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

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

Friday roundup: Trump tariff construction cost hikes, Beckham lawsuit tossed, Elon Musk inserts himself into headlines yet again

Lots of news to report this week, and that’s even without items that I can’t read because of Tronc Troncing:

Friday roundup: Senators owner stalling on arena commitment, Jaguars owner wants to buy Wembley, and gondolas, forever gondolas

As late as Wednesday, I thought this was turning out to be a slow news week. Then the news made up for it in a hurry:

  • The New York Islanders owners held a question-and-answer session for residents near their planned new arena on Tuesday, and when asked about how they plan to increase Long Island Railroad service to avoid tons of auto traffic, a state development official said, “We are in very active discussions with the LIRR — meeting with them once a week — and those talks are ramping up.” Hopefully they’re involving Dr. Strange in those discussions, because they badly need to find some new topological dimensions.
  • Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to talk to Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk about whether he actually plans to pursue the LeBreton Flats arena development he won rights to last year, after Melnyk called it “a huge project with tremendous risk” and said, “If it doesn’t look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I’m not suggesting that right now” and “Something’s got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break.” Melnyk has made threats like this before, but you’d think now that he has an agreed sale price for the land he’d be happy; it sure sounds like he’s angling for some additional public subsidies now that he has his mitts on the land, which you can’t really blame him for, since Watson opened the door to that already. Come on, mayor, haven’t you learned yet not to get the can opener out when the cat is around?
  • Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the group started by the Rays to push for business support for a new stadium, is signing up plenty of members, but DRaysBay notes that “the real test of commitment will come when businesses are asked to make clearer financial commitments to a stadium plan.” Yeah, no duh. (The subhead here, “Business leaders line up behind stadium plan, but financing questions linger,” is also a masterpiece of understatement.)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that the Toronto Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre “needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible,” noting that other stadiums “have millennial areas, things like that that have been built and become popular more recently.” So, like, an Instagram parlor?
  • Here’s a story about how 25 years ago the NHL handed Norman Green the rights to move the Minnesota North Stars to any open market as consolation for putting an expansion team in Anaheim, where he’d wanted to move, and he ended up going to Dallas. Also it has Roger Staubach in the headline for some reason.
  • And here’s a story about how 50 years ago NHL expansion inadvertently kicked off the rise of arena rock, which is probably overstated but it has links to vintage Cream videos in it, if you like that sort of thing.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is in talks with the Football Association to buy London’s Wembley Stadium for £600 million, which is certain to raise eyebrows about the possibility of the Jags moving to London, but is probably for right now more about Fulham F.C., which Khan also owns, being about to get promoted to the Premier League and wanting a bigger place to play. Khan also said, “I think it needs investment and updating. Compared to American stadiums the video boards are something that need to be looked at. The lounges are a little bit dated.” The current Wembley Stadium was built in 2007.
  • The son of former disgraced Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt wants to build a gondola to take fans from Union Station to Dodger Stadium to avoid traffic. “It’s not actually crazy,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti insisted on Thursday, which, given that this is a city considering allowing Elon Musk to build a network of tunnels to whisk residents about via some unknown technology, maybe we should take that with a grain of salt.
  • San Diego State says its stadium plans could eventually be expanded to fit an NFL team, for a mere additional $750-$850 million. Most San Diegans responding to an internet poll (which means some San Diegans, some non-San Diegans, and some dogs) don’t think they’re getting an NFL team anytime soon, anyway.
  • The Port of Oakland has approved giving the Oakland A’s owners exclusive negotiating rights to develop Howard Terminal, which now gives the A’s exclusive rights to two possible stadium sites. As DRaysBay would say, financing questions linger.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has toured the new Milwaukee Bucks arena and says it has “unique sight lines.” Hopefully he means that in a good way, though I’m still wondering about that “sky mezzanine level.”

Dodger Stadium springs a sewage leak, time to build a new one

Last night’s spring training game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels was called off in the 5th inning after a giant pool of sewage poured out on the field from a broken pipe. Guess it’s time for the Dodgers to demand a new stadium, huh?

(I have nothing else to add about this story, except to give props to the Associated Press for the opening line of their report: “Spring training came to a repulsive end Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.” Sheer journalistic poetry.)

Dodgers land deal for McCourt includes NFL stadium rights, management fees, money room like Scrooge McDuck’s

The Los Angeles Times has acquired documents providing more details on last year’s $2 billion sale of the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium, after a judge ruled that the Dodgers’ new owners couldn’t keep them secret. And while the specifics are a bit convoluted, the upshot is: Baseball has been very, very good to Frank McCourt, who could end up with three billion dollars on the sale of the bankrupt franchise that he raided in order to line his pockets.

The short version: McCourt got $2.15 billion in cash for the Dodgers, Dodger Stadium, and half-ownership of the stadium parking lots. The new owners, Guggenheim Baseball Management, it now turns out, also were required to “invest as much as $650 million in a real estate development fund run by McCourt,” and to pay him an annual management fee of $5.5 million. As for McCourt’s remaining 50% share of the lots, McCourt is getting at least $7 million a year in rent from the Dodgers, plus has an option to sell back the lots to the Guggenheim for $150 million — or to buy the Dodgers’ share himself to build a non-baseball stadium. And since the NFL has been sniffing around the Dodger Stadium parking lots for a possible stadium, that clause might well come into play.

All this is interesting enough in terms of what happens to the Dodger Stadium property, but mostly because it’s an indication that Guggenheim’s purchase price for the Dodgers is even more insane than it appeared at the time. (“Our goal was to put together a proposal that got a yes,” Guggenheim partner Todd Boehly told the Times yesterday, which roughly translates as “We had to have the team, and money was no object.”) And also an indication that though Dodger Stadium is often referred to as “privately built,” the publicly gifted land that Walter O’Malley picked out from a helicopter ended up being worth quite a bit, indeed.

 

First look at redone Dodger Stadium shows Smith’s handiwork

The Los Angeles Dodgers home opener is today, which means the first opportunity for fans to check out the $100 million in renovations to Dodger Stadium that were done in the offseason. If you don’t have tickets, you can see a video here (though most of it consists of players batting in the new underground batting cage or team officials talking in front of a terrifyingly large bobblehead) or, perhaps more usefully, check out the graphics of the changes put together by the Los Angeles Times.

The Times graphics reveal a renovation that’s right in line with Dodgers renovation director Janet Marie Smith’s previous work at Fenway Park: Do everything possible to make the best use of space behind the scenes, while preserving the historic look and feel of the stadium overall. Fans like wider concourses and drink rails to watch the game without spilling their beers? Eliminate the back row of seats on each level, and make room for those. They want bigger, more hi-def scoreboards? Replace the current ones with new ones the same size and hexagonal shape as existed in the original stadium design in 1962, but with modern resolution. (As a side note, I also like how the Times graphics make clear that because it’s built into the side of a ravine, Dodger Stadium’s main entrances are actually level with the top deck of seating — something I never quite got until I visited the place myself.)

It all looks nice so far, and an example of how teams can get more use out of their current ballparks for a relatively low price. The Chicago Cubs should be listening, though given all the talk lately about them wanting to install a 6,000-square-foot video board at Wrigley Field, it sounds like they haven’t gotten the “unobtrusive” memo.

Forbes: MLB franchise values soar 23%, thanks to TV riches

The Forbes baseball team value estimates are out, and they’re a doozy:

The average baseball team is now worth $744 million, 23% more than a year ago and the largest increase since we began tracking MLB finances in 1998. During the 2012 season, revenue (net of stadium debt service) rose 7%, to an average of $227 million per team. Operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) per team fell 9%, to $13.1 million, mainly due to higher player costs and stadium expenses.

Yeah, you read that right: Baseball teams are less profitable, but worth more. How’s that work? Forbes doesn’t exactly explain, but does note that both TV rights fees and revenue for MLB Advanced Media (baseball’s online arm) have been soaring, so presumably prospective team buyers are expecting that those revenue streams will keep growing in coming years, enough to outpace increased payroll costs. Though the way things are going there, player costs might just eat up any new revenues faster than owners are anticipating.

More likely is that last year’s sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion and the San Diego Padres for $800 million forced Forbes to recalibrate its entire scale upwards. Which is fine enough — new data points should be incorporated into the calculation — but it still doesn’t exactly explain why team values are soaring this much when profits are essentially flat.

The one thing that the Forbes numbers make even more clear is that TV and internet broadcast money is king right now: MLB is starting to become more like football, where a larger share of money is generated by people watching at home, rather than the more stadium-revenues-based model it’s traditionally been. How this will affect the business of the sport is complicated: Does it dilute the advantage of teams like the Yankees because everyone now has TV riches at their disposal, or give them more of an advantage because they can expect their cable contracts to outpace their competitors by an even greater margin? Does a team like the Oakland A’s (third to last in team value, but 5th in the league in profits at an estimated $27.5 million) or the Tampa Bay Rays (dead last in value, 19th in profits at $10 million) reconsider its stadium plans if access to eyeballs outweighs ability to put fannies in the seats? If nothing else, one thing should be clear: No teams are moving to San Antonio or Las Vegas anytime soon.

NFL, Dodgers have “had talks” about football stadium at Chavez Ravine

Stop the presses!

Dan Kaplan of Sports Business Daily reported Monday that the [NFL] has had direct talks with [Los Angeles] Dodgers owner Guggenheim Partners about the possibility of a football stadium at Chavez Ravine, a concept that has been floated since the mid-1990s, when Peter O’Malley pushed to bring the NFL there.

All that remains to be done, writes the L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer: figure out a way to get ex-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is 50% owner of the Dodger Stadium parking lots, to go along with a new stadium deal; start a new round of environmental impact statements; figure out whether the Dodgers would stay put or move to a new stadium on the proposed downtown site near the convention center; and wait to find out who AEG, which has proposed the downtown stadium, is ever being sold. And something else that Farmer doesn’t mention, let’s see … oh right, who on earth is going to pay for this dang thing.

All items to keep in mind before the next article alleging that other NFL teams are set to move to L.A. if they can’t extract new stadiums from their current home towns. Crap, too late.

 

Dodger Stadium upgrades almost ready, but how long will they last?

The Los Angeles Dodgers held a press conference yesterday to go over this winter’s $100 million in Janet Marie Smith-led renovations to Dodger Stadium, which amount to: new hi-def scoreboards, ripping out the back rows of each section to add wheelchair seating and make for wider concourses, renovated restrooms, a new sound system, a bit more foul territory, and walkways over the bullpens. So, exactly the kind of low-profile but worthwhile enhancements you’d expect from Smith, who previously oversaw the renovation of Fenway Park.

The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin, though, can’t help noticing that unlike with Fenway, the Dodgers’ new owners are decidedly not saying that this means they’ll stay put at Dodger Stadium for the long run. Dodgers president Stan Kasten said yesterday: “Right now, we are here. I don’t know if that’s for 10 years, 50 years or 100 years.” To which Smith added: “This assignment is very different. … Whether the Dodgers are here for five years or 50 years does not affect the assignment they have given to me. The commitment to longevity is not a criterion of this investment.”

That doesn’t mean that the Dodgers are about to move, either — it’ll almost certainly take several years for increased revenues from the stadium improvements to pay back that $100 million cost, so they wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t prepared to stay put for at least the medium-term. But it’d take several years to get a new stadium approved and built anyway, and with rumors still rampant about what else might happen at the Chavez Ravine site, you can understand why they’d want to keep their options open, just in case.

NFL zeroing in on Dodger Stadium site?

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any screwier in the NFL-to-Los Angeles rumor wars, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports that owners at the league meetings don’t like either of the two proposed sites, and would rather see a stadium at Chavez Ravine:

Several league sources expressed doubt that the would-be buyers of AEG — the entertainment giant is for sale and could fetch upwards of $10 billion — would be willing to pour massive amounts of money into the downtown project, as the current deal for prospective funding required AEG to do. A change of ownership at AEG could also lead to a more viable agreement at that site, some inside the effort to build in Los Angeles suggested, though there remain significant issues regarding parking and infrastructure in this area.

Areas around Dodger Stadium, where parking and space is abundant, are highly desirable to the league, sources said, and discussions in that regard are ongoing. This site has not received the national attention of others, but is very logical, particularly if the Dodgers were to move downtown. I asked commissioner Roger Goodell about the area around Dodger Stadium during his post-meeting press conference, and he called it “a terrific site” and seemed enthused about the possibility. One highly-connected source maintained that Dodger Stadium has been and still is “the preferred choice” of all the current options.

That’s pretty thin sourcing to base a story on, but it’s an indication of some interest, anyway. Recall that there were rumors a little over a year ago about the Dodgers moving to AEG’s downtown L.A. site and the NFL building atop Dodger Stadium; that never went anywhere, and now that the Dodgers are pursuing imminent renovation plans, isn’t all that likely to soon. Building an NFL stadium in the Chavez Ravine parking lot, though, could work — though you’d still be stuck with the same problem of who would pay for it. Things were so much easier in the days when building a stadium was as easy as hopping in a helicopter, pointing at some land, and saying, “Give me that.”