a stadium for an expansion CFL team, maybe via the magic of tax increment financing; University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe points out that a TIF isn’t magic but just “makes the subsidy less transparent, less obvious that it indeed even is a subsidy” — but then, pulling the wool over the public’s eyes is a kind of magic, no?
  • The Oakland Raiders have a “very real” chance of playing 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum, according to … this Bleacher Report headline, but nothing in the actual story? What the hell, Bleacher Report?
  • Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has claimed that the team’s stadium would need $8 million in upgrades over the winter, but has only spent $150,000. Which isn’t totally a gotcha — team execs say they’re conserving the stadium maintenance fund to spend on future repairs — but it does poke a bit of a hole in their argument that the stadium is in such bad shape that MLB could order the Diamondbacks to leave Arizona.
  • Austin residents will get to vote in November on whether the city can give public land to a pro sports team owner without a public vote, but it’ll probably be too late to affect the deal to do that for Austin F.C. owner Anthony Precourt. It’ll come in handy next time Austin is in the market for a pro sports team, I guess, though then the owner will probably just figure out a different way to ask for subsidies. “Better late than never” doesn’t work that well when it comes to democracy.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s “not sure that there’s much space for public consultation” on a redevelopment project to include a Flames arena, though he added that “it would be very interesting to hear from the public on what they think the right amount of public participation in this should be, and certainly there will be an opportunity for the public to have their voices heard but it might not happen until there’s something on the table.” It’s hard to tell whether that’s a justification or an apology — and keep in mind that Nenshi was deliberately shut out of the committee negotiating any deal — but there you are.
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber just got a five-year extension, and — quelle coincidence! — the league is now talking about expanding to 32 teams by 2026. Whether this is really a Ponzi-esque attempt to paper over weak financials with a constant influx of expansion fees won’t be entirely clear until the expansion finally stops and we see how the money looks then, but one thing is increasingly clear: It’s kind of crazy to throw stadium money around in hopes of landing an MLS franchise when it’s increasingly clear every reasonably large city in the U.S. is going to get one sooner or later.
  • And finally, Amazon pulled out of its $3 billion tax break deal with New York yesterday, and it sounds like it’s because its execs were tired of taking a PR beating around the company’s anti-union stance and contracting for ICE. Some New Yorkers are celebrating victory, others are retreating into the Casino Night Fallacy, and as always, The Onion has the final word.

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.



Diamondbacks made a stadium-related proposal to Phoenix, city officials won’t say what it was

This is a very weird story: The Arizona Republic reports that in June, Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall sent an email to Phoenix city manager Ed Zuercher, offering to discuss an “opportunity” for a partnership involving a stadium. And that’s all the Arizona Republic reports, as Zuercher won’t reveal what the proposal was, citing a nondisclosure agreement that Hall demanded he sign before being allowed to view the partnership proposal.

Cities refusing to release otherwise public documents because they’re involved in ongoing negotiations over them is common, but from the sound of things, these talks went nowhere, so it’s not an open issue. Normally this would make the documents in question fair game for journalists and the public via the Arizona Public Records Law — but a city spokesperson said the NDA required the document to only be “loaned” to the city to examine, then be returned to the team owners, making it not a public document.

This is, plainly, worrying as hell: If business owners of any kind can hold talks with public officials under a shroud of an NDA without it being subject to freedom of information laws, it will be a major loophole in requirements that records of governmental operations be made available to the public. This particular proposal could have been nothing important, or it could have been something that will affect the future of the Diamondbacks and public money in significant ways — the whole point is we don’t know, and have no way of knowing, thanks to this legal dodge. It’s the paperwork equivalent of hiding in hallways to evade open meetings laws, and I sincerely hope somebody challenges it.

Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

Friday roundup: Nevada gov candidate threatens Raiders’ roads, Phoenix sued over Suns arena plans, Rays stadium could seek Trump tax break

And the rest of the week’s news:

Maricopa County to let D-Backs break lease early in exchange for dropping lawsuit, here comes the next stadium shakedown

My first thought yesterday when I saw the news about an agreement between Maricopa County and the Arizona Diamondbacks and read it the way people do nowadays — look at the headline and first paragraph, then let your eyes lightly graze the rest — was “Let the Diamondbacks break their lease early just in exchange for dropping a lawsuit that the team owners were almost certain to lose? What a bunch of saps!”

Actually reading the details, though, it appears to be … “a good deal” would be overstating it massively, but certainly a reasonable decision by the county under the circumstances, albeit one that opens the door for some immediate stadium subsidy shakedown shenanigans.

The story so far: Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick sued the county a little over a year ago, claiming it owed him $187 million in repairs and upgrades to Chase Field. The county responded by pointing out that most of that money — which was projected costs contained in a 2013 report — was for things that the team’s lease specifically said were the team’s responsibility. Eventually a judge ordered the two sides to go to arbitration, which is where things stood until yesterday’s agreement.

Under that deal, which still needs to be approved by the full county board, Kendrick will drop his lawsuit and his $187 million upgrade demand, though he could still eventually get $20 million in county money as reimbursement for some repairs. In exchange, the team owner will get to start looking for a new home effective immediately, and will be able to leave Chase Field without penalty starting in 2022 if it’s for another stadium within the county — and leave the county altogether with just minor penalties of $5 million to $25 million.

That sounds terrible — except that the Diamondbacks’ lease was up in 2027 anyway, at which point the team could have left without penalty. So really this is just giving up five years of the team being guaranteed to stay put in exchange for the small but real risk that an arbitrator would require the county to cough up a bunch of renovation money, which at the going rate for lease extensions isn’t a terrible tradeoff.

The problem now, of course, is that Kendrick is certain to start shopping around for a new home — or, rather, shopping around for somebody else to pay him to build a new home, since he wasn’t even willing to pay to fix the “old” one that’s just 20 years old — and the Phoenix area is potentially a great place to do so, since it’s full of independent cities (and Native American reservations) that can be played off against each other. Sure, that’s going staggeringly poorly for the Arizona Coyotes, but then nobody really cares about the Coyotes — nobody visible to the naked eye, at least — whereas the Diamondbacks are fairly popular.

And then there’s the possibility that Kendrick could threaten to move the team out of Arizona entirely — something that would be incredibly stupid to actually follow through with, since it’s by far the largest TV market still available, but not necessarily stupid to threaten in order to scare some cash out of local legislators. After all, the team’s lawyers already threaten to do so once — or rather, threatened to have the league threaten to order them to — and one particular clause they insisted on putting in the new deal sure makes it sound like they’re considering that leverage option again:

An even broader “out” clause is included, which county leaders said they agreed to reluctantly.

“In the event the MLB requires the Team to leave Arizona because of the condition of the stadium, the Team may do so without penalty or other payments if all parties have acted in good faith,” the agreement reads.

Maricopa County Board Chairman Steve Chucri, R-Paradise Valley, said he does not believe the league would move the team. He said the county would sue if it did.

“It’s a risk. But it’s incredibly unlikely,” he said. “There are far worse stadiums” that the MLB hasn’t required teams to leave, he said, so yanking the Diamondbacks would be bad faith.

On the one hand: Oh, man, you seriously want to go into court to try to argue that something MLB is doing is in worse faith than typical MLB practice? Good luck with that. On the other: Enh, the most it will cost the county is $25 million in lost penalties anyway.

This is likely to be a long, ugly battle, and will be a significant test of whether stadium subsidy demands are really starting to fall on deaf ears, or just resting after a prolonged squawk. Check back here in about five years, and we should have the answer.