Friday roundup: Grading Mariners subsidies on a curve, Cobb County could close parks to pay off Braves debt, Beckham punts on another stadium deadline

Congratulations to the team that had never won the hockey thing winning it over the other team that had never won the hockey thing because it was a new team! And meanwhile:

Tampa Bay Times: What if Rays fund their stadium with private money like the Braves, uh, never mind

Just catching up with this Tampa Bay Times article from last Friday, which proposed a list of ways that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg could pay for building an $800 million stadium without either dipping much into his own pocket or dumping all the costs on taxpayers. As you might imagine, that doesn’t leave much else:

How about making the stadium a showcase for local food? Or using training facilities as a community wellness center? Or letting a culinary school use the ballpark’s kitchens? While we’re at it, how about a water slide?

How about a water slide! The article doesn’t actually explain how a water slide would help pay for anything, but moving on:

“You want those who use it and go there to help pay for it,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, who is at the center of the Tampa-Hillsborough effort to study stadium financing options.

Getting warmer, but how exactly is “make users pay” going to work? After all, that principle has been used for everything from ticket surcharges (which mostly come out of team owners’ pockets, and so are a pretty good deal for the public) to kickbacks of taxes in a “stadium district” (which don’t and are not).

“We’re aggressively looking for private capital, private developers, to build a stadium,” [Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill] said.

We’ve heard this before, too, but a private developer is only going to invest in somebody else’s stadium if they can get a cut of the stadium revenue, right? At which point Sternberg may as well just put up the money himself and repay himself with those revenue streams.

At SunTrust Park, which opened last year, the Atlanta Braves spent $400 million developing The Battery Atlanta, a multi-use destination next to the stadium with a hotel, two office buildings, 550 apartments, a theater and about 20 restaurants. Still, the public contributed $400 million toward a ballpark that cost $622 million.

Ayup. And closing libraries to help pay for it.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently outlined one possible scenario. The city could create what’s been loosely described as an entertainment district around the stadium. Inside the district, a surcharge on sales of food, drinks and merchandise could generate revenue that would be used to help pay off stadium construction bonds.

“Because a stadium is there,” Buckhorn said, “restaurants are going to do better, alcohol sales are going to be higher, T-shirt sales, whatever it may be. The hope is that monies generated by construction of the stadium — be it commercial, residential or retail — be used to pay some of the debt service on the stadium, so you shift the burden from the taxpayers to either tourists or to folks who are benefitting from the construction of the stadium.”

Okay, so there’s an actual idea! Not a great idea, mind you — local restaurants aren’t going to do that much better as a result of having a stadium open 81 days a year nearby, so you’re quickly going to run into problems of whether to raise the tax surcharge to pay off more of the stadium or keep it low enough so people will actually want to open more businesses nearby — but it’s something.

Variations include creating a community development district (there are lot of CDDs for suburban Hillsborough neighborhoods already) or a special district similar to what the Legislature approved this spring for the $3 billion Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment project known as Water Street Tampa.

Those are very different models, so different that “variations” isn’t really an accurate term. CDDs are basically TIFs: Public improvements are repaid by the projected future rise in regular property tax payments, a plan that can fail in two ways — either if property values don’t actually rise that much, or if they just cannibalize development you would have gotten anyway, either on that site or elsewhere in your city. The Vinik-Cascade project is a special tax surcharge on property owners, which at least doesn’t dip into money the public would be collecting anyway, but which also presupposes a lot of property value increase just from a stadium being built nearby, which doesn’t have a great history of coming true.

“A stadium is a magnet for, arguably, development that might not otherwise occur,” Merrill said. “What you’re trying to do is assess growth, new development, within a district that benefits from a stadium.”

That’s one heck of an “arguably” there.

The problem, ultimately, is that Sternberg is trying to find ways to equitably slice up a giant piece of nothing cake: There are only two ways to pay off a stadium, and one is through the increased revenues that come in from one — which isn’t likely to pay off anything close to the full construction cost, because new stadiums are usually not good financial deals , and if it were Sternberg could finance it with something called a “bank loan” — while the other is with public subsidies. “Let’s charge all the business and property owners who’ll be riding for free on our stadium” isn’t a terrible idea — New York state is considering using it to build more subways — but given past Florida experience with baseball-related development, you might maybe want to temper your expectations a bit.

Friday roundup: Nevada gov candidate threatens Raiders’ roads, Phoenix sued over Suns arena plans, Rays stadium could seek Trump tax break

And the rest of the week’s news:

Friday roundup: Senators owner stalling on arena commitment, Jaguars owner wants to buy Wembley, and gondolas, forever gondolas

As late as Wednesday, I thought this was turning out to be a slow news week. Then the news made up for it in a hurry:

  • The New York Islanders owners held a question-and-answer session for residents near their planned new arena on Tuesday, and when asked about how they plan to increase Long Island Railroad service to avoid tons of auto traffic, a state development official said, “We are in very active discussions with the LIRR — meeting with them once a week — and those talks are ramping up.” Hopefully they’re involving Dr. Strange in those discussions, because they badly need to find some new topological dimensions.
  • Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to talk to Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk about whether he actually plans to pursue the LeBreton Flats arena development he won rights to last year, after Melnyk called it “a huge project with tremendous risk” and said, “If it doesn’t look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I’m not suggesting that right now” and “Something’s got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break.” Melnyk has made threats like this before, but you’d think now that he has an agreed sale price for the land he’d be happy; it sure sounds like he’s angling for some additional public subsidies now that he has his mitts on the land, which you can’t really blame him for, since Watson opened the door to that already. Come on, mayor, haven’t you learned yet not to get the can opener out when the cat is around?
  • Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the group started by the Rays to push for business support for a new stadium, is signing up plenty of members, but DRaysBay notes that “the real test of commitment will come when businesses are asked to make clearer financial commitments to a stadium plan.” Yeah, no duh. (The subhead here, “Business leaders line up behind stadium plan, but financing questions linger,” is also a masterpiece of understatement.)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that the Toronto Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre “needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible,” noting that other stadiums “have millennial areas, things like that that have been built and become popular more recently.” So, like, an Instagram parlor?
  • Here’s a story about how 25 years ago the NHL handed Norman Green the rights to move the Minnesota North Stars to any open market as consolation for putting an expansion team in Anaheim, where he’d wanted to move, and he ended up going to Dallas. Also it has Roger Staubach in the headline for some reason.
  • And here’s a story about how 50 years ago NHL expansion inadvertently kicked off the rise of arena rock, which is probably overstated but it has links to vintage Cream videos in it, if you like that sort of thing.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is in talks with the Football Association to buy London’s Wembley Stadium for £600 million, which is certain to raise eyebrows about the possibility of the Jags moving to London, but is probably for right now more about Fulham F.C., which Khan also owns, being about to get promoted to the Premier League and wanting a bigger place to play. Khan also said, “I think it needs investment and updating. Compared to American stadiums the video boards are something that need to be looked at. The lounges are a little bit dated.” The current Wembley Stadium was built in 2007.
  • The son of former disgraced Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt wants to build a gondola to take fans from Union Station to Dodger Stadium to avoid traffic. “It’s not actually crazy,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti insisted on Thursday, which, given that this is a city considering allowing Elon Musk to build a network of tunnels to whisk residents about via some unknown technology, maybe we should take that with a grain of salt.
  • San Diego State says its stadium plans could eventually be expanded to fit an NFL team, for a mere additional $750-$850 million. Most San Diegans responding to an internet poll (which means some San Diegans, some non-San Diegans, and some dogs) don’t think they’re getting an NFL team anytime soon, anyway.
  • The Port of Oakland has approved giving the Oakland A’s owners exclusive negotiating rights to develop Howard Terminal, which now gives the A’s exclusive rights to two possible stadium sites. As DRaysBay would say, financing questions linger.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has toured the new Milwaukee Bucks arena and says it has “unique sight lines.” Hopefully he means that in a good way, though I’m still wondering about that “sky mezzanine level.”

Friday roundup: Marlins claim British residency, video football with real humans, and the White Sox stadium that never was

Busy (minor) news week! And away we go…

  • Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins ownership group, facing a lawsuit by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County over the team stiffing the public on the share of sale proceeds they were promised, are trying to stave it off by claiming that (deep breath) because one of the owners of an umbrella company of an umbrella company of the umbrella company that owns the Marlins is a business incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, the case should be arbitrated by a federal judge who handles international trade issues. Maybe the Marlins should quit trying to sell tickets to baseball games and sell tickets to the court proceedings instead.
  • Tampa Bay Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz, in response to concerns that a big-ass baseball stadium wouldn’t fit into the Ybor City historic district that it would be on the border of, said that “we expect to build a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark that fits within the fabric of the Ybor City community,” though she didn’t give any details. That’s vague enough to be reassuring without actually promising anything concrete, but it’s worth making a note of just in case the historic district ends up becoming a stumbling block in stadium talks, which, stranger things have happened.
  • A guy wants to start a football league where fans vote on what plays to run via Twitch, and build an arena in Las Vegas for people to watch … the players? The voting? The Las Vegas Review-Journal article about it was a bit unclear, though it did say that the organizers want to “create the experience of playing a football video game with real people,” which isn’t creepy at all. It also reports that the league plans to use blockchain technology, which is how you know it’s probably a sham.
  • Something called the Badger Herald, which I assume is a University of Wisconsin student paper but which I really hope is a newspaper targeted entirely at badgers, ran an article by a junior economics major arguing that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will be a boon to the city because during the first few years “many will come from across the state to watch the Bucks play in this impressive new facility” and after that it will “continue giving the people of Milwaukee a reason to be optimistic.” The author also says that the arena was built after “the NBA gave the Bucks an ultimatum — either obtain a new arena, or the NBA would buy the Bucks and sell the franchise to another city,” which, uh, no, that’s not what happened at all.
  • Here’s a really nice article for CBS Sports by my old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry on the Chicago White Sox ballpark proposed by architect Philip Bess that never got built. Come for the cool pictures of spiders, stay for the extended explanation of why supporting columns that obstruct some views are a design feature that stadium architects never should have abandoned!
  • The Los Angeles Rams are trying to pull a San Francisco 49ers, according to Deadspin, by making a run at a Super Bowl in the same year they’re selling personal seat licenses for their new stadium. More power to ’em, but prospective Rams PSL buyers, check how that worked out for 49ers fans before you hand over your credit card numbers, okay?
  • The state of Connecticut has cut $100 million for Hartford arena renovations from the state budget, at least for now, so that it can use the money toward a $550 million bailout of the city of Hartford itself. Is that what they call a “no win-win situation“?
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the New York Islanders need to move back to Long Island because Brooklyn’s Barclays Center “wasn’t built for hockey,” which he actually pointed out at the time they moved there, but did anybody listen?
  • Alameda County is moving to sell its share of the Oakland Coliseum complex to the city of Oakland, which should make negotiations over what to do with the site slightly simpler, anyway.
  • That Missouri governor who killed a proposed St. Louis MLS stadium subsidy, calling it “welfare for millionaires,” is now under pressure to resign after his former hairdresser claimed he groped her, slapped her, and coerced her into sex acts. Maybe we should just stop electing men to public office? Just a thought.

Rays owner says if he gets enough naming-rights cash, maybe he’ll only demand $400m in public subsidies

Tampa Bay Rays owner said on opening day Thursday that he might increase his contribution to a new stadium from $150 million to $400 million — sort of. What Sternberg actually said:

Sternberg reiterated that a new stadium likely would cost around $800 million, but added that the price could go up with each passing year. Last November, Sternberg told the Times that the Rays would be willing to chip in $150 million, but said again Thursday that the number was just an “estimation” and a “signpost.” …

“If somebody wants to walk in with $25 million naming rights tomorrow my number of $150 (million) goes up dramatically,” Sternberg said. “So, yeah, I’ll get you to $400 (million). You get me $25 million a year in stadium naming rights and get me to $400, I’ll go halfsies.”

So what Sternberg really said, to the extent he said anything that should be taken as a commitment, is that the $150 million figure didn’t include naming rights money. This is actually a big deal — the difference between $150 million and $150 million plus naming rights proceeds is, duh, the value of the naming rights money — but is not so much a promise to pay $400 million, given that only six stadiums ever (football stadiums in New Jersey, Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston and baseball stadiums in New York and Atlanta), all in bigger markets than Tampa Bay, have cleared the $250 million mark for naming rights. And even then, that’s $250 million in nominal payments over time, not necessarily enough money to pay off $250 million in stadium expenses right now. And while we’re at it, the New York Mets only got $20 million a year, not the $25 million that Sternberg said they did, though it’s a deal for 20 years so is probably worth $250 million total.

Anyway, all this is no doubt meant to help create momentum for a new stadium, what with local business leaders (and Sternberg) launching a nonprofit this weekend to solicit promises of corporate ticket sales and generally drum up public support for a stadium, preferably without mentioning the at least $400 million in public money that would be required. Presumably Sternberg announced all this on Opening Day to capitalize on excitement about the Rays’ season driving his campaign, which, uh, maybe wasn’t the best plan thus far.

Koch Brothers-funded group decries “corporate welfare” for Rays, keeps straight face whole time

Say “the Koch brothers” and most people just think “rich dudes trying to help other rich dudes get richer,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. But Charles and David Koch are also diehard libertarians (of the “get government off the backs of the owning man” vein), and sometimes that ideology bumps up against the interests of the expensive-thing-owning classes.

That’s been the case around sports stadium subsidies, where the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity have lobbied against Wisconsin funding the Milwaukee Bucks‘ new arena, against tax kickbacks for Utah Jazz arena renovations, and for state bills to ban spending public money on sports facilities. And it’s now the case in Tampa Bay, where Americans for Prosperity is waging a full-scale war against any public money being spent on a new Rays stadium, at least if video ads on your Twitter feed counts as full-scale war:

Starting today, residents of the Tampa Bay area may start to see a new video ad on their social media feeds assailing the idea that public money could be used to build a new baseball stadium — complete with an animated “taxpayer” being bowled over by a player sliding into a base…

“When it comes to the big game of corporate welfare, the taxpayers are always the losers,” the video says…

The group will also include a form letter for residents to sign… “Dear Commissioner: I am contacting you to urge you to oppose taxpayer funding for professional sports facilities,” the letter reads. “Families and hard-working Floridians deserve to either keep their tax money or have it spent on essential services.”

That’s a little hokey, but I guess you’ve got to fight magic basketballs with taxpayers getting Ruben Tejada’d.

And this kind of ad spending does matter — as I’m fond of citing, the best predictor of whether a sports subsidy referendum will pass is to look at the ratio of campaign money spent by supporters to opponents: more than 100:1 and it usually passes, less than that and it’s usually defeated. (Not that the Rays stadium is expected to go before a public vote, but a similar effect can sometimes work on local legislators, too.) And if cheering on Americans for Prosperity in this instance requires overlooking the more than $400 million in corporate welfare that the Kochs themselves have raked in, well, any bedfellow in a storm, I guess.

Hillsborough County considering $500 million in tax hikes to fund new Rays stadium

The indefatigable Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV has unearthed some documents from law firms working with Hillsborough County that show how the county is considering raising public funds to help pay for a new $600 million–ish Tampa Bay Rays stadium. And the options are:

  • Raising the county bed tax from 5% to 6%, which could provide another $6 million a year, enough to pay off close to $100 million in stadium costs.
  • A $2 a day hike in car rental taxes would generate $15 million a year (enough to pay off around $250 million total), though with ridesharing on the rise it would risk driving people out of the car rental market and thus providing significantly less than that.
  • Extending the Community Investment Tax sales tax surcharge that currently funds payments on the Buccaneers stadium beyond 2026. This could provide $10 million a year (enough to pay off about $160 million worth of stadium), but the Bucs could also want some of that money when their lease expires the same year as the Rays’.

Put it all together, and you’re certainly in the ballpark (sorry) of the $450 million in public funds that would be needed if the stadium comes in at $600 million and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg sticks to his guns about only chipping in $150 million from his own pocket. Of course, the fact that Hillsborough County can come up with $450 million it can raise by taxing its own residents (and visitors) doesn’t mean that it should — that’s a hell of a lot of money to hand over to a sports franchise just so that it doesn’t move to a city that probably doesn’t exist, not to mention for a franchise that is actually profitable right now under baseball’s revenue-sharing system. The documents Pransky uncovered don’t talk about what the effect on the local economy would be of raising multiple taxes by this much, or how a Rays stadium compares to other projects that could be funded by similar tax hikes, but I’m sure Pransky will be examining those questions in coming weeks and months.

Anyway, this is far more information than Pransky got by following local politicians around and asking repeatedly, so kudos, Noah! Sometimes journalism is mostly about finding the right people to pester.

Friday roundup: Pistons disguise empty seats as other-colored empty seats, Olympics tourism is bad and likely to get worse, Suns have no clue about arena plans, and more!

Off we go! In my case, literally: I’ll be traveling all next week, so if you don’t hear much from me around here, hold tight and I’ll catch up with all the news on my return. In the meantime, keep yourself warm at night with this week’s worth of fresh items:

  • Pyeongchang’s surge in tourism for the Olympics is unlikely to be sustained in future years, according to a study that shows tourism levels quickly drop back to normal, when they even have an Olympic uptick in the first place. (Overseas visitors to London were actually down in the summer of 2012.) Given that you can still walk up and buy tickets to most of this year’s Olympic events, I wouldn’t count on it being an exception to the rule. Hope the locals enjoy all those new hotels!
  • Phoenix Rising F.C. is designing a new MLS-ready stadium on the site of its current temporary stadium on the Salt River Pima reservation, and claims it will pay the whole $250 million cost. That would sure be nice, but then that’s what we were told in Sacramento, too.
  • The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is sponsoring bills in state legislatures that establishing bans on spending public money on pro sports stadiums, which would kick in as soon as 25 states agreed to join the compact. Better they spend on that than on trying to buy Congress, certainly, but as sports economist John Vrooman noted to the Arizona Republic, this wouldn’t stop the other 25 states from continuing to spend to try to lure teams, at which point the whole system would break down. Vrooman said really any legislation needs to happen on the federal level, and “unfortunately for local taxpayers held hostage, that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.” You gotta believe, John!
  • The projected cost to restore Miami Marine Stadium — remember Miami Marine Stadium? — has risen from $45 million to $59.6 million, and Miami has only $50.4 million set aside to pay for it, and yeah, that’s not good.
  • If you were wanting a long, fawning profile of the Golden State Warriors COO in charge of building their new arena, the Associated Press is here to serve. I’m more interested in the accompanying photo of a giant model of the arena, which makes the upper deck seats look kinda crappy thanks to an intervening clot of suites and club seats, but other images that show the end seats make it look not so bad, so I’ll withhold judgment until somebody (maybe even me!) sees the new place with their own eyes.
  • Hey, Phoenix Suns president Jason Rowley, how are your arena plans going? “‘What’s the best solution?’ It hasn’t been figured out yet.” Are you thinking of going in on an arena with the Arizona Coyotes? “There really hasn’t been a whole lot of conversation between us and the Coyotes.” Any hints at all about what your plans might be? “There are so many pieces to an arena conversation that it’s very difficult to identify one thing that would either be a go-forward situation or one thing that would impact where you’re ultimately going to end up.” The Suns have an opt-out in their current arena lease in 2022, so expect more heated rhetoric once we get closer to that date.
  • The Detroit Pistons are putting black seat covers over the red seats at their new arena during their home games, to make it less obvious how many empty seats there are. The covers are removed for Red Wings games, because the Red Wings’ team color is red, so I guess for them it’s not embarrassing, it’s promotion of their brand? The Pistons are also letting fans move down from the upper deck to the lower at no cost to make the empty seats look less bad on television. Hope Detroit is enjoying all that economic development!
  • At least Detroit got lots of local construction jobs from the arena, and that’s one thing no one can take away! Unless you believe the claims of a local construction worker’s lawsuit against one arena contractor, which says he was only hired to meet the project’s 51% local hiring quota and then immediately fired, while at the same time suburban workers were brought in under fake addresses. And even then, city data shows that only 27% of total workers on the arena project lived in Detroit.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he approves of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ preferred Ybor City site for a new stadium — it’s literally his job to say this, so no surprise there — and has told Tampa business leaders that they need to be “engaged in this effort” because “it’s good for community over the long haul.” He then added, “It’s crucial that we get a facility here that allows the Rays to get more toward the middle of the industry in terms of their revenues,” which pretty much sounds like, Hey, local corporate titans, one of your brethren isn’t making as much profit as he’d like, please give him a bunch of your money so his bank balance looks better, okay? More power to him if that sales pitch works, I guess, but I’m in no way confident it will take a significant bite out of that $400 million-plus funding hole, and remain concerned it’s mostly misdirection so that whenever the Rays eventually go to taxpayers hat in hand, they can say, Look, the business community is already chipping in, you gotta do your part too, capisce?

People are now designing sports venues based entirely on abstract geometric shapes, this is truly the future

Okay, the Tampa Bay Rays may have just won vaportecture for all time, as team owner Stuart Sternberg declared Saturday that he wants his new stadium to look like this:

Or not look exactly like Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi’s 1923 sculpture Bird in Space — it would make for some really short foul lines — but at least use that as “our guiding design” towards a building that will be a “minimalist, iconic, porous facility.” (“Porous” here appears to be a hip architectural term that means “relating to its surroundings,” as coined by Richard Goodwin in his memorably named Porosity: the Architecture of Invagination.)

“We’re going to continue to push the designers really hard,” Sternberg said the day after announcing the Ybor project was the team’s choice for a new home. “If the stadium is done correctly, it’s going to be iconic yet you won’t even know it’s there.”

It’s an invisible stadium, you guys! Or maybe one that’s just so in tune with its surroundings that it disappears into them, like a Mayan pyramid or this guy.

All this, of course, is roughly 50% bluster and 50% misdirection, since the whole point of Sternberg’s current push, what with announcing a stadium site and all with no idea how to pay for it, is to get people all excited about this and hope the sense of momentum gets them to view a multi-hundred-million-dollar funding gap as an obstacle to be overcome, rather than a reason maybe not to do this at all. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board is already down with this, writing on Friday that “significant progress has to be made by the end of the year” because “it will take regional support to ensure baseball remains in Tampa Bay” and this “could be the last, best option.” (To be fair, they also said Sternberg will have to kick in more than the $150 million he’s promised, but still, this is how-do-we-get-it-done-ism in a nutshell.)

In fact, I would dismiss Sternberg’s Brancusi references to just the ravings of a rich dude hoping to sweet-talk the public out of their tax dollars if not for the fact that Madison Square Garden has announced it’s building an 18,000-seat arena in Las Vegas that will be shaped like a sphere, and called, naturally, the MSG Sphere:

This will be for concerts only, no sports, and will cost nobody knows how much, and will feature “high-speed internet at every seat” and “beamforming” technology so that people in adjacent seats can hear different things and 36 miles of LEDs on its exterior that will enable projection of anything they want, including the event taking place inside or even:

A different camera system set up around the city will be able to virtually cloak the dome with real-time images and video of its surroundings, making it seemingly disappear.

An invisible arena. Maybe that way Las Vegas can pretend it doesn’t already have 43 other arenas. Vegas is headed for the Arena Event Horizon any day now.