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.

Rays owner conducted study of moving to Montreal, says a guy

So on Sunday, this happened:

Sérieux!

For those of you who ne parlent pas français:

Serious! Stewart Sternberg, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays RECENTLY funded a study of viability of a stadium in Griffintown. Sternberg is the main shareholder (48%) of the Rays he wishes to move and not sell and Mtl, is top of the list. Griffintown would be the ideal site. It’s two small steps from downtown.

According to Patrice Derome (hi, Patrice!), Trudel — whose Twitter bio describes him as a “journaliste et commentateur sportif sans attache,” which is exactly what it sounds like — subsequently went on the radio and said that the study was conducted a few months back. What the study consisted of, and what it found, I couldn’t tell you.

I’d be tempted to say this is just Sternberg trying to throw a scare into Tampa Bay area cities, except that if so, you’d think he’d have leaked it to a journalist avec attache, at least. Though since, as Noah Pransky notes at Shadow of the Stadium, this would potentially be a violation of the Rays lease clause that only allows Sternberg to look at alternate stadium sites within the bay area, maybe he had to go super-stealth mode on this? Or maybe he’s really considering moving the team to Montreal, or doing due diligence to see how expensive a Tampa Bay stadium would have to be before it would be worth his while to move, or just wanted an excuse to try some of those funny bagels. We’re deep, deep into speculation here, so please no freaking out and/or getting to excited just yet, especially since the Rays can’t leave Tampa Bay until 2027 regardless, at which point the onrushing death of cable will likely have made the sports business market unrecognizable anyway.

The Rays, for their part, promptly said nothing at all:

MLB commissioner again says Montreal expansion possible, if they make it worth his while

Speaking of hinting around, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred mentioned Montreal as a possible league expansion site this week, which got lots of still-bereft Expos fans excited. Sure, he mostly did so by listing all the things that have to happen before a new franchise could get bestowed upon the city, but that’s at least a start:

“There are two stadium situations, Tampa and Oakland, that need to be resolved before I believe the owners have any appetite for thinking about expansion,” Manfred said. “Hopefully, we’re going to make good progress on both of those stadium situations in the relatively short term.”…

“And then we would begin, first, with an internal debate as to whether baseball wants to go to 32 [teams],” Manfred said. “Assuming the owners make that decision, it would then begin the process of selecting two cities.

“I will say, in terms of schedule format, 32 teams is a nice number for us.”

That’s all pretty unremarkable — if we were going to expand, we’d have to talk about it first, and then we’d need to pick two cities — and Manfred has said this sort of thing before, and it  leaves out the elephant in the room: Montreal would need a stadium for its team to play in, and somebody to pay for it. And Manfred also said this:

“Obviously with the way the economics operate in our game, that’s a very, very significant economic decision because it means that 1/30th owned assets and revenue streams become 1/32nd.”

Read between the lines, then, and it comes down to “Sure, Montreal sounds great, as soon as someone comes up with stadium cash and one of those crazy-high expansion fees that the NHL just got from Las Vegas, then we’ll be happy to listen, maybe.” Can’t get if you don’t ask, right?

MLB commissioner hints at Montreal, Mexico City expansion teams, someday

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about baseball expansion on Thursday (on a White Sox broadcast, for some reason), and said “growth businesses tend to expand” but that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.” Which, naturally, got people in Montreal and Mexico City all excited.

Manfred did say he wanted to settle on a new labor agreement and resolve the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations first (for those not following along: the situation is that the A’s and Rays owners want new stadiums, and nobody’s offering to pay for them/provide land for them yet), which all makes sense. Still, you’d normally think that a league commissioner would be more hesitant to identify frontrunners without demanding that stadium deals be in place first. Possible explanations are: Things are so preliminary around expansion that Montreal and Mexico City need carrots more than sticks at the moment; MLB is more excited about potential expansion fees (and/or wooing TV partners with the possibility of expanding into new markets) than about shaking down cities for maximum stadium money; or Manfred just isn’t very good at this whole extortion racket.

Some Canadian suggests Montréal and Tampa sharing Rays, people take it seriously because February

How can you tell it’s a slow time for sports news? When you get a Montréal newspaper (La Presse, in this case) writing that hey, what if the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t totally move to Montréal, but just played half their home games there? Via Google Translate:

According to information obtained by La Presse, the idea of “joint ownership” of Rays with the current owners circulates behind the scenes, not to completely relocate the team to Montreal, but to have “shared custody” in some so.

The Rays would play half their games of the season “regular” in Montreal and the other half in Tampa. One way to help the club in Florida and reduce the bill for potential buyers, here.

“The bite would be less fat, says a source involved in the reflection. You do not have to sign a check for 600 million US, but 300 million. That would dampen spending, but also the risk, given that the team would be attached to both markets simultaneously.”

Hey, that actually makes … no real sense at all. Both cities are fine enough smallish MLB markets, but if what Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is after is a new stadium, he’d then be faced with figuring out how to get two built instead of one — the only place to play baseball in Montréal right now is Olympic Stadium, which is even older and more unpleasantly domed than Tropicana Field. La Presse seems to think that the Rays could make more TV money this way somehow — “‘There would be no 50% discount for the sponsor because the TV rights are sold to two different broadcasters. It’s win-win!’ said an anonymous source” — but this assumes that both Tampa Bay and Montréal fans would be just as interested in half a team as in a whole team, which seems dubious from here.

The last team I can recall trying something like this on more than an interim basis was the Virginia Squires of the ABA, who split their time among Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond, and Roanoke, which are at least within driving distance of each other, not to mention in the same country. The Montreal Bay Rayspos, on the other hand … sorry, there’s no reason to take this seriously based on “reflection” “behind the scenes.”

Unless you’re Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin, who’s never met an opportunity to stump for a new Rays stadium he didn’t like, of course:

A creative, if not desperate, idea to bring baseball back to Montreal was floated today in the the French language newspaper La Presse — buying the Rays and having them play half their home games in Canada and half in the Tampa Bay area.

The idea of “joint ownership” and “shared custody” is said to be circulating “behind the scenes” among Montreal baseball interests, François Cardinal writes.

How many more days till pitchers and catchers, already?