Friday roundup: Charlotte approves $35m in soccer subsidies, NYC spends $5m on stadium upgrades for team that may disappear, NBA joins NFL in welcoming fans back to giant virus stew

Even after dispensing with that crazy San Jose Sharks move threat story, there’s a ton of leftover news this week. So put down that amazing Defector article about how the British have fetishized the Magna Carta as a declaration of citizen rights when it’s really just about how the king can’t unreasonably tax 25 barons, and let’s get right to it:

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More on Justin Turner’s maskless World Series celebration, which has nothing directly to do with stadiums but bear with me

It’s a bad day to be Justin Turner. The Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman, who received a positive coronavirus test result during Tuesday’s Game 6 of the World Series, was pulled from the game, then returned to the field to take part in postgame celebrations after the Dodgers won the championship, has been savaged across the sports world, getting called “selfish” by Yahoo! Sports, “galling” by USA Today, and I’m not even going to check Twitter. Even Dodgers president Andrew Friedman, who semi-defended Turner’s presence on the field by saying that he technically became a free agent as soon as the game ended and “I don’t think there was anyone that was going to stop him,” acknowledged that it was “not good optics” to have him sitting for a photo, maskless, next to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a cancer survivor.

And then on the other hand there was Defector’s Albert Burneko, who beneath the superficially contrarian headline “It’s Not Justing Turner’s Fault” made the point that focusing the blame on individual behavior during an institutional crisis is completely the wrong way to go about things:

The bleak lesson of 2020—really, the bleak lesson of so much of the history of this society, but one the year 2020 seems hell-bent on teaching—is about the futility of individual responses amid institutional failure. This is how the real bad actors, the ones with the power to actually make significant changes, want things: with responsibility for containing the pandemic, or arresting climate change, or addressing systemic inequality and social injustice, litigated in society as matters of scattered individual choice. If baseball failed to contain the pandemic, well then it was because no individual person made the individual choice to thwart Justin Turner’s deeply human desire to celebrate the happiest moment of his life with the teammates who’d shared the journey with him, and not because Major League Baseball had a duty to provide and adhere to clearer and firmer protocols from the beginning. If a campaign rally doubles as a superspreader event, well, heck, we passed out masks, but it’s not like the literal president of the United States can just insist people wear them at an affair he’s hosting. If your preferred party loses an election, it’s because individuals selfishly withheld their vote, not because the party had, and fell short of, any responsibility to reach those people and earn their support. If the natural world swelters to death, well then it’s because not enough people bought electric cars or metal straws, not because neoliberal governments deferred to the corporate world for meaningful changes it wouldn’t make until forced by market imperatives, if then, if ever.

As several people raised down in the Defector comments, Justin Turner’s maskless run onto the field was a lot like college students’ maskless partying in the wake of reopening campuses — yes, it’s incredibly dumb, but when under the influence of alcohol/hormones/having just won the World Series, you kind of have to expect some people to do incredibly dumb things. Which is why we have rules against doing dumb things, and league officials and college administrators and U.S. presidents who are supposed to enforce those rules. It’s not Andrew Friedman’s job, in other words, to be as confused as Nigel.

And even as MLB has been frantically issuing statements that, hey, they told Turner to stay off the field and he wouldn’t listen, there are frankly more concerning things about the league’s actions here than how many security guards they assigned to the Covid isolation room. (Presumably if a fan had tried to run onto the field they would have done more than just ask them nicely to stop, right? But I digress.) Even if Turner had sat placidly and watched the celebration on TV, he’d been in close proximity to the rest of his team, often indoors in the clubhouse, for weeks prior to this, which according to both CDC and MLB rules meant everyone else on the team should be immediately quarantined. USA Today initially reported that “the team will have multiple rounds of testing before leaving Texas.” Instead, this happened:

Yes, indeed, Some Guy Named G, you’re not likely to start testing positive until at least four days after you yourself are infected, but you can be infectious that whole time. So Mookie Betts testing negative yesterday is no guarantee that Mookie Betts isn’t silently transmitting coronavirus to everyone else on that team plane, or wherever else he goes back in Los Angeles once he gets off it. Justin Turner risking infecting his teammates for the sake of a photo op with the championship trophy was reckless and impulsive; the Dodgers and MLB risking infecting even more teammates by sticking a whole bunch of potentially infectious people on a plane together was an institutional failure of responsibility.

Getting back to Burneko’s point: There’s a common defense by people in power who want to deny responsibility for their actions that they’re just giving the people what they want, whether that thing that they want is carbon-spewing cars or cigarettes or guns or the freedom to decide whether to wear masks or, yes, billion-dollar sports stadiums to buy tickets to. (This is an especially common gambit by the people who stand to make money from the questionable items being sold.) But the whole point of being in power is that you have power, and by your actions, you set the stage for what behavior by other people is not just acceptable, but possible. So while it might be fun to blame Justin Turner for being a lunkhead, or people in Maine for holding that deadly wedding, a public health crisis like this one only highlights how vital it is to have some mechanism for authority — whether it’s an elected government, an unelected league management, or an anarcho-syndicalist executive officer of the week — who can and will establish and enforce rules about not being a lunkhead. All else, as we’ve so recently been reminded, ends in bears.

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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.

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Friday roundup: Coyotes late with arena rent, Winnipeg move non-threats, and good old gondolas, nothing beats gondolas!

If you missed me — and a whole lot of other people you’ve likely read about here, including economist Victor Matheson and former Anaheim mayor Tom Tait — breaking down the Los Angeles Angels stadium deal in an enormous Zoom panel last night, you can still check it out on the Voice of OC’s Facebook page. I didn’t bother to carefully curate the books on the shelves behind me, as one does, so have fun checking out which novels I read 20 years ago!

And on to the news, which remains unrelentingly newsy:

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Friday roundup: Drumming clowns, vaporgondolas, and the XFL rises shambling from its dusty grave

The magnets have shipped! Repeat: The magnets have shipped! If you want to get in on this, act now, or you might have to wait until I make my second trip to the post office.

This was an extra-busy news week, which felt like a bit of a return to normalcy after several months of sports team owners mostly focusing more on getting back on the field than on getting money to pay for new fields. But life can’t be put on hold forever, and by “life” I mean “grubbing for someone else’s cash,” because what is life if not that? (Answers may differ if you are not a sports team owner.)

Here’s a bunch more stuff that happened than what already made FoS this week:

  • That protest to call for the New York Yankees to pay their fair share of taxes or maybe just bail out local struggling businesses only drew about 10-15 people, according to NJ.com, but also “clowns playing a drum on stilts.” The site’s accompanying video features less than two seconds of drum-playing stilt clowns, and a whole lot of 161st Street BID director Cary Goodman talking about the plight of local businesses, and while I know Cary and he apparently paid for the clowns, I still say that this is a dereliction of journalistic duty.
  • Along those same lines, the gondola company owned by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has reportedly released new renderings of its proposed gondola to Dodger Stadium, but does NBC Los Angeles show us any of them? No, it does not. (I so yearn to see Cab-Hailing Purse Woman cast off her foam finger and hail a gondola.) We do learn that “the gondola system could move up to 5,500 people per hour in each direction, meaning more than 10,000 fans could be transported to Dodger Stadium in the two hours before the start of a game or event,” which seems to misunderstand how people arrive at baseball games, which at Dodger Stadium is mostly all at once in the third inning, and even more misunderstand how people leave baseball games, which is all at once when they’re over, at which point there would suddenly be a two-hour-long line for the gondola. McCourt’s L.A. Aerial Rapid Transit company says it will pay the project’s $125 million cost, but even if true — and you know I’m always skeptical when people ask for public-private partnerships but promise there will be no public money — that doesn’t make this much less of a crazy idea.
  • The XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats might have to share their stadium this spring with a college football team, and, wait, didn’t the XFL fold? I swear the XFL folded. Oh, I see now that The Rock bought it, so: In the unlikely event that the XFL gets going again, its L.A. team will have to share digs with a college football team playing in the spring. Honestly having to use a football stadium more than 10 days a year just seems like efficient use of space to me, but sports leagues do get gripey about scheduling, even sports leagues that barely exist.
  • That Palm Springs arena being built by AEG now won’t be built in Palm Springs after all, but rather nearby Palm Desert, because the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, whose land was going to be used for the project, decided after Covid hit to “reevaluate what was going on just like most other businesses because they had so many other projects,” whatever that means. Given that the Palm Springs police and fire departments said they’d need tens of millions of dollars to provide services for the new arena, I think it’s safe to say that Palm Springs just dodged a bullet here.
  • The San Francisco 49ers are finally paying rent again to the city of Santa Clara, after initially trying to get out of it because their two exhibition games at home were canceled.
  • This Athletic article about the attempts in the 1980s and ’90s to save Tiger Stadium is paywalled and is not nearly as comprehensive as the entire chapter about the same subject in Field of Schemes, but it does have some nice quotes from Tiger Stadium Fan Club organizers Frank Rashid and Judy Davids (the latter of whom worked on a renovation plan for the stadium that would have cost a fraction of a new one, a scale model for which I once slept in the same room with when she and her husband/co-designer John put me up at their house during a FoS book tour), so by all means give it a read if you can.
  • If you’re wondering how $5.6 billion in subsidies for a new high-end residential/office/mall development in Manhattan is working out now that Covid has both residents and offices moving out of Manhattan, I reported on it for Gothamist and discovered the unsurprising answer: really not well at all.
  • The KFC Yum! Center in Louisville’s naming rights are about to expire, but KFC is talking about signing an extension, so with any luck we have many more years ahead of us to make fun of the name “KFC Yum! Center.”
  • That’s not how you spell “ESPN,” Minneapolis-St.Paul Business Journal.
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Does MLB’s postseason bubble format make any damn sense? An investigation

After much speculation, it’s official: MLB will be going to a “bubble” format for most of its postseason, isolating players and staff at a handful of locations to try to avoid any Covid outbreaks like the ones that disrupted many teams’ regular seasons. After the first round of best-of-three series takes place at teams’ regular home parks, the National League Division Series will be held at Arlington and Houston and American League Division Series will be in San Diego and Los Angeles, followed by League Championship Series in Arlington and San Diego, then a World Series in Arlington.

Going to a bubble makes sense: It’s worked well for the NBA and NHL, and does seem to be the best way to prevent outbreaks. And baseball has even thought through some of the problems of starting a bubble on the fly — players will have to start self-quarantining at their homes and hotels as early as next Tuesday, with their families joining them then in quarantine if they want to enter the bubble with them, though given that players are already not supposed to be out on the town, this pretty much comes down to “try extra-hard not to get sick right before the playoffs, guys.”

Playing in Southern California and Texas is more puzzling, though. Sure, they’re both warm-weather sites, though pretty much all of North America is relatively warm in October now thanks to climate change, except when it’s not. But they’re also both relatively high-virus states: Texas has begun to see a major second spike after its huge outbreak that began in June, and California isn’t far behind.

(That’s one-week new-case averages, but if you check 91-DIVOC you can see similar trends underway for positivity rates, so this isn’t just a matter of more people getting tested — there really is way more virus afoot in Texas and California than in states like New York and Massachusetts. And while a bubble in high-virus Florida worked okay for the NBA, it also didn’t have players traveling between cities.)

On top of that, warm weather hasn’t exactly been good for California lately, given that Los Angeles County just saw a record high temperature of 121 degrees and, oh yeah, the whole damn state is on fire. Maybe the wildfires will have died down by October, but wildfire season in Southern California usually lasts till the start of November, and thanks again to climate change is basically all year round now, so baseball could be risking a repeat of this week’s games in Seattle that had to be canceled after the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners played a doubleheader in a cloud of choking smoke.

The first thing that comes to mind is MLB’s longstanding tradition of rewarding team owners who’ve built or renovated stadiums with getting to host special events like the All-Star Game. The Texas Rangers‘ stadium, of course, only just opened this year, after winning close to half a billion dollars in city subsidies so they could have air-conditioning, while Dodger Stadium just got a $100 million renovation (at team expense), and in fact was in line to host the All-Star Game this summer before that got canceled. And once you’ve picked those two, the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres stadiums are relatively close to reduce travel, and also relatively new, though, man, Houston’s is 20 years old already? I guess Enron was a long time ago.

Texas has another advantage, though. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred had this to say yesterday at a sports business panel:

“I’m hopeful that [for] the World Series and the LCS we will have limited fan capacity,” Manfred said during a question-and-answer session through Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business. Manfred’s comments were first reported by the Athletic. “I think it’s important for us to start back down [that] road. Obviously, it’ll be limited numbers, socially distanced, [with] protection provided for the fans in terms of temperature checks and the likes…

“But I do think it’s important as we look forward to 2021 to get back to the idea that live sports are safe. They’re generally outdoors, at least our games, and it’s something we can get back to.”

Whether live outdoor sports are safe for fans to attend in the middle of a pandemic outbreak is, of course, a huge open question, one that the NFL is currently attempting to answer via a giant human test subject experiment. Also, the Houston and Texas stadiums aren’t entirely outdoors — they both have retractable roofs, and in fact the roof is the entire reason for the Texas stadium existing — and while they probably still have better air circulation than a totally indoor arena, if the principle here is “it’s safe to let in fans so long as its outdoors,” shouldn’t Manfred have picked entirely outdoor stadiums? Hell, New York City has two of ’em, plus oodles of now-vacant hotel rooms.

Ah, but New York City also has bans on fans attending live sporting events, and Texas notably does not. And even at 25% capacity, selling tickets for the World Series — the only tickets that would be available for any MLB games this year — would be massively hot commodities, something that Manfred said later in his talk was at the forefront of baseball’s thoughts:

“The owners have made a massive economic investment in getting the game back on the field [in 2020] for the good of the game,” he said. “We need to be back in a situation where we can have fans in ballparks in order to sustain our business. It’s really that simple.”

So, yeah, it really is that simple: If we can sell tickets, that’s the priority, we’ll figure out the risks later.

Prioritizing money over safety also explains perhaps the biggest hole in the MLB bubble structure: The first-round games, which will be held in eight different cities, with no bubbles, right before the embubbled postseason begins. This Round of 16 was announced abruptly at the beginning of the season, and doesn’t make any more baseball sense than public health sense — three-game series in baseball have essentially random outcomes, especially now that home-field advantage maybe means nothing without fans (though maybe it still does?), so you’re subjecting regular-season division winners to virtually the same odds of making it to the next round as sub-.500 teams lucky enough to play in weak divisions. But it does mean a whole lot more TV money, enough that MLB was willing to cough up $393 million in postseason bonus money to the players’ union to make it happen.

And as Marc Normandin points out in today’s edition of his newsletter (this one un-paywalled, but please send him some money if you like it!), even before seeing whether this results in a bunch of third-place teams on hot streaks battling it out in the playoffs, Manfred is already eager to make this the new normal:

“Manfred also said the expanded, 16-team postseason is likely to remain beyond 2020, adding that “an overwhelming majority” of owners had already endorsed the concept before the pandemic.

“I think there’s a lot to commend it,” he said, “and it is one of those changes I hope will become a permanent part of our landscape.”

Normandin also points out that letting a thousand playoff teams bloom has an important side benefit for team owners who are sick of shelling out big bucks to buy the best team possible:

If the league was already full of teams aiming to win 83 games because it’s cheaper than trying to win 90 and they might get lucky and win 90, anyway, what is going to happen when the threshold for making the postseason drops? A bunch of teams looking to win 75 games and occasionally being rewarded for it because a prospect hits their stride sooner than expected, or an inexpensive, low-end free agent has a surprise epiphany and subsequent breakout? We’re going to end up in a scenario where owners know they’ll be getting increased shared revenue from an expanded postseason, and more revenue than that if their teams manage to make it there themselves. And little incentive to spend any of that increased revenue, because why try when not trying might get you to the postseason, anyway?

In other words, if you loved the marginal revenue gap that has allowed owners to pocket even more money without having to collude about it, it’s about to get that much bigger.

MLB’s bubble postseason, in short, is one part profiteering and one part just enough concern for the public to seem reasonable without getting in the way of the profiteering. Which is how baseball — and pretty much all pro sports in the U.S. — has always been run, so it should come as no surprise. But it’ll be something to keep in mind while watching the Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants battle it out for the World Series in Texas in front of 12,500 very well-heeled and well-air-conditioned fans.

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Friday roundup: Another Canadian sports bailout request, and everyone pretends to know when things may or may not reopen

Happy May, everybody! This crisis somehow both feels like it’s speeding into the future and making time crawl — as one friend remarked yesterday, it’s like we’ve all entered an alternate universe where nothing ever happens — and we have to hold on to the smallest glimmers of possible news and the tiniest drips of rewards to keep us going and remind us that today is not actually the same as yesterday. In particular, today is fee-free day on Bandcamp, when 100% of purchase prices goes to artists, and lots of musicians have released new albums and singles and video downloads for the occasion. Between that and historic baseball games on YouTube with no scores listed so you can be surprised at how they turn out, maybe we’ll get through the weekend, at least.

And speaking of week’s end, that’s where we are, and there’s plenty of dribs and drabs of news-like items from the week that just passed, so let’s catch up on what the sports world has been doing while not playing sports:

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Here’s a bunch of ways rich sports owners are looking to get pandemic bailouts

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers have voluntarily returned $4.6 million in refundable government loans they received as part of the Payroll Protection Program—

Hold up, let’s try that again.

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers, a sports franchise worth an estimated $4.4 billion that turns an annual $178 million profit, asked for and received $4.6 million in federal government loans as part of its Payroll Protection Program for small businesses. (The loans convert to grants if recipients keep their current employees on payroll through the end of June.) Like other prominent companies that took advantage of the PPP program — Shake Shack, Potbelly, Ruth’s Chris friggin’ Steakhouse — the Buss family that owns the Lakers chose to return the money “so that financial support would be directed to those most in need” once they realized they’d bum-rushed the subsidy line and edged out actual small businesses, and also probably realized that the PR hit from doing so would have been worth way more than a relatively piddling $4.6 million in government grants.

That a billionaire sports family got approved for small-business loans should be alarming, but not surprising: The federal government has already approved more than $2 trillion in spending to help Americans hit by the coronavirus-spawned economic crash, and it’s all but inevitable that some less-needy Americans would put in applications as well — the feds define “small businesses” based in part on how many employees they have, and sports teams don’t employ a ton of people on payroll. And it’s also inevitable that they’d also be among the first to be approved, since programs like PPP are first-come first-served and rich folks are more likely to have lawyers on staff who know how to file paperwork fast, as well as established bank connections that made them more likely to get approved.

In fact, sports team owners are working many angles to get a cut of the Covid stimulus bailout cash, just as less-deep-pocketed individuals are as they try to figure out whether to consider themselves unemployed gig workers or entrepreneurs in need of cash to keep themselves on payroll. Among the ways:

  • The Sacramento Kings owners are renting out their old empty arena in Natomas for $500,000 a month to the state of California for use as a field hospital, which is the same rent the state is paying for other temporary facilities, but maybe a tad disingenuous given that Gov. Gavin Newsom previously praised Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé as “an example of people all stepping in to meet this moment head-on” without mentioning that he’d be getting paid for his selflessness.
  • The owners of the D.C. United MLS team are part of DC2021, an advocacy group of Washington, D.C. business leaders lobbying the district for “a massive new tax relief program” to help the local restaurant, hotel, and — apparently — soccer industries survive the economic shutdown.
  • The stimulus measures approved by Congress weren’t all expanded unemployment benefits and checks with Donald Trump’s name on them; they also reestablished a tax loophole involving what are known as “pass-through entities” that will allow mostly wealthy people to save $82 billion on their tax bills this year. The biggest beneficiaries will be hedge-fund investors and owners of real estate businesses, a list that obviously includes lots of sports moguls: Just owners of hedge funds who also control sports teams include Milwaukee Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik, and a pile of others.

Now, not all of this should be considered a fiasco: In the case of the PPP in particular, Pat Garofalo notes in his Boondoggle newsletter that the money is intended to keep low- and moderate-income workers from being laid off — the reimbursements top out at $100,000 per employee — and people who work for sports teams or chain restaurants are just as deserving of keeping their jobs as those who work at genuine small businesses. The main problem with PPP is that Congress massively underfunded it, then made it first-come first-served, then left it up to banks to decide who to approve — okay, there’s actually a lot here to consider a fiasco, but sports team owners deciding to fill their wallets at the same firehose of cash as everyone else is far from the worst part of it.

As for some of the other bailout proposals, though, sports owners come off looking a lot less innocent. That DC2021 plan pushed by D.C. United owner Jason Levien, for example, includes such things as tax holidays for corporate income taxes and property taxes, which Garofalo notes won’t help most small businesses that don’t turn large profits or own land.  (Levien, you will not be surprised to learn, is not just a sports mogul but also a real estate investor.) And the pass-through tax break is almost entirely a sop to millionaires and the Congresspeople who love them, which though it doesn’t single out sports team owners, certainly helps many of them given that they’re far more likely to invest in pass-through companies than you or I.

I’ve said this before, but it really is worth harping on: The recovery from the pandemic is already involving a ton of government spending, and will unavoidably involve a ton more, since the feds are pretty much the only institution that has the power to keep food in people’s mouths during this crisis. (At least until the U.S. Mint is deemed a non-essential business.) This will invariably create winners and losers, both in terms of who gets what money and in terms of who ends up paying off the government debts that are being racked up now. There’s no way to avoid this involving subsidies — pretty much the whole idea of government spending to prevent an economic crash is about creative use of subsidies — so what you want to shoot for is fairness, where you have the most money going to companies and individuals who were most hurt by coronavirus shutdowns, and the least to companies and individuals that just were able to lawyer up the fastest.

Individuals who were most hurt except, of course, for Miami Heat and Carnival Cruises owner Micky Arison, who may have lost more than a billion dollars thanks to the collapse of the cruise industry, but who also lobbied the Trump White House to let them keep sailing even after it was clear that cruise ships were perfect Covid incubators. The cruise industry was notably left out of the stimulus bills, and while that’s more about the fact that they all registered as foreign businesses in order to duck U.S. taxes than their owners being money-grubbing jerks who prioritized profits over public health, I think we can all agree: Screw those guys.

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Angels owner who got $175m subsidy is stiffing stadium workers, because outsourcing

Another day, another news story about sports stadium workers who can’t pay their rent because teams are refusing to pay third-party employees during the coronavirus shutdown:

On March 17, the Dodgers and Angels — and every other major league team — each committed $1 million to provide financial assistance to game-day workers.

Luna believed that meant he would get financial assistance. He has not seen a dime. The fact that he works for third-party concession companies and not the Dodgers or Angels complicates his situation.

“It’s getting pretty stressful,” he said. “I rely on this income.”

That million-dollar-per-team relief fund got a lot of attention when it was announced, even though the total isn’t much more than each MLB team will be paying the last guy on their bench. But the bigger problem is that most of the people who sell you hot dogs or scorecards aren’t actually team employees — they work for concessionaires like Aramark, which means baseball owners feel entirely justified in not paying them squat during the sports layoff. Some teams have relented — the Red Sox added an extra $500,000 to cover some subcontracted employees after a public outcry — but plenty of others haven’t.

As discussed before, this is somewhere between irony and hypocrisy, given that every team that comes seeking stadium or arena funds makes sure to cite the jobs that these subsidies will help make possible. Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno and his supporters, in fact, used precisely that argument in pushing for a land deal that gave Moreno about a $175 million subsidy for his stadium plans:

“For every fan who told us to keep the Angels, this proposal would do exactly that,” Mayor Harry Sidhu said in a statement. “This proposal reflects what we’ve heard from the community – keep the Angels, a fair land price, money for neighborhoods, ongoing revenue, affordable housing, parks and jobs for Anaheim.”

Okay, Sidhu didn’t say good jobs, I guess. But even if “I am proud to sign a deal that will provide my city with shitty part-time jobs that can be terminated at the drop of a hat because of the magic of subcontracting” might have been more honest, it doesn’t fit as well on a bumper sticker.

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Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

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