Friday roundup: Indiana and Missouri rack up another $390m in team subsidies, and other dog-bites-man news

Sadly, there’s another loss to report this week: Rob McQuown, who for the past decade has been one of the core tech and admin guys at Baseball Prospectus, passed away on Tuesday. I never met Rob personally, but in my days writing and editing for BP we exchanged emails a ton, and he was always a sharp and good-humored presence keeping the site running behind the scenes. (He wrote some excellent fantasy baseball coverage for a while, too.) I haven’t heard the details of his death, but I do know it was way too soon, and my sympathies go out to all his friends and family and colleagues who are mourning him this week. Here’s a lovely podcast tribute by Ben Lindbergh to Rob’s multifarious and too-often underappreciated gifts.

And now, to the news:

  • The Indianapolis City-County Council gave final signoff to $290 million in subsidies for the Indiana Pacers, which along with new and past operating subsidies brings team owner Herb Simon’s total haul to more than a billion dollars. The team’s new lease lasts until 2044, but I’d wager that Simon won’t wait that long before going back to what’s been an insanely lucrative taxpayer well.
  • The state of Missouri has reportedly approved $3 million a year for 20 years, coming to a total of $70 million, for upgrades for the St. Louis Blues, Kansas City Royals, and Kansas City Chiefs stadiums — yeah, I don’t get how that math works either, especially when this was previously reported as $70 million for the Blues plus $30 million for the K.C. teams, and has elsewhere been reported as $70 million for the Blues and $60 million for the K.C. teams, but I’m sure it was copied from a press release somewhere, and that’s what passes for fact-checking these days, right? This brings the teams’ total haul to … let’s see, the K.C. teams got $250 million previously, and the Blues owners got $67 million in city money, so let’s go with “around $400 million,” about which you can say that it’s at least cheaper than what Indiana taxpayers are on the hook for, and that is pretty much all you can say.
  • The city of Anaheim is still waiting on its now-overdue appraisal of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium land so it can open talks with team owner Arte Moreno on how much he should pay for development rights on the stadium parking lots. Mayor Harry Sidhu has appointed a negotiating team, though, which includes Sidhu himself, something that has drawn criticism since Angels execs donated to his election campaign. Sidhu also stated that “our theme parks, sports venues and convention center are a matter of pride, but their real purpose is to serve residents by generating revenue for public safety, parks, libraries and community centers and by helping us keep taxes and fees low,” which is not likely to help convince anyone that he understands sports economics like his predecessor did and isn’t just repeating what his funders tell him.
  • Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke is trying to build a 10,000-seat arena in Palm Springs, and economists point out that this won’t help the local economy much because “you’re crazy if you think I’m flying to Palm Springs to see your minor league hockey team,” and Leiweke says Palm Springs is just different, okay, because so many attendees will be people who are already coming to town to play golf, gamble, or stay at local resorts. How this makes it a major economic plus when those people also see a concert when they’re in town Leiweke didn’t say, but who’re you going to believe, a bunch of people who study economics for a living or a guy who was once the youngest GM in indoor soccer?
  • A Cincinnati nonprofit is trying to raise $2 million to preserve affordable housing around F.C. Cincinnati‘s new stadium, and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority says that maybe building more market-rate housing will allow low-income residents of existing buildings to stay put. Yeah, that’s really not going to work.
  • Nobody in Miami-Dade County has studied the impact of building a new Inter Miami stadium right next to the city’s airport, and some county commissioners think that maybe that might be a thing they’d want to study.
  • Here’s a good, long R.J. Anderson article on three cities vying for MLB expansion teams (Portland, Montreal, and Raleigh) that should provide reading material for the inevitable endless wait for MLB to actually expand. (I’m also quoted in it, right before Jim Bouton.)
  • And here’s another long article that quotes me, this one by Bill Shea of The Athletic on how stadium subsidies have changed since the Great Recession (some sports economists say it’s tougher to get public money now, I say “Bah!”).

Rays execs say Montreal-Florida plan came from “ether,” is wave of future, we’re all gonna be rich!

Owner-mouthpiece sportswriters like the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin can be useful not because they do any actual reporting — they try to avoid that wherever possible — but because when they turn over their columns to self-serving statements by team officials, all kinds of amusing stuff can come out. And that is most certainly the case for Topkin’s inside-Rays-execs’-minds look at the team’s announced plans to move to two new stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal by 2024, which is totally neither crazy nor a cynical attempt to appear crazy, and about which we now learn:

  • Rays owner Stuart Sternberg claims not to remember who came up with the split-city plan, saying it has “no authorship” and “was just sort of there in the ether.’’ (Topkin does not address whether this is indeed amnesia or just plausible deniability.)
  • Team officials say all the kids will soon be doing it, with team president Brian Auld asserting, “We like to be first.”
  • Sternberg acknowledged that the idea seems “cockamamie,” which despite Noah Pransky’s claims to authorship was actually first suggested by FoS reader Andrew Ross. (Also, did you know that “cockamamie” comes from the same root as “decal,” after being filtered through the mouths of mid-20th-century New York youth? Now you do!)
  • Playing in two cities will enable the Rays to spend more money on players because they’ll have more revenue, somehow! “If this comes to fruition, we’re going to have more resources, and more resources means a higher payroll, and a higher payroll is good for all players within baseball,’’ team president Matt Silverman told Topkin, not in the least trying to lobby a players’ union that might otherwise scream bloody murder at 25 of its members having to live in two different countries every baseball season.
  • Sternberg insists he likes this plan even better than the one for a single new stadium in Tampa, telling the Times editorial board that if given the choice between the two, he’d pick “slam dunk, what we’re doing today.’’
  • Team execs think that since Tampa Bay fans don’t go to many games anyway but mostly just read about them on their phones or whatever the kids today do, they can go to just as many if the team is only around half the time, because that’s absolutely how consumer spending works.
  • Sternberg insists “our TV ratings aren’t that great” in Tampa Bay, which is sort of true, but they’re not that bad either.
  • These are words that Sternberg actually said, presumably in an attempt to convey some meaning: “This isn’t us just leaning on Major League Baseball, like the bogeyman, ‘Mommy says I can’t sleep over’ kind of thing. They are large partners, they are large contributors to putting our team on the field every game, every year. They are going to weigh in, whether we like it or not.’’

Anyway. The Rays’ use agreement on Tropicana Field still says they can’t go anywhere before 2028 without the permission of the city of St. Petersburg, and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman has made clear he has no intention of approving this cockamamie scheme before then, certainly not if it involves any public money from his city, which if it doesn’t then Sternberg could have just built his own stadium in Tampa already and been done with it. The wall-of-execs push for a Tampontreal solution, and commissioning Topkin to amplify it, is clearly meant to convince the sports world that they’re serious about this plan; whether they actually are or just want people to think they are remains an open question, but you know which one I’d put my money on.

Rays owner stages hour-long tirade about how Montreal-Tampa split team is not a threat, but a promise

When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dropped his bombshell last week about Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg seeking permission to have his team build new stadiums in both Montreal and Tampa Bay and split time between them, the big question was: Is Sternberg serious? Not serious about going through with it, necessarily — there are many, many reasons why a two-nation team is a terrible idea — but serious about using it as a threat to shake loose some stadium money at a time when his lease prohibits him from threatening anything until after the 2027 season?

Well, Sternberg and other Rays execs held an hour-long press conference yesterday, and the answer is hoo baby yeah he is serious. Not only did he double down on insisting that the Tampontreal ExpoRays can be a real thing, but he said it would be great not only for the team but for Florida and — you know what, let’s hand the mic to longtime Rays stadium saga chronicler Noah Pransky:

Pransky then closed his Twitter window and hightailed it over to Florida Politics, where he reported that Sternberg’s discussions with would-be Montreal MLB owner Stephen Bronfman had triggered a legal inquiry by the city of St. Petersburg into whether this violated the team’s lease, which prohibits any stadium discussions anywhere other than that city until 2028:

According to mayoral spokesperson Ben Kirby: “The City Attorney’s office has been in contact with the general counsel for the Tampa Bay Rays and received assurances that the Rays will not commence exploration of the shared city concept, or conduct any other activities related to a pre-2028 future stadium site, without an agreement with the City of St. Petersburg. The Rays’ general counsel also confirmed that all conversations related to Montreal were limited to the time period after expiration of the use agreement.”

Pransky also noted:

  • Sternberg isn’t saying how much two stadiums in two cities would cost or how they’d be paid for, but a part-time stadium only in use in the spring could be build smaller and more cheaply.
  • That “economic impact” thing is completely bonkers: “Back-of-the-napkin math on this suggests St. Pete would need tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of new Canadian tourists to make this work, which seems somewhat ridiculous, given that no Montreal fan is going to want to watch their team in Florida’s June humidity when they could wait three weeks and watch them up north in July.”
  • Sternberg said that the site of St. Pete’s minor-league Al Lang Stadium, where his Tampa Bay Rowdies USL second-tier team now playes and which he once considered for a new domed stadium before abandoning the idea, was “absolutely a possibility.” Pransky had previously noted that Sternberg could be angling to move the Rays to the Al Lang site before 2028 by dangling the carrot of letting the city redevelop the Tropicana Field site sooner — which would also allow Sternberg to get a 50% share of any redevelopment money so long as the Rays still play in St. Pete. Pransky told Canadian sports radio that “I think Sternberg is trying to find a way to have his cake and eat it too — get the redevelopment money he’s entitled [to], but not have to play all these games in St. Petersburg. We’re talking tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Whatever exactly Sternberg has in mind, this is clearly a long, long con, or if nothing else a way to kill time and build momentum for something while waiting out the remaining eight years of his lease. It’s transparently a classic non-threat threat — even Twitter noticed — but the question now becomes what the Rays owner plans to do with any leverage that he’s savvily created, especially considering he faces an opponent in St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman who isn’t afraid to sue to enforce the lease’s gag rule on stadium talks.

Of course, it’s always possible this non-threat threat is all Sternberg plans to do, in hopes that it will shake loose more stadium talks in Tampa Bay, given that he’s tried that move (albeit without the Montreal gambit) roughly a billion times before:

This is all crazy, and it’s only likely to get crazier. It is not likely to get more Rays fans in Tampa Bay to go check out their pennant-contending team, but when you’re running a long con, you can’t sweat the small stuff like selling baseball tickets.

ADDENDUM: This Washington Post article doesn’t have much new information that Pransky didn’t already cover, but major props to whoever wrote its URL link.

St. Pete mayor on Rays’ Montreal timeshare plan: Nuh-uh, you won’t

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman hasn’t always been the hardest of hard-liners when it comes to stadium negotiations, coming to office in 2013 saying he was willing to talk about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and then handing Rays owner Stuart Sternberg a lease buyout option for a relatively modest price. (Though that worked out well when the buyout expired without Sternberg using it.) Handed a gimme yesterday, though, in the form of Sternberg’s offer/threat to build new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal and split time between them, Kriseman knocked it out of the park:

#micdrop.

There are many supremely dumb things about the Tampontreal ExpoRays gambit, but Kriseman has accurately identified the most important one: Sternberg can’t even talk about pursuing any kind of part-time move anywhere until after the 2027 season according to his lease with St. Pete, and St. Pete has zero incentive to let him. So while it doesn’t make much sense in reality, it makes even less sense as a threat. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred tried to explain it away as a plan for beyond 2027 — “They’re committed to being in Tampa Bay through 2027. This is a longer-term project for them” — but then why announce it now, unless you’re hoping Montreal will start gearing up to build a non-domed part-time stadium on spec, in the hopes that Sternberg will still want it (indeed, will still own the Rays at all) by the time 2028 rolls around and he can actually negotiate a move?

On the other hand, yesterday’s declaration got so very much press coverage that if the goal was to get people in Tampa Bay thinking about life without the Rays, at least during the summer months, then mission accomplished. If the goal was to get them to think about it without laughing and pointing, then not so much.

Rays could build new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal, because that’s totally not insane

This is totally unsourced aside from “sources familiar with the situation,” but Jeff Passan is a decent reporter, so take your grain of salt and let’s dive right in:

The Tampa Bay Rays received permission from Major League Baseball’s executive council to explore a plan in which they would play early-season home games in the Tampa Bay area and the remainder of the year in Montreal, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN…

Under the plan, the Rays would play in new stadiums in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, according to sources. The ability to play games early in the season in Florida would preclude the need for a domed stadium, cutting the cost of a new building.

Okay, so yes, not having to build a dome would make a Montreal stadium cheaper. But it would also mean building two stadiums, which would be much, much more expensive. Also the Tampa Bay stadium would still probably need a dome because it rains in Florida all the damn time, plus they’d have to figure out how to get two separate fan groups to root for the same team, plus where would they play postseason games, plus how would they work out territorial and TV rights, I mean, really? The stadium watcher who tipped me off to this moments after it was posted prefaced it with “This may be the most cockamamie scheme I’ve ever heard, but you’re the expert,” and I think it just may be. (Note: Those who would like to endorse me on LinkedIn for my Cockamamie skills can do so here.)

If I were a betting man, I would put heavy money on this being a rumor floated by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to put Montreal on the table as a move threat — or at least a partial move threat — at a time when he’s not contractually allowed to talk to cities other than St. Petersburg about a new stadium. (I haven’t checked the Rays’ lease to see what it says about talking to MLB’s executive council about talking to other cities.) But also the Rays’ attendance situation is so dire — they cut ticket prices to $5 recently and still couldn’t get takers — that maybe Sternberg is truly considering this mad plan. It is undeniably cockamamie, but that’s never stopped baseball team owners before.

Friday roundup: Red Wings owner touts his “passion” amid sea of parking lots, cities are terrible stadium negotiators, newspapers are terrible newspapers

The cryptocurrency-based journalism startup Civil couldn’t have gone much worse, but it did spawn a couple of successes, none more welcome than Hmm Daily, the news commentary site from former Gawker and Deadspin editor Tom Scocca. Or as I will always think of him, the co-founder of Funny Paper, the now virtually unfindable-on-the-internet weekly(ish) political analysis of daily comic strips that was the greatest such enterprise until the great Josh Fruhlinger elevated it to an even higher art form. I’ve been enjoying Scocca’s excellent columns on the militarization of language and how big a giant bee is for months now, but I didn’t feel compelled to bite the bullet and kick in any money until I spotted this photo caption in an article by Scocca’s Funny Paper co-conspirator Joe MacLeod: “I have no beef with the M&M’s homunculus infesting the menu.” If you know me at all from reading this website, you know that I immediately pulled out my wallet and became a paying Hmm Daily subscriber (at the $5 a month level, though the reward at the $50,000 level is truly amazing).

Anyways, on to the sports stadium and arena newses:

  • The District Detroit development around the new Red Wings arena still consists mostly of some state-subsidized parking lots, but Red Wings exec Christopher Ilitch says that’s okay because “Our timelines may change. Our passion, the energy, the way we feel about this community has not.” And truly, who can put a price on feels?
  • The Voice of OC cites “experts” as saying that Anaheim may not be driving a hard enough bargain with Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno on a price for stadium parking lot development rights, and oh hey look, it’s me. Also Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who says, “Cities tend to be remarkably bad negotiators when it comes to professional sports,” which, yup.
  • Politifact Wisconsin did a fact-check on claims that the state of Wisconsin will get a “tremendous” payback on its Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidies and found that that’s only if you assume the Bucks would have moved without them, and assume that Bucks fans would have all stopped spending their money in Wisconsin without them, and assume that NBA salaries will quintuple by the 2040s, and further found that Villanova sports stadium researcher Rick Eckstein calls the revenue estimates “fantasy figures,” and concluded that this makes the claim Mostly True. It is just slightly possible that having staff members of the local newspaper that has a record of overarching credulity on the arena deal do fact-checking on it might not be the best idea.
  • The people trying to get an MLB franchise in Portland are running out of momentum as MLB waits for the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s to work out their stadium situations before considering expansion, but at least they got a meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred — no wait, the news report has corrected itself, they didn’t even get that. Well, at least they have weirdly non-Euclidean renderings.
  • Speaking of MLB expansion hopefuls, Montreal’s would-be neo-Expos owner Stephen Bronfman has a deal in place on land for a new stadium … not on buying the land, mind you, but with a developer to help develop the non-stadium part of the land once they buy it. This could be a while.
  • And speaking of the Rays and of terrible newspapers, the Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano wants to know when St. Petersburg and Tampa officials will stop bickering and get to work on throwing money at Rays owner Stuart Sternberg already?
  • The New York Times is a significantly less terrible newspaper, but a profile on A’s president Dave Kaval with the headline “Can This Man Keep the A’s in Oakland?” is not only pretty sycophantic in its own right, but it assumes a lot about the team owners moving without a new stadium when they’ve already gone a couple of decades demanding a new stadium and not getting one and still not moving.
  • Henderson, Nevada, is giving $10 million to the owners of the Vegas Golden Knights to build a practice rink, which is dumb but less dumb than some other cities’ expenses on similar projects.
  • The Arizona Coyotes are getting a new majority owner and the Phoenix Suns are up for sale, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, who added, “as one NHL official told me yesterday, when I asked that very question, I said, ‘Does this new owner mean that there’s an arena closer to fruition?’ And the answer was, if you get a new owner, there’s a better chance of a new arena. So you can put two and two together, Steve.” Then the Suns owners and a report in The Athletic on the Coyotes completely refuted what Shannon said, so maybe you’re better off putting two and two together without his help.
  • I was about to write up this news story about a potential rezoning approval for Austin F.C.‘s new stadium, but then I saw that KXAN managed to write “Austin’s Planing Commission” and “this ammendment” in the first three paragraphs, and now I gotta go cry all day about the death of copy editing, sorry.

Friday roundup: Nashville saves (?) $75m by giving Predators $103m, South Carolina offers to give $125m to Panthers practice facility (?!), Oakland A’s shipping cranes are multiplying (?!?)

Since last week I went off-topic to discuss a review (kindly) poking fun at some of the ridiculousness of Marvel movies, I should note that there’s a TV series that manages to create a fun, exciting superhero universe while simultaneously poking fun at the entire genre in ways that expose not just its ridiculousness but also its fundamentally Manichean politics, and which has now been canceled by Amazon, a company that has been at the forefront of scheming to shake down cities for subsidies in exchange for building its own facilities. Coincidence?!?!?!? Well, okay, yes, almost certainly, but here’s hoping The Tick ends up picked up by a less ethically compromised corporate entertainment giant, if that’s even a thing.

Where was I? Oh right, stadiums, what’s up with those this week that we didn’t get to already?

  • The Nashville Predators have indeed agreed to a 30-year lease extension as first reported last week, and how good or bad a deal it is depends on your perspective: The team’s $8.4 million a year in tax kickbacks and operating subsidies will be reduced to just $4.9 million a year in tax kickbacks, which would be $75 million in taxpayer savings but on the other hand the tax kickbacks will be extended to 2049 now instead of 2028, so that’s $102.9 million in additional taxpayer costs. (Neither figure translated into present value.)
  • A South Carolina legislative conference committee has approved $115 million in tax breaks for a Carolina Panthers practice facility in Rock Hill. Yes, you read that right, a practice facility. State officials say that the 15-year tax kickbacks of all state income taxes will pay for themselves, a conclusion that state senator Dick Harpootlian determined was based on, in the words of the Associated Press, “every Panthers player and coach moving to South Carolina and spending their entire paychecks here and the team buying all the material for the new facility from companies in the state.”
  • Speaking of practice facilities, the Washington Wizards‘ new one is costing $1 million more a year for D.C. to run than anticipated, which is not good after the city already spent $50 million to build the thing for the team’s billionaire owner. D.C. officials recently booked three new concerts for the arena, but expects to lose money on each of them; an Events D.C. board member said they would let “people know that they have a place to go, that this is a fun place,” which I guess is another way of saying they’ll make it up in volume.
  • Omaha is spending $750,000 on hosting an Olympic swim meet, which on the one hand is a lot cheaper than $115 million for an NFL practice facility, and on the other is for a one-time Olympic swim meet.
  • Two unnamed sources tell The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal that New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft is “on the brink of securing a stadium site,” which tells us nothing about the state of the Revolution’s actual stadium plans since this could be a planted rumor to try to gain momentum, but does tell us lots about The Athletic’s poor grasp of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics policy on use of unnamed sources.
  • I wrote a thing for Gothamist about how the New York Mets banned backpacks because they have too many pockets to easily search, but not other bags with lots of pockets, pretty much on the grounds of “the light’s better over here.” The best argument either of the security experts could come up with for the policy is that fewer bags means faster lines which means less time queued up outside stadiums as a stationary target for any theoretical terrorists, which is frankly mostly an argument for staying home and watching on TV.
  • Journalist Taylor C. Noakes notes in an op-ed for CBC News that bringing back the Expos might be nice for Montreal baseball fans, but probably won’t do much for the Montreal economy since “the economic impact of a professional baseball team on a given city [is] roughly equivalent to that of a mid-sized department store,” which, yup.
  • The latest Oakland A’s renderings show it still oddly glowing amid a darkened rest of the city. Plus now there are shipping cranes on both corners of the site! I am about to start working on a theory that this entire stadium plan is just a dodge for John Fisher to build lots of shipping cranes.

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.