Friday roundup: MLB billionaire owners cry poor, Rangers stadium reviews get worse and worse

What a week! I know I say that every week, but: What. A. Week. In addition to the World Series insanity, I spent some time this week writing an article about other ways that giant monopolistic cartels screw over regular folks, but it’s not up yet* so you’ll just have to find out about it next week (or keep refreshing my personal website, or follow me on Twitter or something).

In the meantime, there’s lots of sports stadium and arena news to keep you occupied:

  • NYC F.C. may have announced progress on its new soccer stadium this week while providing no indication of actual progress, but the Washington Football Team one-upped them when team president Jason Wright earned an entire NBC Sports article about their stadium plans by saying he didn’t even have a timeline for the process. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Republic likewise issued a statement on their new stadium construction plans that amounted to nothing (“I do have a hard hat in my trunk!” said team president Ben Gumpert, by way of news). At this rate, team owners will be able to get reporting on their stadium campaigns after denying they even want one — oh wait, we’ve gone there already.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the league now has $8.3 billion in debt, $3 billion of it accrued during 2020’s pandemic season, which doesn’t actually tell you how well baseball is doing — presumably some of it was borrowed against future revenues from TV contracts and naming-rights deals and the like — but sounds impressive when you’re about to go into union contract talks. Also, notes Marc Normandin, that’s really only a $100 million loss per team, which isn’t an unfathomably huge sum for the billionaires who own most teams; plus we have to take Manfred’s word on that debt figure, and it already doesn’t include things like teams’ ownership of regional sports networks. MLB owners, he writes, are “hoping, as they so often do, that you have no idea how anything works, and will just take them at their word. So that they can do things like, oh, I don’t know, decline the 2021 option on basically everyone with one in order to flood the free agent market with additional players they can then underbid on and underpay, claiming that this is all financially necessary because of all the debt, you see.” Or as we may start calling it soon, getting Brad Handed.
  • Philadelphia public schools lost $112 million in property tax revenues in 2019 that were siphoned off to tax breaks for developers, according to a new Good Jobs First study, nearly double their losses from just two years earlier. Good thing the 76ers‘ plan for an arena funded by siphoned-off property taxes was rejected, though there are more plans where that came from, so Philly schools should probably still hold onto their wallets.
  • One more review of the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium that team owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson got $500 million to help build because the old one lacked air-conditioning, this one from a fan who’s visited every stadium and arena in North America: “This would probably end up probably down near the bottom.” He added that the upper decks are too far from the field, the place is too dark, the scale is “ridiculous,” and on top of that fans were taking off their masks as soon as security is out of sight, which, yup.
  • Las Vegas has extended its negotiating window again for a new soccer stadium to lure an MLS team, which makes you wonder why they even bothered to set a window in the first place instead of just hanging out a shingle saying, “Have Stadium $$$, Inquire Within.”
  • Sports team owners make tons of “dark money” to political campaigns to try to get elected officials to support their interests, according to ESPN, though disappointingly their only real source is an unnamed NBA owner. But that source did say, “There’s no question,” in italics and everything, so you know they’re serious.
  • Maybe the NHL should just play games outdoors so they can allow in fans? There are dumber ideas, but they might want to figure out how to get fans to keep their damn masks on first.
  • There are some new renderings of the New York Islanders‘ luxury suites at their new arena, and I can’t stop puzzling over what that weird counter-like thing is in this one, or why the women are all wearing stiletto heels to an NHL game. I’ll never understand hockey!

*UPDATE: Now it’s up.

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World Series ends with Covid-positive Justin Turner celebrating on field without mask, sportswriters sum up Rangers’ $1B stadium as “unnecessary,” all is as it should be

The baseball postseason that would never end has finally ended, fittingly enough with a late-inning Covid controversy as Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner had to be removed from the final game of the World Series in the 7th inning after receiving a positive test result, went back on the field without a mask to celebrate with his teammates, then complained that he “couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys.” Truly, the only way this could be more cringey would be if MLB chose this moment to bring back the ad slogan “Baseball Fever: Catch It!

But even as we wonder how Turner contracted the coronavirus while supposedly in a bubble and why he then sat next to a cancer survivor with no mask on, let’s not allow this bizarro World Series to pass into history without enjoying the glimpse that it gave us of the Texas Rangers‘ new $1 billion stadium, about half a billion dollars of which came from Arlington residents so that the team would no longer have to suffer the indignity of playing in a stadium without air conditioning. We’ve already heard the few fans in attendance extremely inappropriately calling the place “breathtaking”; now ESPN has polled its reporters on the scene of what they think of the place, and the reviews (edited for length and maximum hilarity) are decidedly meh:

Alden Gonzalez: It’s a modern, bigger, more comfortable, yet less charming — and in my opinion, unnecessary — version of the old place.

Jeff Passan: It’s fine. … Aesthetically, there’s nothing particularly inspiring about it.

Jesse Rogers: It feels cozy, especially if you’re in the lower bowl, but the tradeoff was going straight up. If you have a fear of heights, this is not the park for you.

Gonzalez: My least favorite part is that it doesn’t feel intimate.

Passan: From above, the place looks like what would happen if a Costco and a barn had a baby.

Gonzalez: What’s better is that it has a roof.

Rogers: OK, it’s cool when it opens and closes, but this is Texas. Besides the occasional storm, what’s the need for a dome?

Okay, I left out a few nice things the ESPN trio had to say about Globe Life Field — apparently the fence height is “perfect,” according to Gonzalez, which is totally a reason to spend $1 billion to build an entirely new stadium — but the upshot is that they think this is a “middle-tier” stadium, not the best or the worst, with a “corporate” feel but some nice brick columns. That’s something that could be said of lots of modern stadiums, including the one it replaced, but I guess they had to come up with something to say beyond “it would have been more impressive if they’d kept the old stadium and set a billion dollars on fire in center field.”

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Friday roundup: World still on fire, let’s remember 1989 when the greatest sports horror imaginable was Alan Thicke in a tuxedo

Very busy week here at FoS HQ, so let’s dispense with any introductory chitchat and get right to the news we didn’t already get to this week:

That’s all for now, see you all Monday!

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Baseball fans call new Rangers stadium “breathtaking” while breathing all over each other

We’re now two games into the fans-getting-to-see-live-baseball-under-Covid era, and if Fox won’t show us what it’s like at the stands, that’s what we have Twitter for. And there’s double reason for rubbernecking interest here, as the National League Championship Series not only gives us our first glimpse of baseball spectating during the pandemic, but also our initial look at the new Texas Rangers stadium that was built with taxpayer money so the team could have air-conditioning. And the Twitterverse says, at least according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Awesome!

“It’s breathtaking,” said William Necessary, a Rangers season-ticket holder since 2012 from Arlington. “It does look like a barn or a hangar from the outside, but inside it’s amazing.”…

“It reminds me of the old Reunion Arena where you were right on top of everybody,” [Necessary’s friend Bobby] Brown said. “It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing stadium there is on the outside, but on the inside it’s beautiful.”

Maybe “breathtaking” isn’t the word I would have used under current circumstances, but okay! Two Rangers season-ticket holders say the new place may be ugly on the outside, but it’s nice on the inside, check. Star-Telegram reporter Stefan Stevenson didn’t tell us where Necessary and Brown were sitting, which might have been helpful — early renderings made it look like the view from the cheap seats would be just horrible — but at least the stadium is nice to look at, regardless of whether you can see the game.

Let’s see what we can find for ourselves on Twitter:

Those people indeed have great seats, though they’ve chosen to ignore the game in order to take a selfie of themselves flouting the requirement to wear masks at all times while not eating or drinking. (You get two warnings before being kicked out, so maybe these folks were okay with using up one of their three strikes?) Let’s try to find another image:

If I’m counting right, that’s at most six out of 22 fans pictured in that shot who are wearing masks properly. And hardly any appear to be maintaining a six-foot distance, though it’s a bit hard to tell given the camera angle. What else have we got?

Okay, they’re just trolling us now. Everyone hold your breath for tonight’s heart-stopping Game 3!

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Everything sports leagues are getting wrong about letting fans into games, ranked

Another week, another pile of news about sports leagues grappling frantically with what to do about a world where, on the one hand, billions of dollars of revenue are at stake, and on the other, if you let people gather too close to each other for too long, lots of people could die. Let’s start with the NBA, which just completed its successful playoff bubble for the 2019-20 season and is currently trying to figure out how to play next season starting in maybe January:

  •  “Roughly 40 percent of the NBA’s annual $8 billion revenue is tied to arena-related spending on tickets, concessions, parking and merchandise,” notes the Washington Post. Since the NBA salary cap is tied to revenue, this means the league and players will either need to reach an agreement on adjusting that formula for the upcoming season, or seeing draconian cuts in how much each team is allowed to spend.
  • The just-completed playoff bubble worked well, but asking players to spend months more away from their families is likely a non-starter — especially, says the Post, “because the NFL and MLB are operating without bubbles.”
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has pointed to “rapid testing” as a necessary advancement before fans can be allowed back in arenas. “If it becomes possible to administer coronavirus tests and get instant results, such a process could be added to the check-in procedure at NBA arenas and facilitate fan attendance,” writes the Post. “‘There are a lot of pharmaceutical companies focused on that,’ Silver said. ‘There’s a huge marketplace for that.'”

Okay, a couple of things here. First off (no, I’m not really going to be ranking these, headline poetic license, sorry), it’s more than slightly worrisome that the MLB and NFL non-bubbles are being used as precedent for the NBA’s plans, since those two have each led to significant outbreaks on several teams. At least these have mostly so far been nipped in the bud by fast quarantines; so if the NBA doesn’t mind scheduling a bunch of makeup doubleheaders, it might work, depending on your definition of “work.”

As for rapid testing: Yes, it is a big problem that testing takes so long right now, as most people are really only able to find out whether they were sick several days ago, which isn’t nearly as helpful from a prevention-of-disease-spread standpoint as finding out if you’re sick right now. But if Adam Silver genuinely thinks you can just scan everybody at the turnstiles and turn away anyone who’s positive and thus create a safe bubble, he needs to read up on how this virus works — for starters, you can be infectious for 48 hours or more before you start testing positive, so while rapid testing could screen out some disease spreaders, it’s hardly a panacea.

The NBA still looks like a bastion of public health concern, though, compared to college football, where the approach is neatly summed up by Lauren Theisen’s Defector article “A Willingness To Risk A Superspreader Event Is Now A Competitive Advantage“:

  • Texas A&M not only admitted 24,709 fans for Saturday’s game against Florida — just under 25% of the 102,733 capacity at Kyle Field; the state of Texas actually allows 50% capacity, though no one’s tried it yet — but it packed fans pretty close together in sections near the field, for maximum intimidation factor, but also minimum social distancing.
  • In response, Florida head coach Dan Mullen now wants his stadium at full 90,000 capacity, “to give us that home-field advantage that Texas A&M had.” The state of Florida has no official limits on fan attendance currently, and Theisen warns that this “could become a dangerous arms race over the next several weeks of the season.”
  • In the largely unregulated world of the NCAA, this is likely to be decided unilaterally by individual schools, just as they’re now deciding whether to cancel games based less on whether they’ve had positive coronavirus tests than on whether they’ve been forced to admit they’ve had them.

And then there’s baseball, which let 10,000 fans (more or less — on TV it looked like less, anyway) into Arlington’s new stadium for last night’s first game of the NLCS between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, raking in their first ticket sales of the year. (Though not for outrageous prices by postseason standards, if StubHub is any guide, with some seats available for under $50.) The roof was open and usable seats were distanced, though they appeared not to be staggered by row — it was tough to tell given how the Fox broadcast avoided any crowd shots. And one 9th-inning homer was followed by an image of two bros hugging each other while unmasked, which may help explain why Fox mostly eschewed crowd shots.

How dangerous is all this? We simply don’t know yet. We do know that outdoors is safer than indoors, but also masked is safer than unmasked and distanced is safer than not distanced; whether piling 90,000 college football haphazardly masked college football fans on top of each other outdoors would spread more virus than distributing a few thousand masked-and-rapid-tested NBA fans around an indoor arena is something that we can only know for sure after someone tries it and sees whether it leads to bodies piling up in hospital corridors. There is some promise in reports that universal masking can result in infections that are less deadly, thanks to reduced viral load — basically, less virus at one time may give the immune system a fighting chance. But even then those less-sick people could still go home and spread virus all over a relative who then gets really sick, so it’s still more silver lining than actual solution.

In a sane or at least less profit-driven world, we’d all be waiting for the results of studies like the one in Germany where they simulated virus spread at an actual indoor concert with masked and distanced fans. But that’ll take a while to get the results from, and college football has to be played now, dammit. Instead, we’re likely to get a patchwork of policies, which could be a disaster or could be totally fine, and we won’t know which until after the fact. Just keep in mind that even if it does turn out totally fine, that doesn’t mean it was a good gamble — just because the surgery worked doesn’t mean it was worth the risk. That’s probably an especially hard lesson for sports fans to learn, since sports analysis is so prone to “pinch-hitting with your worst hitter was a genius move, because he ended up hitting a home run!” reactions, but it’s an important one if you want to successfully win games or ward off a virus, more than once in a blue moon.

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MLB’s plan for fans at World Series should work fine if viruses agree to take a break while you’re eating

Once the MLB playoffs get past this current war of all against all stage, they will retreat to two sets of “bubbles,” with the National League headed to the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros home parks, while the American League will be hosted at the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres stadiums. And since Texas is a state that allows fans to attend outdoor sporting events at 50% capacity, MLB announced yesterday that it will be selling tickets to the N.L. Championship Series and World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington. About 11,500 tickets will be made available per game, which is about 28% of the stadium’s 40,518-seat capacity.

The reason for doing this is obvious: LCS seats are slated to go for between $40 and $250 and World Series tickets between $75 and $450, so if both series go seven games MLB can expect to rake in from $20 million to $40 million just from ticket sales, not even counting concessions and souvenirs and all the other crap well-heeled baseball fans will plunk down money on after a summer of having nothing baseball-related to buy other than cardboard cutouts of themselves. But MLB is concerned about your safety too, so they will be imposing Covid protocols for those who wish to attend games:

  • Tickets will be sold in “pods” of four, with each pod separated from its neighbors by at least six feet. No seats will be sold within 20 feet of the field.
  • Masks will be mandatory “except when actively eating or drinking at their ticketed seats.”
  • Food sales will be pre-packaged and “contactless,” with no filthy money changing hands.
  • No bags will be permitted except for diaper bags or those required for medical reasons.

On the surface, this nods to all the science of preventing coronavirus spread — distancing, masks — but there are some worrisome loopholes. First off, while the pods will be sacrosanct, with no breaking them up to sell them to other fans, there’s no way to ensure that people seated in the same pod are members of the same household. That means — unless ticket buyers have to provide names of everyone in their party at purchase and IDs will be checked on entry, like for airplane flights, which seems like it would involve a lot of contact and non-distancey lines — there’s nothing stopping someone from buying four tickets and then inviting along three “friends” who they know from their long acquaintance at the other end of a Paypal transaction.

Way more concerning, though, is the bit about masks being required “except when actively eating or drinking.” Aside from being hard to enforce — we’ve already seen lots of fans taking masks on and off at NFL games — it’s not like the virus is going to see if you’re eating or drinking at the moment and go, “Oh, that’s cool, I won’t spread right now.” Having more people masked for more of the time is useful harm reduction, but adding a loophole for eating or drinking is a major potential disease vector.

(The bag thing has nothing to do with viral spread — what, are they afraid people are going to sneak in virus in a backpack? — and everything to do with making sure people eat only food they buy from the league.)

And then there’s the biggest elephant in the room, which is that Globe Life Field is a roofed stadium; in fact, that’s its entire reason for existence. If there’s one thing that’s become clear about the virus that causes Covid, it’s that it spreads far more effectively indoors than outdoors, thanks to stagnant and recirculating air. I’m not aware of any studies that investigate whether roofed sports stadiums should count as “indoor” or “outdoor” for viral spread purposes, but suffice to say there won’t be any passing breezes refreshing the air at the Rangers ballpark if the roof is closed.

But don’t just take it from me. Listen to an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health on that school’s plans to all fans into (outdoor) football games:

Audrey Pettifor, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Gillings School, said reopening the stadium is not a good idea, calling it “crazy.”

She said she had doubts about just how safe thousands of people gathering in a stadium could really be, especially considering the amount of infrastructure required for safe entrance and exit from the stadium, as well as the difficulty of enforcing sanitation and mask protocols on individuals.

“If everyone wore masks, then we would say the risk of transmission is probably really low, no matter the size of the crowd,” Pettifor said. “But if there’s a hole in that chain, depending on the number of positive people in that crowd, the number of people who are unmasked and the number of people who are closer than six feet apart, then our risk starts going up.”

MLB’s plan to sell tickets to postseason games is full of holes. (In its chain. Which normally has a hole in each link, but okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, just go with it.) So far there don’t appear to have been any major outbreaks at NFL or MLS games that have allowed in fans, so maybe MLB will be able to roll the dice here and everything will be fine. Or maybe the league is inching up to the line where it will recreate Game Zero in Milan, and then loose tons of newly infected fans to bring the virus back to their home towns once the games are over. We still have a limited number of risk bullets, and we — or at least MLB officials and the governor of Texas — are choosing to spend them on rich people getting to watch baseball games in person.

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Does MLB’s postseason bubble format make any damn sense? An investigation

After much speculation, it’s official: MLB will be going to a “bubble” format for most of its postseason, isolating players and staff at a handful of locations to try to avoid any Covid outbreaks like the ones that disrupted many teams’ regular seasons. After the first round of best-of-three series takes place at teams’ regular home parks, the National League Division Series will be held at Arlington and Houston and American League Division Series will be in San Diego and Los Angeles, followed by League Championship Series in Arlington and San Diego, then a World Series in Arlington.

Going to a bubble makes sense: It’s worked well for the NBA and NHL, and does seem to be the best way to prevent outbreaks. And baseball has even thought through some of the problems of starting a bubble on the fly — players will have to start self-quarantining at their homes and hotels as early as next Tuesday, with their families joining them then in quarantine if they want to enter the bubble with them, though given that players are already not supposed to be out on the town, this pretty much comes down to “try extra-hard not to get sick right before the playoffs, guys.”

Playing in Southern California and Texas is more puzzling, though. Sure, they’re both warm-weather sites, though pretty much all of North America is relatively warm in October now thanks to climate change, except when it’s not. But they’re also both relatively high-virus states: Texas has begun to see a major second spike after its huge outbreak that began in June, and California isn’t far behind.

(That’s one-week new-case averages, but if you check 91-DIVOC you can see similar trends underway for positivity rates, so this isn’t just a matter of more people getting tested — there really is way more virus afoot in Texas and California than in states like New York and Massachusetts. And while a bubble in high-virus Florida worked okay for the NBA, it also didn’t have players traveling between cities.)

On top of that, warm weather hasn’t exactly been good for California lately, given that Los Angeles County just saw a record high temperature of 121 degrees and, oh yeah, the whole damn state is on fire. Maybe the wildfires will have died down by October, but wildfire season in Southern California usually lasts till the start of November, and thanks again to climate change is basically all year round now, so baseball could be risking a repeat of this week’s games in Seattle that had to be canceled after the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners played a doubleheader in a cloud of choking smoke.

The first thing that comes to mind is MLB’s longstanding tradition of rewarding team owners who’ve built or renovated stadiums with getting to host special events like the All-Star Game. The Texas Rangers‘ stadium, of course, only just opened this year, after winning close to half a billion dollars in city subsidies so they could have air-conditioning, while Dodger Stadium just got a $100 million renovation (at team expense), and in fact was in line to host the All-Star Game this summer before that got canceled. And once you’ve picked those two, the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres stadiums are relatively close to reduce travel, and also relatively new, though, man, Houston’s is 20 years old already? I guess Enron was a long time ago.

Texas has another advantage, though. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred had this to say yesterday at a sports business panel:

“I’m hopeful that [for] the World Series and the LCS we will have limited fan capacity,” Manfred said during a question-and-answer session through Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business. Manfred’s comments were first reported by the Athletic. “I think it’s important for us to start back down [that] road. Obviously, it’ll be limited numbers, socially distanced, [with] protection provided for the fans in terms of temperature checks and the likes…

“But I do think it’s important as we look forward to 2021 to get back to the idea that live sports are safe. They’re generally outdoors, at least our games, and it’s something we can get back to.”

Whether live outdoor sports are safe for fans to attend in the middle of a pandemic outbreak is, of course, a huge open question, one that the NFL is currently attempting to answer via a giant human test subject experiment. Also, the Houston and Texas stadiums aren’t entirely outdoors — they both have retractable roofs, and in fact the roof is the entire reason for the Texas stadium existing — and while they probably still have better air circulation than a totally indoor arena, if the principle here is “it’s safe to let in fans so long as its outdoors,” shouldn’t Manfred have picked entirely outdoor stadiums? Hell, New York City has two of ’em, plus oodles of now-vacant hotel rooms.

Ah, but New York City also has bans on fans attending live sporting events, and Texas notably does not. And even at 25% capacity, selling tickets for the World Series — the only tickets that would be available for any MLB games this year — would be massively hot commodities, something that Manfred said later in his talk was at the forefront of baseball’s thoughts:

“The owners have made a massive economic investment in getting the game back on the field [in 2020] for the good of the game,” he said. “We need to be back in a situation where we can have fans in ballparks in order to sustain our business. It’s really that simple.”

So, yeah, it really is that simple: If we can sell tickets, that’s the priority, we’ll figure out the risks later.

Prioritizing money over safety also explains perhaps the biggest hole in the MLB bubble structure: The first-round games, which will be held in eight different cities, with no bubbles, right before the embubbled postseason begins. This Round of 16 was announced abruptly at the beginning of the season, and doesn’t make any more baseball sense than public health sense — three-game series in baseball have essentially random outcomes, especially now that home-field advantage maybe means nothing without fans (though maybe it still does?), so you’re subjecting regular-season division winners to virtually the same odds of making it to the next round as sub-.500 teams lucky enough to play in weak divisions. But it does mean a whole lot more TV money, enough that MLB was willing to cough up $393 million in postseason bonus money to the players’ union to make it happen.

And as Marc Normandin points out in today’s edition of his newsletter (this one un-paywalled, but please send him some money if you like it!), even before seeing whether this results in a bunch of third-place teams on hot streaks battling it out in the playoffs, Manfred is already eager to make this the new normal:

“Manfred also said the expanded, 16-team postseason is likely to remain beyond 2020, adding that “an overwhelming majority” of owners had already endorsed the concept before the pandemic.

“I think there’s a lot to commend it,” he said, “and it is one of those changes I hope will become a permanent part of our landscape.”

Normandin also points out that letting a thousand playoff teams bloom has an important side benefit for team owners who are sick of shelling out big bucks to buy the best team possible:

If the league was already full of teams aiming to win 83 games because it’s cheaper than trying to win 90 and they might get lucky and win 90, anyway, what is going to happen when the threshold for making the postseason drops? A bunch of teams looking to win 75 games and occasionally being rewarded for it because a prospect hits their stride sooner than expected, or an inexpensive, low-end free agent has a surprise epiphany and subsequent breakout? We’re going to end up in a scenario where owners know they’ll be getting increased shared revenue from an expanded postseason, and more revenue than that if their teams manage to make it there themselves. And little incentive to spend any of that increased revenue, because why try when not trying might get you to the postseason, anyway?

In other words, if you loved the marginal revenue gap that has allowed owners to pocket even more money without having to collude about it, it’s about to get that much bigger.

MLB’s bubble postseason, in short, is one part profiteering and one part just enough concern for the public to seem reasonable without getting in the way of the profiteering. Which is how baseball — and pretty much all pro sports in the U.S. — has always been run, so it should come as no surprise. But it’ll be something to keep in mind while watching the Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants battle it out for the World Series in Texas in front of 12,500 very well-heeled and well-air-conditioned fans.

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Friday roundup: Everything old is new again

What a week! In addition to the new site design and new magnets and new sports subsidy demands rising and falling almost before you could even register them, this week featured the long-awaited debut of Defector, the independent sports (but not only sports) site launched by the former staff of Deadspin. Read it for free, subscribe if you want to post comments and, you know, help support journalism for our uncertain future. I am a charter subscriber, needless to say, and am currently trying to decide which color t-shirt to buy.

On the down side, the entire West Coast has been set aflame by the deadly mix of climate change and gender-reveal parties and looks like a post-apocalyptic movie. The year 2020 comes at you fast. Let’s get to some more news:

  • The owners of the New York Islanders are angling to downsize the Nassau Coliseum so that it doesn’t compete with their new Belmont Park arena for sports and the largest concerts, which is problematic in that they don’t actually hold the lease on the Coliseum, and already ironic in that the Coliseum was already just downsized once so as not to compete with the Islanders’ previous new arena in Brooklyn. Maybe this whole arena glut problem is something New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have considered before giving the Belmont project a whole bunch of land price breaks and a new train station? Meh, probably not necessary, we’re all friends here.
  • Hey look, we’re already calling the Los Angeles Angels stadium purchase a $320 million deal even though it’s really only $150 million plus a whole lot of “thanks for some building affordable housing and parks,” that was fast, Spectrum News 1.
  • Some rare actual good news from the pandemic: Somebody in Arlington was smart enough to include a clause in the Texas Rangers‘ lease on their new stadium that requires the team owners to triple their rent payments if parking and ticket tax revenue fell short of projections, which obviously they’re doing what with nobody buying tickets or parking this year. Sure, it’s still only another $4 million, which won’t go far toward paying off the city’s roughly half a billion dollars in stadium costs, but it’s better than a kick in the head. (Also, what on earth is going on in that photo of the Rangers’ stadium that D Magazine used as its illustration?)
  • The Inglewood city council approved the sale of 22 acres of public land to Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer for $66 million, which I don’t even know how to determine whether it’s a fair deal or not anymore, but given the city mayor’s idea of appropriate oversight, I’m not super-optimistic.
  • University of Texas-Austin will have about 18,000 fans in attendance for its season-opening college football game tomorrow, but rest assured that it will be keeping everyone safe by … requiring student season ticket holders to test negative for Covid before being allowed into the game, but not requiring the same of anyone else? (Also fun: They’re supposed to all go get tested today, and get their results back tomorrow, which is not how Covid testing works right now at all.) Clearly the desire to look where the light is better is strong.
  • The Las Vegas Sun has a loooooong article about the process by which the Raiders got their new stadium in Las Vegas that pretty much comes down to “Mark Davis was the sincerest pumpkin patch of all,” but by all means go ahead and read it if you like sentences like “The first major obstacle was how to get both projects done in what most in the resort corridor would feel was a reasonable [tax increase]. That took time to overcome.”
  • Marc Normandin took a great look back at that time the owner of the San Diego Padres tried to gift the team to the city of San Diego for free and MLB said no. It’s subscriber-only, so I’ll quote my favorite section: “There is a reason Mark Cuban will never own an MLB franchise, and that reason is that he’s the kind of owner who might shake things up in a way that forces other owners to have to spend money they don’t want to. On clubhouse comforts, on minor-league players Cuban might try to increase the pay and better the living conditions of in order to produce happier, healthier future MLB players: there is no guarantee Cuban would do those things, necessarily, but his actions and spending helped shape the way the current NBA locker rooms look, so the possibility exists, and that possibility is too big of a risk for MLB’s current 30 owners to take. So, instead, they aim for safe options, like a minority owner in Cleveland becoming the majority owner in Kansas City, as he’s already proven he understands the game and how to play it.”
  • First Dave Dombrowski and Dave Stewart, now Justin Timberlake — if building 1990s star power is the way to get an MLB franchise, Nashville is a shoo-in. Though as Normandin notes, they’d probably be better off finding a minority owner from Cleveland.

Okay, I have to go pick up my computer from its trip to the computer mechanic so I can go back to typing these updates on a keyboard I can actually see the letters on. (Yet another thing that happened this week.) Try to have a good weekend, and see you all on Monday.

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Friday roundup: Silver Knights face arena suit, Prokhorov seeks to ditch Nassau lease, journalism spirals the drain

Happy Friday, everybody! MLS has resumed play with an MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando (at least for all the teams other than the two that dropped out because they had too many coronavirus-positive players), and MLB starts its season next Thursday, and restarting sports leagues are soaking up all of the United States’ available testing capacity and ballplayers are getting called “pansies” for wearing masks to the grocery store. Also, another of the few remaining news outlets just laid off a ton of quality people, including several I used to work with, because journalism is one of the many nice things we apparently can’t have anymore.

If all that doesn’t cheer you up, here’s a passel of stadium-and-arena-related news that probably won’t do the trick either:

  • The Henderson city council voted unanimously yesterday to reject a petition seeking to overturn the city’s decision to spend $60 million on a minor-league hockey arena plus some other stuff, which should probably come as no surprise given that it’s the same council that voted to approve the Silver Knights arena in the first place. (The petitions were initially rejected because of a technicality about whether enough information was included on every page of the petition, but the council was under no obligation to consider the legal requirements rather than just voting for what they wanted to happen.) Petitioners could now seek to sue the city, which is how these things always seem to turn out.
  • Former Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is in negotiations to get out of his lease with Nassau County on the Nassau Coliseum, Nassau Executive Laura Curran revealed Tuesday. This could work out well for all concerned, or it could let Prokhorov get out of his lease obligations by having shut down the arena and held it hostage; the devil will be in the details of the talks, and Curran didn’t divulge anything about those.
  • The Palace of Auburn Hills, former home of the Detroit Pistons, got blowed up real good on Saturday, as one does when one is a 32-year-old sports arena in the early 21st century. And if you thought you already saw images several months ago of the Palace being torn down, that’s because you did, but history repeats itself, the second time with dynamite.
  • The Edmonton Oilers‘ four-year-old arena was partially flooded by a hailstorm, but don’t worry, the NHL says it will still be able to use it for its planned restart on August 1. Or maybe Edmonton will have to build another new arena in the next two weeks, it’s always hard to say with these things.
  • Fivethirtyeight tried to evaluate whether the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium is a better place to see a ballgame than their old one by overlaying one seating cross-section on the other and determining that the last row of seats is 33 feet closer to the field horizontally and only a few feet higher vertically, so that’s an improvement! Except that they failed to take into account that the new stadium has 8,000 fewer seats than the old one, so really you want to compare the worst seats in the new place to the 40,000th best seat in the old place, since the people in the last row of the old place will now be watching at home on TV. I remember when Nate Silver still made sure his writers did their math correctly, those were good times.
  • D.C. United is surveying fans to ask them if they’ll feel safe attending soccer matches in person later this summer, because who better to ask for advice about public health policy than random soccer fans?
  • Have you been missing sports columns about how your city needs to replace its arena despite not having a major-league team to play in it because the old one is a “graying ghost that is all but begging for a retirement cake” and besides even Tulsa has a newer one, oh the shame? The San Diego Union-Tribune is on it!
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Friday roundup: New Rangers stadium scam movie, Nevada arena petitions rejected over technicality, and many many dumb ideas for getting you (or cardboard cutouts of you) into stadiums this year

Welcome to the end of another crazy week, which seems redundant to say, since that’s all of them lately. I spent a bunch of it working on this article on what science (but not necessarily your local newspaper) can tell us about not just whether reopening after lockdowns is a good idea, but what kinds of reopening are safe enough to consider. And important enough to consider, since as one infectious disease expert told me, “It’s not ‘open’ or ‘shut’—there’s a whole spectrum in between. We need to be thinking about what are the high-priority things that we need to reopen from a functioning point of view, and not an enjoyment point of view.”

And with that cheery thought, on to other cheery thoughts:

  • If you’re a fan of either sports stadium shenanigans or calamitous public-policy train wrecks in general — and I know you are, or why would you be reading this site — you should absolutely check out “Throw A Billion Dollars From The Helicopter,” a new documentary about the Texas Rangers‘ successful campaign to extract half a billion dollars from the city of Arlington so they could play in air-conditioning. It’s a story that has everything: a mayor who was elected as a stadium-subsidy critic then turned around to approve the biggest stadium subsidy in local history, George W. Bush grubbing for public money and failing to do basic math, grassroots anti-red-light camera activists getting dragged into stadium politics, a trip back to the Washington Senators’ final home game before moving to Texas which they had to forfeit because fans ran on the field and walked off with the bases, footage of that 1994 Canadian TV news story I always cite about how video-rental stores comedy clubs in Toronto were so happy with extra business during the baseball strike that they wished hockey would go on strike too, plus interviews with stadium experts like Roger Noll, Rod Fort, Victor Matheson, Allen Sanderson (the man whose line about more effective ways than building a stadium for boosting your city’s economy gave the documentary its title), and me. Rent it here on Vimeo if you want some substitute fireworks this weekend.
  • Opponents of the publicly funded minor-league hockey arena for the Henderson Silver Knights got enough signatures to put a recall on the November ballot, but have had their petitions invalidated for not including a detailed enough description of their objections on every page. This will almost certainly result in lawsuits, which is how pretty much every battle for public oversight of sports subsidy deals ends — that, and “in tears.”
  • The San Diego city council approved the $86.2 million sale of the site of the Chargers‘ former stadium to San Diego State University, which plans to build a new $310 million football stadium there. Whether this is a good deal for the public is especially tricky, because not only do you have to figure the land value of a 135-acre site in the middle of an economic meltdown, but also San Diego State is a public university, so really this is one public agency selling land to another. It’s all more than I can manage this morning, so instead let’s look at this rendering of a proposed park for the site that features bicyclists riding diagonally across a bike path to avoid a woman who stands in their way with arms akimbo, while birds with bizarre forked tails wheel overhead.
  • You know what would be a terrible idea in the middle of a pandemic that has closed stadiums to fans because gathering in one place is a great way to spread virus? An article telling fans what public spaces they can gather in to catch a glimpse of game action in closed stadiums, and Axios has you covered there! And so does the Associated Press!
  • Sure, hundreds of thousands of people have died and there could be hundreds of thousands more to go, but won’t anyone think of the impact on TV network profits if there’s no football to show in the fall?
  • And speaking of keeping an eye strictly on the bottom line, the NFL is considering requiring fans (if there are any) who attend NFL games this fall (if there are any) to sign a waiver promising not to sue if they contract Covid as a result. But can I still sue if someone goes to a football game, contracts Covid, and then infects me? I’m not actually sure how easily one could sue in either case — since you can never be sure where you were infected with the virus, it would be like suing over getting cancer from secondhand smoke — but I always like the idea of suing the NFL, so thanks for the idea, guys!
  • New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says he wants to see fans at Yankee Stadium “in the 20-30 percent range,” a number and prediction he failed to indicate he pulled from anywhere other than his own butt. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are reportedly planning to open rooftops around Wrigley Field at 25% capacity for watching games this year, something that might actually be legal since while would mean about 800 fans in attendance, they wouldn’t all be in attendance in the same place, so it could get around rules about large public gatherings.
  • If you want to spend $49 and up so a cardboard cutout of yourself can watch Oakland A’s games, you can now do that on the team’s website. If that sounds like a terrible deal, know that with each purchase you also get two free tickets to an exhibition game at the Coliseum in 2021 (if there are any), and if you pay $129 then you also get a foul ball mailed to you if it hits your cutout, all of which still sounds like a terrible deal but significantly more hilarious.
  • If you were hoping to make one last trip to Pawtucket’s 74-year-old McCoy Stadium to see Pawtucket Red Sox baseball before the team relocates to Worcester after this season — it was on my now-deleted summer calendar — you’ll have to settle for eating dinner on the field, because the PawSox season, along with the rest of the minor-league baseball season, has been officially called off. Also, the Boston Herald reports that the Lowell Spinners single-A team won’t be offering refunds to those who bought tickets for non-canceled games, only credits toward 2021 tickets — shouldn’t ticketholders be able to sue for not receiving the product they paid for? I want somebody to sue somebody, already! When will America’s true pastime be allowed to reopen?
  • Here’s a New York Times article on how new MLS stadiums are bucking past stadium trends by being “privately financed, with modest public support for modernizing infrastructure,” which is only true if you consider $98 million (Columbus) and $81 million and up (Cincinnati) to be “modest” figures.
  • I apologize for failing to report last week on the Anaheim Ducks‘ proposed development around their hockey arena, less because it’s super interesting or there is amusing vaportecture than because it’s supposed to be called “ocV!BE,” which is the best name ever, so long as you want to live in a freshly built condo in what sounds like either a randomly generated password or an Aughts rock band.
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