Moving All-Star Game to fight Georgia voting law would mean putting people’s rights ahead of MLB’s profits

The Georgia state legislature yesterday passed SB 202, the voting law that is probably best known as “You can now be arrested in the state of Georgia for giving food or water to people waiting on line to vote.” The law contains a ton of other provisions as well, though, like requiring an ID (rather than just a signature) when voting absentee, limiting the number of drop boxes for placing ballots in, and banning the use of mobile voting sites, among other things. It’s all a pretty transparent move by the Republican-led legislature to make it harder for people to vote who might vote against them, which mostly means African Americans who are more likely thanks to geography or income to be hampered by the new restrictions: The no-food-or-water rule, for example, was apparently inspired by a single white woman with a gun who was outraged that get-out-the-vote groups had been giving free pizza to people who were waiting on line to cast their ballots.

The new law is so restrictive, in fact, and so reminiscent of blatant Jim Crow–era attempts to disenfranchise Black people, that it’s drawn the attention of some in the sports world, who have suggested a boycott of the state along the lines of the actions taken after North Carolina passed its anti-transgender “bathroom law” in 2016 — actions that resulted in that law’s partial repeal one year later, and its eventual complete expiration at the end of 2020. MLB players association president Tony Clark said last week that baseball players were “very much aware” of the Georgia bill and that if there were a chance to discuss moving this summer’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta, he would “look forward to having that conversation.” And yesterday, an even more prominent president chimed in on behalf of that idea:

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would strongly support Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta after Georgia enacted new voting restrictions that disproportionately target Black residents.

“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden said in an interview with EPSN SportsCenter host Sage Steele. “People look to them. They’re leaders.”

Obviously, Biden and other Democrats have a selfish reason to be promoting voting rights in this case: The people being disenfranchised are more likely to vote Democratic, which is the whole point of Republican legislators passing the law in the first place. (I mean, many of them probably also passed it because they just don’t like the idea of Black people deciding who runs their state, but then we’re getting into serious chicken-and-egg territory about the reasons why someone in Georgia would choose to become a Republican legislator.) But something can be in your self-interest and also the right thing to do, and … sorry, what were we talking about? Right, the All-Star Game!

It’s important to remember that MLB did not decide to hold its 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta because they felt the city deserved it or were under the delusion that Georgia would be a pleasant place to spend time in July. They did it because — here, let’s explain by way of a list of the last 10 All-Star Game hosts:

2011: Phoenix
2012: Kansas City
2013: New York City
2014: Minneapolis
2015: Cincinnati
2016: San Diego
2017: Miami
2018: Washington
2019: Cleveland
2021: Atlanta

The common theme here is that the stadiums involved were new — or, in the cases of Kansas City and Cleveland, newly renovated. MLB has long used the All-Star Game as a reward for cities that have coughed up money for new or renovated ballparks; the last time it held the game at a stadium that wasn’t at least freshly refurbished was Yankee Stadium in 2008, and that was meant as a sendoff in advance of the Yankees’ new extremely-publicly-funded stadium opening the following year; before that, you have to go back to Fenway Park in 1999 to find an All-Star Game that wasn’t handed out as a prize for Most Willing To Subsidize League Profits With Public Money.

Moving this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta would no doubt be a logistical pain, though it isn’t all that much shorter notice (four months vs. seven) than the NBA had when it moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina after passage of the anti-trans bill. As we were just discussing here last week, boycotts are strategies, not moral imperatives, and voting rights advocates in Georgia are still split on whether a North Carolina–style boycott is the best way to respond to SB 202. But if pressure builds to pull the game from Atlanta — say, maybe around Jackie Robinson Day, which is just two weeks from today — and MLB owners start to push back on it, that’ll likely less be about having to print up new merchandise or even the personal feelings of the almost uniformly white men who run the league, and more about interfering with sports owners’ underlying business plan of using carrots and sticks to maximize their profits.

Friday roundup: Georgia man holds no truck with numbers, new stadiums falling apart already, plus a guy who spent three years living in a Phillies concession stand

Happy Friday! Still recovering from the double whammy of my second shot on Sunday plus learning that birds aren’t real, so I’ll keep the intro short this week and get right to the news:

Sales-tax study shows Braves stadium is giant money pit for Cobb County, just like all other studies

Sports economist J.C. Bradbury does some excellent work that has been featured on this site a bunch of times, so I was bummed to see that I’d missed a new paper he released last week analyzing the impact of the new Atlanta Braves stadium on local sales tax receipts. Fortunately, Craig Calcaterra spotted it and wrote about it in his daily baseball newsletter on Tuesday … and then I missed that too. But! My old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry, now of CBS Sports, wrote about Bradbury’s study yesterday, and that I saw. And now I bring it to you, only slightly charred on one side from having sat so long in the oven.

Anyway, sales taxes in Cobb County: Did the Braves moving there from downtown Atlanta make them go up, or what?

The findings indicate a net increase in taxable sales in the county; however, the magnitude is small and not statistically significant. Though an influx of net new spending is evident, approximately one-third of the project’s sales derive from crowding out other local economic activity. In total, added tax collections fall well short of covering the public subsidies that fund the stadium.

Some translations from economese: The first sentence above means that Cobb County collected more sales tax after the stadium opened, but it was such a small bump that it could have been just random chance. The second means the amount that total spending went up in the county was just one-third the amount of money being spent in and around the Braves stadium; so people spending money at Braves games must have cannibalized other spending, “as local consumers reallocated spending from other Cobb merchants to the stadium development.” The third means — okay, you know what it means: The new tax money wasn’t nearly enough to pay off Cobb County’s $392 million in stadium costs.

Or, if you prefer your data in pictures, here’s a nifty chart from Bradbury’s paper:

The line for Cobb County tax revenue goes up after the stadium opened! However, so do the lines for sales tax revenue in other Atlanta-area counties. In fact, the line for the average Atlanta-area county went up even more than Cobb’s, implying that Cobb might have done even better if it hadn’t bothered with building a dumb old stadium.

None of this, as both Calcaterra and Perry note, should be any surprise: There are at this point tons of studies looking at the sales-tax impact of new stadiums and finding that it’s not much. (Plus, studies looking at other economic indicators and finding the same lack of impact: Bradbury himself looked at commercial real estate values in Cobb last year and found that it similarly did worse than neighboring counties without new ballparks.) But the Braves stadium was supposed to be the exception; not just because every stadium claims to be the exception, but because here a team and its fans were being lured away from a neighboring city to previously vacant land being used for a “ballpark village,” which was supposed to, if nothing else, siphon off a bunch of spending from Atlanta and bring it to Cobb. That that didn’t happen — or at least, only happened in small numbers that weren’t nearly enough to pay off the county’s massive stadium debt — should put an end to talk of sports venues as economic engines. It won’t, but it should.

Friday roundup: Jacksonville council holds screaming match about Jaguars subsidy, Braves to charge county for fixing anything that wouldn’t fall out of stadium if you turned it over, plus Texas cricket wars!

I admit, there are some Fridays where I wake up and realize I have to do a news roundup and it just feels like a chore after a long week, and, reader, this was one of those Fridays. But then I looked in my inbox and there was a new Ruthie Baron “This Week In Scams” post for the first time in months, and now I am re-energized for the day ahead! Also despondent about how the fossil fuel industry is trying to catfish us all into thinking global warming isn’t real, but that’s the complex mix of emotions I have come to rely on “This Week In Scams” for.

And speaking of complex mixes of emotions, let’s get to this week’s remaining sports stadium and arena news:

  • Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on complaints that Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s $200 million development subsidy deal is being rushed through the city council: “What does that mean, it’s rushed? What does that mean? We are following the process we follow as a city. The administration has put forth legislation that includes the development of Lot J. The City Council will take their time and do their work. And then they’ll ultimately have to press a green button or a red button — a yes or a no.” Now I really want to know if the Jacksonville city council actually votes by pushing a green or red button, and if so what they do if a city councilmember has red-green color blindness, and oh hey, what happened at yesterday’s council hearing? “Finger-pointing, name-calling and what some members say was a big embarrassment for government”? Excellent, keep up the good work.
  • The Atlanta Braves owners have tapped their first $800,000 from their $70 million stadium repair fund, half of which is to be paid for by Cobb County, to pay for … okay, this Marietta Daily Journal article doesn’t say much about what it will pay for, except that one item is a new fence, and there was dispute over whether a fence counted as a repair (which the fund can be used for) or an improvement (which the team is supposed to cover). It also notes: “Mike Plant, president & CEO of Braves Development Company, described capital maintenance costs in 2013 by using the example of taking a building and turning it upside down. The items that would fall out of the building represent general maintenance, which is the responsibility of the Braves, while the items that do not fall out, such as pipes, elevators and concrete, fall under capital maintenance.” This raises all kinds of questions: Would elevators really not fall out of a stadium if you turned it upside down? What if furniture, for example, fell off the floor but landed on an interior ceiling? Would you have to shake the stadium first to see what was loose and just stuck on something? So many questions.
  • The Grand Prairie city council has approved spending $1.5 million to turn the defunct Texas AirHogs baseball stadium into a pro cricket stadium, which the Dallas Morning News reports “could cement North Texas as a top U.S. market for professional cricket.” (If this sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of nearby Allen, Texas, which thought about building a cricket stadium a couple of years ago but then thought better of it.) I went to a pro cricket match in the U.S. once, years ago, and there were maybe 100 people in the stands, and later the league apparently folded when none of the players showed up for a game, but surely this will go much better than that.
  • Angel City F.C. has announced it will be playing games at Banc of California Stadium, which made me look up first what league Angel City F.C. is in (an expansion team in the National Women’s Soccer League) and then what stadium named itself after Banc of California (the Los Angeles F.C. stadium that opened in 2018, I’m pretty sure at no public expense but you never know for sure with these things, and which is not supposed to be called Banc of California Stadium anymore since Banc of California bailed on its naming-rights contract in June) and then why Banc of California insists on spelling “Banc” that way (unclear, but if it was an attempt to put a clean new rebranding on the bank after its creation in a 2013 merger, that maybe didn’t go so well). So now, burdened with this knowledge, I feel obligated to share it — if nothing else, I suppose, it’s a nice little microcosm of life in the early Anthropocene, which may be of interest to future scholars if the cockroaches and microalgae can figure out how to read blogs.
  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that even if the Richmond Flying Squirrels get eliminated in baseball’s current round of minor-league defenestration, “Major League Baseball’s risk is our gain” if the city builds a new stadium that … something about “a multiuse strategy”? The editorial seems to come down to “Okay, the team may get vaporized, but we still want a new stadium, so full speed ahead!”, which is refreshing honesty, at least, maybe?
  • When I noted yesterday that the USL hands out new soccer franchises like candy, I neglected to mention that a lot of that candy quickly melts on the dashboard and disappears, so thanks to Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier Journal for recounting all the USL franchises that have folded over the years.
  • Six East Coast Hockey League teams are choosing to sit out the current season, and that’s bad news for Reading, home of the Reading Royals, according to Reading Downtown Improvement District chief Chuck Broad, who tells WFMZ-TV, “There is lots of spin-off, economic development, from a hockey game for restaurants and other businesses.” Yeah, probably not, and especially not during a time when hardly anyone would be eating at restaurants anyway because they’re germ-filled death traps, but why not give the local development director a platform to insist otherwise, he seems like a nice guy, right?
  • In related news, the mayor of Henderson, Nevada, says the new Henderson Silver Knights arena she’s helping build with at least $30 million in tax money is “a gamechanger” for downtown Henderson because “it’s nice to have locations where events can happen in our community.” This after she wrote a column for the Las Vegas Sun saying how great it will be for locals to be able to “attend a variety of events that create the vibrancy for which our city is known” — a vibrancy that apparently Henderson was able to pull off despite not having any locations where events can happen, because that’s just the kind of place Henderson is.
  • In also related news, the vice president of sales and marketing at New Beginnings Window and Door says that the Hudson Valley Renegades becoming a New York Yankees farm team could be great for his business (which, again, is selling windows and doors) because “the eyeballs are going to be there” for advertising his windows and doors to people driving up from New York City who might want to pick up some windows and doors to take home with them, okay, I have no idea what he’s talking about, seriously, can’t anybody at any remaining extant newspapers ask a followup question?
  • And in all-too-related news, here’s an entire WTSP article about the new hotel Tampa will have ready for February’s Super Bowl that never even mentions the possibility that nobody will be able to stay in hotels for the Super Bowl because Covid is rampaging across the state. Journalism had a good run.

Everything sports leagues are getting wrong about letting fans into games, ranked

Another week, another pile of news about sports leagues grappling frantically with what to do about a world where, on the one hand, billions of dollars of revenue are at stake, and on the other, if you let people gather too close to each other for too long, lots of people could die. Let’s start with the NBA, which just completed its successful playoff bubble for the 2019-20 season and is currently trying to figure out how to play next season starting in maybe January:

  •  “Roughly 40 percent of the NBA’s annual $8 billion revenue is tied to arena-related spending on tickets, concessions, parking and merchandise,” notes the Washington Post. Since the NBA salary cap is tied to revenue, this means the league and players will either need to reach an agreement on adjusting that formula for the upcoming season, or seeing draconian cuts in how much each team is allowed to spend.
  • The just-completed playoff bubble worked well, but asking players to spend months more away from their families is likely a non-starter — especially, says the Post, “because the NFL and MLB are operating without bubbles.”
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has pointed to “rapid testing” as a necessary advancement before fans can be allowed back in arenas. “If it becomes possible to administer coronavirus tests and get instant results, such a process could be added to the check-in procedure at NBA arenas and facilitate fan attendance,” writes the Post. “‘There are a lot of pharmaceutical companies focused on that,’ Silver said. ‘There’s a huge marketplace for that.'”

Okay, a couple of things here. First off (no, I’m not really going to be ranking these, headline poetic license, sorry), it’s more than slightly worrisome that the MLB and NFL non-bubbles are being used as precedent for the NBA’s plans, since those two have each led to significant outbreaks on several teams. At least these have mostly so far been nipped in the bud by fast quarantines; so if the NBA doesn’t mind scheduling a bunch of makeup doubleheaders, it might work, depending on your definition of “work.”

As for rapid testing: Yes, it is a big problem that testing takes so long right now, as most people are really only able to find out whether they were sick several days ago, which isn’t nearly as helpful from a prevention-of-disease-spread standpoint as finding out if you’re sick right now. But if Adam Silver genuinely thinks you can just scan everybody at the turnstiles and turn away anyone who’s positive and thus create a safe bubble, he needs to read up on how this virus works — for starters, you can be infectious for 48 hours or more before you start testing positive, so while rapid testing could screen out some disease spreaders, it’s hardly a panacea.

The NBA still looks like a bastion of public health concern, though, compared to college football, where the approach is neatly summed up by Lauren Theisen’s Defector article “A Willingness To Risk A Superspreader Event Is Now A Competitive Advantage“:

  • Texas A&M not only admitted 24,709 fans for Saturday’s game against Florida — just under 25% of the 102,733 capacity at Kyle Field; the state of Texas actually allows 50% capacity, though no one’s tried it yet — but it packed fans pretty close together in sections near the field, for maximum intimidation factor, but also minimum social distancing.
  • In response, Florida head coach Dan Mullen now wants his stadium at full 90,000 capacity, “to give us that home-field advantage that Texas A&M had.” The state of Florida has no official limits on fan attendance currently, and Theisen warns that this “could become a dangerous arms race over the next several weeks of the season.”
  • In the largely unregulated world of the NCAA, this is likely to be decided unilaterally by individual schools, just as they’re now deciding whether to cancel games based less on whether they’ve had positive coronavirus tests than on whether they’ve been forced to admit they’ve had them.

And then there’s baseball, which let 10,000 fans (more or less — on TV it looked like less, anyway) into Arlington’s new stadium for last night’s first game of the NLCS between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, raking in their first ticket sales of the year. (Though not for outrageous prices by postseason standards, if StubHub is any guide, with some seats available for under $50.) The roof was open and usable seats were distanced, though they appeared not to be staggered by row — it was tough to tell given how the Fox broadcast avoided any crowd shots. And one 9th-inning homer was followed by an image of two bros hugging each other while unmasked, which may help explain why Fox mostly eschewed crowd shots.

How dangerous is all this? We simply don’t know yet. We do know that outdoors is safer than indoors, but also masked is safer than unmasked and distanced is safer than not distanced; whether piling 90,000 college football haphazardly masked college football fans on top of each other outdoors would spread more virus than distributing a few thousand masked-and-rapid-tested NBA fans around an indoor arena is something that we can only know for sure after someone tries it and sees whether it leads to bodies piling up in hospital corridors. There is some promise in reports that universal masking can result in infections that are less deadly, thanks to reduced viral load — basically, less virus at one time may give the immune system a fighting chance. But even then those less-sick people could still go home and spread virus all over a relative who then gets really sick, so it’s still more silver lining than actual solution.

In a sane or at least less profit-driven world, we’d all be waiting for the results of studies like the one in Germany where they simulated virus spread at an actual indoor concert with masked and distanced fans. But that’ll take a while to get the results from, and college football has to be played now, dammit. Instead, we’re likely to get a patchwork of policies, which could be a disaster or could be totally fine, and we won’t know which until after the fact. Just keep in mind that even if it does turn out totally fine, that doesn’t mean it was a good gamble — just because the surgery worked doesn’t mean it was worth the risk. That’s probably an especially hard lesson for sports fans to learn, since sports analysis is so prone to “pinch-hitting with your worst hitter was a genius move, because he ended up hitting a home run!” reactions, but it’s an important one if you want to successfully win games or ward off a virus, more than once in a blue moon.

Friday roundup: I, for one, support our new dancing robot overlords

Happy Friday, everybody! Let’s see what’s going on:

While I’m sorely tempted to stop right there, we do have some other news this week to cover, so let’s continue:

  • Oak View Group, the operator of the New York Islanders‘ new Belmont Park arena currently under construction for a planned opening next year, is reportedly interested in taking over operations of the Nassau Coliseum as well, according to Newsday “sources.” I mean, so would I if the price were right, and given that current operator Mikhail Prokhorov is $2 million behind in rent and threatened with eviction, OVG probably thinks it can get a good deal here, but still it’s hard to see this as anything other than throwing a few pennies at shutting down a rival so as not to risk any competitors making a go of it.
  • Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury has looked at the impact of the new Atlanta Braves stadium that “was intended to serve as an anchor for further economic development in the suburban business district of Cumberland that would ripple throughout the county,” and found that local commercial property values actually went down relative to similar properties elsewhere in the Atlanta metro area. Bradbury theorizes that businesses may not want to locate near all the traffic congestion of a sports stadium, or be scared off by the tax surcharges put in place to help fund the $300 million public cost. “This finding is consistent with the vast literature on the economic impact of sports venues and events,” concludes Bradbury, which is economistese for “We told you so, over and over and over again, but you wouldn’t listen.”
  • Restaurant owners in Edmonton are so desperate for business that one declared himself “super-excited” at the prospect that visiting NHL teams might place some takeout orders, and the Edmonton Journal sports section is so desperate for hockey news that it ran a whole article about it. Wait, that was in the business section? These are not glorious times for journalism.
  • The National Women’s Soccer League used a forgivable loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program to help pay players when its season shut down, which sounds like (and is) a subsidy but is also exactly how the PPP is supposed to work: covering salaries to keep people from being laid off during a pandemic, thus keeping the economy from collapsing even more than it is otherwise. Sure, it would have been nice if the program hadn’t run out of money before most businesses could access it, but given that the maximum player salary in the NWSL is $50,000 a year, it’s hard to complain too much about them being less deserving than anyone else.
  • The way the PPP was not supposed to work was for companies to hold onto employees and then lay them off as soon as they’d certified for the forgivable loans, but that’s what New Era did in Buffalo, and now Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is so mad that he’s refusing to call the Buffalo Bills stadium by its New Era-branded name, which will totally show them.
  • Lots of NFL teams are planning for reduced capacities at games this fall, while the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is preparing for his players to “all get sick, that’s for sure.” And that’s the state of the NFL in a nutshell right now.
  • Hawaii can’t spend $350 million on replacing Aloha Stadium with a new stadium and redeveloping the area around it because somebody made a typo in the legislation and wrote 99-year leases instead of 65-year leases, everybody laugh and point!

Friday roundup: Grizzlies lease has secret out clause, judge orders do-over in Nashville stadium vote, reviewers agree Rangers stadium is super-butt-ugly

Normally the end of June is when news around here starts slowing down for the summer, but as no one needs reminding, nothing is normal anymore. There isn’t even time to get into sports leagues trying to reopen in the midst of what could be an “apocalyptic” surge in virus cases across the South and West, because busy times call for paralipsis:

  • The Daily Memphian has uncovered what it calls a “trap door” in the Memphis Grizzlies‘ lease that could let the team get out of the agreement early if it has even a single season where it doesn’t sell 1) 14,900 tickets per game, 2) all of its 64 largest suites, or 3) fewer than 2,500 season club seats. (There is at least a “force majeure” clause that should exclude any seasons played during a pandemic.) That could force the city to buy up tickets in order to keep the lease in force, the paper notes, and though talks between the team and city are underway to renegotiate the deal, you just know that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera will want something in exchange for giving up his opt-out clause. Pera has so far said all the right things about not wanting to move the team, but then, he doesn’t have to when he has sports journalists to spread relocation rumors for him; if savvy negotiators create leverage, city officials really need to learn to stop handing leverage to team owners when they write up leases, because that really never works out well.
  • In a major victory for local governments at least following their own damn rules, opponents of Nashville’s $50 million-plus-free-land deal for a new MLS stadium won a court victory this week when a judge ruled that the city violated Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act by approving the stadium’s construction contract at a meeting held with only 48 hours notice, when the law requires five days. The city’s Metro Sports Authority can now just hold another meeting with normal notice and reapprove the contract, but still it’s good to see someone’s hand slapped for a change for hiding from public scrutiny.
  • The reviews of the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium that received $450 million in subsidies so the team could have air-conditioning are in, and critics agree, it looks like a giant metal warehouse, or maybe a barbecue grill, or maybe the Chernobyl sarcophagus. Okay, they just agree that is is one ugly-ass stadium from the outside; firsthand reports on whether the upper-deck seats are as bad as they look in the renderings will have to await fans actually being allowed inside, which could come as soon as later this summer, unless by then Texans are too busy cowering in their homes to avoid having to go to the state’s overwhelmed hospital system
  • Amazon has bought naming rights to Seattle’s former Key Arena (Key Bank’s naming rights expired eons ago), and because Amazon needs more name recognition like it needs more stories about its terrible working conditions, it has decided to rename the building Climate Pledge Arena, after an Amazon-launched campaign to get companies to promise to produce zero net carbon emissions by 2040, something the company itself is off to a terrible start on. The reporting doesn’t say, but presumably if greenwashing goes out of style, Amazon will retain the right in a couple of years to rename the building Prime Video (Starts At $8.99/Month) Arena.
  • The NFL is still planning to have fans in attendance at games this fall, but it’s also going to be tarping off the first six to eight rows of seats and selling ads on the tarps as a hedge against ticket-sales losses. Even when and if things return to normal, I’m thinking this could be a great way for the league to create that artificial ticket scarcity that it’s been wanting for years, n’est-ce pas?
  • Amid concern that the New York Islanders will be left temporarily homeless or forced to move back to Brooklyn in the wake of the Nassau Coliseum being shuttered, Nassau County’s top elected official has promised that “the next time that the Islanders play in New York it will be in Nassau County.” If my reading-between-the-lines radar is working properly, that probably means we can expect to see the Islanders’ upcoming season played someplace like Bridgeport, Connecticut.
  • New Arizona Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez is definitely hitting the ground with all his rhetoric cylinders running, telling ESPN: “When I took the job, [owner] Alex Meruelo told me finding a solution for where we should be located was priority one through five. I thought it was one through five, and he quickly corrected me and said, ‘No, it’s priority one through 10 for you.'” Shouldn’t that really be one to 11?
  • Here’s an actual San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist saying voters did the city a favor by turning down a $1.15 billion-dollar Chargers stadium plan, because the city would be having a tough time paying it off now what with the economy in shambles. Of course, $1.15 billion still would have been $1.15 billion even if San Diego had the money, but budget crunches do seem to have a way of focusing people’s attention on opportunity costs.
  • Speaking of which, here’s an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about how it’s hard for Cobb County to pay off the construction debt on its Atlanta Braves stadium what with tourism tax revenue having fallen through the floor, though at least the AJC did call up economist J.C. Bradbury to let him say that it doesn’t really matter which tax money was used because “there’s no found money in government.”
  • Both of those are still way better articles, though, than devoting resources to a story about how holding baseball games without fans is going to lead to a glut of bags of peanuts, for which Good Morning America has us covered. Won’t anyone think of the peanuts?!?

Coronavirus shutdowns will cost pro teams mumblety-something, say sports finance experts

Forbes is starting to focus on the all-important question of whether the coronavirus, in addition to killing tens of thousands of people, will harm the bank balances of some of your favorite multibillion-dollar sports franchises. Let’s give them a read and see if they make any damn sense and/or are affronts against humanity!

First up, because it beat the other one by a few hours, is “senior contributor” Patrick Murray’s essay on the Golden State Warriors, who had the misfortune to open their new San Francisco arena the same year as sports came to a grinding halt (and before that, the same year as its vaunted starting lineup suffered a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure). Take it away, Patrick:

The Athletic’s Anthony Slater has reported that cancelling the remaining seven home games would cost the Warriors in the region of $25m. That’s on top of the money they might have expected back in the fall from a potential playoff run, before Stephen Curry got injured. They might not have been hotly tipped to make a deep run with Klay Thompson out, but most people were expecting a team led by Curry to at least make the postseason. And that would have meant more revenue flowing in. Tim Kawakami previously reported that at Oracle Arena in recent years the Warriors received $4-5m gross per home game in the early playoff rounds. At Chase Center that figure would have been even higher.

Oh noes, the Warriors are missing out on all the playoff money they would have earned … if they’d been in the playoffs, which they weren’t going to be? So maybe it’s just that $25 million for seven home games that is at risk — Forbes has the Warriors’ gate receipts at $178 million per year, so the per-game figure pencils out.

And, of course, the Chase Center isn’t just about basketball, it’s about concerts and other arena events, so how will that work out?

It’s unknown just how much that will cost the Warriors, but in Forbes’ latest franchise valuations just under a quarter of their $4.3bn valuation was attributed to their arena.

Thanks for the math, Mr. Senior Contributor! You’re totally worth every penny of that $250 a month you’re being paid!

The second article is by Mike Ozanian, who is an actual Forbes staffer and the magazine’s longtime sports valuation guru, even if he’s had his own occasional problems with basic math. Ozanian takes on the finances of the Atlanta Braves, and discovers (according to “John Tinker of G.research LLC,” which is apparently a thing that a financial analysis firm has actually decided to call and punctuate itself) that playing only half a season of baseball will, amazingly, cause fewer people to go to baseball games:

Tinker reckons the Braves’ revenue would drop to $174 million, from $438 million in 2019, with attendance dropping to 630,000, from last year’s 2.65 million. The drop in attendance would cut revenue from the gate and concessions to about $55 million in 2020, from $202 million the prior year, and halve the broadcast and sponsor revenue to $118 million, from $236 million.

Player expenses, meanwhile, were lowered by only 50%, to $86 million, and operating expenses and SG&A costs by 40%, to $146 million. Bottom line: Tinker estimates the team will post an operating loss of $59 million, versus an operating profit of $24 million in 2019.

There’s some weirdness here: Why would attendance drop by three-quarters if the number of games is cut in half? (Not that playing games in front of fans is even that likely, but if it does happen wouldn’t you expect there to be some pent-up demand? Especially since games would be played in the summer, when ticket sales are normally the highest? Unless the G.research study assumes that by summer fans will be too afraid to leave the house, which is certainly possible.) And how would broadcast and sponsor revenue fall by $118 million when the Braves’ TV deals with Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast only gets them $83 million a year in the first place? And does Ozanian know for sure that the Braves’ TV and sponsorship contracts would be canceled (or scaled down) if a full schedule isn’t played? Who can say!

If there’s a takeaway here, it’s that while the sports stoppage will almost certainly cost sports team owners big time, the actual bottom-line numbers are going to depend on myriad picayune contractual details that probably can’t be figured out just by looking at profit and loss summaries. And also, in case anyone might think otherwise, that whether a team is paying for their own building (the Warriors are, the Braves mostly aren’t) shouldn’t play at all into financial impact assessments, because stadium and arena expenses are sunk costs that don’t change the calculus of how much added red ink teams will see.

(This is true for local governments that are paying for sports venues, too, incidentally: If your state was counting on hotel-tax revenues to pay off a stadium and hotel-tax revenues are in the toilet because no one is leaving their houses anytime soon, that’s bad, but no worse than if hotel-tax revenues were being counted on to pay for other public expenses. Maybe if you were counting on hotel-tax revenues to soar as the result of people coming to see your new team, but that probably wasn’t a safe bet anyway.)

And, of course, that owning a major pro sports team is so fabulously lucrative that even skipping most or all of a season isn’t likely to bring anyone to their knees. The Warriors turned an estimate $109 million profit in 2019, according to Forbes figures, while the Braves’ Liberty Media ownership group made $54 million. So while losing a season could wipe out an entire year’s worth of profits — that’s not good! — the other way of looking at this is that teams could regain their losses in just the first season of resumed play, whenever that might be. Starting to get why sports leagues are so willing to shut down over labor contract disputes? If you’re a team owner doing this right, you’re playing the long game, or at least the medium-term game, and if COVID-19 is still affecting things like sports attendance in the medium term, we’re going to have way bigger things to worry about than the Braves’ bottom line.

Friday roundup: Phoenix to maybe get soccer stadium/robot factory, Raiders roof is delayed, Def Leppard and Hamilton face off over who’s old and smelly

Happy Friday! I have no meta-commentary to add this week, but hopefully when you have Def Leppard getting into a flamewar with Canadian elected officials over arena smells, you need no prelude:

  • The Salt River Pima-Maricopa reservation, long rumored as the possible site of a Phoenix Rising F.C. soccer stadium, has released an image of a proposed “$4 billion sports, technology and entertainment district” that indeed seems to show a soccer stadium, though honestly it looks a little small just from the rendering. There’s also an amazing image of people testing out robots and what looks like robot dogs, which surely will be the growth industry of the rest of the century, because I bet robot dogs don’t have an enormous carbon footprint or anything.
  • The Las Vegas Raiders are now projecting $478 million in personal seat license sales for their new stadium, up from an initial projection of $250 million. (All this money will go to defray Raiders owner Mark Davis’s costs, not the state of Nevada’s, because why would revenues from a publicly funded stadium go to the public? That’s crazy talk!) Unfortunately, the stadium might not be ready on time thanks to its roof behind months behind schedule, which could cause damage to the already-built parts of the stadium if it rains, but all those Raiders fans in Vegas (or people in Vegas anticipating selling their seats to out-of-towners who’ve come to see their home teams on road trips) will surely be patient after shelling out as much as $75,000 for PSLs.
  • Charlotte is still up for giving Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper $110 million to renovate his NFL stadium to make it more amenable to hosting an MLS franchise, but may want Tepper to agree to a lease extension first. Given that the last time Charlotte gave the Panthers money for stadium upgrades it was $87.5 million for a six-year extension, the city could maybe keep the team in town through 2027 this way. At this point, it might have been cheaper for the city just to buy the Panthers outright, thus guaranteeing the team stays in town while not only avoiding all these continual renovation fees but also getting to collect all that NFL revenue for itself. (Ha ha ha, just kidding, the NFL outlawed that years ago, no doubt partly to avoid anyone from trying exactly this scenario.)
  • The Atlanta Braves‘ stadium got a new name thanks to a bank merger, and the bank got lots of free publicity when news outlets wrote about the new name, but hell if I’m going to participate in that, so google it if you really must know.
  • A Virginia state delegate wants to reboot Virginia Beach’s failed arena plans by setting up a state-run authority to attempt to build a new arena somewhere in the Hampton Roads region, which includes both Virginia Beach and Norfolk. “The hardest part is the financing mechanism behind it,” said Norfolk interim economic development director Jared Chalk, which, yeah, no kidding.
  • Denver is helping build a new rodeo arena, and as a Denverite subhead notes, “The city says it won’t reveal how much taxpayers could be on the hook for because that would be bad for taxpayers.”
  • Kalamazoo is maybe building a $110 million arena to host concerts and something called “rocket football,” which I’m not even going to google because it would almost certainly be a disappointment compared to what I’m imagining.
  • Anaheim is considering rebating $180 million (maybe, I’m going by what one councilmember said) in future tax revenues to hotel developers so that Los Angeles Angels and Anaheim Ducks players will stay in them? Don’t the Angels and Ducks players own houses locally? What is even happening?
  • And finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: A video from last summer has surfaced showing Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott complaining that Hamilton, Ontario’s arena is “old” and “stinks like a 10,000 asses stink,” to which Hamilton councillor Jason Farr replied that Def Leppard is “also old and stinks.” Clearly one of them needs to be torn down and entirely replaced! It worked for Foreigner!

Friday roundup: Lotsa new vaportecture renderings, lotsa new crazy expensive bridges

I’m traveling this week and next, so there will likely be some weird scheduling changes for posts, such as this Friday roundup appearing close to noon Eastern time. (I think. I’m not entirely sure what time it is here or anywhere, just that it’s hot, which doesn’t narrow it down much because it’s hot everywhere.) The news watch never stops, though, so here’s a somewhat abridged week of highlights:

  • New Los Angeles Clippers arena renderings! This vaportecture is honestly all starting to look more or less alike to me, though what appears to be a transparent roof on an arena is novel — the article refers to “indoor/outdoor ‘sky gardens,'” though, so maybe this is those, whatever those are. (Gardens open to the sky? Wouldn’t that be … “gardens”?) Anyway, constantly releasing renderings is a great way to show people that you absolutely are going to be able to build an arena, despite any lawsuits trying to block it, because everyone knows cartoons always come true.
  • And on the other side of the pond, Everton has released its own stadium renderings, with more lens flare and balloons and promises that 1.4 million more people will visit Liverpool just by Everton moving into a new stadium. (The balloons are probably the least fanciful of these predictions.)
  • Norman Oder has a long analysis of the New York Islanders Belmont Park arena plan laying out all the remaining questions about the project, from the value of land and tax breaks to how exactly the state expects a Belmont arena to host sports and concerts without cannibalizing shows from the nearby Nassau Coliseum. (Not that it should matter to the state if the Coliseum loses business, but if shows are just relocated, they’re not new economic activity. For that matter, if Long Islanders just go to more shows and fewer restaurants, say, that’s also not new economic activity. So very many questions.)
  • Dodger Stadium is getting a $100 million facelift this offseason, including a new centerfield plaza, new elevators and bridges for fan circulation, and a statue of Sandy Koufax. A hundred million dollars seems like a lot for that, but it’s Magic Johnson‘s stadium and his money, so whatever floats his boat.
  • And finally, the cost of the Atlanta Falcons‘ pedestrian bridge has now surpassed $33 million. up $6 million from the last accounting. On second thought, maybe $100 million for some bridges and a statue isn’t that crazy at all.