In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)
- Some St. Louis business owners have had their leases terminated, and think it’s because their buildings are being sold to make way for a new MLS stadium. The stadium site (and the team’s name) remain mysteries according to the team’s official website, so their guess is as good as yours or mine or anybody’s.
- San Francisco Giants execs are considering moving their fences in because their team hit better on the road than at home, and has anyone told them that if they move the fences in, it has to be for both teams? Doing otherwise has been illegal ever since Bill Veeck tried it.
- Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer has pledged $30 million toward a new arena, which sounds better before you notice that the total construction cost is projected at $126 million. Andlauer says he’d take over maintenance costs on the arena, whereas the city pays maintenance on the existing one, but he didn’t say how much money that would be or if there would be a different share of arena revenues or anything, so it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions on this one.
- Anaheim city spokesperson Mike Lyster says that the appraisal of the city-owned land around the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium that team owner Arte Moreno wants development rights to, which the city council voted last fall to release to the public as soon as it was ready, will be “share[d] with the community at the right time,” but right now “any release would be premature and potentially impact negotiations.” How does three and a half hours before the vote sound to you?
- Oakland A’s fans like Oakland Coliseum because it’s so unattractive that it’s cheap to go to. This actually says a lot about the role of new stadiums in team marketing and income (and enthusiasm) gaps between different kinds of fans and a lot of other things, even if it just sounds like a rehashed Yogiism.
- Cleveland is spending more to renovate the Cavaliers‘ arena than it spent to build it in the first place, reports the great Cleveland journalist Roldo Bartimole, while it and other local sports venues stiff the Cleveland school district on property taxes.
- Palm Springs is getting an AHL expansion franchise in 2021, and Oak View Group is building a $250 million arena for it to play in, and yes, you read that right, a quarter-billion-dollar minor-league hockey arena. Costs will be shared between OVG and the Agua Caliente tribe whose land it sits on, and OVG head Tim Leiweke says it will create “thousands” of construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs, which isn’t actually all that great for $250 million in expense, but who can put a price on minor-league hockey?
- Here’s an interview with Tiger Stadium Fan Club stalwarts Bill Dow and Dave Mesrey on the 20th anniversary of the closing of that Detroit ballpark, which I haven’t listened to all of yet because ew podcasts, but Bill and Dave are both great so if you like obtaining information through your ears, give it a spin.
- The Associated Press has noticed that some cities pay a lot for sports stadiums, and others don’t. Now all they need is an explanation of why, and they can write a book!
Is public financing of sports venues worth it? If you’ve been noticing a bit of a dip in the frequency of posts on this site over the past few months, it’s not your imagination: I had a contract job as a fill-in news editor that was taking up a lot of my otherwise FoS-focused mornings. That job has run its course now, which should make it a bit easier to keep up with stadium and arena news on a daily basis going forward, instead of leaving much of it to week-ending wrapups.
That said, you all do seem to love your week-ending wrapups, so here’s one now:
- Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove says of poor attendance this season, “With the price of tickets now, I don’t know if I’d pay that much to watch a team that played like we did this year,” which is a pretty excellent summation of the conclusions that I and Rob Arthur came up with for MLB’s attendance drop.
- On the other hand, we have the Tampa Bay Rays, who are in the thick of a wild-card race and still can’t draw fans no matter what. Tampa Bay has some special problems.
- San Jose Sharks vice president Doug Bentz says of trying to keep attendance numbers up, “Our biggest competitor is Netflix.” Aw, does Bentz actually think that the younger generation is still spending its leisure time watching TV and not TikTok videos? That’s so adorable.
- The Texas Rangers move into their new air-conditioned stadium next year, and Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw says baseball won’t be the same with most games played under a roof. Time to build a new stadium, maybe with these!
- Pawtucket is considering bringing in a Single-A or independent league baseball team next year to replace the departing Pawtucket Red Sox, and studying “how much it would cost to remodel McCoy should a new team utilize the stadium.” I guess it can’t hurt to do a cost-benefit analysis of baseball vs. no baseball, but still I would say maybe check whether one of these lower-level leagues would even demand a remodeling before rushing out to price new furniture.
- Alan Trammell loved Tiger Stadium so much that he snuck in years after it was closed to walk around the dugout and wade through a flooded clubhouse.
- Halifax officials are proposing a $110 million CFL stadium with about $20 million worth of public subsidies, which doesn’t sound too bad, except the various options for how the subsidies will work are so up in the air that it’s tough to put a grade on this one just yet. But I’m so long as the stadium can still be used for soccer and football at the exact same, I’m not gonna complain too hard.
- Sports economist J.C. Bradbury has been appointed to the Cobb County development authority, which is way too late to do anything about the Atlanta Braves stadium subsidies, but maybe can at least give Bradbury a bigger platform to point out all the money the state of Georgia wastes on film subsidies.
- The Buffalo News still won’t let go of its dream for a new Bills stadium, and sent one of its reporters to Boston to look at supermarkets and “an inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” to show what the future may hold.
- The Cleveland Browns owners still won’t say if they want a new stadium or a renovated stadium or what, and their lease isn’t up for another nine years, and why is this interview even considered news exactly?
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer asked its editorial board to consider the question “Is public financing of sports venues worth it?” and their answer was: No, no, yes, maybe, what choice do we have, sort of, maybe not, and yes. We’ll be back again next week!
This has literally been years in the making, and the website still (mistakenly) says “not yet published,” but I am here to tell you that it is in fact available for purchase: “Tiger Stadium, Essays and Memories of Detroit’s Historic Ballpark, 1912–2009,” edited by Frank Rashid, John Pastier, Bill Dow, Michael Betzold, and John Davids of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club. And included among the remembrances and historical essays on the home of the Detroit Tigers for 97 years is a chapter by me, titled “The Mallparking of America: Tiger Stadium and the Subsidy Game,” which you can pretty much guess what it’s about.
I haven’t actually received my copy yet, so that’s literally all I can tell you about the book, except that with the talent assembled I’m super-excited to read it. I’ll post a fuller review once I have it in hand, but don’t let that stop you from ordering it right now.
All evidence to the contrary, spring (and the spring end-of-legislative-session season) must be getting nearer, because the stack of weekly roundup news items in my Instapaper is getting longer and longer each week. Better get down to it:
- The famed on-field flagpole that once stood in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium (and still stands on the site) will become an ad for a nut company, which will fly its flag from atop the pole. Is this more or less a tribute to craven greed and disrespect for humanity than flying the U.S. flag was? Discuss!
- The new tax bill does all sorts of terrible things, but it also finally eliminates tax deductions for corporate sports ticket purchases — something that has helped drive both high ticket prices and the demand for sports venues with lots of corporate-friendly seating — and also could force sports teams to pay taxes on trades. Plus, Congress is considering exempting minor-league baseball players from minimum-wage laws, and MiLB officials are threatening to contract teams if they’re forced to pay players a whole $7.25 an hour.
- Phoenix’s city administration wants to host the 2023 Super Bowl. God knows why.
- Carlos Monarraz of the Detroit Free Press thinks the reason behind all the empty seats at Pistons games is that fans would rather watch the game on TV from the arena’s bar, which is either a pathetic cover story or a pathetic reality or both, I can’t say which for sure. Discuss! (Bonus content: Article features a 69-year-old fan saying, “I used to cheer, ‘Rah-rah-ree, kick ’em in the knee!’ I don’t even feel comfortable shouting out anymore.” Not sure whether this means he’s Monty Burns or The Terror.)
- The Cincinnati Board of Education voted to approve an F.C. Cincinnati stadium in the West End, but only on the same terms (pay your property taxes!) the team owners rejected last week, so I don’t even know why we’re talking about this, frankly.
- The Denver Broncos are looking to build an entertainment district in their stadium parking lot and use the proceeds to pay for stadium maintenance and upgrades, because that always goes well.
- World hatred of Donald Trump could lead to Morocco getting the 2026 World Cup, which would cost that nation $16 billion, which just goes to show that Donald Trump can even ruin things in nations he’s probably never heard of.
- The Raiders stadium in Las Vegas will cost $1.8 billion in part so that it can have giant folding doors that open to give a view of the Strip. Wealth is wasted on the wealthy.
- Neither the NAACP nor the local councilperson wants Temple University to build a new football stadium in North Philadelphia.
- “Cincinnati Might Spend $300 Million for a Shot at Hosting Six NCAA Tournament Games.” Really, the headline says it all. That tide really can’t turn a moment too soon.
If you, like me, never made it to the site of Tiger Stadium to play softball with the Navin Field Grounds Crew, it’s too late now: Construction is set to begin on a new Police Athletic League field there this spring, which will keep the old stadium site (which has been a ballfield since the 19th century) in use for baseball as well as other sports, but also install artificial turf, which a lot of people aren’t too happy with.
The last piece of the funding puzzle was the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy — a group first founded to try to save the old stadium when it was still standing — kicking in $3 million from a federal earmark on Monday. The Conservancy is apparently still angling for the PAL to at least keep the infield dirt and grass, with a fake turf outfield — which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for baseball since the outfield gets comparatively little wear, but sort of does if other sports like soccer will be played there, since maintenance costs on soccer grass fields are significantly higher. (Though still not necessarily as high as the cost of turf fields.)
Anyway, chalk this up as a partial-maybe-victory, depending on how much you feel a place is still the same place if all the elements are new. At least we’ll always have the t-shirts. And the flagpole.
As expected, last night the Detroit city council approved the redevelopment of the old Tiger Stadium site by the Detroit Police Athletic League, clearing the way for building housing, retail, and a new PAL headquarters on the old stadium site. The ballfield itself, which in recent years has been maintained by volunteers from the Navin Field Grounds Crew, will be retained, but redone in artificial turf, over the opposition of the Grounds Crew and others.
There’s still a chance that the PAL will change its mind and preserve the old field, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. So it looks like the last surviving piece of one of baseball’s most historic stadiums will soon vanish (except for the flagpole, maybe?). If you never visited the stadium when it was still there, you can get a taste by checking out David Gratt’s requiem for the ballpark from 2003, which might help give some sense why anyone cares about saving a bunch of grass.
The Detroit city council is set to decide tonight on whether to approve the city Police Athletic League’s plan to turn the old Tiger Stadium site into a youth sports facility — something that would likely be heralded by all sides as a great solution (previous plans would have had buildings on top of the old ballfield) if not for the fact that it would require ripping up the grass field meticulously maintained by the volunteer Navin Field Grounds Crew and replacing it with artificial turf. The PAL is proposing this because it’s a more modern, better surface for — aw, hell, it’s just because it’s cheaper, okay?
Prof. John N. “Trey” Rogers of Michigan State University’s School of Turf Management says he advised PAL to use synthetic turf only because PAL had an insufficient budget and a lack of the expertise needed to maintain a natural grass field.
PAL wanted to use the field six to ten hours daily, Rogers says, but presented a maintenance budget of “less than six figures” annually—which indicated they wouldn’t be able to hire anyone with the expertise needed to maintain a grass field at that level of usage.
Asked whether if PAL had a sufficient budget they could maintain real grass, Rogers says definitely yes—“it just takes a lot of care and know-how to do it.”
There’s actually a good case to be made that turf is more expensive than grass over the long term, because you have to replace it every few years, whereas grass just has to be maintained. I’m personally hoping that the Grounds Crew’s petition succeeds in getting the city to direct the PAL to come up with a plan to preserve the grass, if only because I haven’t made it out to play a pickup game on the old field yet; we’ll find out tonight whether I, and any other interested baseball fans, will get the chance.
Just ran across a bit more news on the proposed Tiger Stadium field preservation, courtesy of Anna Clark of Next City:
As it stands, the plan will privatize the baseball field. Only PAL teams will play on it, in contrast with the open-door policy of the Navin Field Grounds Crew. It is reasonable for PAL teams to have priority on the redeveloped field, but the public should be able to enjoy it in off hours.
PAL may change the grass of the original field to artificial turf. This follows the model of the recently restored League Park in Cleveland, baseball’s oldest existing Major League ballpark. But artificial turf on the Detroit field plays too casually with the idea of “preservation” and subtly insults the people who have been caring for the natural grass for free for years now — and will continue to do so for the next year, possibly two, before building begins. It should also not be taken lightly that at least a dozen people have had their ashes scattered on this grass.
Those are indeed concerns — with the artificial turf being especially pointless, since studies have found that fake turf doesn’t save any money over a well-maintained grass field when used for baseball. (Soccer, which delivers way more of a pounding, is another story.) If you want to chime in on any of this, the proposed developers have a comment site up at Popularise, so have at it.
The city of Detroit has picked Larson Realty as its developer for the site of Tiger Stadium (and hey, shoutout from Crain’s reporter Amy Haimerl to FoS correspondent David Dyte!), which means we get more renderings of the plan to preserve the old ballfield and surround it with low-rise buildings. Not necessarily better than the last set of renderings, but more:
(There’s also an image showing the new Police Athletic League building surrounded by what appear to be Cybermen ghosts, but that’s too disturbing to include here.)
Anyway, still many details to go, but it’s looking promising that the old Tiger Stadium field will be preserved, anyway, even if it’s too late for the stadium itself. (Though it’s marginally worrisome that the flagpole isn’t visible on these.) Which is good, because I still need to get out there for a softball game.
Pictures are in of what the Tiger Stadium site could look like under a redevelopment plan from the Detroit Police Athletic League:
And also this one:
That seems sorta okay, I guess, in that the field (which is still heavily used for softball) is preserved, and the buildings around it aren’t too ugly. I don’t know what’s up with the video projection system in that second image, but maybe kids today like watching their YouTube videos on the sides of buildings now.
The Detroit city council still needs to sign off on the deal, and I believe the PAL and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy still need to finalize using the conservancy’s old $3 million federal earmark for youth baseball to help finance the plan. Yes, that’s public money, but a public ballfield isn’t the worst way to spend $3 million.