NYC F.C. finally admits they’ll be playing at Yankees’ stadium already

In news that should surprise absolutely no one, the New York Times is reporting that the MLS expansion team New York City F.C. will announce next week that it will play at the Yankees’ stadium for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons while working on getting a stadium of its own built. This was really the team’s only option: It’s not going to get its $350 million Bronx stadium plan approved and built by next March, there aren’t a whole lot of available soccer-ready stadiums sitting around in New York, and the Yankees are part owners of the team, so it’s the only port in the storm for now. There were (and are) concerns about the impact of soccer usage on the baseball field turf, but apparently those pale in comparison to having to have their soccer team play in the street.

The big question now is how long NYCFC will be stuck in this port. Melissa Mark-Viverito, the new city council speaker who represents the district where the team owners want to build their stadium (with city land and tax subsidies that could amount to more than $250 million), isn’t going anywhere for at least the next four years, and from all accounts she’s just as dead-set against this deal as ever. NYCFC already tried and failed to get a stadium built in Queens, and is rapidly running out of possible sites that are accessible to public transit; I predicted last summer that this could end up as a D.C. United situation, with the team in “temporary” digs for a lot longer than anybody anticipated, and that’s looking even more likely now. Though being stuck in the world’s most lavishly expensive baseball stadium isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world — if NYCFC fans don’t like the view of the pitch, they can always drown their sorrows in $60 steaks.

Yankees replacing some of best seats with tables to “enhance fan experience”

The New York Yankees have announced their latest plan to sell those crazy expensive field-level seats that no one wants to buy at those prices, and it involves a twist even I didn’t see coming: replacing one seat out of three in some sections with snack tables.

In a continued effort to enhance your gameday experience, the Yankees are excited to introduce the addition of brand new side tables between select seats in the Champions Suite. This new feature will offer enhanced comfort for your family, friends and clients to enjoy the all-inclusive food and nonalcoholic beverages that the Champions Suite has to offer.

The “Champions Suite” moniker notwithstanding, these seats are actually down the lines in left and right field, and go for the marginally less insane sum of between $260 and $540 a ticket. (You do get free cafeteria-style food and non-alcoholic drinks with that.) Still, I’m pretty sure this is the first recorded instance of a team actually ripping out good seats and replacing them with places to rest your chicken fingers as an enticement for deep-pocketed ticket buyers.

Area Americans disagree on what sports facilities do for (or to) cities that build them

Moyers and Company has a bunch of stadium-related stuff up on its website, including a repost of its 2008 segment on the funding of the New York Yankees‘ new stadium, plus a collection of essays by local community activists and stadium experts on what new sports facilities have done for their cities. (Disclosure: I helped suggest a couple of the essayists.) Among the highlights:

“I invite you to take a walk around the neighborhood and see for yourself if that has happened. Businesses have closed and the remaining ones are hurting as the Yankee organization has moved many of the services inside the stadium.” —Joyce Hogi, Bronx community activist

“Forbes Magazine consistently lists Stockton as the most miserable city in the nation. For those who love Stockton, the arena is a great addition to the city; ‘I never thought Stockton could have something this nice,’ is a common refrain.” —Lori Gilbert, Stockton Record features writer

“When someone sits down with a beer and hot dog, virtually everything they see is owned by the District of Columbia. Yet all of the money earned from the stadium — tickets, concessions, advertising — goes to the team owner, Ted Lerner.” —Ed Lazere, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute

“The stadium’s opening has been one of the greatest economic drivers for our city, providing thousands of jobs and an expanding sales tax revenue. If you combine this new revenue stream with the $500,000 expected annually from the Cowboys’ new naming rights deal with AT&T then Arlington is on pace to pay off the stadium ten years earlier than anticipated.” —Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck

Add it all up and, well, I’m not sure there’s any consensus, other than that stadiums are expensive, and that people like sports. But it does do a decent job of describing the elephant.

How a bill becomes a law: Christine Quinn and the Yankees stadium vote

Former Village Voice investigative wizard Wayne Barrett has a great article for WNYC radio’s site on the political record of New York city council speaker (and current mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn that includes some juicy scuttlebutt on her role in the New York Yankees stadium deal. As Barrett outlines it:

  • Leading the Yankees’ push was Bronx Democratic Party leader Jose Rivera, a state assemblymember whose son Joel had taken over his spot on the New York city council. (This is the kind of thing that happens a lot in the Bronx.) Quinn was tight with Rivera after he’d helped her win the council speakership in 2006 — helped along, Barrett alleges, by Quinn’s arrangement of a plum city job for a Rivera associate.
  • Jose Rivera’s top adviser Stanley Schlein was “driving the Yankee negotiations” at the council, according to another Rivera aide. In addition, the Yankees had Rivera’s predecessor as party boss, Roberto Ramirez, on the payroll as well.
  • Quinn helped shepherd the Yankees project through the council, including getting the team a new Metro-North commuter rail station near the stadium at no cost to the team.

Quinn denies any notion of a quid pro quo, but it’s long been clear that something made her get behind the project 110% — I was at the council hearing the day that the Yankees project was approved, and recall the word coming down to the press table that the long delay in getting started was because “Chris Quinn has the Democratic caucus down in the basement and is lecturing them about how to vote.” In the end, only two members of the council voted against the plan, with several members ending up making speeches about their concerns and then voting yes regardless. And thus are the sausages made…

Bloomberg press release hints that NYC F.C. will play at Yankee Stadium

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that the new NYC F.C. MLS team will play at Yankee Stadium when it starts play in 2015, oh wait, he took it back:

Bloomberg announced the move as part of a press release celebrating New York’s status as the nation’s “sports mecca.” The release has now been edited.

The slip was pointed out by the website Empire of Soccer. A Google cache version of the press release confirms the original version… “Yankee Stadium will become the home of the New York City Football Club, the first soccer club in the five boroughs since the 1970s.”…

Bloomberg’s release has been changed to, “And soon a new stadium will become home to the New York City Football Club.”

So, either Mayor Bloomberg knows something we don’t know, or he just assumes what we’ve all assumed ever since the Yankees were named co-owners of the team. Cut him some slack, his press officers are all busy sending out resumes as their boss’s 12 years in office wind down, they can’t be expected to pay attention to what they’re actually writing.

Defaulted Yankees garage company seeks to rent out city land, probably not pay city anything for it

The New York City Independent Budget Office reports that those in-default Yankees parking garages that the city and state helped build are not only still in default (no surprise there), but that they’re desperately trying to raise funds to make their bond payments by selling off development rights to parking lots on city-owned land:

With the Bronx Parking Development Company, which runs the parking system, in default and in need of new revenue, a request for proposals was issued to sublease and redevelop two lots near Yankee Stadium. The responses were due June 5 to the Bronx parking company. Edward Moran, who was hired to restructure the parking company, did not respond to two e-mail requests and a follow-up phone call for information about the number of proposals received and when a selection is expected to be made.

Before you start drawing any lines: These lots are not the ones that Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. referenced earlier this week regarding the possible site of a New York City F.C. soccer stadium. These lots, known as Site D in city lease documents, are a pair of small lots on either side of 151st Street between River and Gerard Avenues, which wouldn’t be nearly big enough for a soccer stadium.

How much Bronx Parking Development is looking to get for its land isn’t immediately clear — the RFP documents just say that applicants “must include a proposed rent schedule for the entire term of the sublease,” which runs through 2106, so plan ahead, applicants. Whatever they get, though, it’s unlikely that the city will share much if any of it: As the IBO’s Doug Turetsky points out, Bronx Parking has yet to make any of its annual $3.2 million rent payments or additional payments in lieu of property taxes to the city, and under the terms of its lease, “money owed to the city takes a back seat to payments to bondholders if revenues are insufficient to cover both.”

Maybe if NYC F.C. gets involved in talks for the larger site to the north, then there’ll be enough money for the city to finally start to get repaid for its $39 million garage investment. (The state’s $70 million was a gift, not a loan, and is gone for good.) Though given that MLS doesn’t think its teams should pay anything for land or property taxes, maybe it’s best not to hold your breath on that.

Stadium news roundup, special July 4th week haven’t-been-paying-attention edition

Catching up on some of the week’s news that slipped by while I was traveling (full reporting here will return late Monday, or maybe Tuesday depending on how much sleep I get on the plane):

Yankees parking garages go belly-up at last

It’s been an awfully long time coming, but at last it looks we can say that the New York Yankees parking garages are in default on their bonds!New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reports that “Bronx Parking Development LLC failed to make a $6.9 million payment due April 1 on more than $237 million in tax-exempt bonds arranged by the Bloomberg administration back in 2007. The group, which is not connected to the Yankees, thus fell into one of the biggest defaults of a New York City-sponsored bond in decades.”

Unless you’re one of the poor schmoes who bought Yankees parking garage bonds thinking that the garages would actually pay their bills, the default probably won’t mean very much to you: Since a nonprofit corporation was set up to sell the bonds, neither the Yankees nor the city of New York is on the hook to bondholders. (The city can forget about ever getting the $43 million in rent payments it was supposed to accrue from the garages, but then, it’s probably already forgotten about that long before now.)

Of course, this isn’t a very good sign if, say, you live in a certain California state capitol that is considering a similar parking bond deal, only this time with taxpayer funds set to fill in any gap in parking revenues. Though officials there swear that they’re using conservative assumptions, and we all know that public servants would never fudge the numbers about something so important as — what’s that, Juan?

City economic development aides have privately acknowledged they were ordered by City Hall back then to “make the numbers work” in order to justify tax-exempt bonds.

Not a very good sign at all.

Thousands of unsold seats at Yankee postseason games: Some possible reasons

The New York Yankees are in the playoffs again — for at least another two games, anyway — which means it’s once again time to play “What’s wrong with attendance at the new stadium?” During both last week’s Division Series and in the first two games of the A.L. Championship Series this weekend, the Yanks drew several thousand fans short of capacity, and ushers were told to bring fans down from the nosebleeds to higher-priced seats to make the stadium look more full on TV. It’s a startling change from past seasons, when postseason games were sold out the minute they went on sale, and all the more startling considering that the new Yankee Stadium has about 7,000 fewer seats than the original one.

Many observers have been quick to jump to the conclusion that Yankee fans now suck, but it’s hard to see why they’d suck now when they didn’t just a few years ago. Some other possible theories, then, some raised by other news outlets, some my own:

  • It was cold. It was really cold — windy and below 50 on Friday and Saturday nights, and not much better on Sunday. Given that those three games weren’t even sure of being played until the last minute, it’s easy to see why some fans would have steered clear. Still, it’s usually cold in October, and that hasn’t stopped fans in the past.
  • Scalper greed. There were roughly 10,000 tickets a game still available on StubHub close to each game time, so it’s possible sellers were holding out for more than they could get. They did drop prices for Friday’s game, though, plus those 3,000 unsold tickets were unsold even by the Yankees, though, so this wouldn’t explain them.
  • Yankee greed. The unsold tickets were largely in the corners of the upper deck, where seats are 1) expensive for postseason games and 2) pretty crappy compared to the old stadium. Several fans commented to local papers about the high prices at the new stadium not just for tickets, but for concessions: “I think the high prices of the [concessions] and the seats themselves, I think that’s what’s causing people not to come out,” said one. “It’s expensive to come out here anymore.” Another added: “At the old stadium, a playoff game, Saturday night, it was electric. It was a zoo. There were guys in jersey-shirts, drinking $8 beers. They’re gone, and I don’t know if they’re going to come back. Your $10 tickets are $50 tickets now.”
  • Postseason fatigue. The Atlanta Braves have long been famed for not being able to sell out postseason games, and like them, the Yankees have now made it to October almost every year for well over a decade. Maybe fans are thinking, “Enh, I’ll wait till next year when the team is maybe hitting better and they’re not playing the Orioles”?

If the Yankees survive long enough to make it back to the Bronx for Game 6 on Saturday, we’ll have another data point to see which of these theories, if any, hold water. Regardless, when you have Detroit Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry calling the new stadium “a very easy place to play” compared to Oakland, you know that something has gone very wrong with the Yanks’ move to the House That George Built.

Yankees garages once again on brink of bankruptcy

When last we checked in on the troubled New York Yankees parking garages, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, and being considered for partial demolition. And now?

Parking garages serving New York Yankees baseball fans won’t have sufficient reserves next year to pay investors holding about $240 million of tax-exempt debt, according to a security filing.

Bloomberg News says that $15 million in bond payments will be due next year, and the Bronx Parking Development Co. has only about $8.5 million in cash on hand. That raises the possibility of the company filing for bankruptcy by the time of its next scheduled bond payment on April 1, unless the bondholders agree to take less money to avoid being left completely holding the bag.

Of course, we’ve heard this before, and they’ve always scraped up the cash in time. But eventually, the reserve fund is going to go dry, and the bondholders are going to have to take less money one way or another. The city, meanwhile, is likely already out its $43 million in expected rent payments, since the garages don’t have to pay so long as they’re losing money. Gosh, who could possibly have seen this coming?