Pittsburgh and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sports team impact study

Check it out, the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates, seeking $800,000 a year in county money for a slush fund for improvements to their venues, have teamed up to pay for a study showing how much the teams contribute to the city’s economy, and their hired hands have determined: a hell of a lot! $6 billion over five years’ worth of a lot! Do we dare try to analyze their methodology without actually seeing the report itself, because the teams haven’t released that? I’m game if you are! Let’s begin with this from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article on the report:

They commissioned accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce an economic impact study that measures their value on several fronts, including direct and indirect spending, tax revenue and jobs.

That’s not a good sign: PwC is an accounting firm, not an economic analysis firm, so it’s unlikely they tried to account for the substitution effect whereby if Pittsburgh residents didn’t have pro sports to spend their money on, they wouldn’t just stuff it under their mattresses instead. A serious economic impact study would look at, say, spending during years when there’s a labor stoppage vs. spending during years when all the teams are playing, but we can probably safely assume that didn’t happen here.

[Penguins CEO David] Morehouse said the teams brought nearly 4 million people, counting concerts, to the city in 2017 to eat at restaurants, to stay at hotels, and to partake in other activities.

“Counting concerts”? How are the teams credited with people in Pittsburgh going to concerts? (People even go to concerts in cities with no major-league sports teams! It’s a true fact!) And the total attendance of the three teams in 2017 was only about 3.2 million, so clearly a lot of these people “brought to the city” were already in the city, which makes bringing them there not such an impressive accomplishment.

“You can’t just talk about Pittsburgh’s revitalization and then say these greedy sports bastards over here. I mean, if you’re going to tell the positive story about what’s happening in Pittsburgh, we’re part of it and we shouldn’t be the ones having to say it,” [Morehouse] said.

“But if we’re going to have to say it, we’re going to say it with the largest numbers we can possibly justify! Wait, did I say that last part out loud?”

Frank Coonelly, the Pirates president, doubts Pittsburgh would be one of 20 finalists for Amazon’s second headquarters if it did not have pro sports teams. Only one finalist for the online retailer’s new location — Austin — is without at least one pro sports team in its region.

This is not actually true: Montgomery County, Maryland, isn’t home to any pro sports teams either, nor is northern Virginia, though I suppose one could squint and give them credit for the teams nearby in D.C. But mostly, this is selection bias: Amazon is looking for a major urban area to put its new headquarters in, and there simply aren’t that many major urban areas without major sports teams: There’s Greenville and Grand Rapids, I suppose, but somehow I don’t think they would have made the cut even if they had acquired teams. (Oklahoma City and Buffalo, which are similar sized, didn’t.)

The GumGum analysis found the three teams generate 513.3 million in “combined impressions” a year, whether through TV broadcasts, social media, or print publications.

To get that kind of “postcard” exposure — whether it’s shots of the city skyline, the bridges, or other local landmarks — through paid advertising would cost nearly $41.5 million.

So basically the teams want to be credited for every time they got the name “Pittsburgh” mentioned in the national media, regardless of whether it was in a positive or negative light. I could note that there are other things that got Pittsburgh mentioned nationally lately that you really don’t want to start crediting for ad impressions, but I probably shouldn’t go there.

When the Penguins were fighting for a new arena a dozen years ago, a move to Kansas City made more sense — the deal was better and the city had a larger population, Mr. Morehouse said.

But, but, your own owner said it was a bluff! Get on the same page here, guys!

Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

Friday roundup: The Case of the Dead Beer-Tap Inventor, and Other Stories

This was the week that was:

  • The Denver Broncos are finding it slow going getting a new naming rights sponsor for their stadium because a used stadium name loses lots of its value, thanks to everyone still calling it by the old name. Yes, this is yet another reason why teams demand new stadiums when the old ones are barely out of the cellophane.
  • Here’s a Los Angeles Times article arguing that if rich sports team owners are granted permission to evade environmental review laws, small business owners should be too. I am not entirely sure this is the best lesson to take from this, guys.
  • Pennsylvania is preparing to legalize sports gambling, and the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates think it would be great if the state imposed a gambling fee and gave some of the money to them, the only surprising part here being that they actually said this out loud.
  • F.C. Cincinnati‘s ownership group is preparing upgrades to Nippert Stadium as the team’s temporary home while a new stadium is built, and “isn’t concerned by the cost,” according to WCPO. Yes, these are the same owners who said they couldn’t possibly build a new stadium without $63.8 million in public money. Also who said Nippert Stadium couldn’t possibly be made acceptable as an MLS venue. I’m done now.
  • Fredericksburg, Virginia has scheduled a July 10 vote on whether to build a new $35 million stadium for the single-A Potomac Nationals, and paying off the city’s costs by siphoning off property, admissions, sales, meal, personal property, and business license taxes paid at the stadium and handing them over to the team. I guess that would make it a PASMPPBLTIF?
  • And finally, a man found dead in a walk-in beer cooler in the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium turns out to have been there to install a revolutionary new fast-pour beer tap he’d invented, and no one yet knows how he died. This is going to be the best season of True Detective yet! (No, seriously, this is a tragedy for the man and his family, and I hope that everyone involved soon finds closure, at least, by determining the true facts of what happened. But also, no, I’m not going to go back and delete the joke. If this makes me a monster, at least I’m an appropriately social-media-driven monster.)

Friday roundup: Tons of news, but you’ll forget it all once you see that Houston is spending public money on a pro rugby stadium

And in other news that doesn’t involve proposed Tampa Bay Rays stadium sites:

  • United Airlines is spending $69 million on naming rights to the Los Angeles Coliseum in advance of the 2028 Olympics, but IOC rules prohibit corporate names during the Olympics, oops. Hope you enjoy the most expensive college-football naming rights deal in history, United!
  • Hotel revenue fell 16% in San Diego last year after the Chargers left town, but went up 0.2% in St. Louis after the Rams left. I’m not honestly sure what if anything this means — you’d really have to look at hotel revenue on football weekends to do this right, and it doesn’t look like this study did — but feel free to speculate wildly.
  • Did I mention the Yahoo Finance article yet that compares the Amazon HQ2 chase to the competition to host the Super Bowl, and cites me saying that while Amazon will bring more jobs, “that said, there’s almost no way it’s worth the kind of money that cities are talking about”? Well, now I have, enjoy!
  • AL.com has recalculated the public costs of a proposed University of Alabama-Birmingham football stadium and come up with a total of $18.2 million a year — $10.7 million from a bunch of county taxes, $3.5 million from a new car rental tax surcharge, $1 million from other county funds, and $3 million from city funds — not the $15.7 million I had previously reported. UAB and a naming rights sponsor and other private contributors, meanwhile, would only put in $4 million a year, and only for the first ten years. Out of his goddamn mind, I tell you.
  • Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report filed a Freedom of Information Law request to see the competing bids for the Belmont Park site that eventually got awarded to the New York Islanders, and was shot down on the grounds that it would “impair present or imminent contract awards.” Wait, wasn’t the contract already awarded? Will it be okay to ask again once it’s too late to do anything about it?
  • The WNBA’s Chicago Sky are moving to the new DePaul basketball arena that the city of Chicago helped pay for, which I guess is marginally good for Chicago in that it gets to steal a tiny sliver of economic activity from Rosemont, screw those guys, right? (Actually, Rosemont is apparently a gated community, so maybe screw those guys.)
  • A New Orleans Pelicans game was delayed because the arena roof leaked. No one is demanding that a new arena be built just yet that I’ve heard, but given that the current one is 19 whole years old, it’s gotta to be a matter of time, even if this one does have a fire fountain.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates are threatening to sue the city-county sports authority over who’ll pay how much for $10 million in improvements to their stadium, because apparently the people who write these stadium leases are idiots.
  • If you enjoy this site but were thinking, “Wouldn’t this be better as a YouTube video with lots of animated charts?”, Vox has got you covered.
  • The Houston city council has approved spending $3.2 million in tax dollars on a pro rugby stadium for the Houston SaberCats, who are a pro rugby team that is going to play in a pro rugby league, which councilmember Jack Christie calls “a beautiful example of public-private partnerships that we ought to look at in the future, because as far as I have heard, there’s not been one city tax dollar used for this development.” I’m done. Have a good weekend.

Steelers owner: If you won’t pay for my Wi-Fi, maybe I won’t host the Super Bowl, nyah

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II has announced that he’s suspended efforts to get awarded the 2023 Super Bowl, and is blaming it on the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority not giving him enough money for stadium upgrades:

“I don’t know that there’s a real commitment here from our landlord to do what’s necessary and work with us in a way that’s cooperative,” Mr. Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s hard for me to explain what the reason is. It’s been something that’s becoming more difficult as the years have gone on in our lease.”

Rooney’s gripe is that he wants to expand capacity by another 2,000 seats (after already adding 3,000 in an expansion set to be completed this year), build a new scoreboard and expanded museum and concessions space, and pay for new sound and Wi-Fi systems that have already been installed, all using money from a capital reserve fund being paid into by ticket surcharges. The sports authority is pushing back on that, and Mayor Bill Peduto was even more vocal on the subject yesterday:

“What they’re asking for is tens of millions of dollars in public money, out of a fund that doesn’t have nearly enough,” Peduto said. “They want to have a state-of-the-art wifi system for eight games a year. I want a state-of-the-art wifi in every one of my schools for 180 days a year. I want to have the ability to reinvest in neighborhoods, not just reinvest in a Jumbotron.”

That’s a little unfair, as the capital reserve fund won’t be available to pay for schools funding if it’s not used on stadium upgrades. If the capital reserve fund runs dry, though, and the city ends up having to pay for other maintenance costs out of its own pocket because it used all the money on a new Steelers scoreboard, Peduto has a bit of a point. (It would take a deep dive into the Steelers’ lease to determine how exactly the capital reserve fund can and can’t be used, and all I can find at the moment is this summary, which doesn’t go into that level of detail.)

Peduto has played hardball with sports team demands before — he was elected in 2013 after campaigning against public funding being used for the last round of Steelers upgrades, and managed to successfully get the team owners to pay for them with increased rent payments. And the Pirates owners have threatened to sue the stadium authority over a similar issue about tapping a capital reserve fund for improvements to their stadium.

Ultimately, this is a minor squabble that mostly points up the importance of having good lawyers write up your leases so everyone doesn’t end up in court a few years later to determine what the heck they mean. Peduto and the stadium authority, though, are doing their job, which is to protect money controlled by the public from being used on anything that it doesn’t have to be. It seems a little harsh to report on that with headlines about “The dream of holding a Super Bowl at Heinz Field has come to a halt,” but I suppose it could be worse.