Man who should know better says $500m Rangers subsidy made sense because “things happening” is good

And here’s your epitaph for the Texas Rangers owners’ successful stadium campaign:

[UTA political science professor Allan Saxe] said he believes another factor that influenced voters was last month’s groundbreaking for the $250 million Texas Live! entertainment complex, being built next to Globe Life Park and the new stadium site.

“When people can see things happening, I think they’re willing to go along with other projects,” he added. “I know it impacted me.”

Read that again: A political science professor says he was swayed to vote for a half-billion-dollar subsidy to help two rich guys tear down their 22-year-old stadium so they could have one with air-conditioning because of an entertainment project next door that was already going to be built regardless.

I can see we’re going to be here awhile.

Rangers owners get $500m to tear down 22-year-old stadium for lacking a/c, oh democracy

So in those other election results:

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the [San Diego] Chargers received only 43 percent approval on Measure C, the team’s $1.8 billion downtown stadium and convention center annex that proposed raising hotel taxes from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent to secure $1.15 billion in bonds to help pay for the project.

We already pretty much knew that was going to happen: That the Chargers stadium plan fell so far short was a slight surprise, but it never had any hope of getting close to the required two-thirds majority, and even 50% was probably out of reach. So anyway, what about the other stadium vote, the one whose outcome was still in doubt?

On Tuesday, voters in Arlington, Texas, approved a measure to contribute up to $500 million toward the cost of a new ballpark for the Texas Rangers. … The ballot measure passed by a margin of 60 percent yes to 40 percent no.

That’s also to be expected, once you take into account that the pro side (i.e., mostly the Texas Rangers owners) was outspending the anti side (a handful of volunteer activists) by more than 200-to-1, and anything over a 100-to-1 margin usually guarantees a victory. Still, as of just a few days ago it looked like a toss-up, and … nah, nobody wins against that kind of spending firepower, especially not in Texas.

So Chargers owner Dean Spanos will now be deciding whether to accept a lease from Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke to be tenants in Inglewood, or whether to try to fight an uphill battle to somehow get stadium subsidies in San Diego. (Or to stay in San Diego without subsidies HA HA HA HA just kidding.) And Texas Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson will be getting a half-billion-dollar check from Arlington taxpayers so they can tear down a 22-year-old stadium because it doesn’t have air-conditioning. The American experiment is going great.

Rangers owners hope new $1B stadium will solve attendance problem that doesn’t actually exist

This article by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel is just weird:

For the record, I am a big fan of the Rangers remaining in Arlington but a staunch opponent of public financing for places of business that are open less than one-third of the year, especially when a perfectly good space is in fine working order…

It’s your money and if you are OK with that, then bring on what must be the last time for the next 100 years that the Texas Rangers ask the city of Arlington for another thing.

If a new stadium does not fix the problem, nothing will.

The “problem” here, Engel seems to be saying, is that not enough people are going to Rangers games, ostensibly because they’re not air-conditioned, a condition that a new $1 billion stadium would remedy. Engel cites a team estimate that they “lose hundreds of thousands of potential fans every season because of our heat,” something he deems “certainly plausible.”

Is it? Let’s check the records:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-9-10-24-amThat all looks pretty good, except following years in which the Rangers were crappy on the field, which is as to be expected. (There’s invariably a one-year lag between win-loss record and attendance, as most tickets are sold early in the season before anyone knows whether the team will be good this year or not.) The Rangers drew 3,460,380 fans in 2012, a club record, coming off their two straight World Series appearances — a full season sellout would only have been 3,525,201, so the only way a lack of a/c could have cost the team “hundreds of thousands of fans” that year was if they’d been planning on seating them in each other’s laps.

In any event, only averaging between 2.5 million and 3 million fans a year is a “problem” that most other teams would be thrilled to have — the Rangers were 10th out of 30 teams in attendance last year, and are likely set for another ticket-sales jump following their 95-win season and first-place finish. Is it hot in Texas? It’s hot in Texas! Is the prospect of getting fans out of the heat likely to make it worth spending $1 billion to tear down a 22-year-old stadium and build a new one? Almost certainly not, which is why the Rangers owners are hoping to have the city of Arlington pay for more than half the cost. The only problem they’re looking to fix here isn’t about attendance figures or temperature numbers — it’s about having gone two decades without getting a city check with nine figures on it.

Chargers stadium measure falls even farther behind, Rangers vote too close to call

Tuesday is election day, when voters go to the polls to decide on funding new stadiums for the Texas Rangers and San Diego Chargers, and also some other stuff. But anyway, how are those stadium votes looking?

  • In Arlington, according to the we’re-not-editorializing-at-all Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Despite warnings from city officials that the Texas Rangers could leave town unless the team’s owners get help to build a new ballpark, Arlington voters are evenly split on spending taxpayer dollars to subsidize construction of a $1 billion, retractable-roof stadium, according to an exclusive WFAA/Star-Telegram poll.” The current tally is 42-42%, with 16% undecided, which is pretty remarkable in a race where the pro-stadium side has outspent opponents by 200-to-1. ($1.47 million to $7,192, to be precise.) There’s still a good chance that all that campaign money will be a decisive factor with undecided voters over the next few days; nonetheless, it’s becoming clear that that whole “we need a new stadium because the old one doesn’t have air-conditioning” argument isn’t as convincing as the Rangers owners might have hoped.
  • In San Diego, where the ballot initiative to spend $1.15 billion on a new Chargers stadium plus convention center expansion already had no hope of getting the two-thirds majority necessary for passage, it now looks unlikely even to come close to a simple majority: “A Union-Tribune/10News poll released Thursday shows that Measure C is trailing 55 percent to 45 percent among actual voters and likely voters who are certain how they will vote, down from a 52 percent to 48 percent margin against the measure in mid-October.” And the Chargers owners, reports the U-T, have already spent “millions of dollars” on TV and radio ads, to no avail.

What does all this mean? That’s it hard to get voters to willingly give over hundreds of millions of public dollars to a private sports team owner. This isn’t really new — it’s been hard for decades, which is why owners like those of the Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins had to spend 10 years or more trying again and again before winning subsidies — and is why most team owners usually like to deal directly with elected officials where possible, because you can win them over by horse-trading with only a handful of people.

Still, if both the Rangers and Chargers votes go down to defeat, I’m pretty sure this will be the first time that sports team owners were shut out by voters on subsidy demands in a single November. Yet another reason to stay up late on Tuesday to see how this all turns out.

Arlington evenly split on $500m Rangers stadium subsidy, Trump meltdown could sway vote

There’s a new poll out on the Texas Rangers‘ stadium subsidy vote in Arlington, and it implies that the vote could be defeated by, of all things, Donald Trump.

Bear with me here: The polling is evenly split, with 42% of Arlington voters saying they support the plan, an equal number saying they oppose it, and 16% not sure. But there’s a significant demographic skew to the results: Democrats oppose the plan 50-31%, people of color 52-32%, women 41-36%, and young voters 48-39%. Aside from young voters, who are more likely to stay home on election day because they’re disgusted by the available options, those are exactly the voters who are more likely to show up to the polls on November 8, since they won’t be at home trying to ignore the fact that their preferred party’s nominee is this guy.

Also interestingly, the WFAA poll finds that voters overwhelmingly don’t think that the Rangers need a new stadium (57-36%) and also largely don’t believe that the Rangers would move to Dallas if Arlington didn’t build them one (51-33%). So at least 10-15% of Arlington voters think that the Rangers don’t need a new stadium and don’t have leverage to demand one, but that Arlington taxpayers should give them half a billion dollars anyway because … maybe like their mayor, they can’t think of anything else to spend it on? The poll didn’t ask, so your guess is as good as mine.

Meanwhile, WFAA has another report out on hidden public costs of a Rangers stadium, and just like their last report, it’s well-researched but inflates its numbers way more than is really warranted:

The actual cost and lost revenues to the city of Arlington may be closer to $1.675 billion over 30 years — at least three times more than the $500 million price tag that city officials have told citizens.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll have no doubt already noted one problem with the sentence quoted above: “$1.675 billion over 30 years” isn’t actually three times more than $500 million right now, any more than making $1.675 million in mortgage payments over the course of three decades would be three times as expensive as paying $500,000 for a house right now. (Money in the future costs less because you can invest present money now and earn interest on it to make future payments.) To compare apples to apples, economists will use present value, which depending on how you calculate interest rates would come to around $700-800 million in actual costs today.

Why is that more than the $500 million the Rangers owners are claiming this will cost taxpayers? In part because WFAA is including an anticipated $10 million a year in naming-rights fees that the team owners would keep (about $150 million in present value) and $2.5 million a year in personal seat license sales (about $37.5 million in present value). It’s legit to look at naming rights, at least, as money that Arlington is giving away to the team despite owning the stadium — PSLs are more dicey, since they’re really a function of ticket sales, which are part of the team’s usual revenue stream — but it’s more fairly looked at as an unequal share of revenues from the new stadium, not an additional cost.

For now, I’ll still stick with “more than $500 million” as the taxpayers cost, which has the advantage of being unassailably true which still being one of the largest MLB subsidy requests in history, all to replace a 22-year-old stadium because it doesn’t have air-conditioning. Which is no doubt why this vote is looking to be much closer than past stadium subsidy measures in Arlington, regardless of how much Trump continues to implode between now and election day.

Rangers owners outspending stadium opponents 264-to-1, with $500m at stake it’s chicken feed

The Dallas Morning News reports that proponents of a $500-million-plus subsidy for a new Texas Rangers stadium so they can have air-conditioning have raised 264 times as much money as opponents, largely by cashing checks from the Rangers owners:

Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers raised $617,707 and spent $564,479 in this latest campaign reporting period.  Of that amount, the Rangers donated $550,000, accounting for 89 percent of the campaign’s income in this latest reporting period. That was slightly more than the team paid this year for either closer Sam Dyson and second baseman and playoff scapegoat Rougned Odor. …

Stadium opponents Citizens for a Better Arlington reported $7,687.50 in donations and spent $2,264.04, according to the new campaign filing.

This is important not for what it says about levels of support for either side — it’s a lot easier to raise money when you can get $550,000 with one phone call — but because past experience has led to a rough rule that stadium referendums only pass when proponents outspend opponents by 100-to-1 or more. This doesn’t guarantee that Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson will be able to buy themselves an election — and generate a 1,000% return on their campaign spending in the process — but they’ve certainly given themselves a nice head start.

Two polls on Rangers stadium plan show definitively that polls are garbage

And speaking of using math for bad purposes, a new poll of Arlington voters shows that they support the Texas Rangers‘ $500-million-plus stadium subsidy proposal by a 54-40% margin, while another poll shows that Arlington voters oppose it by a 47-39% margin. Care to guess which poll was conducted by the Vote Yes! Keep The Rangers PAC, and which by Save Our Stadium?

The two polls had a combined margin of error of 8.7%, which isn’t enough to explain a 15% swing in the results. So either polling is garbage (which it sort of is, but let’s set that aside for the moment) or something about the way the two sides asked the question inspired widely skewed results. Let’s start with the pro-stadium poll:

“Now I am going to read you some more details about the proposition, and please tell me, if the election were held today, would you vote YES, IN FAVOR or NO, AGAINST the proposition? The Rangers and the city of Arlington would contribute equally for the one billion dollar ballpark, with both paying five hundred million dollars. The city’s portion is capped at this amount with any additional costs being paid for by the Rangers. The stadium would be a state‐of‐the‐art, air conditioned ballpark with a retractable roof, comfortable seating, and real grass. There will be no new taxes and no increase in taxes to pay for the ballpark. The Arlington portion of the funding would be paid for by the existing half cent sales tax, the existing two percent hotel occupancy tax, and the existing five percent car rental tax that were used for the current Rangers ballpark and are currently being used for the Cowboys stadium. The new stadium would open in five years and keep the Rangers in Arlington until at least 2054.”

That’s a lot of information to absorb before answering, much of it skewed toward the Rangers ownership’s message (comfortable seating, no new taxes, keep the Rangers in Arlington). It’s not quite a push poll — where the goal is less to gauge public opinion than to sway it with the content of the questions (“How do you feel about my opponent beating his wife?”) — but it’s headed in that direction.

And how about the anti-stadium poll?

Proposition 1 on the November ballot is a proposition that will allow the city and the Rangers to levy taxes to pay for the new stadium. Press 1 if you plan to vote yes, press 2 if you plan to vote no, press 3 if you are undecided.

That’s less push-y, certainly, though the pro side would probably gripe that “levy taxes to pay for the new stadium” doesn’t accurately describe the plan, which would actually extend existing taxes. The anti poll excluded cellphones, though, which is increasingly unreliable in a world where so many people don’t have landlines.

In short, we have no idea how Arlington voters feel about the Rangers stadium proposal, other than “it depends on how you ask.” Me, I would have gone with “Do you think it’s worth $500 million in tax money so that Rangers fans can sit in air-conditioning?”, but nobody ever asks me.

Rangers owners say if city builds them new stadium, old one can be stores or something

And this is just bizarre:

In an letter released Sunday on WFAA/Channel 8 Inside Texas Politics, Rangers managing partner Ray Davis said the team is working with the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. to develop retail shops along the Randol Mill Road side of Globe Life Park: “It is the Rangers’ intent to preserve the beautiful exterior facade.”

So if the Texas Rangers owners get more than half a billion dollars in public money to replace their 22-year-old stadium with a new stadium so they can have air conditioning, they’re going to keep the old, un-air-conditioned building around to use as … shops? Or part of the building? And the field could be “refitted for another purpose” somehow? Possibly as “park and festival spaces”?

This is all extremely strange, since it’s unlikely anyone cares much about the Rangers stadium’s facade, unless this is meant to win people over with a “Hey, we’re not tearing down a perfectly good 22-year-old stadium, we’re just gutting it to use it for something it wasn’t meant for instead of for baseball!” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams also said the city could collect rent on any retail space leased out at the old stadium, which maybe could help offset construction costs, yes — but then, nobody’s saying how much it would cost to gut and redevelop the existing stadium, so who knows if there would actually be a net gain?

Supposedly there’s going to be a press conference about all this tomorrow, so we can boggle some more then. Stay tuned.

Rangers stadium heads for ballot, Arlington mayor grabs at phone of opponent videoing him

After voting unanimously to put a new Texas Rangers stadium funding measure on the November ballot in May and again last week, the Arlington city council did so a third time yesterday, which means the referendum will really truly happen now.

The stadium campaign promises to be more of a battle than it sounded at first — I haven’t seen any polls yet, but there’s an opposition group organized called Save Our Stadium (no website, only a Facebook page, because Zuckerberg owns our public commons) that recently confronted Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams over his support for the $500-million-plus public subsidy plan and his role in banning opposition comments from a Facebook page about the stadium. They then posted a video about it (shot in portrait mode, because the future will also be shot in portrait mode) that ends with the mayor getting steamed at a question about a stadium opponent being threatened with arrest, at which point he tries to grab the phone of one of his questioners, which isn’t something you see every day from a mayor:

I’ve also been sent video (no permission yet to post it, sorry) alleging to show a stadium supporter trying to smash the car window of some people handing out anti-subsidy flyers. With emotions running this high with three months to go, I’m honestly a little anxious about where this will go by November, this being Texas and all.