Friday roundup: Jaguars’ billionaire owner wants $232m in tax money, plus guess-the-Angels-rationalization contest!

We made it another week further into the future! Sure, it’s a future that looks too much like the recent past — bad pandemic planning and stadium deals with increasingly more well-disguised subsidies — and we’re all still here discussing the same scams that I really thought were going to be a momentary fad 25 years ago. But the zombie apocalypse hasn’t arrived yet, so that’s something! Also the Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale was really excellent. Gotta stop and smell the flowers before refocusing on the underlying horror of society!

And with that, back to laughing to keep from crying:

Share this post:

Friday roundup: Utah may build stadium for rugby (and the children!), Suns build big-ass kitchen, plus more robots than you can shake a stick at

Happy October! We seem to have now reached the uncanny valley of the epidemic, where some things are returning to almost normal — or even hyper-normal, as in the case of the baseball postseason having expanded to include so many teams I keep expecting the Sugar Land Skeeters to show up — while other things remain sadly unchanged. I guess if there’s a silver lining it’s that the resumption of some normal things hasn’t caused the pandemic to worsen perceptibly (yet), but that’s what people were saying about the Netherlands back in June and that didn’t work out well at all. Just wear your masks, people, and don’t take them off to eat or talk on the phone or talk to the president, and let’s hope for the best.

Share this post:

Anaheim approves stadium land sale to Angels owner at $350m discount, because who needs more than two public meetings, really?

Last night, news watchers were treated to a chaotic public shouting match that seemed like it would never end — no, not that one. Across the country in Anaheim, the city council met for eight hours last night to debate the city’s plan to sell $500 million worth of land to Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno for $150 million plus promises of a new park and affordable housing; finally, after 1:30 am, the council voted to approve the deal by a 5-2 margin, with the same two no votes — councilmembers Jose Moreno and Denise Barnes — as when the preliminary deal was passed last December.

Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times sums up the aftermath neatly in a pair of quotes:

“This is a spectacular day for Anaheim,” Councilman Stephen Faessel said.

“This was not a deal,” Barnes said. “It was a mess.”

Because the council now holds all its meetings via Zoom, public comments were required to be submitted by email, and more than 250 came in. As Shaikin reports, these “included dozens of submissions of the same form letter in support of the deal” after Moreno’s management company, SRB, sent out text-message alerts asking people to write the council in support of the deal.

For the best take on the Kafkaesque proceedings, go read Spencer Custodio’s report in the Voice of OC, which includes many wonderful passive-aggressive journalism takedowns, like this one after Moreno and Barnes tried to delay the vote until the council could hold an in-person meeting:

“We’re in the eleventh hour. We’ve been talking about this for a year and a half. And we’ve had over 30 meetings where this has been mentioned,” Councilman Trevor O’Neil said.

There were only two public meetings last year when the Council discussed specifics about the deal.

The council is required to repeat its vote next Tuesday to finalize the deal, but it’s clear that another week isn’t going to change anybody’s minds. Which means that the city of Anaheim has performed the astonishing feat of taking a position of strength — Moreno having terminated the team’s lease with nowhere else to play, gifting the city with the option of trying to impose whatever demands on him it wanted — and turning it into a deal that gives the Angels’ billionaire owner $350 million worth of free land, more than six years after then-mayor Tom Tait shot down a similar plan by pointing out that giving away land is the fiscal equivalent of giving away money. That’s seizing defeat from the jaws of victory in a way that even the Angels never managed.

Share this post:

Former Anaheim mayor tells council that voting for Angels land sale would be “embarrassment,” council likely to vote for it anyway

The Anaheim city council is set to vote tonight on selling $500 million in stadium land to Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno for $150 million plus some promises to build stuff, and one former mayor is not mincing words when it comes to telling councilmembers that they should vote “no”:

In a Sunday letter to Mayor Harry Sidhu and the City Council, Assemblyman Tom Daly (who was mayor from 1992 to 2002) urged them to reconsider the $320 million deal and “avoid the embarrassment and lawsuits that are sure to follow this one-sided deal.”

I would love to tell you more about what Daly said, but the Orange County Register doesn’t link to the letter, and it’s not on Daly’s state assembly website and he doesn’t appear to have a Twitter, so we’ll just have to imagine the rest.

The OCR spoke to two other former Anaheim mayors as well. Curt Pringle, who succeeded Daly at City Hall in 2002, said that getting full market value for the land isn’t an issue because the city “didn’t buy [the stadium site in the 1960s] to be land speculators, they really bought it to be an economic engine,” which would actually seem to be an argument for seeing if any other bidders would present a plan with more economic impact — maybe one without an empty-most-of-the-year baseball stadium in the middle of it. Tom Tait, who succeeded Pringle in 2010 and immediately put a halt to plans to hand over the stadium land for next to nothing, notes that when the city was looking at selling one-third of the parcel for $53 million for an NFL stadium, Sidhu, then a city councilmember, “jumped out in the middle of the press conference and said that land’s worth at least $150 million.”

All of which is very entertaining #drama, but all that really matters is what the members of the council think, and as we saw last December, the majority were happy to sit on their hands while everyone shouted about the deal and then quietly vote to approve it. (Tonight’s meeting will be via Zoom, but local residents can submit comments by email until 2:30 pm Pacific time today.) Two incumbents, Denise Barnes and Steve Faessel, are up for reelection in November, but Barnes was actually one of the two no votes already, so even fear of facing angry constituents at the polls isn’t likely to do much to sway the council’s decision. Maybe it can be reversed later with lawsuits? Or, even better, with embarrassment? Man, would it be a great world if that worked.

Share this post:

Anaheim stadium protest raises question: When is $500m in land worth only $150m?

The People’s Homeless Task Force OC, the same group suing to block the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium land sale for violating open meetings laws, held a small (about 20 people, per the OC Register) protest in front of Anaheim city hall yesterday, with signs reading “Stadium ‘Deal’ Sucks” and “Recall The Corrupt Mayor Harry Sidhu.” (Actually “The Corrupt Recall Mayor Harry Sidhu,” but I’m assuming they just forgot the caret.) The interesting part, though, came via the canned response they got from city spokesperson Mike Lyster:

“There’s nothing like baseball to generate speculation and strong opinions, and we welcome all voices. We stand by our process and still have more public consideration ahead of us. The only way to see more money from this site is to sell it without baseball, and that was not our goal. Development under this proposal would drive much-needed revenue for our city for years to come.”

Let’s break this down:

  • Opinions are good and part of the public process! Even when they’re wrong, like yours are!
  • The $500 million estimate for the value of the Angel Stadium property is for delivering it unencumbered by a baseball stadium, so unless you want to force the Angels out really it’s only worth the $325 million that Angels owner Arte Moreno agreed to. But no, that’s not how land value works: As we discussed here last December, the fact that Moreno is seeking a less-lucrative use of the land because he wants to keep the stadium on it (as does the city of Anaheim) doesn’t make it less valuable — if the land were for sale on the open market, he’d have to outbid rival developers who didn’t give a crap about baseball who’d be willing to pay around $500 million. So really Lyster is saying here “We’re giving Arte Moreno $175 million in free land to be sure Moreno wouldn’t have to choose between paying what the land would normally be worth or finding other land to buy for a stadium somewhere else,” which sounds a lot less defensible when you put it that way.
  • Lyster also evades the issue of the $175 million in kickbacks that Moreno is getting to build affordable housing and parks, because a new park in the middle of a baseball stadium development is totally worth the same to Anaheim residents as $46 million in cash they could use to build a park (or anything else) wherever they want, right?
  • This will provide the city with revenue, and revenue is good! This is the argument for pretty much all tax and land cost breaks for development on vacant or underutilized land: Without this development we would get nothing, so it’s all free money! It’s also a variant on the Casino Night Principle, where discounts for developers aren’t really discounts because if you go looking for your heart’s desire and it’s not already in your own backyard, you never had it to begin with, hey maybe I should call this the Wizard of Oz Principle?

This should all be a lesson in stadium subsidy economics, Rule No. 1 of which is Pick any number as the amount of public money going into a project, and you can probably find someone who can find a way to justify it. That’s not a justification for throwing up your hands and declaring the impossibility of objective reality — Arte Moreno really is getting $500 million in land for $150 million in cash plus some promises to build housing and parks — but it does help explain how one person’s massive subsidy can be another’s great deal. Toronto Blue Jays exec (and later MLB official) Paul Beeston once famously said of baseball finances, “Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss and get every national accounting firm to agree with me,” and the same principle applies here: There are people who make big bucks to change big numbers into small ones and vice versa, so it’s always important to take a hard look at the man behind the curtain.

Share this post:

Suit against Angels land sale for violating open-meetings laws set for trial in 2021

The sale of $500 million worth of city land to Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno for $150 million may be close to being official, but it still faces a pesky lawsuit charging that the whole deal is illegal because the city council held initial talks in secret, in violation of the state’s Brown Act requiring open meetings. The suit was first filed back in March, and got a boost yesterday when a judge rejected a motion by the team to dismiss the case, and instead started court hearings.

The suit looks like it’s going to come down to what constitutes a “legislative body”: The Anaheim city council deferred negotiations to a three-member group consisting of the mayor, city manager, and city attorney, which met with Angels execs behind closed doors. The council, according to Voice of OC, later held two closed-door meetings of its own before its single public meeting to vote on the plan, which the lawsuit calls a “rubber stamp” and which, yeah, pretty much.

It would be extremely unusual for an approved stadium deal to be overturned by a lawsuit this late in the game — if nothing else, sports team owners can usually afford excellent lawyers to tell them what’s legal, and then to convince judges of the same — but certainly not impossible. The hardest part may be timing: The trial isn’t expected to begin until next year, which is also when the sale agreement is expected to close, so barring a restraining order, the horse could be out of the barn before a judge can shut the door, and that’s before you even get into the inevitable appeals.

Meanwhile, a recall campaign against Mayor Harry Sidhu looks to be gearing up again after launching back in February and then immediately being put on hold thanks to the pandemic; that would be extremely precedented, since quite a few elected officials have now had their walking papers handed to them for approving sports subsidy deals. (Number of mayors who’ve been booted for refusing to provide subsidies and then seeing a team move: zero.) It’s tough to gauge support for a protest movement based on a couple of Facebook posts — it currently has 241 Likes, which doesn’t seem like a lot in a city of 350,000 — but you gotta like its listing as “Always Open.” Unlike the stadium negotiations, amirite?

Share this post:

Friday roundup: Everything old is new again

What a week! In addition to the new site design and new magnets and new sports subsidy demands rising and falling almost before you could even register them, this week featured the long-awaited debut of Defector, the independent sports (but not only sports) site launched by the former staff of Deadspin. Read it for free, subscribe if you want to post comments and, you know, help support journalism for our uncertain future. I am a charter subscriber, needless to say, and am currently trying to decide which color t-shirt to buy.

On the down side, the entire West Coast has been set aflame by the deadly mix of climate change and gender-reveal parties and looks like a post-apocalyptic movie. The year 2020 comes at you fast. Let’s get to some more news:

  • The owners of the New York Islanders are angling to downsize the Nassau Coliseum so that it doesn’t compete with their new Belmont Park arena for sports and the largest concerts, which is problematic in that they don’t actually hold the lease on the Coliseum, and already ironic in that the Coliseum was already just downsized once so as not to compete with the Islanders’ previous new arena in Brooklyn. Maybe this whole arena glut problem is something New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have considered before giving the Belmont project a whole bunch of land price breaks and a new train station? Meh, probably not necessary, we’re all friends here.
  • Hey look, we’re already calling the Los Angeles Angels stadium purchase a $320 million deal even though it’s really only $150 million plus a whole lot of “thanks for some building affordable housing and parks,” that was fast, Spectrum News 1.
  • Some rare actual good news from the pandemic: Somebody in Arlington was smart enough to include a clause in the Texas Rangers‘ lease on their new stadium that requires the team owners to triple their rent payments if parking and ticket tax revenue fell short of projections, which obviously they’re doing what with nobody buying tickets or parking this year. Sure, it’s still only another $4 million, which won’t go far toward paying off the city’s roughly half a billion dollars in stadium costs, but it’s better than a kick in the head. (Also, what on earth is going on in that photo of the Rangers’ stadium that D Magazine used as its illustration?)
  • The Inglewood city council approved the sale of 22 acres of public land to Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer for $66 million, which I don’t even know how to determine whether it’s a fair deal or not anymore, but given the city mayor’s idea of appropriate oversight, I’m not super-optimistic.
  • University of Texas-Austin will have about 18,000 fans in attendance for its season-opening college football game tomorrow, but rest assured that it will be keeping everyone safe by … requiring student season ticket holders to test negative for Covid before being allowed into the game, but not requiring the same of anyone else? (Also fun: They’re supposed to all go get tested today, and get their results back tomorrow, which is not how Covid testing works right now at all.) Clearly the desire to look where the light is better is strong.
  • The Las Vegas Sun has a loooooong article about the process by which the Raiders got their new stadium in Las Vegas that pretty much comes down to “Mark Davis was the sincerest pumpkin patch of all,” but by all means go ahead and read it if you like sentences like “The first major obstacle was how to get both projects done in what most in the resort corridor would feel was a reasonable [tax increase]. That took time to overcome.”
  • Marc Normandin took a great look back at that time the owner of the San Diego Padres tried to gift the team to the city of San Diego for free and MLB said no. It’s subscriber-only, so I’ll quote my favorite section: “There is a reason Mark Cuban will never own an MLB franchise, and that reason is that he’s the kind of owner who might shake things up in a way that forces other owners to have to spend money they don’t want to. On clubhouse comforts, on minor-league players Cuban might try to increase the pay and better the living conditions of in order to produce happier, healthier future MLB players: there is no guarantee Cuban would do those things, necessarily, but his actions and spending helped shape the way the current NBA locker rooms look, so the possibility exists, and that possibility is too big of a risk for MLB’s current 30 owners to take. So, instead, they aim for safe options, like a minority owner in Cleveland becoming the majority owner in Kansas City, as he’s already proven he understands the game and how to play it.”
  • First Dave Dombrowski and Dave Stewart, now Justin Timberlake — if building 1990s star power is the way to get an MLB franchise, Nashville is a shoo-in. Though as Normandin notes, they’d probably be better off finding a minority owner from Cleveland.

Okay, I have to go pick up my computer from its trip to the computer mechanic so I can go back to typing these updates on a keyboard I can actually see the letters on. (Yet another thing that happened this week.) Try to have a good weekend, and see you all on Monday.

Share this post:

Angels owner now getting $500m in stadium land for just $150m plus “benefits”

When the Los Angeles Angels stadium land deal was approved last December, it was announced that team owner Arte Moreno would be paying $325 million for Angel Stadium and the 153 acres of land that it sits on, a $175 million discount from its assessed value of $500 million because he would be insisting on continuing to play baseball on it. (Really, that was the logic, read it for yourself.) But even then, there was a catch: Moreno could be eligible for additional discounts based on how much affordable housing and other “public benefits” he would be providing.

On Friday, that additional discount was revealed, and it’s $169 million, more than half of Moreno’s announced purchase price:

Anaheim is looking to sell Angel Stadium and the roughly 150 acres around it for $150 million —  less than half of the starting price tag announced late last year when private talks began….

Taxpayers will take $123 million off the purchase price to fund at least 466 affordable housing units.

Another $46 million will be paid for by taxpayers to build a seven-acre park.

(No, I don’t get how $325 million minus $169 million equals $150 million, but what’s $6 million among friends?)

As with the initial land discount, there’s some logic to this, but not the kind that is entirely logical. Yes, the public is getting some non-cash benefits out of this, but there’s little evidence that they’re really worth what Anaheim is paying for them: That housing subsidy, for example, is $264,000 per affordable unit, which is roughly half the entire cost of construction for each apartment, not just the difference in value between a rent-regulated unit and a market-value one. As for the park, I’m having a hard time coming up with consistent per-acre cost figures in other cities, but either way, you have to take into account opportunity cost here: Anaheim is agreeing to pay to fund a new park on Arte Moreno’s property, thus boosting its value to him (people like to live near parks, I’ve heard), rather than building a park somewhere that it’s more needed, or for that matter something else that Anaheim residents might want more.

In short, Arte Moreno is now getting $500 million in public land for just $150 million, because he’s claiming that providing things that he himself wants — baseball and parks, plus affordable housing if you figure that he likely needed to build some anyway to get access to the land — are just as good as cash. No matter how you slice it, that’s a pretty sweet deal, especially when just a couple of years ago Moreno was looking at getting bupkis. What a difference a new mayor makes.

Share this post:

Friday roundup: San Diego gets arena developer (and vaportecture), horses play piano, and other stories

Happy Sebtembler! Things were a little quiet for much of the summer, what with the entire world shut down and it seeming like a bad time for rich dudes to ask for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, but as Josh Harris has shown, nothing lasts forever. Except rich dudes asking for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, that will go on until the world actually ends, which is at least a few more decades away.

Anyhoo, here are some other things that happened this week in the world of stadium-grubbing:

  • San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has chosen a team led by Brookfield Properties and ASM Global to build a new arena and associated development, with the arena to be paid for by building more housing units, somehow? Is housing that profitable that it can spin off hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue to pay for a new arena? If so, shouldn’t the city just be charging more for the right to build all this super-lucrative housing? This all sounds suspiciously reminiscent of the Los Angeles Angels land deal, except no one in San Diego politics or journalism seems interested in investigating how the money will actually work, so I’m clearly going to have to do some more digging and report back. In the meantime, jam everything but the kitchen sink into your sports venue deals, kids, it’s the best way to make sure sports reporters get bored by the financial details and wander off!
  • Let’s also not let the moment pass without commenting on San Diego’s new arena vaportecture, which mostly features … people shopping? People wearing, I guess those are San Diego Gulls t-shirts, some with the logo on the front and some on the back, depending on whether the shopper in question is walking toward or away from the camera. Do you think they coordinated that somehow? Also the Ostro Brasserie appears to be a branch of a restaurant in New Zealand, Ungar’s is a wholesaler of packaged pizza bagels, and Migdal is an Israeli insurance company. This is a really weird mall!
  • Sacramento is short on tax revenue to pay off bonds on its Kings arena and convention center, but honestly that’s just another way of saying that it spent a bunch of money that it didn’t need to and now the chickens are coming home to roost when “don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of tax money” isn’t working out so well. Would it be any better if the city had spent the same money on the arena and then received enough tax revenue to pay it off but couldn’t then use that money for other needed things? Please submit your persuasive essays in comments.
  • Big arenas are joining with smaller music venues in support of the RESTART Act, which would extend the Paycheck Protection Program to help companies pay their furloughed workers, and also provide Small Business Administration loans that would be forgivable for the amount of any losses that venues had in 2020. That doesn’t seem too terrible — music venues are indeed getting creamed by the shutdown, and will likely be among the last things to reopen — but at the same time, there are lots of funny things you can do with your books to show “losses,” so this is worth keeping at least one eye on, especially given that no one in power seems much interested in doing so.
  • I haven’t actually been able to get myself to finish reading this item about the Philadelphia 76ers arena subsidy plan, because I can’t get past its opening line: “Josh Harris is like a horse trying to play the piano… he hits every wrong note.” Is that really what a horse trying to play the piano would do, though? Wouldn’t it fall over from trying to stand on its two hind legs? Shatter the keys with its hooves? Now I can’t think of anything other than how horrifying for all concerned it would be to watch a horse trying to play the piano — pass the RESTART Act now, or we may never see such a sight again!
  • I wanna read this new book on the perils of sports fandom, and not just because I’m in it!

Have a good long weekend, everybody, if that’s still a concept that means anything, and see you back here on Tuesday refreshed and ready to go.

Share this post:

Friday roundup: NFL teams debate which fans will be the first to enjoy socially distanced peeing

Pressed for time today, so while I’d love to comment on everything in the world that happened this crazy week, I’m just going to give you a link to my article on news coverage of the California fires and the state’s reliance on incarcerated people to fight them, then get straight to a quickie news recap:

  • The Cleveland Browns will reportedly “consider personal seat licenses” in determining who gets to attend reduced-capacity games this season, which isn’t very specific: Would season ticket holders with PSLs (which is almost all of them) get priority? Would those who spent more get let in first? One can only imagine the Browns front office debating which is the fairest solution, and/or which would help maximize team revenues, because you know that the latter is never very far from sports owners’ conception of the former.
  • If you’ve been jonesing for a picture of what socially distanced urinals will look like, Sports Illustrated has you covered.
  • Pittsburgh’s Sports & Exhibition Authority is, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “requesting $7.4 million to COVID-19-proof Heinz Field, PNC Park, PPG Paints Arena and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center,” whatever “COVID-19-proof” means. (Lots of urinal covers?)
  • There are new reports estimating the costs to the local economy of spring training in Arizona ending early and the Oklahoma City Thunder season ending early and do you think either of them looked at what, say, sales-tax receipts actually did starting in March, or did they just project out how much money is normally spent at these events and assume that it all vanished into thin air once they were canceled? (If you guessed door #2, congratulations, you can skip journalism school and go directly to a newspaper job, if newspapers or jobs still existed.)
  • No huge new revelations in this week’s Epoch Times report on the Los Angeles Angels stadium deal, but it’s a decent roundup and there sure is a ton of me in it, so check it out if you like. (EDIT: Or actually maybe don’t, if you don’t want to support QAnon and anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories. If you want to know what I said, I’ll post it in comments.)
  • This German study of how people’s breath spreads at an indoor concert is kind of genius, and everyone should be watching to see the results if we ever want to be able to attend indoor events again, whether masked or distanced or ventilated with HEPA filters or what. Results are due in four to six weeks, so stay tuned in early October for further updates.
Share this post: