- Elvis Presley Enterprises is looking for property tax breaks from Memphis and Shelby County to help build a $20 million, 5,000- to 6,000-seat arena at Graceland. This could violate a non-compete clause with the Grizzlies over tax breaks for their arena, and local officials aren’t too thrilled with the request anyway: “I don’t want this body to be looked at as a pawn to sweeten the pot,” city councilmember Berlin Boyd told WMC-TV, which is a reasonable sentiment if a somewhat confusing metaphor.
- Preliminary designs for an MLB stadium in Portland look like a cross between a modernized Stade Olympique and the Jupiter 2. But there’s no reason to take these seriously as what an eventual stadium would actually look like if one is ever built, so, you know, don’t.
- The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals are seeking $100 million in public hotel-tax money from Palm Beach County to upgrade their 20-year-old spring training facility, saying they need expanded clubhouses, more batting tunnels, an expanded team store, Wi-Fi, a new scoreboard, more shaded seating areas, and “agility fields” (presumably not this kind) in order to remain “competitive.” Neither team appeared to indicate why any of this is Palm Beach County’s problem.
- North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik say that if Raleigh spends $13 million a year to build a downtown soccer stadium, it will get an MLS expansion franchise. He also said that the public will be almost entirely repaid by new tax receipts from the stadium. It is left as an exercise for the reader as to which statement is less believable.
- The Connecticut state assembly has declined to approve $100 million in renovations to Hartford’s XL Center, seeing as the place is currently up for sale. That makes sense, but it’s slightly worrisome to think that the assembly might approve $100 million in renovations after the arena is sold, unless the sale price is more than $100 million.
Friday roundup: Marlins claim British residency, video football with real humans, and the White Sox stadium that never was
Busy (minor) news week! And away we go…
- Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins ownership group, facing a lawsuit by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County over the team stiffing the public on the share of sale proceeds they were promised, are trying to stave it off by claiming that (deep breath) because one of the owners of an umbrella company of an umbrella company of the umbrella company that owns the Marlins is a business incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, the case should be arbitrated by a federal judge who handles international trade issues. Maybe the Marlins should quit trying to sell tickets to baseball games and sell tickets to the court proceedings instead.
- Tampa Bay Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz, in response to concerns that a big-ass baseball stadium wouldn’t fit into the Ybor City historic district that it would be on the border of, said that “we expect to build a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark that fits within the fabric of the Ybor City community,” though she didn’t give any details. That’s vague enough to be reassuring without actually promising anything concrete, but it’s worth making a note of just in case the historic district ends up becoming a stumbling block in stadium talks, which, stranger things have happened.
- A guy wants to start a football league where fans vote on what plays to run via Twitch, and build an arena in Las Vegas for people to watch … the players? The voting? The Las Vegas Review-Journal article about it was a bit unclear, though it did say that the organizers want to “create the experience of playing a football video game with real people,” which isn’t creepy at all. It also reports that the league plans to use blockchain technology, which is how you know it’s probably a sham.
- Something called the Badger Herald, which I assume is a University of Wisconsin student paper but which I really hope is a newspaper targeted entirely at badgers, ran an article by a junior economics major arguing that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will be a boon to the city because during the first few years “many will come from across the state to watch the Bucks play in this impressive new facility” and after that it will “continue giving the people of Milwaukee a reason to be optimistic.” The author also says that the arena was built after “the NBA gave the Bucks an ultimatum — either obtain a new arena, or the NBA would buy the Bucks and sell the franchise to another city,” which, uh, no, that’s not what happened at all.
- Here’s a really nice article for CBS Sports by my old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry on the Chicago White Sox ballpark proposed by architect Philip Bess that never got built. Come for the cool pictures of spiders, stay for the extended explanation of why supporting columns that obstruct some views are a design feature that stadium architects never should have abandoned!
- The Los Angeles Rams are trying to pull a San Francisco 49ers, according to Deadspin, by making a run at a Super Bowl in the same year they’re selling personal seat licenses for their new stadium. More power to ’em, but prospective Rams PSL buyers, check how that worked out for 49ers fans before you hand over your credit card numbers, okay?
- The state of Connecticut has cut $100 million for Hartford arena renovations from the state budget, at least for now, so that it can use the money toward a $550 million bailout of the city of Hartford itself. Is that what they call a “no win-win situation“?
- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the New York Islanders need to move back to Long Island because Brooklyn’s Barclays Center “wasn’t built for hockey,” which he actually pointed out at the time they moved there, but did anybody listen?
- Alameda County is moving to sell its share of the Oakland Coliseum complex to the city of Oakland, which should make negotiations over what to do with the site slightly simpler, anyway.
- That Missouri governor who killed a proposed St. Louis MLS stadium subsidy, calling it “welfare for millionaires,” is now under pressure to resign after his former hairdresser claimed he groped her, slapped her, and coerced her into sex acts. Maybe we should just stop electing men to public office? Just a thought.
Former Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins, and Florida Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga died on Friday, and any time a soul passes from this earth there’s a sadness, and we pass long our sympathies to all of Huizenga’s relatives and loved ones.
And now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how Wayne Huizenga helped to make the sports world a worse place while he was alive:
- Huizenga bought the Dolphins and Joe Robbie Stadium (I’m not even going to start to look up whatever its corporate name is now) to go along with his fledgling baseball and hockey teams in 1994. He then used his ownership of the stadium to perform an accounting trick where he assigned all the revenue from luxury boxes and naming rights and parking to his stadium company, while charging his own teams rent — thus enabling him to evade league revenue sharing and to cry poor when it was time to spend money on players.
- Huizenga’s stadium may have been built with private money, but that didn’t stop him from extracting $2 million a year in sales tax kickbacks from the state of Florida, cash he kept receiving even after he sold the Marlins, threatening to sue if anyone tried to repeal the subsidy.
- When it came time to build an arena for the Panthers a few years later, he demanded at got $185 million from Broward County to do the deed.
- While Huizenga didn’t invent the player fire sale, he may have perfected it, unloading his team’s two best pitchers and almost its entire starting lineup within a year of the Marlins winning the World Series. This set a pattern for future Marlins teams, through Jeffrey Loria’s 2012 self-immolation to Derek Jeter’s Project Wolverine, all while cementing the Marlins’ place as a team that maximized profits by not trying to win games and instead focusing on collecting revenue-sharing checks.
- When Henry was demanding taxpayer money for a new Marlins stadium, Huizenga, by that time the team’s landlord, played along by threatening to evict them so he could have more room for cricket matches.
Does all this make Huizenga a bad man? First and foremost, he was a corporate businessman, trying to extract maximum value from the assets he owned, whether his sports teams or waste-hauling company or Blockbuster Video, even if at the expense of the public or his fellow team owners or his team’s on-field success. Whether this makes him a capitalist running dog or someone merely following his own rational self-interest depends on your political perspective, but it’s undeniable that his cash grabs were more innovative than that of most team owners, and had a more detrimental effect on the sports landscape. So while he may have exhibited “kindness and generosity,” as his former team tweeted last Friday, he also did all those other things too; and that, in all his complexity, is how he should be remembered by history.
Friday roundup: Warriors debt fight, giant American butts, and the blackout curtains that will eat Minneapolis
It’s laugh to keep from crying week! (Just kidding: It’s always laugh to keep from crying week.)
- The 46-year-old Richmond Coliseum is “clearly past its prime” and “smaller and gloomier than many competing venues,” and the city should use “original thinking and strong leadership from the private and public sectors” such as tax-increment financing to help pay for a new arena, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Not included in the editorial: any indication of how much a new arena would cost or whether the benefit to the city would be worth it, because why think about such things when there’s new-car smell to be had?
- Oakland and the Golden State Warriors owners are still fighting over who’ll pay for $40 million in remaining Oracle Arena debt once the Warriors move to San Francisco in 2019. It sure sounds like the team’s Oakland lease requires them to pay off remaining debt if they leave before 2027, but the city really would have had a much stronger case if it had refused to grant the team a lease extension without an agreement on debt payments, and made Steph Curry go play in the street for a couple of years.
- The Texas Rangers‘ new stadium will feature seats that are 1 to 2 inches wider than in their old one, which is good for fans with wide butts (I stand accused, although not of being a Rangers fan), but less good for fans with butts of any size who will have to make do with seats farther down the outfield lines to make way for the butts of more well-off fans. Everything’s a tradeoff.
- The Detroit Grand Prix owners, seeking to justify turning a public park into a private raceway for three months of preparation each summer, claim the annual event is worth $58 million to the local economy, and I told the Detroit Metro Times why that’s probably bullshit.
- Here are some pictures of Los Angeles F.C.‘s new stadium in the final stages of construction that look disturbingly like pictures of stadiums in the first stages of demolition. At least season-ticket sales are going well, and those are way harder to fake than individual game ticket sales!
- Derek Jeter may have gotten rid of anything not nailed down from the 2017 Miami Marlins, but he still can’t move Red Grooms’ horrific home run sculpture, because the public helped pay for it so now it’s public art. (Too bad Marlins fans couldn’t have tried the same argument about Giancarlo Stanton.)
- The NCAA has awarded the 2019 men’s Final Four to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and now is demanding a giant blackout curtain to cover up the building’s windows for the event. Cost, according to Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chair Mike Vekich: “It will be expensive — obviously.” Crazy idea: Tell the NCAA, “You already awarded us the Final Four, if you want a giant venetian blind, pay for it yourself or go play in the street with Steph Curry.”
- The cost of a pedestrian bridge to get fans to a new stadium in Atlanta — no, not that bridge to that stadium, a different bridge to the Falcons stadium — has nearly doubled from $12.8 million to $25.1 million, thanks in part to rush charges to get ready for next year’s Super Bowl. You know where next year’s Super Bowl would look great if the NFL won’t pay rush charges for a bridge? You guessed it!
I’ve pieced together this week’s news roundup via WiFi made from powdered limestone and gum-tree resin, so if I missed anything important, let me know and I’ll pick it up starting Monday. In the meantime:
- The state of Connecticut approved spending $10 million to renovate Hartford’s Dillon Stadium if it can lure a USL soccer team. In totally unrelated news, the last guy who promised to lure a soccer team to Dillon Stadium is awaiting sentencing for embezzling city funds spent on the project. Second time’s the charm!
- That Koch Brothers–sponsored bill to ban sports subsidies in Arizona that got all the attention last week is now apparently dead after it was opposed by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Arizona and Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. Maybe it’ll have better luck in one of the other 24 states where Americans for Prosperity said they were introducing it, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
- The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Politics Extra column says that the West End is going to get gentrified against its will whether it likes it or not, so shouldn’t it be by a local guy who wants to build an F.C. Cincinnati soccer stadium as part of it, and not “a developer from, say, New York or Chicago who doesn’t know or care about you or your homes”? Yes, it really truly says that.
- The Oakland Raiders‘ Las Vegas stadium-building company is proposing to provide a $5 million bond to restore the stadium land to its original condition in the event that construction has to be halted partway through if it goes bankrupt. This is simultaneously an excellent way to safeguard the public interest in all contingencies (except for the $750 million the public would be out either way, obviously) and also really not the kind of thing you want newspaper readers to be thinking about when your new multi-billion-dollar stadium project is about to get underway. Here’s hoping Roger Noll is wrong about this thing having a shot at working.
- The Miami-Dade County lawsuit against the Marlins‘ former owner Jeffrey Loria and current owners Derek Jeter and Friends over not cutting the county in on a share of the team sale proceeds went to court yesterday, and probably something happened, but it’ll be next week before the latest news story loads for me, so somebody recap anything important in comments, okay? I’ll see you next week.
Remember how, when Miami agreed to give a squillion dollars to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria for a new stadium and in exchange was promised a share of the profits if Loria ever sold the team? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen:
The 2008 county agreement that had Miami-Dade fund the bulk of the $515 million government-owned stadium in Little Havana gave Miami-Dade and Miami the right to 5 percent of any profits Loria and partners might reap if they sold the team within 10 years. But Loria could deduct team debt, certain expenses and taxes tied to a sale, and county officials and team executives privately predicted Loria wouldn’t agree to give up any of his revenue from the October sale to Derek Jeter and partners…
In a brief report sent by Loria’s lawyers, his organization said the terms of the deal resulted in a profit-sharing calculation of zero. The reason? About $280 million in debt that lowered the profits from the $1.2 billion sale, plus an agreed-to underlying value of the franchise of about $625 million, based on it getting more valuable each year. Add in nearly $300 million in taxes tied to the sale by Loria and partners, and Loria’s accountants claim the sale amounted to a loss of $141 million. Loria also deducted the $30 million fee paid to the financial advisors hired to negotiate the deal.
So on the one hand, Loria does have a case here that his windfall profits from selling the team weren’t mostly because of the new stadium, as we’ve covered before. On the other, “Sure I sold my team for a 650% profit, but inflation, and also taxes, so sorry you can’t have any even though I promised” is a spectacular display of chutzpah. Loria may have just cinched his membership in the Evil League of Evil.
It’s the first news roundup of 2018! Please remember to stop writing “2017” on all your stadium-subsidy checks.
- The Carolina Panthers haven’t even been sold yet following owner Jerry Richardson’s resignation amid sexual harassment complaints, and already Charlotte news outlets are wondering where a new owner would put the new stadium that they would no doubt demand. The Panthers’ current stadium is 24 years old. Yes, human civilization is doomed.
- The Rhode Island state senate has tweaked its Pawtucket Red Sox stadium proposal, giving the city of Pawtucket a flat $250,000-a-year cut of naming rights fees instead of 50% of whatever the team got, and clarifying that the team would pay overruns on construction costs, but not land acquisition costs. The PawSox owners released a statement calling this “encouraging,” while House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he has “sensed resistance with the public” to putting $38 million in public cash into the deal. It looks likely that this is still headed for another Senate-House standoff, in other words.
- New Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter has a plan code-named Project Wolverine (for Jeter’s home state of Michigan, not the X-Man) that projects windfall profits by getting Fox to give the team a massive new TV deal and attendance to spike despite selling off all his best players. This has nothing to do with stadiums except to remind everyone that giving former owner Jeffrey Loria a new ballpark at taxpayer expense was a waste of close to a billion dollars, and getting Loria to sell to Jeter doesn’t seem to have raised hopes any of having management that isn’t delusional or focused solely on squeezing every last dollar of profit possible from a franchise that will forever be selling off any players as soon as they figure out how to play baseball. Miami might have been better off keeping its money and using it to buy residents plane tickets to go see a real baseball team.
- NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league “wouldn’t rule out” the New York Islanders playing games temporarily at Nassau Coliseum while a new arena at Belmont Park is under construction, which makes sense, because why would they? Sure, the Coliseum now only holds 13,000 for hockey games after its renovation, but the Islanders’ current home of the Barclays Center only holds 15,795, and at least the Coliseum doesn’t have its ice all off-center. Plus, the Islanders aren’t drawing even 13,000 a game anyway, so it’ll just be a matter of fewer empty seats until the new arena is opened, which we still don’t know when that would be, do we? It’ll be interesting to see what kind of lease Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov offers to the Islanders owners — on the one hand, they’re threatening to go off and build a new arena that will compete with his, but on the other, he pretty badly wants them out of the Barclays Center, so it’s anybody’s guess.
From the Department of Maybe Well-Meaning Ideas That Probably Should’ve Been Thought Through a Little More, we have Florida House bill HB 13, which, as the Orlando Sentinel notes, would “ban teams from building or renovating stadiums on publicly owned land and also bar governments from leasing existing facilities to teams below ‘fair market value.'” The bill’s sponsor, Broward/Miami-Dade state rep Manny Diaz Jr., says he introduced it because of anger over the Miami Marlins stadium deal, and that it “aims to do is to try to curtail abuses that have gone on, where cities … are being held hostage.”
Orlando city officials are griping that the Diaz bill would make it harder for his city to lure or retain sports teams by gifting them with generous lease terms to hide from the public how big the subsidies are offering competitive deals, and that this is an unforgivable intrusion by the state on cities’ right to throw money away for no good economic reason determine their own development policies. But to note that the objections to the bill are dumb does not preclude acknowledging that the bill itself is pretty dumb, too.
As I told the Sentinel (it didn’t make the cut, though other of my quotes did), the “no leasing land below market value” bit is reasonable enough, though it’s going to be tough to enforce: If you determine “market value” by what other sports teams are paying in rent, you get into the problem that most franchises have sweetheart lease deals. And in any event, there’s nothing that I can tell in the bill that would stop a city from charging “market rent” and then handing the money back under the table through “operating subsidies” or somesuch.
The bigger problem is with the first half of the bill, which sets out to solve a problem that doesn’t exist: the unwarranted use of public land for sports facilities. Unless you’re the hardest of hard-core libertarians, there’s nothing wrong per se with government land being used for sports stadiums any more with it being used for housing developments or libraries or whatever — the public just should get some benefit from the deal, whether it’s lease payments or a cut of stadium revenues or discounted tickets or something. If “can’t renovate buildings on public land” means that the Magic, say, are restricted from paying for improvements to their arena on government property and end up using that as an excuse to demand public funds or tax breaks (which aren’t addressed at all in this bill) to build a new arena on private land, that’s not exactly a step in the right direction.
A well-written bill would have provided an ironclad prohibition on deals that directly or indirectly gift public land to teams, and maybe ruled that sports facilities run for private profits should be subject to property tax even if they’re owned by the public or on public land, to get around that subsidy loophole as well. I don’t know enough about Diaz to know whether he wrote his bill this way because of his own ideological beliefs (there are a surprising number of conservatives who consider government cash a subsidy but not government tax breaks, on the Casino Night Principle) or just because he has sloppy bill-drafters in his office. Or maybe he’s just tired of being confused with the other Manny Diaz, who was mayor of Miami when the Marlins deal was approved. Either way, before this sails through the state legislature on “sounds good enough to me!” grounds, let’s hope somebody goes in there with a red pen and does some judicious editing.
Time for your “What damage did Florida sports facilities suffer during Hurricane Irma?” rundown!
- Miami Heat: Damage to the “exterior membrane” of their practice court roof (i.e., the stuff that keeps the actual roof from getting damaged by weather).
- Miami Marlins: Also damage to roof membrane, which will need to be replaced immediately after the season.
- Miami Dolphins: Possibly hit by tornado, seems to be okay but engineers will inspect it.
- Tampa Bay Lightning: “No major damage.”
- Orlando Magic: Local TV reporter tweeted a video of wind blowing a manhole cover around.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: “Assessing damage” to stadium to see if Sunday’s game can be played as scheduled.
Also, two-thirds of the state is without power and many residents could remain so for weeks, at least 11 people died in the U.S. and 38 in Caribbean nations, nobody knows how many people are currently trapped in the Florida Keys, and a whole island of 1,800 people is now evacuated and uninhabitable. The Jaguars may move Sunday’s game to Tennessee if they have to.
Extra-super-brief news roundup this week, regular programming to resume next Thursday:
- Derek Jeter is all set to become owner of the Miami Marlins (though really a billionaire private investor who was nicknamed “the Paper Shredder” for helping start the newspaper industry’s downward spiral will be majority owner, with Jeter as the public face of the team), and he reportedly hates Marlins Park’s home run sculpture, but it belongs to the county so he can’t move it. Giancarlo Stanton, though, he’s fungible.
- The judge in the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ lawsuit to get Maricopa County to pay for $187 million in stadium upgrades has ordered the two sides to go to arbitration to resolve the issue, as apparently that’s what the team’s lease says they have to do. This could go really poorly, as the two sides have fundamentally incompatible views of what the lease says about who’s responsible for paying for upgrades, but I guess it’s worth a shot, and at least will save on lawyers’ fees for the time being
- The Oakland A’s owners have launched a new website asking fans to chime in on three proposed new stadium sites — the site of the current Coliseum, Howard Terminal in the Port of Oakland, or the location of Peralta Community College’s administration buildings — of which team chief operating officer Chris Giles said, “we have three great sites, all of which are viable, all of which have their different kinds of pros and cons.” Except Howard Terminal has reportedly been ruled out, according to … “a number of reliable sources” and former A’s exec Andy Dolich, who also thinks traffic issues would make the Peralta site unworkable? Here, go look at the website, which includes answers to such questions as “How will the new ballpark be funded?” (“Our new ballpark will be privately financed”) and “When will the new ballpark open?” (“We will announce more details about the timeline later this year”).
That’s it for now. Que vagi bé, i fins ara.