Friday roundup: Buffalo saber-rattling, Edmonton parking fee shortfall, Chicago music venues go to war against soccer plans

And in other news of the week:

  • This was actually last week, but I missed it then: Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has led the city council in voting to conduct a new appraisal of the Angel Stadium property as Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno prepares to opt out of his team’s lease next year. Councilmember Kris Murray, one of the two no votes, argued that this was tantamount to telling the Angels to leave; Tait replied that knowing how much the land was worth would be crucial to any stadium negotiations the incoming mayor will have with Moreno. The Gang of Four is going to miss Tom Tait.
  • The owners of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres have hired consultants CAA ICON and architecture firm Populous to “give us options” for renovating or replacing the teams’ existing venues. This is not necessarily the first step toward demanding new buildings, but it’s more of a step than the Pegulas have taken thus far, so certainly bears watching.
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been giving away unused tickets for free to their season ticket holders, to try to fill up the seats at their underattended games. Finally something that Los Angeles Chargers fans can point and laugh at! Both of them!
  • The $8.7 million a year that Edmonton was projecting to bring in from parking fees outside the Oilers‘ new arena turns out to be somewhat less: just $2.5 million a year, leaving the city with a roughly $57 million hole in its arena budget. City councillor Jon Dziadyk immediately leaped into action, blaming the reduced parking fees on people not wanting to drive downtown because there are too many bike lanes.
  • Hey, remember that minor-league soccer stadium a major Chicago developer wanted to build as part of a major Chicago development, originally pegged to luring Amazon to town but now with a life of its own? Turns out the whole thing would be funded by tax increment financing kickbacks, and would include three to five new concert venues to be run by the entertainment giant Live Nation that local concert venue operators say would drive their non-subsidized clubs out of business. The Chicago Tribune reports that the fledgling Chicago Independent Venue League “already had its new logo, a peregrine falcon wrapped with a snake, printed on black tee-shirts,” which honestly is going to be tough for any soccer team to top.

Friday roundup: Tampa won’t divert road money to Rays stadium (probably), Columbus may spend $100m on Crew stadium, Anaheim signs Ducks lease extension as new mayor vows to placate Angels

You know who the real turkeys are this week? Nah, my heart isn’t in making Thanksgiving puns, just read the news, folks:

  • Three of seven Hillsborough County commissioners have promised that a new sales tax for transportation projects won’t mean diverting money from the existing transportation project to, say, a Tampa Bay Rays stadium, which the mathematically inclined will notice isn’t actually a majority of the county board. It’s still not super likely that the county will try to raid transportation funds to pay for a stadium, unless maybe it’s for transportation costs related to one, and there’s still several hundred million dollars in construction costs unaccounted for, but anyway it’s worth keeping at least half an eye on as we head toward the team’s December 31 lease opt-out deadline.
  • A paid consultant working on a new downtown arena for Saskatoon says it could have a “catalytic effect,” because of course he does, really, Global News, you ran an entire article that’s just interviewing one guy employed on the project? For this you want me to disable my ad blocker?
  • Forbes’ Mike Ozanian reports that “a person with knowledge of the deal to keep Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew in that city” says the new owners will pay $150 million for the franchise and spend $150 million toward a new downtown stadium, while “the public would foot the other $100 million.” Nobody else seems to be reporting on this, so maybe we should wait to be sure that Ozanian didn’t get his plus and minus signs mixed up again.
  • The Atlantic’s Rick Paulas suggests that we end stadium extortion by forcing pro sports leagues to massively expand and then institute promotion and relegation, which would sort of work, if there were an easy way to accomplish this through antitrust legislation, which you’d think if Congress could manage that they could manage the much more straightforward measure of taxing sports subsidies out of existence, but who knows, maybe a “market-based” solution would go over better in these times, sure, what the hell. “Of course, cities could also elect leadership that will defend them against bad deals,” notes Paulas, which isn’t a bad idea either.
  • Anaheim has signed a lease extension to keep the Ducks in town through 2048, involving the city selling the team 16 acres of land for $10 million — which if the stymied Angels deal is any guide would probably be a small discount, though Anaheim officials claim it’s market value — but the city will get a cut of arena profits after the first $6 million a year instead of the first $12 million, a threshold that’s never been hit. There are a lot of (small) moving pieces here, but I’m willing to say this is probably not too bad a deal, especially compared to some of the much, much worse lease extensions that cities have agreed to. Next is to to see about getting Angels owner Arte Moreno to accept the same logic, now that newly elected mayor Harry Sidhu is vowing to change “the hostile political environment in Anaheim” and “keep the Angels in Anaheim where they belong,” okay, Anaheim residents are probably going to have to settle for just a good Ducks deal.
  • Atlanta Falcons COO Greg Beadles tells NPR it’s not team owner greed that causes stadium food prices to be so high, it’s just that after teams force concessions companies to bid as high as possible for stadium contracts, the only way they can make money is to charge through the nose for food! Anyway, NPR gets busy talking to fans at a Falcons game about whether they’re happy the team lowered its food prices, and they’re happy about it, so no time to fact-check whether team execs’ statements make any damn sense. Free refills on soda, woohoo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angels owner says team will stay through 2029, was totally pwned by Anaheim mayor

This was hinted at last September, but Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has officially thrown in the towel on using his opt-out clause on his lease at Anaheim Stadium, telling reporters that his team will remain there at least through 2029:

”It’s going to take some time to get ourselves prepared to see which direction we’re going to go,” Moreno said of the possibility of building a new ballpark. ”We have flexibility, but acquiring land and getting a proper partner and getting prepared in California is a three-, four-year process.”

This can only be seen as a major victory for Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait (and his constituents), who blocked attempts by Moreno to threaten his way into a major stadium renovation subsidy. The timetable of events, you will recall: The Anaheim council gifted Moreno with a 2019 opt-out for no damn reason, then the owner demanded a whole bunch of free land to compensate for him doing renovations on his own behalf, then Tait conducted an appraisal that pointed out that the land was worth nearly $100 million more than the renovations, then Moreno threatened to move to an air base in Tustin, then nobody in Tustin thought that was a good idea, then Moreno slunk back to Anaheim.

This is exactly how it should work: If a team waves around move threats, city leaders should say, “Yeah, get back to us when you have a real offer, and maybe we’ll talk.” And then if the owner is just bluffing, you get away without having to pay him $250 million in taxpayer cash.

Not that Anaheim Stadium won’t ever need renovations (though recall that it just had renovations 20 years ago, which isn’t a lifetime no matter what some other teams may think). But now both Moreno and Anaheim can sit down and figure out what it makes sense for each side to spend on them, if anything, without worrying about the pretend threat that the owner is going to move to an invisible stadium elsewhere in SoCal or move out of the nation’s second-biggest media market entirely. All of which could have been the case all along if the council hadn’t been daft enough to hand out that lease opt-out clause, but at least victory has been grasped from the jaws of defeat for once.

Angels owner okays development next to stadium, doesn’t even have to sue anybody first

After complaining about the new development project proposed for next door and threatening to sue to stop it, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno gave his blessing to LT Global’s mixed-use project this week. This happened because they were … bought off? I’m going with bought off:

“We are pleased that LT Global worked with us in a timely and collaborative effort to address the impacts of their development on our fan experience,” Angels President John Carpino said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the city to finalize details on important transportation improvements for the Platinum Triangle in the coming weeks.”

LT Global spokesman Steve Greyshock wouldn’t elaborate on how the company and the Angels were able to amicably resolve their differences but did say the company looks forward to working with the team.

“We spoke. It was neighbors talking with neighbors,” Greyshock said. “They had some operational concerns, but overall the goal is to have a long, constructive relationship with the Angels.”

That’s playing it extremely close to the vest in terms of what the price was for the Angels ownership’s cooperation — it could have been anything from cash to a parking-sharing agreement to promising to buy the Angels’ stock of leftover Josh Hamilton jerseys — but the point is, they worked it out. And without Moreno being able to demand that Anaheim give him a huge swath of development rights for cheap, as was his original plan.

In all, Moreno seems to be following a new tactic of playing good cop, backing away from threats to opt out of his lease early and reopening lease extension talks with Anaheim. This is what you can make happen when you have a mayor who is a tough negotiator, a team that reaps huge benefits from playing in a major metro area, and city officials in other nearby locales also not willing to throw money at a stadium. Not saying it’ll work every time, but it is a little glimpse into a happier world where move threats are met with “Ha, yeah, that’s a good one” rather than “How many zeroes should we put on the check, Mr. Moreno?”

Exec says Angels could leave Anaheim in 2029, maybe hopes new metropolis has arisen by then

Los Angeles Angels president John Carpino spoke out about the  over development rights to the team’s Anaheim stadium parking lot yesterday, and said if things can’t be worked out the team might just leave — 13 years from now.

Carpino spoke after the developer of a large-scale project next to Angel Stadium agreed Tuesday to postpone an Anaheim City Council vote on the project for three weeks, in the hope of resolving the team’s objections to the development…

Although the Angels’ current lease extends through 2029, the team can opt out no later than Oct. 16, 2018, which would terminate the lease after the 2019 season.

Carpino said the Angels have three options: move, renovate Angel Stadium, or play out the current lease.

So… that doesn’t actually quite make sense as written. What the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin appears to be trying to say is that the Angels may not use the opt-out clause in their lease in two seasons, in which case their next opportunity to leave Anaheim would be in 2029. It’s not entirely clear whether that’s meant to be a promise or a threat, but there it is.

Of course, the reason that Angels owner Arte Moreno might not use the opt-out clause is because he has nowhere to go that’s still in the super-lucrative Los Angeles (plus Orange County) market, especially since his attempts to get a stadium out of Tustin went nowhere. That’s not likely to change by 2029 — yeah, Las Vegas is growing, but not that fast — so this would seem to be a coded admission of “Yeah, we’re stuck here whether we like it or not, thanks to the SoCal cable riches.” I mean, maybe by 2029 cable has ceased to exist and some new MLB model makes it feasible for teams to play in places like Green Bay, like the NFL’s does? Maybe by then Halifax has become bustling with American climate refugees? Or maybe Moreno has really decided he’ll settle for selling another 13 years worth of Mike Trout jerseys and figure out the whole stadium thing later. If so, well played, Tom Tait.

Angels owner gripes about incomplete review process for neighboring developer, irony is dead

Three years ago, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno asked the city of Anaheim to give him development rights to his stadium parking lot in exchange for him making stadium upgrades, only to be forced to back down when an appraisal revealed he’d be getting $245 million in land and spending only $150 million on renovations. Last year, Moreno griped that a Chinese developer, LT Global, was looking at building a privately funded mixed-use development on land it had bought across the street from the stadium, because he was afraid it would use his parking. On Wednesday, team officials intimated that they would sue unless the LT Global project went through a full environmental impact study:

The demand, contained in the second hostile letter from Angels lawyers to the city within two weeks, comes as the team and city have revived talks on a lease that would extend the Angels’ tenure at the city-owned stadium.

Last week, the Anaheim Planning Commission, over the Angels’ objections, unanimously endorsed a 15-acre complex of shops, restaurants, offices, residences and a hotel on the site next to Angel Stadium.

The Anaheim City Council has final say on the project and could vote to approve it as soon as Sept. 27. In the letter, Angels attorney George Mihlsten said the planning commission approved the project with “very limited environmental review and no opportunity for public review,” and he asked the council to order a new environmental impact report.

Couple of things here: First off, whatever the merits of the dispute (public review is a good thing), it remains hilarious to see a would-be developer complaining about the insufficiency of an EIS, given that you know Mihlsten would be saying the exact opposite if Moreno were the one looking to build this project. Second, that “revived talks on a lease” clause may not be just a news peg — when you’re at the lease negotiating table, everything is up for grabs, and trading off “we won’t sue the developers next door” for something is, at the very least, a bargaining chip that Moreno will want to explore. Mayor Tom Tait and his negotiators have their work cut out for them.

Angels really truly not moving to Tustin, slink back to Anaheim to reopen lease talks

Hey, remember almost two years ago when the Los Angeles Angels were threatening to build a new stadium in the Orange County city of Tustin? Vaguely? I’d largely forgotten about the whole thing once Tustin officials said they wanted to receive fair market value for any stadium land, but apparently Angels owner Arte Moreno hadn’t given up on the plan. Until now:

The developer of the proposed Tustin site said his firm worked extensively in recent months on a ballpark project, but could not structure a deal that made economic sense for the development company, for Tustin and for the Angels…

The two sides are believed to have focused on a stadium that would have seated about 37,000 and cost about $700 million. Tustin officials had said they would not provide taxpayer funding for stadium construction.

“At this point, there’s not a path forward that’s economically viable for anyone,” Oliver said.

Instead, Moreno has now reopened talks with the city of Anaheim about a deal to renovate the team’s current stadium, which could get very interesting indeed. Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is one of the more skeptical local officials on the subject of stadium subsidies, and has been insistent that he won’t give away valuable development rights to Moreno for nothing; a majority of the city council, though, still consists (until the November elections, at least) of members who approved the free-land deal that Tait later scuttled. Tait says he hopes to come to an agreement that’s a “win-win” for both the team and the people of Anaheim; if most mayors said that I’d expect it was just empty rhetoric, but Tait seems to actually mean it, so … yeah, very interesting times indeed.

Angels exec: We don’t care about poor fans, because they don’t buy enough hot dogs

You know how often we will talk here about how the modern sports industry is all about selling tickets to rich folks, because that’s where the money is? Meet Los Angeles Angels vice president of marketing and ticket sales Robert Alvarado, who is not afraid to admit that not only does he target deep-pocketed fans, but really he’d just as soon fans without a lot of spending money stay the hell home:

“The conventional wisdom would tell you, ‘Let’s get the bodies in here, because they’re still gonna be spending money on parking, hot dogs, souvenirs, all that stuff.’ But we have not seen that in the past. Drawing in a discount buyer, they aren’t necessarily flipping and buying stuff here.”…

“We may not be reaching as many of the people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, but those people, they may enjoy the game, but they pay less, and we’re not seeing the conversion on the per-caps,” Alvarado said. “In doing so, the ticket price that we’re offering those people, it’s not like I can segregate them, because I’m offering it up to the public, and I’m basically downselling everybody else in order to accommodate them.”

The OC Weekly seems to think that by “segregate” Alvarado means setting up a special poor-only section at the ballpark; I think he actually was complaining that if you offer tickets at a price regular people can afford, then the upper crust will buy them at that price too, and you’re leaving money on the table that you could have effectively extracted from rich folks’ wallets. So better to charge everybody a ton for tickets, and if the “people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder” don’t show up, that’s okay, because the people with money buy more hot dogs.

That’s really no different than teams wanting smaller stadiums so that they can sell fewer tickets at higher prices, but it’s said a bit more bald-facedly. So thank you, Robert Alvarado, for explaining the modern sports industry in simple English. Even if it might not win you many friends among Angels fans who can’t afford as many $4.50 hot dogs.

[UPDATE: Alvarado just resigned. Honesty gets you nowhere these days.]

Angels-to-Tustin “on back burner,” front burner now empty and sad

Hey, what’s up with the Los Angeles Angels‘ talk about moving to an air base in Tustin, anyway?

The Angels terminated talks with Anaheim in September, while continuing discussions with Tustin about building a stadium at the former Marine Corps Air Station. But now the Tustin negotiations also appear stalled, with the City Council there last receiving an update in early February.

“It’s been such a desultory thing,” Tustin Councilman Allan Bernstein said. “I thought there was a definite path, but there doesn’t seem to be. It seems to have been put on the back burner.”

Okay, then! It’s almost like the whole Tustin thing was just an idle threat that was dropped as soon as Tustin officials said they wanted to be paid for their land just like Anaheim’s mayor.

Anyway, you can read more in the Orange County Register about all the nothing that’s going on with the Angels’ stadium situation if you want. It has some quotes from me in it, if that floats your boat.