Friday roundup: How Kansas City evicted a team for rent non-payment and ended up costing itself $1m, and other stories

This week’s recommended reading: Girl to City, Amy Rigby’s just-published memoir of the two decades that took her from newly arrived art student in 1970s New York to divorced single mom and creator of the acclaimed debut album Diary of a Mod Housewife. (Disclosure, I guess: I edited an early version of one chapter for the Village Voice last year.) I picked up my copy last week at the launch of Rigby’s fall book tour, and whether you love her music or her long-running blog (guilty as charged on both counts) or enjoy tales of CBGB-era proto-gentrifying New York or coming-of-age-stories about women balancing self-doubt and determination or just a perfectly turned punchline, I highly recommend it: Like her best songs, it made me laugh and cry and think, often at the same time, and that’s all I can ask for in great art.

But first, read this news roundup post, because man, is there a lot of news to be rounded up:

MLB threatens A’s could move to Vegas unless Coliseum lawsuit dropped, city moves to drop Coliseum lawsuit

When I reported last week that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred had marked the happy occasion of Oakland hosting the A.L. Wild Card playoff game by threatening to move the A’s out of town if the city of Oakland didn’t drop its lawsuit against Alameda County over proposed development rights to be provided to the team owners, I assumed it was just one of those typical amorphous “Wouldn’t want to see anything happen to your precious team” threats that sports commissioners are required to level every now and again. But no, apparently Manfred got way more specific:

According to [Oakland city councilmember Larry] Reid, Manfred told Oakland officials that the A’s have options elsewhere if the city doesn’t change its stance.

“The commissioner pointed out that Bay Area fans will soon be going to Las Vegas to see the Raiders and that unless things changed, Bay Area fans may be going to Las Vegas or elsewhere to see the A’s as well,” Reid said.

Okay, “Las Vegas or elsewhere” isn’t that much more specific than “someplace,” but actually name-checking the Raiders’ move to Nevada is a step above what was reported last week.

Las Vegas, as I’ve discussed elsewhere previously, is a pretty lousy option for MLB, what with its small and largely low-income population and broiling summer temperatures. (These are less of a problem for the NFL, which has only a fraction of the number of tickets to sell, gets much more national TV money to share among all its clubs, and plays in the fall and winter.) But apparently Manfred’s threat was enough to scare Oakland officials into line:

On Thursday, [council president Rebecca] Kaplan issued a statement saying that “in the interest of reducing strife and litigation, the Oakland City Council has unanimously asked our administration to meet directly with county leaders on strategies to resolve issues regarding our shared public property.”

[Mayor Libby] Schaaf says she wants the city to get the land, but through negotiations and not a lawsuit. She said she has always supported a privately financed ballpark that is “responsible to taxpayers.”

“I’m confident we’ll get there,” the mayor said.

All of which is fine on the one hand — if Oakland and Alameda can work out the ownership of the Oakland Coliseum site without a lawsuit, that’s fewer legal fees to pay — but significantly less so if it’s MLB using heavy-handed tactics to force the two sides to the negotiating table under (likely idle) threat of having their team yanked away. This never-ending A’s stadium controversy may yet be resolved in a way that doesn’t screw over Oakland residents too hard, but if so, it won’t be because MLB is refraining from acting like an 800-pound gorilla to get its way.

Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

A’s, Rays celebrate Wild Card game with dueling move threats by proxy

The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays faced off in the American League Wild Card game last night, before a sold-out crowd at Oakland Coliseum who paid an average of $129 for tickets on the resale market. One might think this would make it harder for the teams’ owners to claim that they’re doomed to failure on and off the field without the new stadiums they’re seeking — which means it’s time to pull out everybody’s favorite entry in the stadium-grubbers’ playbook, the oblique move threat:

Now, you will notice that neither of these threats came explicitly from the teams’ owners: A’s president and de facto stadium campaign spokesperson Dave Kaval limited himself to saying he was “surprised” by the city lawsuit, while leaving the heavy threatmongering to Manfred. And Sternberg insisted that he wasn’t the one who revealed that he bought Wild Card game tickets for Bronfman (they wouldn’t be sitting together, he said), but rather a member of Bronfman’s executive team who tweeted about it.

Still, sports team owners have a long track record of levying move threats by proxy, since it allows them all the leverage benefits while avoiding the nasty bits about being burned in effigy by outraged fans. It’s particularly unlikely that Manfred would be dropping threats in interviews without the explicit permission of A’s ownership, since the 30 MLB owners pay his salary; as for Bronfman, it’s possible that Sternberg said, “Here’s some tickets, now keep it under your hat that I paid for them, it would look really bad if people thought I did this just to rattle sabers about moving to Montreal during my team’s first postseason appearance in six years” and someone in Bronfman’s crew got Twitter-happy and ignored this, but somehow that doesn’t seem the most likely scenario.

Anyway, the Rays drove the A’s out of the playoffs with a pile of home runs, which means now we’ll get to see how attendance at Tampa Bay’s much-maligned stadium looks for games that really matter. Tickets for the A.L. Division Series vs. the Houston Astros go on sale today at 4 pm, and I for one will be as glued to the SeatGeek resale prices as to the start of the N.L. Division Series that’s happening at the same time.

Oakland wins land swap approval for proposed A’s stadium site, actual public cost still clear as mud

The Oakland A’s stadium plan for Howard Terminal may seem like it’s been spinning its wheels forever, but it’s been slowly racking up legislative wins of late: A bill to authorize the city of Oakland to acquire property at the site by swapping other land to the state has now passed the state legislature, and is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing, this after another bill was approved to allow tax money to be used for “infrastructure” on the site.

After the bill passed the Assembly in May, [Assemblymember Rob] Bonta said, “This project is a win for Oakland and the East Bay. It will create strong union jobs that provide good wages and benefits.”

He went on to claim that the ballpark will help alleviate the housing crisis: “It will create badly-needed affordable housing and will keep the A’s rooted in Oakland for years to come.”

A figure denoting exactly how much housing might accompany the ballpark and retail mixed-use has yet to be determined.

“Has yet to be determined” is an apt description for most of the stadium plan, as it’s still not exactly clear who would pay for what (aside from the A’s owners funding construction of the stadium itself), or how much the city will get for its share of the Oakland Coliseum site that the team owners want to build housing on to help fund their stadium costs, or how property taxes will work, or lots of other things including how many shipping cranes will be left to decorate the stadium site. All this was par for the course when the stadium plan was still an abstraction, but now that actual authorizing legislation is being passed, maybe it’s time to actually deliver some hard numbers? Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, your Gang of Four membership is at stake!

Friday roundup: When is a football stadium too old to be a football stadium?

If it wasn’t clear from the photos of devastation in the Bahamas, the death toll from Hurricane Dorian is going to get much, much worse than the official confirmed number (30, at this writing). You can find a list of some organizations raising money to help survivors here; please give generously if you can. And remember as you do that it’s the warming oceans that helped make this so bad.

And with that, on to news that’s marginally less life and death:

  • Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District chair Ray Baker says the Broncos‘ current stadium (which just got a new corporate name, go keep track of these things on your own if you like because I can’t be bothered to remember them) should last “between 50 and 60 years,” at which point Broncos president Joe Ellis replied that “I can’t judge where entertainment venues are going to need to be in the future” and “I can’t tell you whether or not, in 10 years, the city of Denver and our seven-county region has an appetite to host a Super Bowl or an appetite to host a Final Four, which means you need a roof. Or do you need a new stadium?” The new naming-rights deal lasts 21 years, at which point the stadium will be 40 years old; please place your bets on whether it will still be standing by then.
  • RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., will not make it to its 60th birthday in October 2021, which is all well and good as nobody plays there now and it’s costing the city $3.5 million a year for maintenance, landscaping, pest control, security, and utilities. (Note: Yeah, that seems like a lot to me too for an empty stadium.) D.C. officials say they plan to build an indoor sports complex and food market on the site, but have no plans as yet for an NFL stadium, no matter how much Mayor Muriel Bowser might want one.
  • Cleveland Browns COO David Jenkins says team execs still haven’t decided whether to demand a new stadium or a renovated one, but “we’re not far from having those conversations.” Note to Denver: The Browns’ stadium is two years older than the Broncos’.
  • Forbes reports that the value of the Oakland Raiders jumped by $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion after announcing their move to Las Vegas, which is an indication that either there’s something wrong with Forbes’ franchise valuation estimates or there’s something wrong with how much rich people are willing to spend to buy sports teams, or both. Even with the state of Nevada kicking in $750 million, the team will still be on the hook for more than $1 billion in stadium construction costs, which is going to soak up most of the team’s new stadium revenue even if their plan to sell tickets mostly to tourists and visiting fans works out.
  • The Anaheim city council is still squabbling over who knew when that when they voted on a Los Angeles Angels lease extension back in January, they were actually giving team owner Arte Moreno the right to stay through 2029 if he wanted, not just until 2020. (The team owner got a one-year extension of his opt-out clause as well, but the lease is now back in place to its original expiration date set before Moreno opted out the first time last year.) One thing that’s for sure is that this was a major gift to Moreno as stadium renovation talks continue, because “the best friend of a sports team owner is time,” says, uh, me.
  • A bill making it easier for Oakland to create tax districts at Howard Terminal to help raise money for infrastructure for a new A’s stadium passed the California state legislature this week; it’s still unclear exactly how much tax money would be spent on infrastructure, or exactly what “infrastructure” would mean, or even if the stadium will be built at Howard Terminal at all, but that’s one more skid greased, anyway.
  • The new Long Island Railroad station outside the new New York Islanders arena is set to be open by 2022, which only about 90 years faster than these things usually go in New York. It helps to have friends in high places!

 

Friday roundup: News outlets everywhere get pretty much everything wrong

On a tight deadline this week, so let’s get straight to the news:

Oakland could sue county over sale of its half of Coliseum land to A’s

The proposed $85 million sale of Alameda County’s half of the Oakland Coliseum site to the owners of the A’s is just getting weirder and weirder, with a possible lawsuit now in the offing:

In a letter delivered to county officials Monday, Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and Vice Mayor Larry Reid noted that the deal between the county and the baseball club lacked any provision for building a ballpark for community benefit to be included in the sale.

The letter ends with the request for the county to “clarify” whether it planned to go forward with the A’s sale, so that the city could “determine effective next steps.”

The city’s letter made no mention of what the “next steps” might be, but a separate Aug. 31 email to Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said the letter is for “the purpose of potential litigation.”

(Yes, “August 31.” Either that’s a typo, or Phil Matier has become unstuck in time.)

At issue here is that the city of Oakland wants a shot at purchasing the county’s half-share of the site as well, but hasn’t actually placed a bid, in part because the city of Oakland doesn’t actually have $85 million to spare. Also, some city council members are hoping to have the A’s build a stadium on the Coliseum site rather than their preferred Howard Terminal site, and are hoping that the county will hold off on its sale to help create leverage for that, or for a community benefits agreement, or for something.

The weird part is that the A’s owners’ plan is to develop the Coliseum site and use the proceeds to build a Howard Terminal stadium, which presumably can’t happen unless they control 100% of the land. (At least, that’s how I understand it from following the fairly half-assed media coverage; I’m sure you readers will correct me if that’s wrong.) So this may just be a weird proxy war being fought over the A’s stadium site plans, which could turn into a lawsuit between two government agencies over a financing plan that still no one quite understands. Nobody said this was gonna be easy.

Friday roundup: New Coyotes owner could move team (or not), public cost of Panthers practice facility goes up, and fresh Austin FC vaportecture!

If you noticed this site being inaccessible a lot the last two days, hey, so did I! The good news is that a bunch of that time was spent in discussions with the good folks at Pair.com about migrating the site to a more stable hosting platform, which is currently in the works, though it may take a week or so before everything is finalized. In the meantime, if you notice occasional glitches, rest assured it’s all part of the process for bringing you a Better, Brighter Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in the week’s stray stadium news roundup, where the tomorrows never seem to get better or brighter:

  • Billionaire real estate developer Alex Meruelo is set to purchase a majority ownership stake in the Arizona Coyotes, and The Hockey News wonders if this means the team will finally get a new arena or move to Houston, because surely the team’s previous owners never thought of those things. It’s also worth noting, as I do every time Houston gets raised as an NHL team relocation bogeyman, that while Houston is a big market, so is Phoenix, so moving the Coyotes to Texas might not immediately solve the team’s attendance woes as much as you’d think.
  • South Carolina’s $160 million public price tag for a Carolina Panthers practice facility — I know, that dollar figure and that noun phrase make me boggle every time I type it — could go up by an undetermined amount, thanks to road improvements and other stuff the state could be on the hook for. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, and you start to run into some real money.
  • New Austin F.C. stadium renderings! Bonus points for portraying players on the pitch in positions that might actually be possible in a real soccer match; demerits for trying to make the game seem exciting by having a few fans randomly raising fists, and for devoting way too much space to pictures of dining tables instead of showing what the view would look like from other parts of the stadium. (Though there is one renderings of what the game would look like from behind a dining table, which is, you will be surprised to learn, not very good.)
  • The Tampa Bay Rays can’t get people to come to games even by selling tickets for $5, which sounds bleak until you remember that bleacher seats at New York Yankees games went for $1.50 as recently as 1985, which is only $3.55 in 2019 dollars, so maybe the Rays are still charging too much?
  • Here’s an article by CBS San Francisco about the Oakland city council passing two bills in support of a new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal that is entirely sourced to a tweet by A’s president Dave Kaval. Oh, journalism.
  • And here’s an article (on some sports site I’ve never heard of) that declares it a “RUMOR” (in all caps) that MLB is exploring an expansion team in Las Vegas, cited entirely to a tweet by a Las Vegas “news and rumors” site I’ve never heard of, which really only predicts that there will be an announcement after the World Series of a “Major League Baseball plan.” You know who else has a Major League Baseball plan? Portland, Oregon. They don’t have an MLB expansion team either, and all signs are they won’t for a while, but nice to hear they’ll be getting some company in the vaporfranchise competition.

Friday roundup: Beckham proposes stadium lease, FC Cincinnati pays off evicted tenants, Florida city admits its spring training economic projections were bunk

Is anyone else hugely enjoying John Cameron Mitchell’s new semiautobiographical musical podcast “Anthem: Homunculus” but having a hard time listening because the Luminary podcast platform keeps freezing up mid-episode? Is there enough overlap in the Field of Schemes and John Cameron Mitchell fan bases that anyone here even understands this question? (If not, here’s a good primer by my old Village Voice colleague Alan Scherstuhl.) Is Luminary still offering podcasts on its pay tier without the creators’ permissions? How should one handle it when great art is only available on platforms that have some major ethical issues? Are we ever going to get to this week’s stadium news?

Let’s get to this week’s stadium news:

  • David Beckham’s Inter Miami has offered to pay $3.5 million a year in rent on Melreese Park land for 39 years, plus $25 million for other Miami park projects, as part of a stadium lease agreement. That still doesn’t sound like too bad a deal for the public to me, but as nobody seems to be linking to the lease proposal in its entirety, there could still always be some time bombs hidden in there that weren’t reported on. More news when the Miami city commission actually gets ready to vote on this proposed lease, hopefully!
  • The owners of F.C. Cincinnati have agreed to pay off the tenants they’re evicting to make way for an entrance to their new stadium, but one of the conditions of the payout is that no one can discuss how much it’s for. We do know, however, that “at one point pizza was ordered in during the eight hours of negotiations” — thank god for intrepid journalism!
  • Clearwater, Florida just cut its estimate of the economic impact of the Philadelphia Phillies‘ presence during spring training from $70 million a year to $44 million a year after realizing that it didn’t make sense to include spending by locals who would be spending their money in town anyway. Now let’s see them adjust their estimates to account for tourists who are visiting Florida already because it’s March and Florida is warm and happen to take in a ballgame while they’re there and maybe we’ll be getting somewhere.
  • Good news for Columbus: After a good year for concerts, the public-private owned Nationwide Arena turned a $1.87 million operating profit last year. The less good news: None of that was used to repay the $4.76 million in tax subsidies the arena received, because the profits were instead poured into improvements like “roof and concrete repairs, natural-gas line replacement, new spotlights, metal detectors, and renovations to corporate suites.” The maybe-good news: If this means that the arena managers won’t ask for new subsidies for renovations for a while because they’re getting enough from operations, yeah, no, I don’t really expect this will forestall that either, but here’s hoping.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred again said a bunch of things about the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations, but as usual nobody read them to the end because it’s impossible to do so without falling asleep. I am not complaining when I note that Manfred is an incompetent grifter compared to some of his colleagues in other sports, really I’m not. (Well, a little.)
  • Speaking of the Rays, Minnesota Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven would like to blow up Tropicana Field because a fly ball hit a speaker, but the game broadcast cut to commercial before he could spell out his financing plan to build a replacement stadium.
  • A street in Inglewood near the Los Angeles Rams‘ new stadium is seeing stores close as a result of luxury blight, but Mayor James Butts says it’s just because of gentrification unrelated to the stadium. Which either way makes it hard to see how the stadium (or the arena that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and Butts want) is needed to help the Inglewood economy, but mayors aren’t paid to think very hard about this stuff.
  • Washington, D.C., is spending $30 million to install three public turf ballfields near RFK Stadium, which sounds like a lot of money for just three turf fields, but still a better investment than some other things D.C. has spent money on, so go … kickball players? Kickball needs to be played on turf? The things you learn in this business!