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!

Raiders to play 2019 in Giants’ stadium, maybe, possibly, not sure yet

I’m honestly kind of tired of reading and reporting rumors about where the Oakland Raiders will play in 2019, but this one seems like it has at least a little more legs, so what the hell:

Raj Mathai is the news anchor (and former sports anchor) for NBC’s Bay Area station, so he may well have some sources. And the Associated Press added that it had heard talks between the Raiders and San Francisco Giants owners are ongoing, so sure, maybe. Or maybe they’re just toying with the Raiders in order to get their stadium’s new corporate name lots of mentions, a cause which I will not be helping with, not even with a link!

Meanwhile, San Francisco Supervisor Mark Haney, one of the elected officials who’d previously said they’d try to block a Raiders temporary move to S.F. in solidarity with their Oakland elected-official siblings, has remarked that “there’s a lot to figure out” about any Raiders residency, though it’s still not clear how much say San Francisco had over the Giants owners’ use of their privately owned and operated stadium. More news if the rumors pan out!

Friday roundup: Long Island residents yell at cloud over Isles arena, Calgary forgets to include arena in arena district plan, plus a reader puzzle!

It’s Friday (again, already) and you know what that means:

  • New York State’s Empire State Development agency held a series of three public hearings on the plan to build an Islanders arena on public land near Belmont Park racetrack (which the team would be getting at as much as a $300 million discount), and the response was decidedly unenthused: Speakers at the first hearing Tuesday “opposed to the project outnumbered those in favor of the plan by about 40 to one,” reports Long Island Business News, with State Sen. Todd Kaminsky joining residents in worrying that the arena will bring waves of new auto traffic to the town of Elmont, that there’s no real plan for train service to the arena, and that there’s no provision for community benefits to neighbors. Also a member of the Floral Park Police Department worried that the need for police staffing and more crowded roads would strain emergency services. Empire State Development, which is not a public agency but a quasi-public corporation run by the state, is expected to take all of this feedback and use it to draft an environmental impact statement for the project, which if history is any guide will just include some clauses saying “yeah, it’ll be bad for traffic” without suggesting any ways to fix it. I still want to see this plan from the Long Island Rail Road for how to extend full-time train service there, since it should involve exciting new ideas about the nature of physical reality.
  • Meanwhile in Phoenix, the final of five public hearings was held on that city’s $168 million Suns renovation plan, and “out of nine public comments, three involved questions, five voiced support and one was against the deal,” according to KJZZ, so clearly public ferment isn’t quite at such a high boil there. One thing I’d missed previously: The city claims that if it doesn’t do the renovations now with some contribution ($70 million) from Suns owner Robert Sarver, an arbitrator could interpret an “obsolescence clause” in the Suns’ lease to force the city to make the renovations on its own dime. I can’t find the Suns’ actual lease, but I think this just means that Sarver can get out of his lease early if an arbitrator determines the arena is obsolete [UPDATE: a helpful reader directed me to the appropriate lease document, and that is indeed exactly what it means], and he can already opt out of his lease in 2022, it’s pretty meaningless, albeit probably more of the “information” that helps convince people this is a good deal when they hear it. (Also important breaking news: A renovated Suns arena will save puppies! Quick, somebody take a new poll.)
  • Speaking of leases, the Los Angeles Angels are expected to sign a one-year extension on theirs with Anaheim, through 2020, while they negotiate a longer-term deal. It’s sort of tempting to wish that new Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu would have played hardball here — sign a long-term deal now or you can go play in the street when your lease runs out, like the Oakland Raiders — but I’m willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt in his negotiating plans. Though if this gives Angels owner Arte Moreno time to drum up some alternate city plans (or even vague threats a la Tustin) just in time to threaten Anaheim with them before the lease extension runs out, I reserve the right to say “I told you so.”
  • The Calgary Planning Commission issued a comprehensive plan for a new entertainment district around the site of the Flames‘ Saddledome, but forgot to include either the Saddledome or a new arena in it. No, really, they forgot, according to city councillor Evan Woolley: “It should’ve been identified in this document. It absolutely should have. Hopefully those amendments and edits will be made as they bring this forward to council.” The 244-page document (it’s not as impressive as it sounds, most of them are just full-page photos of people riding bicycles and the like) also neglects to include any financial details, beyond saying the district would be “substantially” funded by siphoning off new property taxes, “substantially” being one of those favored weasel words that can mean anything from “everything” to “some.” Hopefully that’ll be clarified as this is brought forward to council, too, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.
  • Here is a Raleigh News & Observer article reporting that the Carolina Hurricanes arena has had a $4 billion “economic impact” on the region over 20 years, citing entirely the arena authority that is seeking $200 million to $300 million in public money for upgrades to the place. No attempt to contact any other economists on whether “economic impact” is a bullshit term (it is) or even what they thought of the author of the report, UNC-Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton, who once said he “questions the sincerity” of any economist who doesn’t find a positive impact from sports venues. Actually, even that quote would have been good to include in the N&O article, so readers could have a sense of the bona fides of the guy who came up with this $4 billion figure. But why take time for journalism when you can get just as many clicks for stenography?
  • The San Francisco Giants‘ stadium has another new name, which just happens to be the same as the old new name of the basketball arena the Warriors are leaving across the bay, and I’m officially giving up on trying to keep track of any of this. Hey, Paul Lukas, when are you issuing “I’m Still Calling It Pac Bell” t-shirts?
  • Indy Eleven, the USL team that really really wants somebody to build it a new stadium so it can (maybe) join MLS, still really really wants somebody to build it a new stadium, and hotels, office and retail space, an underground parking structure, and apartments, all paid for via “[Capital Improvement Board president Melina] Kennedy wasn’t available to discuss the proposed financial structure of the project.” It would definitely involve kicking back future property taxes from the development (i.e., tax increment financing), though, so maybe Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir is hoping that by generating more property taxes that his development team then wouldn’t pay but instead use to pay off his own stadium costs, that would look better, somehow? I mean, he did promise to keep asking, so at least he’s a man of his word.
  • “At some point in time, there’s going to have to be a stadium solution,” declared the president of a pro sports team that plays in a stadium that just turned 23 years old. “If we don’t start thinking about it, we’ll wake up one day and have a stadium that’s not meeting the needs of the fans or the community.” Want to try to guess which team? “All of them” is not an acceptable answer! (Click here for this week’s puzzle solution.)

SF Giants make last stadium debt payment, should have no effect on payroll unless they’re dumb

The end of 2016 marked the final $18 million debt payment that San Francisco Giants had to make on their $170 million loan they took out 20 years ago to help pay for building AT&T Park (then Pacific Bell Park), and there was much rejoicing:

“We had people suggesting we have a loan document burning party, a controlled burn on Mount Tam,” CEO Larry Baer quipped in an interview with The Chronicle. “We decided against that for lots of reasons.”…

Over the years, especially in the early years of the loan, Giants officials pointed to the debt service as a reason the payroll wasn’t as high as it might have been. That wasn’t necessarily the case in recent years, as both revenues and payroll soared.

There is good reason for that not to be the case, and it has to do with sunk costs. When sports team owners consider spending money on a new player contract, they should rationally be thinking of it in terms of whether it will generate a positive return on investment: If I spend $100 million on a new outfielder, is it likely to mean enough new ticket sales, bonuses for playoff appearances, etc., that I’ll come out ahead in the end? On that basis, having an extra $18 million a year stadium mortgage payment — or a bunch of extra debt because you got snookered by a con man — shouldn’t make any difference, since a worthwhile contract is still a worthwhile contract regardless.

Now, there’s plenty of evidence that team owners don’t think rationally about this much of the time — that they instead look in their pockets, see how money is there, and then think, “Time to go shopping!” But it’s also possible that some team owners, like the Giants’, can on occasion get beyond the sunk cost fallacy, which would explain why having to make stadium payments didn’t affect their payroll spending, and why being freed from them won’t affect it now. It’s something to remember the next time a team owner claims that they can’t pay towards their new building because then they wouldn’t have enough left over to field a team — if they truly think that way, it’s because they’re dumb, and if they don’t truly think that way, they’re hoping taxpayers are dumb.

Too bad about the bonfire, though, as that would have been a fun way to celebrate the completion of possibly the fairest all-around stadium deal in recent sports history. Instead Baer had to celebrate with some kind of creepy fist-pumping white guy dance, which just isn’t the same.

Goodell floats Raiders move to Santa Clara, but 49ers fans’ PSL rights could be stumbling block

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new Santa Clara stadium had its ribbon-cutting yesterday, and according to Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh, whose company bought the naming rights to the place, it is “the most amazing stadium on the face of the planet.” Though, according to SF Gate’s Ann Killion, all NFL stadiums “are big, impersonal, infrequently used and tend to be the same, depending on what era they were built in,” so maybe Bergh is grading on a curve here.

In any event, the stadium opening was slightly overshadowed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s suggestion that the Oakland Raiders might want to consider moving in there as well if stadium talks in Oakland go poorly:

“They have to make that determination, whether they’re in a new stadium in Oakland or whether they feel that it’s best to join this stadium,” Goodell said, according to the Bay Area Sports Guy, who tweeted the commissioner’s remarks. “We’re working on that, and that’s one of the decisions they’ll have to make.”

Rattling move-threat sabers is, needless to say, Goodell’s job. And the 49ers owners have been open to renting to the Raiders if need be. Yet as the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami points out, there could be a major stumbling block to the Raiders and 49ers sharing digs: the stadium builders licenses (aka personal seat licenses) that the 49ers sold, for anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000 per seat, to raise $500 million toward construction.

Part of the agreement is that SBL-holders have first dibs on most other events at the stadium…. There is no way the Raiders would agree to 49ers SBL-holders getting first look at their tickets.

Even if they did, the 49ers wouldn’t want to share any % of their precious SBL cash with the Raiders.

That’s a problem on two counts. First off, since SBLs have already been sold, the Raiders would be missing out on a source of cash that the team could otherwise collect at its own new stadium. On top of that, though, if the Raiders then sold tickets without requiring their own PSL purchases, 49ers seat license holders could scream bloody murder about being forced to put up tens of thousands of dollars for seats while Raiders fans paid nothing, and even potentially file lawsuits over the inequity. Kawakami says NFL sources have “muttered” about this problem previously, and that “nobody has a good answer for it, not practically.”

Kawakami doesn’t mention it, but this is a potential stumbling block with any proposed move of the A’s to San Francisco’s AT&T Park, which the Giants similarly sold PSLs, though only on the 15,000 priciest seats. Giants “charter seat license” holders likewise have dibs on buying tickets to other events at the stadium, which could cause major problems in the event of an A’s move. Not that the A’s are likely to move, or the Giants to okay it without usurious lease terms, but it’s an important reminder that there’s more to relocating a team than just saying, “Hey, look, that stadium is empty part of the time, let’s set up there!”

UPDATE: A 49ers SBL holder has posted language that seems to indicate that the 49ers accounted for this problem by omitting “other NFL games” from SBL rights — see comments.

San Jose councilmember says he’ll sue Giants to force them to get MLB to let A’s move, or something

Since the Oakland A’s attempts to move to San Jose have long since reached terminal stasis, all we have to report on these days are crazy rumors. And on the crazy-rumor scale, this one is not-all-that-crazy:

Sam Liccardo, the San Jose City Council member whose district includes most of the proposed downtown ballpark property, wants the city to sue the Giants. They continue to claim territorial rights to the South Bay and, empowered by Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, have used that claim to block the A’s quest at every turn.

By “not all that crazy,” I mean of course that it could actually happen, not that it has much of a chance in hell of achieving anything. The San Jose Mercury News’ Mark Purdy writes that it “could be a game-changer” and “a cunning reverse twist on the Giants’ own veiled (and nonveiled) threats to pursue legal action against San Jose and other entities if the A’s are allowed to move south,” but even if San Jose decides to sue the Giants — which would really mean challenging MLB’s territorial rights agreement, which would mean going up against the very league that they’re trying to lure to town — it’s hard to see where they’d have legal standing, given that the Giants aren’t technically blocking anything right now, since MLB hasn’t decided whether or on what grounds to consider allowing the A’s to move. (And likely never will, at least not until the Giants and A’s owners work out something that will satisfy both of them, which will never happen.)

If you still doubt me, remember that San Jose previously agreed not to even hold a public vote on whether to build a stadium until after MLB made its ruling, for fear of angering their potential baseball partners. Also, that Mark Purdy was spreading crazy rumors then, too.

Demolition set for Candlestick

With the San Francisco 49ers getting a new stadium in Santa Clara, their old home of Candlestick Park will be imploded as soon as the 2013 NFL season is concluded, the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this week. The site is currently set to become a multiuse mall-plus-housing complex, though developer Lennar Corp. hasn’t actually set a date for when it’ll build that.

Interestingly, the Chronicle adds, “There are also plans for a 3,000- to 4,000-seat arena that could accommodate small concerts, house the San Francisco Bulls ice hockey team and maybe even host pro women’s basketball.” That seems more speculative than anything — the Candlestick site is even harder to get to than the Bulls’ current home at the Cow Palace, and the WNBA hasn’t expanded in eons. Worth keeping an eye on, though.

In the meantime, the imminent demise of the Stick doesn’t seem to be causing too much grief among Bay Area fans — the best the Chronicle could come up with to say about the stadium is that “it hosted two World Series, The Catch and the Beatles‘ last concert,” which had me confused until I realized they meant this The Catch and not this one. Candlestick was by all accounts a decent (if hard-to-reach and windy) baseball stadium until it got closed in by additions for the 49ers in 1971, after which it was a not-that-satisfying hybrid of a baseball and football stadium. I’ll mostly remember it for the completely excellent buttons that the Giants gave out in the mid-’80s to fans who stayed till the end of an extra-inning game:

I tried for one in 1983 or so, but sadly the game didn’t go extra innings. Though given the usual translation of “vixi,” maybe it’s just as well.

Selig says he’d “like to move faster” on A’s deal, except for the moving faster part

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times cornered MLB commissioner Bud Selig the other day to ask him about the league’s never-ending “study” of the Oakland A’s request to move to San Jose, and here’s what he said:

“Of course I would like to move faster. But I’m not going to move until I’m really satisfied on all issues and both clubs are satisfied on all issues.”

As Shaikin rightly notes, “That is never going to happen. The Giants will not be satisfied if the A’s are permitted to move. The A’s will not be satisfied if they are denied permission.”

Shaikin reported a few weeks ago that Selig might be ready to issue a “Solomonesque” decision by the end of the year, but of course we’ve heard that before. And Selig did his best to dispel any thoughts that there might be an imminent resolution with this exchange:

Q: There are reports that you are canvassing clubs to see how they might vote on the issue, in advance of next month’s owners meetings. Are you indeed canvassing clubs?

A: No. I don’t have anything to canvass.

Q: Do you believe a new ballpark in Oakland is feasible?

A: I don’t know. That is one of the things we are checking.

Q: Can you promise A’s fans that you will settle this dispute by the first of the year?

A: I’m not going to set a time.

Clearly, Selig is getting tired of all this, but just as clearly he has no intention of ruling against either the A’s or the Giants. Even setting a compromise price for the A’s to pay the Giants for territorial rights to San Jose would likely raise cries of outrage from one side or the other — A’s owner Lew Wolff thinks he shouldn’t have to pay anything, while the Giants owners believe that the South Bay is more valuable to their franchise than al the gold Octovien. So the most Seligian way of issuing a ruling would be to … maybe declare that the A’s should be allowed into San Jose, provided that they pay an undetermined price to the Giants to be negotiated between the two teams? You think he could get away with claiming it took three guys three-and-a-half years to come up with that?

The other possibility is that Selig is holding out hope that Oakland will come up with a viable stadium plan to make Wolff happy, and he can duck this whole territorial issue until somebody else becomes commissioner. In which case, he’s likely to have a long wait.

Selig to impose “Solomonesque” solution on A’s, Giants? Bud Selig?

The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin, apparently offended because Oakland A’s playoff tickets are too affordable (no, really, read it for yourself), yesterday delved into the never-ending standoff between the A’s and the San Francisco Giants over territorial rights to San Jose. And, like so many others before him, he’s convinced himself that MLB commissioner Bud Selig is going to force a solution any day now, really:

There are indications Selig might rule by the end of the year. Yet, rather than say yes or no, Selig appears to be considering a ruling that could challenge both the A’s and Giants to fulfill certain criteria.

“I think there will be an effort to be Solomonesque,” said someone who has spoken with Selig but declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “This is not a ‘yes or no’ sort of thing.”

That would go against what both Jayson Stark and Selig himself have indicated, but let’s play along and try to picture what a “Solomonesque” solution would look like. Clearly the two teams can’t share the area: Either the A’s get to move to San Jose, or they don’t. So the only way to split the difference would be for Selig to set a price for the A’s the pay the Giants in exchange for the South Bay, either in cash or a swap of rights to the East Bay or both.

Which could work in theory, except that setting a price on revoking territorial rights is exactly what Selig has been trying to avoid, since that would open the door to teams wanting to know how much it’d be to horn in on the New York City market, say. It’s always possible that he’s changed his mind and decided to start smacking heads together, but if so, why has he waited so many years to do so?

A’s owner Lew Wolff, for his part, said that he’s tired of waiting around for an answer, and that if Selig imposes any “criteria” that would require more waiting, “They might as well just tell us no.” Of course, Wolff has complained like this before, and it hasn’t gotten him anywhere.

Most likely, this is just another sportswriter looking for a column idea on a slow news day. Unless we should be taking “Solomonesque” more literally, and Selig is really threatening to smite San Jose with a sword and let neither team have it unless they agree to a solution. That’d be cool, if only because it’d show that Selig is capable of dramatic gestures other than the “I can’t hear you” one.

Cincy still seeking stadium funds, Sacramento’s Olympic dreams, and other stadium news

There was literally a ton of stadium and arena news over the weekend, so it’s time to deal with most of them via bullet points:

  • Remember how Hamilton County filled next year’s gap in funding for the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals stadiums by selling off a public hospital? Apparently they haven’t yet, and the deadline for payment is just three weeks away. Also, part of the plan involved cutting costs and holding more events at the stadiums, but that’s not “practical or dependable,” according to the county’s tax expert. If they manage to get this straightened out, they can do it all over again with next year’s funding gap!
  • Sacramento Bee columnist Ailene Voisin notes that the lieutenant governor of Nevada tells her (via cellphone) that if the Kings‘ new arena gets built, it could host hockey and curling during the 2022 Winter Olympics if Reno-Tahoe is chosen to host. Which tells us three important things: Reno and Tahoe think they can host the Winter Olympics; Nevada has a lieutenant governor; and it lets him have his own cellphone.
  • There’s a new plan for that D.C. United stadium at Buzzard Point … okay, it’s actually a plan from 2010. And the main upshot is that five different property owners have pieces of the site, making a deal tough to accomplish. Also that the plan marks one part of the site as “Future Velodrome.” Presumably this means a velodrome to be built later, but I prefer to think that it means a place for racing these.
  • The Miami Marlins‘ fans may be cranky about parking, but it hasn’t stopped them from snapping up tickets: ever-quotable team president David Samson claims that the team has gone from “No. 125 — counting minor league teams” in season-ticket sales to the top third in MLB, with close to 15,000 season seats sold. Of course, even these guys had strong ticket sales their first year in a new place; the trick will be to see if the Marlins can keep drawing fans past the honeymoon phase, and into Jose Reyes’ first extended trip to the DL.
  • Ray Ratto has summed up the GiantsA’s territorial rights dustup in one act. Key quote: “If I could convince Mom and Dad to stop feeding you so you would die and I could bury you in the backyard, I would.”