Cuomo allows sports venues to reopen on February 23, because money

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared yesterday that sports and music venues that hold more than 10,000 people — both outdoor stadiums and indoor arenas — will be allowed to reopen to fans at 10% capacity starting February 23. Each building will first have to have its ventilation systems approved by the state department of health, but once that’s complete, the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, New York Mets, and New York Yankees could all soon be playing before paying crowds.

The announcement came as a bit of a surprise in a state that, even with falling coronavirus rates, still has the fifth-highest positive test rate in the country, as new more transmissible variants threaten to create a renewed surge in coming weeks. But Cuomo said that with reduced capacities, improved ventilation, requiring mask wearing, and requiring a negative test result in the previous 72 hours, he could “get this economy open intelligently and in a balanced way.”

All that is well enough — if you’re going to start putting fans back in seats, it’s clear, keeping them masked and distanced is key. But the negative test certification — which Cuomo called “the key” to reopening — is what begins to paint this as hygiene theater: As we learned last year during the Miami Marlins fiasco, 40% of people will still test negative four days after being exposed to the virus, and 20% will test negative even three days after symptoms have started. Plus there’s the problem of people who get tested on a Monday and then contract the virus by Thursday. As one infectious disease expert put it to the New York Times:

“A test 72 hours prior to a game will help identify some cases, but that’s also three days in which an individual can become infectious,” [Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist from George Mason University,] wrote in an email.

Coming just one week after Cuomo announced that restaurants would be allowed to open to indoor dining, something that can’t be done while masked until chefs develop food that can be absorbed through diners’ skin, the sports reopening is a clear signal that New York state is prioritizing “getting the economy open” over actual safety concerns. As the Times editorial board wrote just hours before Cuomo’s sports announcement:

Too many leaders — not just Mr. Cuomo — are ignoring that call. Massachusetts and New Jersey are allowing businesses, including restaurants, to expand capacity for indoor services, and Iowa just lifted its mask mandate. The impulse behind these moves is understandable. Restaurants and the people who earn their living through them are in dire straits because they have not received sufficient government assistance. State and local economies are hanging by a thread, and everyone is exhausted by restrictions and desperate to return to some semblance of normal life.

But the number of people who get sick or die from Covid-19 in the coming year will depend on the outcome of a desperate race that’s underway, between human vaccination and viral mutation. … By relaxing restrictions now, state and local leaders are undermining their own vaccination efforts. To get a sense of what this looks like to scientists and public health experts, imagine a military general leading the fight against a foreign enemy — and then selling that enemy deadly weapons on the side.

Meanwhile, food critic Ryan Sutton of Eater came out against the restaurant reopening, noting that choosing Valentine’s Day weekend to resume indoor dining “feels chosen less for any health milestones and more for the fact that it is historically one of the biggest nights for restaurants.” While restaurant workers will soon be allowed to sign up for vaccinations, the slow pace of vaccine production means they could be waiting for appointments well into the spring or summer. (Cuomo didn’t say whether stadium and arena workers will be added to the vaccine priority list.)

Speaking as a New Yorker and a Mets fan eager to see how the team will screw up its winter of big-name acquisitions, I’m dying to get to a ballgame as much as anyone. But “dying” only metaphorically: If allowing a couple thousand lucky fans to witness the Knicks and Nets firsthand leads to an uptick in cases that allows new viral variants to take off, sickening and killing people across the city who have no interest in basketball, Cuomo’s sports reopening move could go down as one of the most poorly timed decisions in governmental history. And even if we get lucky and limited-capacity indoor sports turn out not to become superspreader events, seeking a “balanced” reopening — presumably between the full reopening many businesses would want and the continued shutdown of indoor activities that scientists recommend, meaning between profits and deaths — is, let’s just say, a telling reminder of how most elected officials see where their bread is buttered.

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Thursday roundup: NBA mulls expansion to raise quick cash, 60-year-old community-owned team sold to local rich dude, Crew may seek more tax breaks somehow

Happy pre-Christmas, everybody! (That’s the name for today, right? I really should Google that.) Here’s the stray news for the short holiday week:

  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has called expansion the league’s “manifest destiny” and said that “it’s caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion” (what “it”? shh, don’t ask questions, the important man is talking) but “not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.” The implication is after losing like $1.5 billion in revenue, some quick cash from expansion fees sounds real good about now, but Silver’s not going to be the one to say that out loud, not when it might make him look desperate, not when it’s expansion cities and prospective owners that should be begging him to expand, that’s just how this is supposed to work, you know.
  • The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, since 1958 run by a community-owned non-profit, have been sold to a local rich guy because, um, something about Covid. Also the non-profit’s chair, Tom Lehr, said “100% of the profits from the sale of the team to Third Base Ventures will be invested back into the team,” according to the Appleton Post-Crescent, which, what? This guy gets to buy the team, and also use the money he paid for it on the team as well? What is even happening.
  • The Columbus Crew‘s old stadium, which is set to become the team’s training ground plus public soccer fields, still belongs to the team while the land under it belongs to the state, and the team has to make $210,000 in payments in lieu of property taxes each year under a 2007 court settlement, but they’re working on a long-term lease now and a term sheet proposed by the team mentions “Ownership of existing MAPFRE Stadium to be discussed and examined in connection with real estate tax and other considerations,” and all this is a red flag but no one’s quite sure of what exactly. Maybe something that should have been considered before giving the Crew $98 million toward a new stadium? Ennnnh, that seems like a lot of work.
  • This year’s Rose Bowl is going to be played in Texas because that California has one of the nation’s worst coronavirus surges (Texas isn’t far behind, but Texas’s governor doesn’t care), and also this year’s Pro Bowl is going to be played on Madden, which warms my heart that our glorious future may finally arrive soon. If you’re wondering if the Pro Bowl had to be moved because its home stadium in Honolulu is on the verge of being condemned, nope, it was going to be in Las Vegas this year anyway, but, you know, Covid. Also, Honolulu’s outgoing mayor Kirk Caldwell warns that the city’s indoor arena is even older than the stadium and even though it’s getting a $43.6 million upgrade, “at some point you run out of life” and okay, yes, Caldwell’s plan for a $700 million replacement arena was already rejected and also he’s only mayor for another week, sorry, I don’t know why we’re actually talking about him.
  • There’s now an online petition against “any taxpayer funding being used to finance, construct, acquire, renovate, equip, enlarge, or operate a new baseball stadium within the City of Knoxville or Knox County.” Allow the debates over what counts as “taxpayer funding” to commence now!
  • If you want to work at F.C. Cincinnati‘s new stadium, they’re hiring! What about all the people who worked at the team’s old stadium, which actually averaged more fans per game than the new one will hold? Sorry, no room in the article for that!
  • The owners of the New York Yankees have agreed to provide ten $5,000 grants to local businesses suffering amid the pandemic — wait, seriously, $50,000? That’s roughly how much the Yankees pay Gerrit Cole for each batter he faces. “We are extremely appreciative of this support from the Yankees,” local bar owner Joe Bastone said, according to a statement issued by the Yankees, which ended up getting a bunch of media coverage out of it, all of it positive. Until now.
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Yankees threaten to halt own soccer stadium project unless bankrupt company cleans up garages that would be torn down anyway

The City, the web publication with the ungoogleable name that was funded with Craig Newmark’s guilt money over accidentally destroying newspapers, ran an article last night headlined “Yankee Stadium Parking Lot Woes Block Soccer Field Goal, Cost Taxpayers Millions.” This is a subject that should interest FoS readers on a couple of levels — the New York Yankees garage fiasco is a sad tale that has been ongoing for more than a decade now, while the NYC F.C. stadium plans are now almost two and a half years in and threatening to compete with the garage story for long-running fiascos — so I’m sorry to say that the headline is mostly wrong, and the part that isn’t wrong is incomplete.

The actual story is kind of interesting, though, as is what we can divine from the fact that this article even exists, so let’s tackle it piece by piece:

The Parks Department is threatening to terminate its lease with Bronx Parking Development Company LLC over the outfit’s defaults on $237 million in bonds issued in 2007 by the city Industrial Development Agency, documents show.

None of this should be surprising. Bronx Parking Development Company LLC was a bizarre concoction in the first place, a nonprofit shell company set up to sell parking spaces at $25 a pop to Yankees fans when there was plenty of cheaper parking nearby, not to mention two subway stations and a commuter rail station right next door. The company soon went into default on those $237 million in bonds (which were used to build still more garages — for some reason, somebody in the Yankees hierarchy 15-20 years ago thought New Yorkers were going to start driving everywhere) and stopped paying rent to the city, causing bondholders and city officials alike to squawk about the money they were owed.

It’s the bondholders, though, that have more to squawk about. The rent payments to the city — $3.2 million a year for 100 years, because yes, IDA agreed to a century-long lease with these bozos — amount to about $43 million in present value, which while real money, is a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $700 million the city is already on the hook for with the Yankees stadium project. As the city’s Independent Budget Office noted back in 2013, “While the bonds were issued by the city’s Industrial Development Agency, the city is technically not responsible for repaying the bondholders.” So if the parking garages go belly-up, which they’ve been doing in slow motion for a decade now, most of the $237 million bag will be held by those people foolish enough to buy Yankees parking garage bonds.

Then there’s the soccer project, which is being pushed by the Yankees, who are co-owners of NYC F.C., but apparently team execs are claiming it can’t move forward with the plan because the parking doofuses are such doofuses:

Meanwhile, Yankees officials contend the company is stalling a move that could help pull it out of the red: a deal that includes razing a four-level parking structure on 153rd Street to make way for a 25,000-seat soccer stadium for NYCFC…

In the July 20 letter to the president of US Bank, Yankees attorney Michael Mellis complained of dilapidated conditions and security lapses at the 11 sprawling lots and parking structures, which hold nearly 9,300 spaces.

The parking company “has materially failed on all counts” on its obligations to maintain its lots in a “safe, secure, clean and reputable manner,” Mellis wrote. Among the problems cited: poor lighting, out-of-order elevators, dirty surfaces and vermin running wild.

The Yankees lawyer wrote that the ballclub will not give its needed consent for the soccer stadium deal until the parking company cleans up its act.

Yes, you read that right: The owners of the New York Yankees are saying they won’t agree to tear down unused parking garages so they can build a stadium for their own soccer team unless the failed company that it maneuvered to have operate the garages cleans them before demolition.

Clearly there’s something more going on here than meets the eye. One likely theory is that the soccer stadium project still faces numerous other obstacles, from an elevator company that won’t vacate its building until a new home is found to a highway bridge that needs to be decommissioned and nobody wants to take responsibility for, and throwing the garage operators under the bus is a convenient way to blame somebody else for NYC F.C.’s problems. (One of the few people The City got to comment on the record for this piece was local city councilmember Diana Ayala (D-Bronx), who said of the soccer stadium plan, “I know that there has been interest but to date no proposal has been introduced, and I have not heard from anyone related to this proposal in quite some time.”) Or maybe even get somebody to kill all the rats that are lurking uncomfortably near the Yankees’ stadium. It’s a win-win, or at least a we’ve-got-nothing-to-lose.

So back to that headline: The parking lot woes are indeed woeful, but while they’re costing the city “millions,” it’s not the $237 million mentioned at the top of the article, and it’s money that the city has pretty much written off years ago anyway. And they almost certainly have nothing to do with “blocking” the soccer stadium. Also, a “field goal” isn’t a term in soccer, so that’s a terrible play on words. I like my headline a lot better, though it is a bit wordy — maybe “Yankees Threaten To Blow Up Own Soccer Stadium Deal Over Garage Filth”? “Yanks To City: Drop Rats”? No wait, that’s a different story.

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Friday roundup: Drumming clowns, vaporgondolas, and the XFL rises shambling from its dusty grave

The magnets have shipped! Repeat: The magnets have shipped! If you want to get in on this, act now, or you might have to wait until I make my second trip to the post office.

This was an extra-busy news week, which felt like a bit of a return to normalcy after several months of sports team owners mostly focusing more on getting back on the field than on getting money to pay for new fields. But life can’t be put on hold forever, and by “life” I mean “grubbing for someone else’s cash,” because what is life if not that? (Answers may differ if you are not a sports team owner.)

Here’s a bunch more stuff that happened than what already made FoS this week:

  • That protest to call for the New York Yankees to pay their fair share of taxes or maybe just bail out local struggling businesses only drew about 10-15 people, according to NJ.com, but also “clowns playing a drum on stilts.” The site’s accompanying video features less than two seconds of drum-playing stilt clowns, and a whole lot of 161st Street BID director Cary Goodman talking about the plight of local businesses, and while I know Cary and he apparently paid for the clowns, I still say that this is a dereliction of journalistic duty.
  • Along those same lines, the gondola company owned by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has reportedly released new renderings of its proposed gondola to Dodger Stadium, but does NBC Los Angeles show us any of them? No, it does not. (I so yearn to see Cab-Hailing Purse Woman cast off her foam finger and hail a gondola.) We do learn that “the gondola system could move up to 5,500 people per hour in each direction, meaning more than 10,000 fans could be transported to Dodger Stadium in the two hours before the start of a game or event,” which seems to misunderstand how people arrive at baseball games, which at Dodger Stadium is mostly all at once in the third inning, and even more misunderstand how people leave baseball games, which is all at once when they’re over, at which point there would suddenly be a two-hour-long line for the gondola. McCourt’s L.A. Aerial Rapid Transit company says it will pay the project’s $125 million cost, but even if true — and you know I’m always skeptical when people ask for public-private partnerships but promise there will be no public money — that doesn’t make this much less of a crazy idea.
  • The XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats might have to share their stadium this spring with a college football team, and, wait, didn’t the XFL fold? I swear the XFL folded. Oh, I see now that The Rock bought it, so: In the unlikely event that the XFL gets going again, its L.A. team will have to share digs with a college football team playing in the spring. Honestly having to use a football stadium more than 10 days a year just seems like efficient use of space to me, but sports leagues do get gripey about scheduling, even sports leagues that barely exist.
  • That Palm Springs arena being built by AEG now won’t be built in Palm Springs after all, but rather nearby Palm Desert, because the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, whose land was going to be used for the project, decided after Covid hit to “reevaluate what was going on just like most other businesses because they had so many other projects,” whatever that means. Given that the Palm Springs police and fire departments said they’d need tens of millions of dollars to provide services for the new arena, I think it’s safe to say that Palm Springs just dodged a bullet here.
  • The San Francisco 49ers are finally paying rent again to the city of Santa Clara, after initially trying to get out of it because their two exhibition games at home were canceled.
  • This Athletic article about the attempts in the 1980s and ’90s to save Tiger Stadium is paywalled and is not nearly as comprehensive as the entire chapter about the same subject in Field of Schemes, but it does have some nice quotes from Tiger Stadium Fan Club organizers Frank Rashid and Judy Davids (the latter of whom worked on a renovation plan for the stadium that would have cost a fraction of a new one, a scale model for which I once slept in the same room with when she and her husband/co-designer John put me up at their house during a FoS book tour), so by all means give it a read if you can.
  • If you’re wondering how $5.6 billion in subsidies for a new high-end residential/office/mall development in Manhattan is working out now that Covid has both residents and offices moving out of Manhattan, I reported on it for Gothamist and discovered the unsurprising answer: really not well at all.
  • The KFC Yum! Center in Louisville’s naming rights are about to expire, but KFC is talking about signing an extension, so with any luck we have many more years ahead of us to make fun of the name “KFC Yum! Center.”
  • That’s not how you spell “ESPN,” Minneapolis-St.Paul Business Journal.
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NYC to refinance Yankee Stadium bonds, give Steinbrenner more cash, still not require him to pay property taxes

And in bond refinancing news:

Fitch Ratings released a report saying the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) plans to issue approximately $923 million in PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) Revenue Refunding Bonds, Series 2020, issued for the benefit of Yankee Stadium LLC. The 2020 bonds will provide significant debt service savings relative to the prior schedules, with the majority of savings related to the PILOT and debt payments in February 2022-2024.

If the words “bond refinancing news” didn’t already put you to sleep, that paragraph probably did. But there are a couple of items that make New York City and the Yankees refinancing their stadium debt to take advantage of low interest rates more interesting than when you do it for your mortgage:

  • First off, Forbes reports that while the Yankees will still be paying off their stadium debt with pretend property taxes in order to take advantage of a now-closed IRS tax loophole, they’ll now be able to pocket any excess PILOTs (payments in lieu of property taxes) that aren’t needed for debt service and use them to fund their own operating expenses — which Forbes’ Mike Ozanian notes “provides some mitigation on the pressure for a quick recovery in revenues from the coronavirus.” (Translation: Will help boost Hal Steinbrenner’s bottom line.) There’s no estimate provided for how much money will be redirected from the city to the Yankees under this new provision.
  • As you may recall, there’s a push on to make New York’s sports teams actually pay property tax, as opposed to paying pretend taxes to themselves (as the Yankees, Mets, and Brooklyn Nets do) or just having themselves declared entirely tax-exempt (the Knicks and Rangers). One snag there is that the PILOT agreements were already signed years ago, so it’s tough to undo them. But! In order to refinance the debt so that Steinbrenner can save money, the city and the Yankees are having to tear up the old PILOT agreement and sign new ones — and there is nothing stopping the city from saying, “And while we’re doing you this favor, how about you start paying some damn real taxes to the actual damn city treasury, what with New York so strapped for cash that the mayor is furloughing himself?”

Obviously if the city tried to demand more in tax payments from the Yankees than they’d be saving under the refinancing, Steinbrenner would walk away from this deal. Why that would be a problem for the city is left unstated, though — while the Forbes headline implies that New York will be saving money under this deal, it’s unclear how that will happen, since right now all the bond payments are technically on the Yankees’ dime, with the help of the $1.2 billion in public tax breaks and free land they’re getting on the back end. At the very least, you’d hope that Mayor Bill de Blasio — who just this week declared that in terms of sports tax breaks “everything should be reevaluated especially at a point when the city is going to need resources for our recovery” — would be, you know, checking to see if the city can get something in exchange for doing Steinbrenner this solid, instead of just giving the Yankees some extra cash to help pay their light bill.

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NYC Mayor de Blasio: Sure, wealthy sports owners should pay their taxes, I guess

As I mentioned in my Gothamist article last week, a group of New York city councilmembers have called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to start making the city’s sports teams pay property taxes on their stadiums and arenas, which none of them currently do. (The Yankees and Mets and Brooklyn Nets all pay “payments in lieu of taxes” that are really their own construction debt payments, funneled through the city as a tax dodge; the Knicks and Rangers don’t pay taxes on Madison Square Garden because somebody accidentally gave them an eternal tax break in 1982 and no one can be bothered to repeal it.) And the campaign got a boost yesterday when de Blasio sorta kinda endorsed its call for team owners to pay their fair tax share:

De Blasio, a Democrat, was asked at his daily press briefing to respond to a letter last month from nine lawmakers on the New York City Council who called for the Garden, Yankee Stadium, the Barclays Center and Citi Field to pay property taxes. The mayor said he hasn’t seen the letter and was unfamiliar with the legal specifics, but supported the concept of requiring New York’s local teams to increase their contributions.

“Let’s be clear – sports franchises have gained incredible value over the years,” de Blasio said. “They clearly have the resources. I think the history in this city and pretty much all over the country was stadium deals were not good deals for the public, by and large. Some of the more recent ones have been better, but mostly they haven’t been that good. Everything should be reevaluated especially at a point when the city is going to need resources for our recovery.”

That phrasing puts the “blah” in de Blasio, but “everything should be reevaluated” is fightin’ words compared to the usual approach to sports tax breaks, which is for elected officials to shrug their shoulders and say whatchagonnado? And the mayor also responded to a call by 161st Street Business Improvement Director Cary Goodman that the Yankees be forced to pay property taxes just as other businesses in the neighborhood do:

“We all hope and pray that next year baseball will resume in person at some point in the year and the fans will come back and the businesses will thrive, but of course the Yankees should help them through and I assure you they have the money.”

Okay, so none of this is exactly laying down the law, and de Blasio has previously called for Madison Square Garden to pay taxes before shrugging his shoulders and saying whatchagonnado? But it’s still more than we’ve seen before, and is certain to encourage both the councilmembers and Goodman and his South Bronx business owners. The latter has a rally outside Yankee Stadium coming up this Thursday at noon, plus a Change.org petition, and with that and a long enough lever you never know what can happen.

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What, if anything, will the return of MLB games do for local businesses?

Baseball restarts today — for values of “baseball” that include a universal designated hitter, starting extra-inning games with a runner on second, and a bunch of players choosing to stay home and avoid risks of infection — and that has people thinking about what it will do for the rest of the economy, specifically the sports bars and other businesses around ballparks that, we’ve long been told by sports owners and their political allies though not so much by actual economists, get a boost from having games nearby.

The week started with the New York Times, and then other New York media outlets, writing about how businesses around the Yankees‘ stadium are missing out on revenue because of canceled games, and the near-certainty that no fans will be in attendance at any games played at least through the end of this year. Most of the reporting was devoted to interviewing sad local business owners — “We definitely will not be able to survive too long without the games,” said one Bronx restaurant owner who made the extremely poorly timed decision last winter to install a bar to try to draw in post-ballgame crowds; Yankee Tavern owner Joe Bastone said his current business is down 90% from usual — though the Times did turn to architecture critic Paul Goldberger for his expert opinion on sports’ economic impact.

The obvious problem with trying to calculate the pandemic’s sports stoppage’s effects on local businesses is that it’s happening in the middle of a pandemic: New York City restaurants and bars remain closed for indoor dining and drinking, and with as many as one million city residents now unemployed, not many people are rushing out to spend money regardless. The Times article gives one nod toward the broader economic fallout of Covid, noting that “the merchants’ woes have been exacerbated by the virtual shutdown of the hulking Bronx County Courthouse up the hill from the stadium” — but even though the courts are a much bigger driver of foot traffic in the Yankee Stadium area (they’re open more than three hours a day 81 times a year, for starters), we don’t get any articles on their impact on local businesses.

Over in Cincinnati, meanwhile, we have sports bar owners hoping that even fan-less games will provide a boost to their business:

[Kitty’s Sports Grill co-owner Billy] Watson said he would be glad just to get 30 people coming through the door. Kitty’s, which is located across from Paul Brown Stadium on Third Street, just opened for dine-in service last Friday because of how slow business has been.

He estimates probably 90% of people who normally would be downtown during the week are working from home, which means fewer customers. Hours for Kitty’s are 11 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. during the week, depending on business; the bar stays open longer on weekends.

“Our crowds are so small.” Watson said. “I feel like our business has gotten hit hard. Some places have outdoor restaurants or established to-go business, and they are doing well, but we are downtown and we rely on people working downtown for our lunches and happy hour. We’re hoping with baseball starting Friday it will give people something to say, ‘Let’s go there to watch the game since we can’t go to it.’ We are hoping that helps.”

Not to diminish the real pain of being a business owner whose entire business model has been unexpectedly torpedoed by an unexpected public health disaster — there are some that are in an even worse position than sports bars — but in the grand scheme of things, whether people spend money on drinking while watching games in bars or on drinking while watching Netflix on their living room sofas is not a hugely significant factor in how the overall economy is doing. Never forget that when baseball went on strike in 1994, Toronto video rental stores and comedy clubs saw a big spike in their businesses, with one comedy club owner quipping he wished hockey would go on strike too.

Obviously it’s harder for other businesses to capitalize on this entertainment spending substitution effect when they’re closed too, and when you have enough people hunkering down at home it starts depressing overall spending and more people get laid off and the whole thing snowballs, and so on. But it’s still a much more complicated calculus than “lack of baseball fans is hurting America,” even if that makes for a snappier headline. Besides, at least the giant cardboard head industry is booming; I wonder if they’re hiring?

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Friday roundup: New Rangers stadium scam movie, Nevada arena petitions rejected over technicality, and many many dumb ideas for getting you (or cardboard cutouts of you) into stadiums this year

Welcome to the end of another crazy week, which seems redundant to say, since that’s all of them lately. I spent a bunch of it working on this article on what science (but not necessarily your local newspaper) can tell us about not just whether reopening after lockdowns is a good idea, but what kinds of reopening are safe enough to consider. And important enough to consider, since as one infectious disease expert told me, “It’s not ‘open’ or ‘shut’—there’s a whole spectrum in between. We need to be thinking about what are the high-priority things that we need to reopen from a functioning point of view, and not an enjoyment point of view.”

And with that cheery thought, on to other cheery thoughts:

  • If you’re a fan of either sports stadium shenanigans or calamitous public-policy train wrecks in general — and I know you are, or why would you be reading this site — you should absolutely check out “Throw A Billion Dollars From The Helicopter,” a new documentary about the Texas Rangers‘ successful campaign to extract half a billion dollars from the city of Arlington so they could play in air-conditioning. It’s a story that has everything: a mayor who was elected as a stadium-subsidy critic then turned around to approve the biggest stadium subsidy in local history, George W. Bush grubbing for public money and failing to do basic math, grassroots anti-red-light camera activists getting dragged into stadium politics, a trip back to the Washington Senators’ final home game before moving to Texas which they had to forfeit because fans ran on the field and walked off with the bases, footage of that 1994 Canadian TV news story I always cite about how video-rental stores comedy clubs in Toronto were so happy with extra business during the baseball strike that they wished hockey would go on strike too, plus interviews with stadium experts like Roger Noll, Rod Fort, Victor Matheson, Allen Sanderson (the man whose line about more effective ways than building a stadium for boosting your city’s economy gave the documentary its title), and me. Rent it here on Vimeo if you want some substitute fireworks this weekend.
  • Opponents of the publicly funded minor-league hockey arena for the Henderson Silver Knights got enough signatures to put a recall on the November ballot, but have had their petitions invalidated for not including a detailed enough description of their objections on every page. This will almost certainly result in lawsuits, which is how pretty much every battle for public oversight of sports subsidy deals ends — that, and “in tears.”
  • The San Diego city council approved the $86.2 million sale of the site of the Chargers‘ former stadium to San Diego State University, which plans to build a new $310 million football stadium there. Whether this is a good deal for the public is especially tricky, because not only do you have to figure the land value of a 135-acre site in the middle of an economic meltdown, but also San Diego State is a public university, so really this is one public agency selling land to another. It’s all more than I can manage this morning, so instead let’s look at this rendering of a proposed park for the site that features bicyclists riding diagonally across a bike path to avoid a woman who stands in their way with arms akimbo, while birds with bizarre forked tails wheel overhead.
  • You know what would be a terrible idea in the middle of a pandemic that has closed stadiums to fans because gathering in one place is a great way to spread virus? An article telling fans what public spaces they can gather in to catch a glimpse of game action in closed stadiums, and Axios has you covered there! And so does the Associated Press!
  • Sure, hundreds of thousands of people have died and there could be hundreds of thousands more to go, but won’t anyone think of the impact on TV network profits if there’s no football to show in the fall?
  • And speaking of keeping an eye strictly on the bottom line, the NFL is considering requiring fans (if there are any) who attend NFL games this fall (if there are any) to sign a waiver promising not to sue if they contract Covid as a result. But can I still sue if someone goes to a football game, contracts Covid, and then infects me? I’m not actually sure how easily one could sue in either case — since you can never be sure where you were infected with the virus, it would be like suing over getting cancer from secondhand smoke — but I always like the idea of suing the NFL, so thanks for the idea, guys!
  • New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says he wants to see fans at Yankee Stadium “in the 20-30 percent range,” a number and prediction he failed to indicate he pulled from anywhere other than his own butt. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are reportedly planning to open rooftops around Wrigley Field at 25% capacity for watching games this year, something that might actually be legal since while would mean about 800 fans in attendance, they wouldn’t all be in attendance in the same place, so it could get around rules about large public gatherings.
  • If you want to spend $49 and up so a cardboard cutout of yourself can watch Oakland A’s games, you can now do that on the team’s website. If that sounds like a terrible deal, know that with each purchase you also get two free tickets to an exhibition game at the Coliseum in 2021 (if there are any), and if you pay $129 then you also get a foul ball mailed to you if it hits your cutout, all of which still sounds like a terrible deal but significantly more hilarious.
  • If you were hoping to make one last trip to Pawtucket’s 74-year-old McCoy Stadium to see Pawtucket Red Sox baseball before the team relocates to Worcester after this season — it was on my now-deleted summer calendar — you’ll have to settle for eating dinner on the field, because the PawSox season, along with the rest of the minor-league baseball season, has been officially called off. Also, the Boston Herald reports that the Lowell Spinners single-A team won’t be offering refunds to those who bought tickets for non-canceled games, only credits toward 2021 tickets — shouldn’t ticketholders be able to sue for not receiving the product they paid for? I want somebody to sue somebody, already! When will America’s true pastime be allowed to reopen?
  • Here’s a New York Times article on how new MLS stadiums are bucking past stadium trends by being “privately financed, with modest public support for modernizing infrastructure,” which is only true if you consider $98 million (Columbus) and $81 million and up (Cincinnati) to be “modest” figures.
  • I apologize for failing to report last week on the Anaheim Ducks‘ proposed development around their hockey arena, less because it’s super interesting or there is amusing vaportecture than because it’s supposed to be called “ocV!BE,” which is the best name ever, so long as you want to live in a freshly built condo in what sounds like either a randomly generated password or an Aughts rock band.
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Friday roundup: Congress gets riled up over minor-league contraction, Calgary official proposes redirecting Flames cash, plus what’s the deal with that Star Trek redevelopment bomb anyway?

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers, who if they haven’t yet may want to read the New Yorker’s thoughtful takedown of the myths that the holiday was built on. Or there’s always the movie version, which has fewer historical details but is shorter and features a singing turkey.

And speaking of turkeys, how are our favorite stadium and arena deals faring this holiday week?

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MLB and Nike team up to block Bronx stores from selling Yankees jerseys

Back when New York Yankees execs were trying to tear down Yankee Stadium and get a billion dollars or so in public cash and tax breaks to build a new one in a public park, one argument was that moving the Bronx Bombers across the street would be a boon for local residents via all the new jobs it would create. While this was dubious from the start — Yankees attendance actually went down at the new building, in part because it holds fewer fans, and in any event the added dining and shopping options inside the gates only draw off spending from the surrounding neighborhood — it’s doubly so now that MLB has cut a deal with Nike that will apparently prohibit much team merchandise from being sold at local souvenir stores:

The agreement only allows the sale of official league merchandise at Nike “premium distribution points”, and therefore, would prevent several local retailers from selling Yankees merchandise outside of the stadium, which accounts for the vast majority of their revenue, according to [Borough President Ruben] Diaz.

I actually heard rumblings about the implications of this Nike deal a couple of months ago, but wasn’t able to confirm at the time which products would be banned for independent sale, or at which stores. Nike’s deal with MLB is for all “on-field apparel,” so would include replica jerseys and caps; presumably other Yankees-themed shirts and such would still be allowed, though other reports say the ban would affect all “officially licensed Yankees merchandise.” Nike has partnered with the online retail giant Fanatics for sale of its products, and Fanatics presumably doesn’t want Yankee fans buying Aaron Judge jerseys at Stan’s Sports World when they can order them online, though if so that seems to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of where and why sports fans buy team merch. (The Yankees, meanwhile, undoubtedly would stand to gain if fans were forced to buy jerseys from them instead of across the street, as then they could monopolize the market, jack up prices, etc.)

Yankees management fired back with an open letter to Diaz saying they agree with his concerns (if not his decision to go public with the matter, which is just so gauche):

The team said they immediately reached out to MLB with similar concerns when they first learned of Nike’s plan last week.

Quoting an email sent to the MLB dated Oct. 25, the team wrote, “Yankee Stadium is located in a diverse and one of the poorest communities in the United States. As such, the local retailers expend substantial time in developing their businesses, especially with respect to their ability to sell MLB licensed product.”…

The Yankees said MLB feels similarly and wants Diaz and all elected officials to know that the league is “actively working with Nike to resolve the issue and is very confident that our respective concerns will be resolved in a matter that will allow local businesses to sell Yankees merchandise.”

There’s some definite weirdness there — the Yankees only learned of Nike’s plan last week, when even I’d heard about it in August? — but clearly team execs at least are being responsive to the controversy. (And it does seem like this deal was concocted at the MLB level, so it’s not like the Steinbrenners started it, even if it took them a while to address it; for that matter, this is likely to be an issue as well in other cities with lots of local independent souvenir stands, not that I can think of a ton offhand — the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, maybe.) The hope is that the local media will continue to shine a light on this issue as the 2020 baseball season approaches — that is, if New York still has any local media left by then.

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