Tampa proposes $30m subsidy for Yankees’ spring stadium, this passes for getting off cheap these days

The New York Yankees, a team that will be paying $225 million in player payroll this season (just thought I’d mention that, no reason), have agreed to a lease extension with the city of Tampa on their spring-training stadium that will include $30 million in city- and state-financed upgrades. (The Yankees will chip in $4.1 million for improvements to their training complex, and $6.2 million that they’ve already spent on the stadium since 2010, which is a new meaning of “will chip in.”) Planned improvements include new concessions concourses, new sun roofs, and a new “grand entrance” for fans fleeing the watchful gaze of bronze George Steinbrenner.

In exchange, Tampa gets to ensure the presence of the Yankees for another 21 years: The lease currently ends in 2025, and will be extended through 2046. That’s not a horrific tradeoff, though it’s worth noting that entire new minor-league stadiums have recently been built for this price. And the assessment of Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, aka the guy who thinks a single college football game can create 2,000 permanent jobs, remains, um:

[Hagan] said the deal is a good one for taxpayers. The county, which owns Steinbrenner Field, will receive an additional $8.4 million in lease payments for the extra 20 years of the contract. The improvements to the Yankees’ practice complex will raise its taxable value resulting in more property taxes.

And, Hagan said, the continued presence of baseball’s biggest name for spring training will continue to fill local hotels, bars and restaurants with out-of-state visitors.

“When you consider all the additional revenue, this is an extremely attractive return on investment, which makes this deal a no-brainer,” Hagan said.

First off, $8.4 million over the years 2026 through 2046 is never going to make a dent in $30 million in construction costs right now. The property-tax bump is likewise going to be small; as for the throngs of “out-of-state visitors” allegedly drawn to Tampa in March just to see Yankees spring training games, haven’t we killed that urban legend dead yet?

If there are two reasons to care about this, other than just enjoying hating the Steinbrenners for being rich and still being able to get public subsidies whenever they want (assuming the city and county approve the deal, which they haven’t yet), it’s because it’s likely to give another boost to the trend of MLB teams making demands for public upgrades or replacement of not-that-old spring training facilities (Steinbrenner Field was built in 1996), and because it gives us another hint of what Ken Hagan is likely to be like in negotiations for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s almost certainly going to cost Tampa taxpayers a heck of a lot more than $30 million if it happens, especially if Hagan hauls out rationalizations like these.

John Oliver’s “dress like you don’t belong there” Yankees stunt ends sadly hobo-free

John Oliver’s stunt to put fans in premium New York Yankees seats who promise to dress like they’ve never been there before — a dig at team COO Lonn Trost, who defended the team’s ticket resale restrictions because sitting next to non-rich folks would be a “frustration to our existing fan base” — ended up more of a costume party, with fans dressed as Ninja Turtles, sharks, unicorns, and dinosaurs ending up seated behind home plate.

john-oliver-ninja-turtlesAP_16098111550650bronx-unicornsoliverfansAll things considered, I’ve got to say that this is kind of disappointing. The ostensible goal of this gimmick was to point out the classism behind Trost’s statement: He was implying that if fans could buy good seats for below face value, the ones who’d paid full price would be offended by having to sit next to the hoi polloi. (It’s probable that Trost doesn’t actually believe this, of course; he’s more concerned that if fans can buy seats for below face value, he’ll have a harder time selling them for thousands of dollars a pop.) Instead, it turned into two frat brothers from Villanova putting on cheap dinosaur outfits and sitting behind home plate, which is pretty much like every day at Yankee Stadium, only the dinosaurs the fans are dressing as aren’t wearing number 13.

If Oliver’s staff really wanted to drive home the point, they’d have given the tickets to somebody dressed like this: Emmett_Kelly_1953If nothing else, I’d have loved to have seen what happened when they went to sign up for the fingerprint scanning to get a fast pass through security.

John Oliver offers premium Yankees tickets for 25 cents to anyone who’ll annoy the rich folk

If you’ve been following the sad story of the New York Yankees banning the use of print-at-home tickets in part on the grounds that, as team COO Lonn Trost put it, it’s “a frustration to our existing fan base” that the people sitting next to them “may be someone who has never sat in a premium location,” you will enjoy John Oliver’s latest excursion into sports, in which he offers to sell two seats behind the plate at the first three Yankees home games for 25 cents apiece to anyone who promises to dress as if they’re never sat in a premium location before:

Yesterday’s Yankees home opener was rained out and rescheduled for today at 1pm. I can’t wait to tune in and see who’s sitting behind the plate, and how long it takes before team security forces whisk them off to a black site, or at least the bleachers.

Yankees order NYCFC to stop taking print-at-home tickets, fans locked out of stadium for home opener

I wrote up an article for Vice Sports on Friday on how several sports teams, including the New York Yankees and Minnesota Timberwolves, have banned the use of print-at-home tickets, ostensibly to prevent fraud and counterfeiting but really because it allows them to control the resale of tickets via their own phone apps. I didn’t cover it here because it’s not really so much about stadiums, but following yesterday’s fiasco at NYCFC‘s home opener, I can’t resist:

NYCFC, which plays at Yankee Stadium, announced Friday that the team would no longer accept paper tickets, but the policy would be phased in.

The change—shockingly—led to chaos at Sunday’s NYCFC game.

Apparently what happened is that NYCFC allowed the use of print-at-home tickets, but required that they be “verified” before fans could enter, whatever that means. (Isn’t verification what the scanners at the turnstiles do?) The result was that shortly before game time (it’s hard to tell whether this was taken eight minutes before game time or just posted then), the inside of the stadium looked like this:

With NYCFC half owned by the Yankees, I can’t wait to see how they to resolve this by suggesting that fans all get their fingerprints scanned.

UPDATE: We have our first eyewitness report, and it indicates that the problem yesterday may have been due more to incompetence than intent:

UPDATE #2: An NYCFC official says the problem wasn’t the print-at-home tickets, which were accepted at all gates, but an eight-minute malfunction with the turnstile scanners that backed up the queues at the peak of pregame entry. Still awaiting word back on what the “verification” process was that had tickets scanned once before fans went through security and once after.

Security theater chaos in NY forces Yankees fans to miss seeing team get eliminated from postseason

Last night on the sports security theater front, this happened at the Yankees‘ wild-card playoff game:

The Yankees blamed it on a “medical emergency” closing one entrance gate, but everyone knows that wouldn’t have been nearly so bad a problem if not for the mandatory walkthrough metal detectors the Yankees installed this season. (Or mandatory for anyone who doesn’t want to take advantage of the Yankees’ ridiculous line-cutting workaround, anyway.) There is zero evidence that metal detectors make anyone safer at sporting events, but they make fans feel safer, and that’s what’s important, right?

A fan named John from Astoria said the lines have been a problem all season.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “All MLB has done is create a bunch of bottlenecks that are a target for somebody now. There’s 40,000 people waiting to get into a stadium instead of inside a stadium.

“My first memory of Yankee Stadium is walking into this pristine cathedral. My son’s first memory is going to be walking and getting patted down by security.”

Aw, crap, they’re onto us. In a sane world, everyone would now just scrap the metal detectors and admit they were a terrible idea in the first place, but as recent events have made ever more clear, we’re a long way from sanity about threats of public violence.

Parks built to replace those destroyed by Yankees are contaminated, need city cleanup

Remember those new Bronx parks that New York City paid a couple hundred million dollars to build to replace the ones that the Yankees had obliterated to make way for their new stadium six years earlier? Well, the good news is they’re open now, and full of kids. The bad news: They’re contaminated with leaking underground gas tanks.

Department of Parks and Recreation officials said there are no such dangers from the contaminated groundwater.

“It doesn’t sound good, but again, there’s no exposure to the public here,” said Liam Kavanagh, First Deputy Commissioner at the Parks Department…

CBS2 has learned the cleanup effort has been under way since 2009. CBS2 also uncovered the contracts between the city and the engineering firm doing the decontamination work, and found it has already cost taxpayers $410,000.

If the gas is just getting into the groundwater, then yeah, it’s probably not a threat to kids playing up on the surface. (Or no more threat than it is to all kids in the neighborhood, who live atop contaminated groundwater.) Still, it’s a reminder that Bronx kids used to play on ballfields that had always been ballfields, never gas stations — until this happened.

Two days before NYCFC opener, Yankee Stadium field is a dirt pile

And elsewhere in F’ed-Up Field Friday, the stadium that inherited the name Yankee Stadium from the real Yankee Stadium is set to host NYC F.C.‘s home opener in just two days, and yow:

That’s one bad-looking soccer pitch. Presumably they’re laying down sod as you read this (for once it’s not snowing in New York right now) — which they have to do in part anyway to cover the dirt infield — but playing sports on freshly laid sod doesn’t always work out so well. As with the Wrigley Field situation, conditions will no doubt be playable, but it’ll be interesting to see how well it works out.

And as for when the baseball season starts, at least one Yankees player is already preparing for the worst:

“It’s going to suck,” Teixeira told the Daily News, “but you have to deal with it. It’s going to tear up the infield, but there’s nothing we can do about it, so we’ll deal with it.”

But then, Teixeira already has years of experience with unavoidable situations that destroy his infield.

Yankees exec says destroying parks for stadium actually built parks, wins Nobel Prize for Chutzpah

There was a long article by Eliot Brown in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on stadium subsidies, which you probably can’t read because it’s paywalled, but it gives a good rundown on the basics. (Cities give up piles of dough, economists say it’s not worth it.) I just wanted to single out, though, one jaw-dropping quote from New York Yankees president Randy Levine in the middle of the piece about the team’s new stadium:

The team and city officials said it employs 1,600 more people than the old facility and brought new parks to a poor neighborhood. “Since Yankee Stadium was built, it has lived up to what it said,” Yankees President Randy Levine said.

This for a stadium that left a poor neighborhood without any parks at all for six years, that arguably didn’t even replace all the existing parkland it displaced as required by law, and that team execs promised would use “no public subsidies” and which ended up using more public subsidies than any stadium in U.S. history. Maybe Levine deserves his own plaque in the grandstanding Hall of Fame.

If new Yankee Stadium is “venerable,” does that make Madison Square Garden 135 years old?

Today in rewriting history:

Jeter, 40, slashed a 3-1 knuckler from R.A. Dickey into the stands behind left field in Yankee Stadium for his first home run in 158 at-bats and his first at the venerable Stadium since July of 2013.

Yankee Stadium is five years old. I know this is only a sports column at AL.com (which is, sadly, apparently the site of the Birmingham News and several other papers, not what you might think it would be), but news of the demolition of the stadium built in 1923 and renovated in 1976 has trickled down to Alabama, hasn’t it?

Of course, this article also says of Jeter, “we know nothing about whom he dates,” so maybe columnist Roy S. Johnson lives in an alternate reality where the original Yankee Stadium is still standing, and Derek Jeter is an underappreciated star who toiled far from the limelight. If so, can I go there too?

NY Times credits Yankees for imaginary recovery from pretend home-field disadvantage

This is more a “stupid sportswriting” story than a “stupid stadium coverage” one, but there’s a stadium angle, so: On Saturday, the New York Times’ Jorge Arangure Jr. wrote an article about how the Yankees haven’t had the same home-field advantage at Fake Yankee Stadium that the did at the original Yankee Stadium, but now that’s turning around. How does he know? Because they had a really good couple of weeks:

Through the end of its 85-year tenure, the old Yankee Stadium remained a place where opposing teams feared playing. The lore grew to the point that ghosts were rumored to inhabit the building.

The opening of the new stadium in 2009 brought along a different atmosphere, more corporate, less rowdy, and gradually, it seems, Yankee Stadium has lost some of its intimidation.

The Yankees carried a lowly 18-23 record at home into the All-Star break this season. If they were going to contend in the second half, Manager Joe Girardi had said, the Yankees would need to turn the Stadium into the imposing place that it used to be.

They appear on their way to doing just that: With a 10-6 win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday, the Yankees improved their home record to 29-27. They have gone 11-4 in the Bronx since the break and have won four of five games on their current homestand. Finally, these Yankees have turned their home park into an advantage for themselves, even if it is not yet the fearful place its predecessor was.

In the Big Book of Journalist Fallacies, this should be familiar as the sin of small sample size. During the course of any season with lots of wins and losses — and a 29-27 home record definitely qualifies there — there will be stretches where the team does exceptionally well, or exceptionally poorly, if only by random chance. If you doubt, this, try a simple experiment: Flip a coin 81 times in a row. The first time it comes up heads four out of five times, write an article for the New York Times on how the coin has really turned the corner and figured things out.

(The Yankees, as if eager to make this point, promptly lost their next two games on Saturday and Sunday. So now they’ve won four out of seven at home, and are 11-6 since the break. Good thing Arangure filed on Saturday morning, huh?)

So are the Yankees actually being hurt on the field by their new stadium? Over the first almost-six years of the new stadium, the team is 287-176 (for a .620 winning percentage) at home, and 249-215 (.537) on the road. Over the last six years of the old stadium, they were 310-177 (.637) at home, and 267-218 (.551) on the road. So that’s an 83-point bump in place of an 86-point bump, or as near to statistically meaningless as you’re likely to get. So while there are plenty of things to complain about at the new stadium, less of a home field advantage isn’t one of them.

Come to think of it, that’s the kind of thing that a major newspaper might normally want its reporters to check before writing news stories based on what turns out to be a false premise — but it took me ten whole minutes to Google the stats and paste them into Excel, and I know these Times writers must have important places to be.