Friday roundup: Calgary residents demand say on Flames arena, Indy Eleven asked to only accept public funding of 80% of stadium, Raiders could re-up in Oakland this week

Happy Friday! Here is your weekly fact dump of news that I didn’t get to earlier in the week, because I only got two hands, man:

  • Calgary residents who went to speak their minds at yesterday’s town hall on a new Flames arena say they want to be able to speak their minds on a new Flames arena. The city council is set to vote on an arena term sheet on Monday without public input — or even revealing to the public first what’s in the term sheet — though I suppose some councillors might read the press coverage of the town hall and learn how angry the public is. It’s worked before in Phoenix, for a few weeks at least!
  • The Indy Eleven stadium subsidy proposal has made it into a state senate bill, but “with some hefty strings attached,” reports the Indianapolis Star: the team’s owner would need to put up $30 million of his own money before getting to access $200 million in public tax money (more like $112 million in present value) for stadium costs. This does not actually sound like a big ask, but hey, Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel says it’s worth any price to keep the city’s sports teams (even if they’re not threatening to move) because, and I quote, “my job could depend on it,” so why quibble over a mere $112 million, right?
  • The city of Anaheim has hired a real estate consultant to conduct an appraisal of the value of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium site, as it first authorized last month, which is slightly weird in that they just did an appraisal in 2014 that found that the stadium parking lots sought by team owner Arte Moreno for $1 were worth $245 million, but whatever. It’s at least good that the city is apparently committing to ask something based on actual market value for the land, especially coupled with talk of basing any land deal on the Anaheim Ducks deal, which was a decently fair price for development rights to city land. Maybe this will not be awful, despite the new mayor talking about how eager he is to cut a deal even though Angels owner Arte Moreno has no real leverage? I’m almost afraid to hope — we’ll just have to see what happens when the assessment comes in, presumably a couple of months from now.
  • Oakland officials could vote soon to approve a new lease for the Raiders for 2019, with an additional option for 2020, which would put an end to talk of the team playing everywhere else on the planet this fall. Apparently Raiders owner Mark Davis is willing to let bygones be bygones and overlook that antitrust lawsuit the city filed that led him to insist he wouldn’t play in Oakland this season. Good successful bluff-calling, Oakland officials!
  • The New York Mets will not be moving their spring training home out of Port St. Lucie, after threatening to in order to secure a revised deal for $57 million in renovations to their stadium, $55 million of which will come from taxpayers. Bad bluff-calling, Port St. Lucie officials!
  • A rival developer is seeking the same land in Montreal that would-be Expos revivers want for a baseball stadium, to use for a “new smart development of office towers, housing, hotels and public space.” Looks like a fight is in the offing, and these guys have “smart” right there in the name, so watch out!
  • Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is hoping to save some money when the New York Islanders move out for their own arena eventually — the arena is losing about $12 million on guaranteed revenue payments to the team, and without hockey will be able to book more concerts — but more interesting to me from this article is that the building lost $21 million on operations in the 2017-18 season, plus another $33 million in debt and other expenses. Maybe the Nets owners are soaking up any profits, or the arena’s builders are earning their money on all the high-priced housing that went up next door, but still the whole project seems a bit like a waste of everyone’s time and money and eminent domain takings.
  • Also, work on the Islanders’ new planned arena by Belmont Park won’t begin this spring as planned, because the environmental impact statement required for the project won’t be ready until June at the earliest, but “state officials insist the project remains on schedule.” Hmmm.
  • And finally, your regularly scheduled Tottenham Hotspur stadium updates: It won’t be open until April at the earliest, it won’t have a VIP cheese room, and team officials are catching wild foxes and shooting them in the head with pistols. Exactly one of those things was something I expected to type this week.

Friday roundup: Neo-Expos seek public land for stadium, Hawaii mulls new stadium to host nothing, D-Backs spend bupkis fixing supposedly crumbling stadium

So very, very much news:

  • Would-be Montreal Expos reviver Stephen Bronfman has reportedly settled on federally owned land in Peel Basin near downtown as a prospective stadium site once a franchise is obtained, through expansion or relocation. Mayor Valérie Plante called the idea “interesting”; other than that, there’s been no word of what Bronfman would pay for the land or how the stadium would be paid for or really anything involving money, so sure, “interesting” is a fine evaluation of this news.
  • Charles Allen, the D.C. councilmember whose district includes RFK Stadium, calls the site “a very wrong choice for an NFL stadium,” and instead would like to see housing and parks there. Mayor Muriel Bowser disagrees, so this is going to come down to a good old council fight. Too bad Marion Barry isn’t around anymore to make things interesting.
  • Hawaii is considering spending $350 million in public money on a new football stadium to replace Aloha Stadium because, according to state senator Glenn Wakai, “It’s kind of like driving a Datsun pickup truck that is just being run into the ground. At a certain point, time to get a new pickup truck.” Given that Aloha Stadium currently hosts nothing much at all other than University of Hawaii football, it’s more like spending $350 million to replace your pickup truck that just sits in the driveway with a new pickup truck, but far be it from me to interfere with Sen. Wakai’s attempts to bash Datsun for some reason.
  • Halifax is still considering whether to spend $120-140 million on a stadium for an expansion CFL team, maybe via the magic of tax increment financing; University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe points out that a TIF isn’t magic but just “makes the subsidy less transparent, less obvious that it indeed even is a subsidy” — but then, pulling the wool over the public’s eyes is a kind of magic, no?
  • The Oakland Raiders have a “very real” chance of playing 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum, according to … this Bleacher Report headline, but nothing in the actual story? What the hell, Bleacher Report?
  • Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has claimed that the team’s stadium would need $8 million in upgrades over the winter, but has only spent $150,000. Which isn’t totally a gotcha — team execs say they’re conserving the stadium maintenance fund to spend on future repairs — but it does poke a bit of a hole in their argument that the stadium is in such bad shape that MLB could order the Diamondbacks to leave Arizona.
  • Austin residents will get to vote in November on whether the city can give public land to a pro sports team owner without a public vote, but it’ll probably be too late to affect the deal to do that for Austin F.C. owner Anthony Precourt. It’ll come in handy next time Austin is in the market for a pro sports team, I guess, though then the owner will probably just figure out a different way to ask for subsidies. “Better late than never” doesn’t work that well when it comes to democracy.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s “not sure that there’s much space for public consultation” on a redevelopment project to include a Flames arena, though he added that “it would be very interesting to hear from the public on what they think the right amount of public participation in this should be, and certainly there will be an opportunity for the public to have their voices heard but it might not happen until there’s something on the table.” It’s hard to tell whether that’s a justification or an apology — and keep in mind that Nenshi was deliberately shut out of the committee negotiating any deal — but there you are.
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber just got a five-year extension, and — quelle coincidence! — the league is now talking about expanding to 32 teams by 2026. Whether this is really a Ponzi-esque attempt to paper over weak financials with a constant influx of expansion fees won’t be entirely clear until the expansion finally stops and we see how the money looks then, but one thing is increasingly clear: It’s kind of crazy to throw stadium money around in hopes of landing an MLS franchise when it’s increasingly clear every reasonably large city in the U.S. is going to get one sooner or later.
  • And finally, Amazon pulled out of its $3 billion tax break deal with New York yesterday, and it sounds like it’s because its execs were tired of taking a PR beating around the company’s anti-union stance and contracting for ICE. Some New Yorkers are celebrating victory, others are retreating into the Casino Night Fallacy, and as always, The Onion has the final word.

Cue everybody freaking out that the Rays are going to move to Montreal

As covered here on Thursday, the collapse of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ stadium plans in Tampa does not make it more likely that the team will move out of Florida entirely; in fact, team owner Stuart Sternberg had to give up his option to look elsewhere in the bay area for a home, which was set to expire at the end of the month, and now is back under the constraints of the lease that binds him to St. Petersburg through 2027. Sure, he could try to break the lease and move out of state entirely, but 1) he would face a certain court battle, and 2) if he really wanted to do that, he could have done it just as easily years ago.

So, the Rays aren’t moving to Montreal anytime soon. However, the message constantly hammered home by sports team owners is if you don’t build it, we will leave, and despite that being completely untrue most of the time, a lot of people believe it. And a lot of those lot of people are sportswriters, so we get:

  • The Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano, who in the past has been amenable to Sternberg’s claims that he needs public money for a new stadium so he can make more money, says that it only makes sense for Sternberg to refuse to put more money into a Tampa stadium, because this is about dollars and cents. Which, sure, but then so would be the decision on moving the Rays elsewhere, and though Romano writes, “There are cities desperate to be called a Major League town, and they will spend an eye-popping amount of money to make it happen. Portland. Montreal,” those cities have actually shown zero interest in spending eye-popping sums on stadiums, which is one reason why the Expos left Montreal, and why they went to Washington instead of to Portland. So really this comes down to “If nobody wants to build him a stadium, what will Sternberg do?” — but as the answer there can only be “Keep waiting and hope some sucker opens their wallet,” and Romano is trying to make Sternberg out to be a sympathetic businessman and not a three-card monte dealer, that won’t do, so instead we get “a stadium in Tampa is still within reach.” Which is … a good thing? Remotely true? Does it matter anymore, in the world of sports columnism?
  • Then there’s Romano’s fellow Times columnist Martin Fennelly, who goes full wailing and gnashing of teeth to declare “Season’s Greetings from Montreal! Wish you were here!” and “I have not arrived slowly at wrapping my head around no more baseball” and “I want to be wrong. My summers have always been baseball summers, and I don’t want that to end.” (No, Fennelly is not really only 20 years old, but he grew up in New York, then moved to Tampa Bay in 1991 when … there was no baseball team, but maybe he’s just blocked out the entire 1990s because all the lack of local baseball was just so depressing.) And: “I’m not about to tell people how to spend their money, especially on stadium construction, though cities do it all the time. But no complaining if the Rays leave, okay?” If you people insist on not spending taxpayer money on stadiums like normal cities do, it’ll only be your fault if the Rays leave, so don’t come crying to me! I am very glad I am not Martin Fennelly’s teenage kid.
  • Finally, we have CBC News, which reports that the chances of baseball returning to Montreal are “pretty good,” according to the guy who is trying to get baseball to return to Montreal, and who therefore certainly has no reason to overplay how successful he’s being or anything. Seagram’s heir and private equity fund manager Stephen Bronfman says he knows there are “naysayers,” but he is a “glass half full kind of guy,” and is “super excited,” and consultants Convention, Sports, and Leisure did a study that shows Montreal is totally ready to be an MLB market again, and those guys are total professionals, right? Number of naysayers, or even independent analysts, interviewed by the CBC reporter: zero.

Look, Tampa Bay is, it has now been well established, a middling MLB market, but that’s still better than most non-MLB markets, since they are non-MLB markets precisely because they can’t even manage to be middling. All things being equal, would Stuart Sternberg make as much money running a team in Montreal as in Tampa Bay? Maybe! Would he make more? Probably not, all things being equal. Could all things not be equal, like if Montreal throws the kind of money at Sternberg that Tampa Bay is so far refusing to? Conceivably, but that didn’t go so well the last time, and the current Montreal mayor sounds at least somewhat skittish about promising piles of cash — saying “We need to evaluate what kind of participation, how we will collaborate, but so far, so good” and “if it comes to asking Montrealers for money, for example to build a stadium, yes, I will ask Montrealers” — so probably won’t to the degree that this is likely to turn into an international bidding war.

It is absolutely important to remember at all times that sports leagues have a monopoly on franchises, and can use that as leverage — but it’s also important to remember that there are only so many cities with the population (and TV eyeballs) to enable a pro sports team to make fistfuls of money, and cities can use that as leverage, too. Romano is right about one thing: This is a business negotiation, and team owners are just trying to maximize their profits (plus maybe their egos), and will use any advantage they can to do so; but there’s nothing stopping elected officials from doing the same. Right now, the Rays and Tampa/St. Pete are still in the staring-each-other-down phase of negotiations, so there are likely at least a few more summers of baseball left before anybody starts storming off and slamming doors.

All of which is to say: Everybody take a deep breath, okay? I know it’s bad for clicks, but it’s good for making sensible policy decisions, and journalism is still about trying to inform people so they can make the world a better place — or at least that’s what the internet tells me.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for MLB’s 20-year expansion drought to end anytime soon

In the midst of yesterday’s Election Day excitement, Deadspin ran my latest article for them, on what’s up with MLB’s much-rumored expansion plans. And though, as I tried to make clear in the article, where baseball expands and when will likely have less to do with what cities are “deserving” and more to do with the sport’s internal finances — in particular how much of an expansion fee they can demand, how adding new small-market teams will affect revenue sharing, and how adding new teams would affect existing team owners’ leverage to extract stadium subsidies — the comments section quickly filled up with debates over which cities should get new teams, and even how MLB divisions should be realigned once this happens.

All of which is still way more constructive and less pathetic than the Cincinnati Enquirer’s response to a throwaway line of mine about how small cities like Cincinnati probably wouldn’t be at the top of the expansion list if they didn’t already have teams:

As FoS correspondent David Dyte immediately pointed out, good thing I didn’t insult their chili.

Friday roundup: Bad spring training math, Beckham’s curse, and the opening of Megatron’s Butthole

No time for quips today, just the news:

  • A study by Arizona State University found that spring-training baseball was worth $373 million to the Arizona economy in 2018. I can’t find the actual report itself, but it looks like they came up with this number by interviewing a sample of out-of-town visitors at spring training games about how much they were spending on their trips — which would be a perfectly good methodology if not for the fact that lots of people travel to Arizona and then think “I’ll go see a baseball game while I’m there,” instead of traveling there just for baseball and thinking, “Sure, I’ll check out that big canyon, too.” Which is why when spring-training games have been canceled for labor conflicts, the observed impact on local economies has been pretty much zero. I wonder if the people who wrote this Arizona State report are actual economists, at least.
  • Nashville is getting an MLS franchise because it promised to build a soccer stadium, but it still might change its mind and not build a soccer stadium, and this is going to be great fun to watch if it does. (Not if you’re a Nashville MLS fan, I guess. But [insert requisite jibe about anything being more fun to watch than MLS soccer].)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he hopes MLB expands by two more teams during his lifetime (or during his tenure as commissioner — he wasn’t exactly clear), specifically mentioning “Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada. We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.” That got people in those cities all excited, which is presumably the point in saying such things — of course, none of those cities have MLB-ready stadiums (unless you count Olympic Stadium in Montreal), so prepare for a stadium arms race sometime before Manfred dies.
  • Megatron’s Butthole is now fully operational.
  • The estimated cost of renovating Key Arena has risen from $600 million to $700 million, but the city won’t have to pay any of that because their deal with the developers says those guys have to pay any cost overruns. Kids, when signing your next arena deal, do that.
  • A Florida man was arrested for setting fire to golf carts at the golf course where David Beckham wants to build his soccer stadium, but police say it was just arson and has nothing to do with the stadium proposal. Except insomuch as David Beckham is cursed, okay? If construction on this place ever begins, I fully expect it to be interrupted by all its milk cows going dry.

Prospective Expos co-owner vows only to pay for stadium with tax breaks and free land, not suitcases full of public cash

Whoa, this is big news! One of the prospective co-owners of a prospective revived Montreal Expos MLB team just promised to build a new stadium entirely with private dollars! On Twitter and everything!

That is a huge promise by the Cirque de Soleil owner, and should come as a great relief to Montreal baseball fans who are also taxpayers (or vice versa), assuming, of course, that Garber didn’t mean—

Oh. I would say “at least they’re only asking for land costs and tax breaks and not construction costs,” but the New York Yankees did the same thing and ended up with almost $1.2 billion in subsidies, so that’s not really much reassurance. It’ll help that Canada isn’t nearly as stupid about these things as the U.S. — they don’t have tax-exempt bond subsidies that I know of, for one — but basically this comes down to being a promise only to take public money under the table, not over it.

 

Friday roundup: Warriors rail stop turns pricey, West End stadium undead again, Montreal mayor meets with would-be Expos owners

Superbrief mode today:

  • Expanding light-rail service to the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is now expected to cost at least $62 million, which is a lot for Muni Metro, though not for some other transit systems. The Warriors owners are kicking in $19 million, but the rest will be funded by tax money from the arena district, which may or may not be enough to cover the entire nut. Tim Redmond saw this coming.
  • F.C. Cincinnati owners are officially pivoting back to the West End stadium site that it had declared dead last month after not getting offered enough property-tax breaks on the land. How come? Team CEO Jeff Berding said of the other two options, Oakley is “not as close to the urban core as desired,” and the team couldn’t secure land in Newport, Kentucky. Sounds like the West End has the club over somewhat of a barrel, which it should be able to use to ensure the team pays full property taxes, at least, though some residents may be more concerned about keeping out a stadium entirely over fears it will further gentrify their neighborhood.
  • The mayor of Montreal is meeting today with an ownership group that wants to bring a new Expos MLB team back to town. “We don’t need a cent from the city of Montreal, but we need a little help,” prospective co-owner Stephen Bronfman said earlier this week; your guess is as good as mine what that actually means.
  • Minnesota taxpayers have spent $1.4 billion on new or renovated sports venues over the past 20 years, if anyone is counting.
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox‘ stadium demands continue to be stalled, if anyone is keeping track.
  • “A deputy in one of Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities has claimed that a latest inspection by the world’s footballing body has neglected a missing column at a newly built stadium.” You’ve just got to read the whole Moscow Times article now, don’t you?

 

Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

MLB commissioner mentions Charlotte’s name on the telly!

The last time prior to yesterday that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about possible future expansion, in May of last year, he said that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.”

Yesterday,  at his All-Star Game press conference, and said:

I think we have some great candidates. I know the mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.

Notice the one thing that’s not like the other?

This isn’t actually the first time that Manfred has mentioned Charlotte as an expansion possibility — he did so back in 2015 as well, along with Portland — but in baseball Kremlinology, it’s de rigueur to interpret the hell out of every word out of the guy’s mouth, so let’s give it a shot. Maybe Charlotte has jumped to the head of the list in the last 14 months for some reason? (Probably not, but maybe Jerry Reinsdorf got a nice salad at the airport there or something.) Maybe the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s — who again were mentioned by Manfred as needing their stadium situations “resolved” (read: somebody to build them new ones, ideally with public money) before expansion can take place — wanted a city to use as a potential move threat that was actually in the Unites States? Maybe he was waiting for the North Carolina anti-transgender bathroom bill to be repealed and the sports boycotts to end? Maybe some reporter from a Charlotte news outlet was in the crowd, and Manfred just wanted to see them get all excited when he mentioned their city’s name?

Anyway, if you really care to think about where MLB might expand to eventually, here’s a nice piece from SI’s Jay Jaffe from last year running down all the potential candidates and their pros and cons. If it has to wait out a Rays stadium denouement in particular, don’t hold your breath for anything in the next couple of years, but sometime in the 2020s MLB expansion should be ready to go — assuming the Miami Marlins don’t need to relocate by then because they’re underwater.

Montreal all set to get new Expos — oh wait, false alarm, never mind

Montreal is all set to get a new MLB team!

A group of Montreal investors has met the conditions laid out by Major League Baseball to get a team back in the city, a source has told The Canadian Press.

“I can tell you we are no longer looking for investors and that we believe we have all the ingredients to be able to welcome a team, be it an expansion one or one that already exists,” the person said on condition of anonymity.

No, Montreal is not all set to get a new MLB team.

[Cirque du Soleil Chairman Mitch] Garber went on Mitch Melnick’s show on TSN 690 Radio Wednesday evening to clear up the picture. While acknowledging that a group of investors he is part of is very interested, he said talk of agreements on financial support from two levels of government and potential locations and designs for a stadium were inaccurate.

“There’s this great desire to have Major League Baseball in Montreal,” Garber said. “But it’s not as advanced as this story would make it sound.”

You probably could have guessed this from the source for the first story, which was literally “a source,” which could be anybody with any reason to want to spin the coverage to make it seem like a new Expos was imminent. While Garber and company may be doing well at putting together a list of investors, it’s long way from there to figuring out how much it would cost to buy a team (or pay expansion fees) and to build a new stadium, and then how to pay for all of it. So we’re a ways off.

That said, Montreal is a great city, and a large media market, and has a better track record of supporting baseball than you’d think if you only remember the post-firesale Expos (2.3 million in 1983, good enough for third in the NL!), so putting a team there isn’t a terrible idea for all concerned. Olympic Stadium, though, while actually kind of cool in some ways, was never all that good a place to watch baseball, so a new team would want a new stadium, at least in the medium term. And those don’t come cheap — though I still wonder how little you could get away with if you built, say, an exact replica of the original Wrigley Field, without any of the giant scoreboards or luxury seating or whatnot. Sure, you’d be giving up on some revenue streams then, but are those really enough to be worth today’s bloated construction costs. Maybe Philip Bess knows.